Something warm by my feet.
I’m not in my room at hospital. My eyes snap open as I remember.
Not a Watcher at all across the room: Amy, sound asleep and breathing deeply, like Sebastian at my feet. She is a new sort of the same thing, maybe.
I slip quiet to the window, pull the curtain.
Red streaks cross the sky, pockets of pink in wisps of cloud, like corrugated twists of metal, light shining through on grass and wet leaves, in wild splashes of colour. Orange, gold, red and all in between.
My hospital window faced west. Sunsets I’ve seen, mostly blocked by buildings, true, but never a sunrise.
The birds have friends, and the faint song from earlier becomes more as they join in. I push the window open wide, lean out and breathe. The air is fresh, no metallic or disinfectant smells. Damp greenness, of garden below and fields beyond that shimmer in the early light.
And somehow, I know. The city was never mine. I was – am – a country girl. Sure of it like breathing, certain this is a place that is more like home to me.
Not like home, it is home: yesterday, today, how many more future days I do not know.
But before I became who I am now, too. Dr Lysander says I fancy things in my subconscious, that there is no way to know if they are true or not. Applying sense to the unknown to order it, just the way I draw diagrams, maps. Faces.
Below, the glistening grass, fallen leaves in swirling patterns of so many rich colours, and most especially the fading flowers along the house, all beckon. All yearn to be captured, ordered, to become lines on paper. I pull the window in quietly and slip across the room. Amy lies silent and still, chest movements slight and even.
Two green eyes watch from the end of my bed. ‘Meow!’
‘Ssssh. Don’t wake Amy,’ I whisper, and run a hand across Sebastian’s fur. He stretches and yawns.
Where are my sketching things? Amy unpacked my bag yesterday afternoon. I was too fuzzy headed to get involved, all the new things and people taking too much attention.
I open one drawer, then another; carefully and quietly, until I find them: my folder of drawings, sketch pad and pencils.
I take them out and underneath spy chocolates, given to me as a parting gift by the tenth floor nurses that last morning. Just yesterday, I realise, surprised. It seems longer ago than that; already part of my past.
My levels are 6.1. Not low at all. I don’t need a chocolate. But who needs an excuse? I open the lid.
‘Interesting choice for breakfast,’ Amy says, then sits up and yawns. ‘Are you an early bird?’
I look at her blankly.
‘Do you always wake up early?’
I consider. ‘I think so,’ I say, finally. ‘Though that could be because at the hospital you have no choice.’
‘Oh, I remember that. Horrible morning buzzer. Breakfast by six.’ She shudders.
‘Want one?’ I hold out the box.
‘Oooh, tempting. Maybe later, when I’m more awake. What is that?’ She points at the folder in my other hand.
‘Can I see?’
I hesitate. I rarely show them to anyone, though Dr Lysander insisted on checking through them now and then.
‘You don’t have to show me if you don’t want to.’
I sit next to her and open the folder, pull out the sheets of paper. Amy exclaims at the one on top. A self-portrait. Me, but different: half as I am in the mirror, the other half skin missing, eyeball hanging from an empty socket.
‘May I?’ she holds out a hand, and I pass the drawing to her.
But that wasn’t on top before. I start flipping through the sheets.
‘You’re so good, this is amazing.’
Not enough of them, not as thick a sheaf as it should be. Where are they?
‘Some of my drawings are missing.’
‘Are you sure?’
I nod. And look through them more slowly.
Those of me, my room, imagined people and places, are present and accounted for. Many others are not.
‘I’m sure. Almost half of them are gone.’
‘What were they?’
‘All sorts of things. Nurses. My floor of the hospital, maps of different areas, rooms. Dr Lysander. And—’
‘Did you say, Dr Lysander?’ Amy’s eyes open wide.
I nod, still looking through the sheets, convinced if I look hard enough, they will all be there.
‘The Dr Lysander? Do you actually know her?’
I stop looking. They’re not here. Gone.
Bzzzz. A warning from my wrist: 4.3 and falling.
Amy slips an arm across my shoulders. I’m shaking, but not from cold. Who would do this: take the only things I have that are mine.
‘You can make more drawings. Can’t you?’
3.9 and falling.
‘Kyla! Look at me.’
Amy gives me a shake. ‘Look,’ she repeats.
I tear my eyes from my self-portrait, from the dead eye in the socket. To Amy. Worry and fear for me in her eyes, whoever I am.
‘Kyla, you can draw me. Do it, now.’
She pulls the sketch pad from the back, puts a pencil in my hand.
* * *
‘Can I see?’ Amy asks. She cranes her head forward, but I angle the sketch away.
‘Not yet. Hold still, or I won’t be able to finish it.’
‘It won’t be long now,’ I say, glancing back at Amy and then down to my drawing, for a few final strokes of my pencil.
Amy smiles. ‘Are you level?’
I turn my wrist to check. ‘Yes. 5.2 and steady.’
The door opens but I don’t look up.
‘Are you girls ready for breakfast?’ Mum says.
‘Nearly,’ I say, looking at Amy one more time, then at the sketch in my hands. A final stroke, there. ‘Done,’ I say, and put the pencil down.
‘Let me see!’ Amy springs up, and Mum walks over.
‘That is so good,’ Amy says.
Mum’s mouth is in a round ‘o’ of surprise. ‘That is Amy, you have captured her, just so. I want to frame this and hang it on the wall. May I?’
I smile. ‘Yes.’
Breakfast is pancakes. Eaten with butter melting in streaks, and syrup, or strawberry jam. I try both, together: very nice.
‘Don’t think you’ll be eating like this every day,’ Mum says. My sketch of Amy is on the fridge with a magnet instead of a frame on the wall, and Mum has reverted to her pointy self.
‘Amy, you’ve got twenty minutes before the bus and you don’t look even a bit ready to me.’
‘Can’t I stay home with Kyla today?’
‘Where’s Dad?’ I ask.
‘Work, of course. Where I should be, but had to take leave to mind you.’
I do the math. Amy is going to school, Dad’s at work: that leaves Mum and me for the whole day.
‘When can I start school? Can I go today?’
Amy explains. ‘You’ve got to be assessed by the area nurse first; she has to think you are ready. Then the school tests you to work out where to put you, what year. Though they’ve sent some books for you to read.’
‘The nurse is dropping in this afternoon to meet you,’ Mum says.
I vow to act as well adjusted as possible.
Amy dashes upstairs in a flurry of finding school books, uniform. She is in her last year of A-levels. At nineteen she should be done, at university, studying nursing like she wants to, already. But she needed an extra year to catch up. And she was fourteen when she was Slated. I’m sixteen now. How many extra years of school will I have?
‘You can wash up,’ Mum says.
She rolls her eyes.
I stand and look at them on the table.
She sighs. ‘Pick up the dirty dishes from the table and put them there.’ She points at the worktop next to the sink.
I carry one plate across and go back for another.
‘No! That will take forever. Stack them up. Like this.’
She stacks plates, pulling out knives and forks and clattering them on the top one, then plonks the lot on the worktop.
‘Fill the sink. Add soap, just a little.’ She squeezes a bottle into the sink.
‘Wash them with this brush.’ She scrubs a brush across the plate. ‘Rinse it under the tap, put it in the rack, like so. Repeat. Got it?’
‘I think so.’
I plunge my hands in the hot water.
So this is washing up.
I carefully clean a plate of the sticky remains of pancakes and syrup, rinse it and put it in the rack.
‘Pick up the pace or you’ll be there all day.’
I stop, and look around.
‘Pick up what?’
‘The pace. It means go faster.’
Plates, then cups. This isn’t so bad. I speed up and Mum starts wiping them with a towel. Amy rushes down the stairs as I start on the cutlery.
I gasp, and look down: a thin line of red drips from a knife clasped in my right hand.
Amy bounds in. ‘Oh no! Kyla.’
Mum turns and clucks under her breath. She grabs a sheet of kitchen paper.
‘Press it against, don’t bleed everywhere.’
I do, and Amy rubs my shoulder and looks at my Levo: 5.1.
‘Doesn’t it hurt?’ Amy asks.
I shrug. ‘A little,’ I say, and it does, but I ignore the jagged heat that throbs through my hand, and stare, fascinated. Bright red soaks into the kitchen paper, slows, then stops.
‘Just a nick,’ Mum says, peeling the paper back to look. ‘The nurse can check it later. She’s all right, Amy. Run or you’ll miss the bus.’
Mum wraps a bandage around my hand as Amy bounces out the door.
‘I forgot to mention, Kyla. Knives are sharp. Don’t hold them by the pointy end.’
So many things to remember.
Nurse Penny unwraps my hand later for a look.
‘It should be all right without stitches,’ she says. ‘I’ll just put some antiseptic on it. Might sting a bit, mind.’ She splashes some yellow stuff on my hand that smarts and makes my eyes water, then wraps it up again.
‘It was weird,’ Mum says, ‘when she cut it. She just stood there looking at the blood running down her hand. No tears, no reaction.’
‘Well, she’s probably never cut herself before. Never seen blood like that.’
Huh. Love it when people talk about me as if I’m not even there.
‘It didn’t send her low or anything. And—’
‘Excuse me.’ I smile my best well-adjusted smile. They both jump as if I am a ghost that materialised before them the moment I spoke. ‘When can I go to school?’
‘Don’t worry about that yet, dear,’ Penny says. ‘Have a look through the books they sent.’ And she turns back to Mum. ‘You have to try to remember to point out hazards, like knives. She may not look it, but in some ways she is really like a small child, and—’
‘Excuse me.’ I smile again.
‘Those books the school sent. I looked through them this morning. They’re too easy, all stuff I already know from the hospital school.’
‘A genius then, are you?’ Mum says, with a look on her face that says I’m quite the opposite.
Penny pulls a netbook out of her bag. Frowns and taps the screen on the side, then runs her finger across the screen, searching files.
‘Well actually, she isn’t far off. Tested age-appropriate before she left the hospital. That is most unusual; most of them are years behind. I’ll get the school to send some more stuff. Or Amy might have old school books around? We need to work out what subjects you should take.’