Each morning William wakes up wanting to feel different, and each morning he is disappointed over breakfast again. Had those winds blown in a different direction, had that unknown butterfly beat its tiny wings to a different rhythm, perhaps he would be sitting somewhere else now filled with joy rather than pain. He had often wondered what happiness would be like, it was the dream that seduced him to sleep as a child, as the darkness around him resounded with the crashing of doors and furniture driven by his parents’ bickering.
Perhaps if had he declined that job in London that year and accepted the one in New York, maybe things would be different in a different country, a different time zone — he could have been a different person. Love, true love knew no distances and at one stage he would have travelled the world in pursuit of it. But like some half-remembered refrain of a long forgotten song, like sauntering around a dim, dusty house on a lost Sunday, that’s how life was now — vague and meandering.
He manages a grin as Penny walks past with her plastic badge and smile handing out pills. He occasionally talks to them but it’s difficult to feel that anybody really cares anymore. The world is full of hurt and always will be it seems.
It had initially taken him by surprise. And then he grew accustomed to it, now the sorrow which had consumed him long ago threatened to touch everyone he came in contact with. He had stopped counting the number of times love had died or passed him by because of it. And no matter how he tries to fill it, it seems to rage and grow daily despite the medication.
In the summer things had been different, somewhat lighter, but now winter has arrived the dark nights press against him like cold hands inflicting him with numbness. William finds it difficult to sit without feeling its great, dark weight pushing down on him. At night he senses the terror of time like a hot breath against his neck, like a hunter chasing him down relentlessly in his dreamless sleep.
Sometimes the medication helps him forget and brings small relief in nothingness until they change the medication again. At least here he is isolated enough to be out of society’s harmful gaze. They watch him sometimes in his sleep to ensure he keeps the promises he made when he came here and doesn’t hurt himself.
‘Some folks just don’t see things the way we do,’ he says to Lucy.
He likes Lucy but she doesn’t say much, she is naturally shy and the drugs keep her glazed and silent.
He deals the cards anyway, takes a sip of hot, tasteless tea, rolls a cigarette and peers out into the dying garden behind Lucy’s shoulder.
To many, at various points in his life, William seemed to be the epitome of contentment — loving, caring, self-effacing — but it was an improvised act he’d committed to long ago to hide the pain that grew from an early age. It’s an act he’s honed after the pain refused to go away. Now after years of disappointment, William accepts that life doesn’t have to be full of drama to validate it, life can still be meaningful without the crises he both longed for and dreaded.
We all walk the cliff edge, but the trick is to do it while looking into the distant horizon without feeling the terror that you will fall at any second. But William dreads that if he learns to walk it well enough they may let him out, back to where he must rebuild everything from the remains of dust and ashes.
William fans the cards in his hand. ‘Kings,’ he says.
‘Go fish!’ says Lucy.
William takes a card and feels the unwanted twinge of disappointment again.
‘Queens!’ says Lucy with a shy smile.
William manages a smile in return and hands Lucy his Queen of Hearts as Penny passes him his morning’s medication in a plastic cup, with a plastic smile.