Friday fiction: Just Do It is an extract from After The Rising, my first novel and the first book in the Irish trilogy. Jo has left Ireland for London and is drinking too much and achieving too little. Something has to give, and in this extract it does.
I’m in Natalie’s kitchen, crouching on the floor, unable to move. Darkness is fondling the windowpane, which means it’s late, but I have no idea how long I have sat here like this. In my right hand, I hold a kettle, full of cold water, but I have no memory of filling it.
My arm hurts from holding on, but I can’t let it go. My hand, my arm, everything is jammed. My body has wound down, like a clockwork toy, while my mind has gone into overspin, spewing up thought after self-lacerating thought.
I am held captive, paralysed by the parade of taunts that come swooping in, cascading one over the other to flay me. Then, somebody speaks to me from behind, over near the door.
Do it, she says.
Fear creeps along my skin. I know that voice and I know she can’t be here. She’s in Ireland and she wouldn’t come here, and if she did she wouldn’t speak those words, not out loud. Did I imagine it? It doesn’t seem so. It sounds like she is in the room behind me, her voice real and solid as a voice can be.
Do it, she says again.
On the table above me is the bread knife, with its row of shiny, sharp-toothed smiles all along the blade. It doesn’t hurt: slash, slash the serrated edge once, twice, across the skin, faster than thought. Two burning flashes, then the thoughts fade to silky black whispers…It doesn’t even hurt, that’s what they say.
Just do it.
My hand jerks and opens. Cold water splashing over my jeans breaks the spell. I can move again, though not quickly, not easily. I leave the kettle on the floor where it has fallen, the lid where it has rolled away, the water gliding along the brown linoleum. On my hands and knees, I crawl away. In the bedroom, I close the door behind me, lean against it. The thudding of my heart echoes throughout my body. Even my toes and fingertips throb. I am so frightened.
I have to go: that is what I realise. If I don’t get away, the voice will move in. She will feel entitled, invited by default. I have to go, and I have to go now before Natalie comes back, before I am back into the everyday world where thoughts like these slip down under the surface and pretend they’re not there.
I find the backpack I brought from Jack’s house and begin to fill it. It takes a huge effort, deciding what to bring. I would prefer to just walk out the door with only the clothes I am wearing, but I cannot afford that. I have very little left and am going to need everything that is mine.
Into the bag they go: clothes, records, books, anything I can fit. When I am packed, I sit down at the kitchen table to write Natalie a note. I’m trying to find words when the key turns in the door. She is home early, but not — I read by the slackness of her jaw — too early to have had a few drinks.
“Whatever are you doing?” Her wide, inebriated eyes take in my rucksack, the other bags, my duvet and pillows rolled into a black sack. “What’s going on?”
I put down the pen. “I have to go.”
“Go? What are you talking about? Go where?”
“I have to…” My voice has the shakes. “I —”
“What about money for bills, and for rent while I find someone else? Were you going without paying?”
“Natalie —” Aghast, I realise I can’t speak. If I do, I’ll break.
“Where are you going?”
I shrug. I cannot look at her drunken face, and her swollen, fluid eyes. I crumple up the sheet of paper I have been writing on.
“You’re a bit down,” she says. “Are you? Is that it?”
I pick up my bags.
“You could have told me, you know. You should have. Sneaking off like this…”
She doesn’t get it. She hasn’t a clue, about anything. The weakest part of her and the weakest part of me, that’s where we connect.
“You should leave here too,” I tell her.
“What are you talking about?” Her voice squeaks.
The doorbell rings. “That’s my taxi.”
“You can cancel it, Jo. We’ll call it again in the morning if you still want to go then.”
I shift my backpack up onto my shoulder, hug the big plastic bag to my chest so I can barely see over it.
“I can’t stay, Natalie. I don’t know how.” I turn away and she follows, picking up my other bag and walking behind me to the hall door.
It’s raining. I hand one bag to the driver, then the other. Bending my head to the weather, I run down the steps. She follows me out to the gate, insists on hugging me, her skin hot against my cheek. “I don’t understand.”
Drips slink down the shiny black rump of the cab and the engine grumbles impatiently. I pull out of her grasp.
“Ring me,” she says, as I’m getting in. “Ring me soon.”
I slump into the seat, dizzy with relief. I’m getting used to leaving, getting to recognise its imperative: shut down; face forward. I’ll write to her, I tell myself. As soon as I’m settled, I’ll write a long, long, letter, the longest letter ever written, and explain it all. I’ll write to Dee as well. And maybe even Maeve.
The driver asks, “Where to, love?”
“Heathrow Airport,” I say.
The taxi pulls away from the kerb and I turn to look back, just for a second, but I can’t see anything. Already, Natalie and her house have blurred into rain and disappeared.