As long as the numbers on the scales keep going up and the smile on my face is convincing enough, “doing well” is what they see.
They can fill me with their chemicals and pump me out into the world with my jaw-aching from the strain of holding that smile in place, and they never need to know about the demon that roars to life in my mind each and every time I open my eyes to a new day. They don’t need to know that where I once saw the world in a myriad of bright, enticing colours that sung to my soul like the most beautiful music, now all I see are increasingly bleak shades of grey. The once vibrant gold of a sunflower, stretching itself up and up towards its namesake, now just pales into yet another dull, lifeless shade.
The sun is blazing in the sky. I can feel its heat against my skin, yet somehow, I still shiver with a cold that seems to run bone deep, as though I’ll never be warm again. The light dusting of hair that covers my pale skin is meant to be one of my body’s new defences against the cold, so why is it that no matter how many layers I wear, how much time I spend soaking up the heatwave they say is creating unprecedented temperatures, even for August, I still can’t shake the ice that seems to have lodged itself deep inside me?
The park is busy, the way it always is when the sunshine drags the pasty skinned inhabitants of the town outside for some much needed Vitamin D. There are children squealing with happiness as they run through the fountain jets that spurt cool water into the air. A dog barks with pure joy as it leaps to catch a Frisbee thrown for it by its smiling master. Footballs fly, ice creams melt, people laugh, and the world continues to turn. People are happy, people are sad, people are angry, confused or excited. Everywhere I look, I’m surrounded by a myriad of emotions, yet I can’t relate to a single one of them.
I can’t feel anything.
If I’m being honest with myself, I’m not even sure that I want to. Feeling is a little too much like caring, and no good can come from either. So, I sit on a bench, instinct bringing my knees up to my chest in an attempt to make myself as small as I can possibly be. I’m there, I’m present at the heart of a whole park full of humanity at its most… human, yet I’m not a part of any of it. Not really.
With each scene of serene happiness that passes before me – every perfect couple who walk by holding hands, every family with gorgeous, cherubic children, every group of teenagers playing football or giggling while watching them – more fragments of the ice inside me slither their way into my stomach, cutting at it like knives. I embrace the pain they cause. At least it proves that I’m still alive – just the way that the gnawing hunger I crave keeps me focused on reality. I control that pain. I choose when to force it to cut deeper and when to give in to it. With every pained yawn my stomach lets off and every stabbing pain that shoots through my entire mid-section, I take back another sliver of control.
Control is good. Control is comforting, predictable, reliable. And it all flies out of the window the moment I see him. My eyes are drawn to him the moment he sets foot in the park, like they’re a compass needle and he is magnetic north. He might as well be. He is different to everybody else in that park. They all fade into the grayscale monochrome my world seems to have descended into. But he stands out like the sun shining in the middle of the darkest night. He seems to be lit up from behind, his golden hair almost glowing as his speculative gaze scans across the park, looking for something. I desperately want that something to be me, yet the thought that it might be terrifies me more than I can begin to understand.
I curl just a little deeper into myself, my knuckles white with the strain of holding my legs firmly in place against me. But I can’t force my eyes to shift from him, no matter how hard I try to return them to the ground.
I haven’t seen him since before… Before everything went from simple and easy to confusing and scary. I want to see him closer. I want his warmth to suffuse itself through me the way that it used to when the world was still beautiful and the flowers were still bright and cheery, yet I’m afraid of it. I’m running out of time to drag my eyes away. His gaze is sweeping closer and closer, and my heart rate kicks up a gear, thundering in my chest as my hands go clammy and begin to shake.
I can’t even blink. And then his piercing green eyes find me and they stop their perusal. They stop and he takes one step towards me. I can’t help the way that the corner of my mouth turns up just the tiniest bit, but it seems to encourage him. Steps two, three and four are faster, taken with more confidence, and with each movement of his feet towards me, that twitch of my lips grows into something more. The hairs on my arms prickle to attention as I slowly fall into his shadow. My eyes finally fall from his eyes and drift to his scruffy trainers, the blue Nike tick almost completely faded now. I can see the new signs of wear that have set in since the last time I saw him, and for some unfathomable reason, that smile I have no control over grows. I try to bury it against my knees but I know he’s seen. He never misses a thing. I love and hate him for that.
I can feel his intense green gaze burning into the back of my head where my thinning, ragged hair provides almost no shield against his power over me.
My heart lurches into my empty stomach like a stone when those trainers move. He’s going to walk away without even speaking. Just as I deserve. I should say something, acknowledge him with something more than just a curl of the lips. He deserves so much more than that, but it’s been so long since I had a conversation with anybody that wasn’t a nurse, a psychologist or a parent that I’m not sure I even remember how.
I hold my breath high in my chest, feeling it burn there as I wait for him to leave. It bursts out from me in a surprised yelp when instead of walking away, he sits down on the bench beside me, not too close, but just near enough that I can feel his warmth against my goosepimpled arms.
I don’t move my stare from the spot his trainers occupied only a moment ago, but I can see his denim clad legs from the corner of my eye and I feel his hand landing on the warm black painted wood beside me, the very edge of his little finger brushing against my leggings, as though he’s as afraid of touching me as I am of letting him.
“Hey.” His voice is the same rich caramel I remember, and I want desperately to relent my grip on my legs and turn to face him. But that control that’s become somehow monumentally necessary for my survival keeps me firmly in place.
I allow the silence to stretch out for five seconds, counting each one slowly in my mind before replying. “Hey…”
I can hear the smile in his voice when he speaks again, and his finger shifts, brushing a little more firmly against my leg, sending sunshine coursing through me. “How… How are you?”
The uncertainty in his otherwise smooth tone is my undoing. My hands drop from my legs before I can stop them, and the right one falls instantly to his. My fingers ghost over his, absorbing some of the familiar heat before he turns his hand palm up and curls his fingers around mine.
I glance down at them and smile at the sight of them together – his tan against my pale, his strength against my delicate, his warmth against my cold. Without conscious thought, I find myself shifting just a fraction of an inch along the bench, closer to him.
I gift him with the fullest smile I can muster when I finally look up into his face again, my hand squeezing his. With him there is no control. There never was and there probably never will be. All there is, is that all-encompassing warmth, absolute knowledge of safety, and the sensation of falling over and over again.
My shoulder brushes against his as I lean in and whisper, “They say I’m doing well.”
HA Robinson © 2016
H. A. Robinson is a jet-setting billionaire with a home on each continent, who spends her free time saving kittens from trees and babies from burning buildings. A graduate of Hogwarts and a frequent visitor to Narnia, she drinks coffee in Central Perk and tames dragons on Westeros. In her dreams… In reality, she’s a support worker living in a small town in Cheshire, who would almost always choose fantasy over reality. She’s been an obsessive reader from the moment she picked up her first Enid Blyton book, more years ago than she cares to admit, and enjoys nothing more than getting lost in new worlds and adventures from the minds of all the amazing authors out there. She’s had the voices of characters in her head for as long as she can remember, and puts them down on paper in order to convince herself and the men in white coats that she isn’t crazy.
Thank you so much for taking part Ms. Robinson!
To see the full list of authors taking part in this month-long blog tour, [click here]
To find out what “They Say I’m Doing Well” is all about, [click here]