Isolated Self

     Victoria Helen Loftus

 

Your alarm tinkles to life. Your fingers search for the “stop” button.

 

You roll out a yoga mat - tie-dyed with mandalas spidered across it - and begin a 10 minute stretch sequence recommended by your therapist. You then take a shower, spending most of the time sitting on the floor, letting the water fall on top of you as you breathe in the steam, letting your sinuses revel in the cleanliness.

 

Once dry, dressed and moisturized, you trundle down to the kitchen, searching the cupboards for breakfast. You settle on dry granary toast and a questionable avocado. You start your day with good intentions, maybe this will be the day. You brew up your coffee and reach for the milk, as you pour only a tiny droplet escapes the carton, dissipating into the inky black liquid.

 

You can feel it rising from pit of your stomach to your lungs. It surges through your body, picking up power as it goes. It leaves your knees weak and shaky, you try to hold still, but your arms are shuddering too, soon your whole body is shivering uncontrollably:

 

You fall to the ground, the mug falling with you.

 

Your breath heaves. At first you don’t notice the blood beginning to show from a cut in your right hand, a tribute to the now-smashed mug. When you do, your breathing gets faster. Your brain begins to vibrate with white noise. You are crying but your eyes are painfully dry, enormous animalistic sobs ricochet around the kitchen cabinets. The sound is separate to you, you don’t know where it’s coming from, surely it can’t be you? You long for something soft, a pillow perhaps, to squeeze and scream into, but all you have is the chipped remains of the mug. Your favourite mug. The one you brought back from New York. Your attention moves back to the blood, now dripping down your arm and onto the white tiled floor, mixing with the brown puddle of coffee.

 

This snaps you back to reality.

 

Your breathing slows and returns to normal,. The episode is over, almost as quickly as it started. You reprimand yourself for being so ridiculous and you survey the damage. Idiot, you mutter.

 

You chuck your soggy breakfast into the bin. What a waste, you can’t order another delivery until Monday. You’re killing the environment throwing that away. Can’t eat it now though can you? Bet you would if you could. You fat pig. You feel your breath begin to quicken and cover your ears to block out the overlapping monologue in your head. You grab a glass of water and head upstairs.  

 

You cocoon yourself in your duvet and try to shield your eyes from the sun beams through the closed curtains. You give your head a chance to cease the throbbing you always encounter post-panic attack. It’s at this point that your therapist would tell you to use the meditation app, the one you deleted six months ago, around the time you decided to go on a “technology cleanse”. You decide instead to meditate on the scrabbling of squirrels in the attic. You call them Anne and Frank. Not many people know this of course. Only you, and the RentoKil man, the one with the sweaty face and dirty boots who appears once a month to confirm they have, in fact, not taken the bait, and charges £200 for the privilege.

 

You shift your eyes from the ceiling to the curtains, all that darkness can’t be good for you you can hear your mother saying. You roll off the foot of the bed, towards the window and grab the brittle black fabric. The curtain rings make a rusty clatter that makes you cringe.

 

The sun is shining, that kind of shining that could disguise a bitterly cold spring day. You grab your phone and open the weather app. Highs of 23 degrees. Interesting.

 

Children are dotted around the school field that backs onto your garden. A girl with auburn plaits and a blue gingham dress skips using a grubby piece of white rope, whilst her friend, some distance away, puts on a gymnastics show, flipping between handstands and cartwheels, not caring that the boys in the corner are giggling about her pink polka dot knickers.

 

They don’t care do they?

 

They don’t feel the crushing pressure of inevitable doom every time they even think about stepping out of the door.

 

You remember the mug. The now broken artifact of a time when you were invincible, when you could do anything, when you weren’t plagued by- well whatever this is.

 

Something shifts inside you, like a rusty lock finally slipping into place.

 

***

 

You step out, breathing humid air, your heart is bursting and retreating against your rib cage but you don’t mind. You shield your eyes from the sun’s rays, but enjoy its warmth upon your skin. You stand a while, with your bare arms out-stretched, you can almost feel the vitamin D being sucked into your deficient body. You catch yourself, embarrassed by the scene you didn’t cause and continue down the road. The nearer you get to the village centre the more you notice the lack of people. The only sign of life is a group of four teenage girls clad in school uniforms with surgical masks covering the bottom halves of their faces. Strange.

 

You don’t really know where you are heading, you just want to see how far you can go.

 

Gathering your breath you cautiously enter the newsagent’s at the far corner of the village. Remembering too late that the door makes an intrusive beep as you enter, startling you, almost throwing you backwards.

 

“Eh, are you exempt?” The man’s voice comes from behind the screened till.

 

Your head snaps around, you are still recovering from the door.

 

“Sorry?”

 

“Do you have a mask exemption card?”

 

What mask exemption card?

 

“Pardon?”

 

“You better head home love, get back inside.”

Victoria Helen Loftus is currently studying an MA in creative writing at Edge Hill University, having graduated the BA in 2017. She likes to keep her writing rooted in real life and gain inspiration from her own experiences and the world around her. She has contributed to her university's student blog from 2016 - 2017 and her work has been published in The Black Market Re-View and Spillwords.com. She is also a qualified primary school teacher.