Viv stared at the knife. It lay there, almost innocuous. Shining. It was definitely a bread knife, scalloped along one edge. Viv thought she could see an obstinate bread crumb trapped in one serration.
Andy’s retching had died down, but Viv’s ears were filled with such white noise that she didn’t even notice.
Paul hadn’t seemed to see her – and Andy had had a knife – and Paul had thought that she and Andy – it wasn’t like Andy wasn’t attractive, but she just didn’t think of girls like that – and why had Paul thought that anyway – and the knife – and Paul’s lack of recognition – it was like a maelstrom, a second grave pressing tighter even than the dirt had.
She brushed aside a heavy tendril of wet hair. If she was going to sit there complaining, she might as well do it for a reason. Better than letting the thoughts crash in. Something to block out the thoughts – anything…
At some point after the sixth or seventh agonising knot, and long after she had hidden from the confusion behind a curtain of pull and twist, Andy emerged from the bathroom, hair still crumpled, waistcoat and cravat half undone. Her face was splotched the red-and-white of someone who has been crying heavily.
‘You’re real.’ Her voice was horribly broken, a half-sob interrupting her words.
Viv shuffled uncomfortably on the bed, resting the brush on her legs. Her towel slipped slightly and she salvaged it. ‘Well yeah, but –’
Andy dived across the room and hugged her, body shaking with massive heaves. Her grip was ferociously tight, a great pincer of iron, and Viv tentatively hugged her back. She’d never seen her cry like this – what, what had happened –
Eventually Andy pulled away and wiped her face on one flared cuff. ‘Christ, Vivien, I’m so sorry, I’m such a sodding mess –’ Her neck twitched to one side and she growled from beneath a curtain of her hair. Her voice was bitter. ‘I mean I’ve just found out my imaginary childhood friend wasn’t imaginary –’
‘What?!’ Oh fuck, Andy didn’t recognise her either, just like Ern, and maybe Paul – decking her wouldn’t work, Andy was tough and would whack her with her cane, and it was all her stupid demon eyes’ fault, if only the walls weren’t so close –
Without even thinking about it she’d stood and begun to edge her way towards the door.
‘Stop panicking.’ Andy’s voice was arid. ‘I know you. Hell, I think I’m the only person left who does.’ She gave a weak smile at that.
Viv stopped, glared at her. ‘Explain. The fucking knife first.’
‘What would you do if someone you knew didn’t exist showed up on your doorstep?’ Andy stood awkwardly, slumping onto her cane for a moment before straightening.
‘Still waiting for an explanation that makes sense.’ Viv adjusted the towel again. ‘Any minute now.’
‘You – well –’ Andy sighed. ‘No-one else remembered – remembers – that you existed. Exist.’
‘You’re going to have to run that one by me again.’
Andy began pacing. ‘You – died. I assume you know that.’
‘Yeah, no shit Sherlockette. Somehow getting stabbed drove that one home.’ Andy winced with another neck twitch.
‘Your funeral was – it was bad, Vivien. Your mother was screaming, I’ve never heard anything like it, and your dad was just standing there like a wound down clock –’ She paused and took a gulping breath. ‘It was really, really bad.’
She stopped pacing, left hand drumming against the cane. ‘So there I am, the next day, feeling like curry fried vomit and my mum pops her head out of finances long enough to ask me what’s up. I tell her she knows damn well what’s up and to not be such an insensitive cunt and then she – Christ, Vivien, are you sure you’re real?’
Somewhat annoyed, Viv kicked Andy’s shin.
‘Ouch. Point taken.’ Andy collapsed back onto the bed. ‘Fuck me this is hard to say.’
‘Procrastination’s my thing. Being a sarcastic bitch is yours. Stop fucking about and tell me already!’
‘I did! No-one remembers you. School doesn’t. My family don’t. Hell, I went round to your place and your parents didn’t even know they’d had a kid. I couldn’t even remember where your stupid – piece of shit grave –’ Andy took a wracking, miserable breath. ‘Anyway. I started to think that I was – that I really had dreamed you up to be my friend. And then you buzz the door in your stupid muddy dress.’ She rested her head in her hands.
Viv was silent for a long time. It was – crazy. Had to be crazy. But Paul’s expression, Ernie’s blank gaze, her fucking worthless eyes – too much evidence in the weird shit category to be ignored.
‘Say you’re right,’ she said at last. ‘Why’m I back?’
Andy shrugged. ‘Don’t know. Might be worth looking at. Now I know that you’re real.’ She yawned and twitched again. For the first time Viv noticed just how tired she looked. ‘Tomorrow though. You can have the bed tonight. I’ll sleep on the sofa – fuck knows I do it often enough already. And I’ll talk to Paul – make sure he understands what’s going on.’
‘You’re taking this pretty well. And what was up with that? I mean, he thought that you – that we –’
‘Eh, you wouldn’t be the first one-nighter of mine he’d wandered in on.’ Andy rummaged briefly in a cupboard, emerging with nightwear that she tossed on the bed. ‘For you.’ She paused mid-turn to the doorway. ‘I mean, not that – I mean, you would’ve been the first girl – not that I’ve with other girls –’
‘You get so flustered about sex. You must tell me all about it.’ Viv grinned at Andy’s expression. ‘But I get it. Didn’t answer my first question.’
‘You’re alive and I’m not crazy. All’s…well. At last.’
‘How long was I –’
‘Five months, sixteen days and change.’ Andy checked her watch. ‘Seventeen days now. All over now. All over.’ She hid her mouth behind her sleeve again but before Viv could reach out to her she pulled away.
‘Well, I’ll go listen to some celebratory but grim Stone Sour in celebration. I’ll – I’ll see you in the morning.’ She smiled, a tentative smile that nearly broke Viv’s heart – Andy shouldn’t be tentative, or bursting into tears in the bathroom or twitching, or tongue tied – and left Viv to sleep.
She couldn’t sleep, staring up at the ceiling in the thick blue darkness of the room, clad in Andy’s too tight pyjamas. Jesus, why was Andy so short? She was going to lose her circulation to her whole lower leg in these things.
She’d been asleep earlier, but a hideous dream had woken her. From it she could only remember russet eyes and suffocating darkness broken by orange light, but it’d been enough to wake her wrapped in quilts thick enough that the gallop of her heart echoed across her whole body. Ruddy thing.
Now those two words occupied her. Five months. Five fucking months.
Christ, her parents had probably sold her clothes. Her embarrassing comic collection. Fuck, her laptop too. Shit, and her iPod. And phone. Her whole collection of music, gone. She’d have to rely on Andy’s collection and their tastes barely overlapped.
Did they ever miss her without knowing about it? As if there was some hole in them that couldn’t be filled. Wonder why they didn’t have as much money as they should have after years in their job. She should feel more about that. Feel more sympathy for them, but the sickness in her was so –
Viv prided herself on being spontaneous, reactive. The truth was that it was because she didn’t like change, didn’t like having to force action.
Now? Every routine was gone. She couldn’t ever sit at home and dick about on the web for hours, she couldn’t read some bullshit book and mentally rip it to pieces. She’d have to find some way to fit herself back into a world that wasn’t the right shape any more, like a toddler pushing a block desperately into the wrong hole.
She’d have to build things back up. It’d be ok – nothing really had to change that much. She’d just make herself anew. Make things anew. She curled up under the quilts and tried to settle herself down.
She didn’t sleep much that night.
The kitchen was much as it always had been – marble countertops, neatly arranged equipment. Scattered across it like seasoning, however, were food and gear that hadn’t been cleared away – a couple of spoons, an empty jar of mustard. She shuffled over to one of the cupboards.
Eventually she’d got fed up with lying in bed, the thoughts swinging through her head like wrecking balls and had grabbed a dusty hoodie and tracksuit trousers from the back of Andy’s wardrobe that just about fit. If she was awake she might as well have coffee and start planning the first obvious expedition – to get clothes. Andy was lovely, but their styles were so different it wasn’t funny and there was no way in hell any of her underwear would fit.
She grabbed the shitty instant coffee jar and a well worn mug. Her parents were – had been – goddamn it, fuck tenses – coffee nuts, but she’d liked the bitter, junky taste of instant coffee that Andy’s family favoured. ‘Thank god for late nights at the office,’ she muttered.
‘You knew where the coffee was?’
Jesus fuck, she thought it was early – no wait, Andy and Paul probably had school. She glared at Paul, and turned the kettle on. ‘Way to give me a heart attack, jerk.’
Paul frowned. ‘It’s just – look, you can tell me, you know.’
Viv glanced at him with dubiety. ‘Tell you –’ Suddenly it clicked. ‘Oh – I get it.’
‘Let me guess. You think that this is some kind of horrendous prank between me and Andy to hide some kind of illicit activity?’
He scratched his head. ‘Well…yeah. I mean, it’s the explanation that makes sense – the only one that does mind you. Say, shouldn’t you take those contact lenses out? They must be hurting your eyes.’
She’d forgotten her weird eye colour. ‘They’re not contacts. Do you honestly think I’d wear a hoodie in serious danger of exposing my midriff if I was faking this? Let alone my lack of underwear.’
‘Too much information!’ He moved to grab himself a mug too. ‘I’ll play along for now, but if Andy’s pressured you into this, I just want you to know I’m in your corner.’
‘I couldn’t pressure Vivien into anything brother dear.’ Andy stumbled around the corner, wearing the same outfit from the night before, further crumpled by sleep. ‘She’s an obstinate twit who wouldn’t come out of the rain if it involved a change.’ Her grin took the sting out of the words – and besides, it was an argument so long running it was now little more than a joke.
The kettle dinged, and Vivien grabbed it before Paul could break his neck any more with all his head swivelling. ‘You got school?’ she asked.
‘Yeah. Gotta dash – I’m sorry. I’ll leave my card for clothes. You remember the PIN?’
‘Duh. I was dead, not amnesiac. That was everyone else.’
‘Eh, I’ve heard being dead’s bad for one’s brain.’
Viv laughed, and took a mouthful of the viciously viscous coffee. Ah, sweet bitter heaven.
‘You guys are really serious about this aren’t you?’ Paul couldn’t have looked more astonished if he’d tried.
‘Speaking of, Paul, give her your phone.’
‘Give her your phone – your backup one you use to hide your internet activities from mum. If she gets into trouble she needs to be able to ring one of us. So it can’t be either of our main phones.’
‘She can use her own phone!’
‘Dude, my parental units probably sold it five months ago. Just give me the wankmobile.’
‘Ok, no! It’s my phone and I’m not handing it over for some – wacky prank!’
‘If you don’t, I’ll tell dad who accessed those websites from his work computer.’ Andy’s grin was feral and vicious – this was how she should look, like a shark scenting blood in the water, mouth working lazily in readiness to take a bite.
‘But that wasn’t me!’ Paul’s outrage was deafening.
‘Nope, but he’ll believe it was. Now, hand over the phone.’
Reluctantly, Paul slapped a phone down on the counter. Viv grabbed it quickly and stowed it in one pocket. Andy withdrew sunglasses from behind her back and tossed them to her. ‘For your eyes. Thought of it last night.’
‘Smart. Well, if no-one minds I’ll go off and get myself some clothes – no offence Andy.’
‘I hate to think of what I’d be like if I only had access to your clothes.’ She cocked her head and rapped her cane against the floor. ‘I’ll see you later.’
Viv laughed. This was how things were meant to be – none of the disillusion of last night, the confusion, the lack of status quo. Andy was as she should be, Paul was gawping and confused as he should be, and while the sunglasses dimmed the world to a faded green she was off to rebuild her life.
Yes, things were finally getting back to normal.