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After a while things began to calm down. We weren’t in such a hurry now. We didn’t talk all the time. Some days we didn’t talk at all. They say that happens to couples. Eventually you run out of things to say to each other. It wasn’t like that with us though. We were never not talking to each other. Even when we were silent, the conversations carried on so that when we did start talking again, we always found ourselves at exactly the same point in the discussion. We never had any catching up to do.

A lot of the time we liked to pretend we were on TV. We got into a routine. One of us would ask questions and the other would answer, like in an interview. For the benefit of the tape. Accusations. Denials. We would run through the arguments, evading the questions or confronting them head-on until something like the full story emerged, each stanza unfolding separately but connected, one after another for ever and ever, till death us do part.

This is how it goes:

– Tell me. Tell me the first thing you remember.

– I’m lying in my sleeping bag in a tent. The night is hot and breathless and I’m supposed to be asleep by now except I’ve been dreaming. It’s the same dream I always have, the only one I can remember. In fact, it’s not even a real dream. Dreams are easy, instantly forgettable. This is more like a feeling, a sense that something dark and heavy is about to smother me, crush me. I can’t quite see it but I know that it’s there and it’s starting to squeeze my body. My chest feels tight, my throat feels constricted, my eyeballs are ready to pop. I think I’m going to be sick. There is a terrible pain in the middle of my forehead as if something is drilling into my skull, trying to get at my brain.

I’ve been having this dream for as long as I can remember. Usually it happens when I’m about to fall asleep but then, when I emerge from it, I’m never really sure if I’ve been asleep or not. No time seems to have passed and I’m lying in the same position as before, still trying to get to sleep. I’m left with the pain and the fear and the feeling that something horrible is waiting for me out there.

When I wake up this time, I can hear the murmur of my parents’ voices outside. They’re sitting nearby on the other side of the thin nylon wall, their low whispers partially blanketed by the quiet hiss of the gas lamp. It’s like listening to a badly-tuned radio, trying to pick out the words as the sound fades in and out. At first it sounds like one long mumble, a vibration in the air, but then the voices start to separate, become more distinct, and I realise with a start what it is that they’re talking about.


Immediately I am more awake than ever before, straining to catch what they’re saying. I breathe slowly, holding myself completely still.

I hear my mother’s voice first – she sounds weary – pleading with my father. She says that I’m only young, that I’ll learn. They have to be patient with me. Then the rumble of my father’s voice, more emphatic. No, I’ll never learn. I’m different from the other children. They have to recognise that. This can’t go on. Something has to be done.

I am alarmed to hear them talking about me in this way, but excited too. I’ve never heard anybody talk about me in this manner before. I want them to keep on talking even though I’m fearful of what they might say. It’s strange to realise that people can see me in ways about which I know nothing. It had never occurred to me before. I’d always imagined that people saw me exactly as I saw myself. I wonder what else they can see? What are they hiding from me? A whole new territory opens up before my eyes.

After that, there was no holding me.

The next thing I know, I’m running through a forest, crashing through the undergrowth. The others have left me behind or else I’ve left them behind, I don’t know. I’m lost. I shouldn’t have gone off like that. I have to get back. It’s horrible in the forest, never knowing what might be lying in wait. I can hear every leaf rustle, every branch creak. There is something hiding behind those bushes, watching me, waiting for the right moment to leap out and grab me. I start to scream.

Suddenly I see a man and a woman walking towards me, arm in arm. The woman is resting her head against the man’s shoulder and he is gently kissing her hair. They’re just kids really although they look like grown-ups to me. As soon as I see them, I stop running and shouting. I pretend that I’m just out for a walk. I don’t want them to think that anything is wrong even though I’m lost and frightened and they must have heard my screams.

I stand aside to let the man and woman pass. They both look at me. The woman gives me a tiny smile but doesn’t really see me. She’s smiling to herself. The man doesn’t smile. He looks at me as if I remind him of something which he can’t quite recall, something that doesn’t belong here in the forest all alone. For an instant, I think he might stop to inquire if everything is OK. I want them to stop, to talk to me, to show concern, to find a way out of here, but I am afraid too. The man notices my fear and reads it as hostility. They walk on.

As soon as they disappear from view, I start running again, except this time I don’t know if I’m moving towards safety or away from it.