Hannah Jones wants to be alone.
Huddled inside the wings of a tattered shawl, she perches on a secluded bench in the market square where the wind funnels and drives the wreckage of life into uncared for corners. In bruise-purple ink she scrawls across the leaves of her journal pausing only to breathe onto white-tipped fingers.
And she is alone.
Except for the music in her head. The wind and the music drive her on, feeling her words in the light of a flickering lamp that barely illuminates her despair: The bloody pain the suffocating breath sink into me, stinking carcase that I am sitting here unable to think – unable to think how I got here unable to think what I’ve done. Except I think I killed a man.
Three hours before, when the clock behind the bar at the Black Rose club had spewed out eleven chimes, Hannah had needed to be alone. There was a fixed limit on how long she could wear her sociability and that limit was bearing down on her. Fast. Disembodied voices from the bar stifled her ability to think and to breathe, physical and mental states bound up, impossible to unravel. She knew the keen embrace of the fume-filled air as a mine-canary knows the twists and turns of its underground cage. She downed the last of her Bloody Caesar in one hit and scanned the flush of faces around her.
‘Where’s Matt?’ she said to everyone and no-one. Only Claire turned to her.
‘You seen Matt?’
Claire shook her head. ‘Probably shooting up in the bog.’
‘I’m going home.’
‘So early, kid?’
‘I’m beat. Tell Matt I’ve gone home, will you?’
‘Sure thing.’ Claire winked.
Through the opened door Hannah saw the harsh February winds blowing jagged patterns of white into the dark. She pulled a rough-weave shawl around her thin body, hunched her shoulders and pushed out through the heat and noise, into the piercing night. Her car was hidden under a frosting of snow and she scraped away at the lock, then pushed home the key. A small smile escaped her lips as she sank back into worn upholstery and breathed in the silence of her own space.
Back at home Hannah poured a generous measure of wine and gulped down a couple of pills before turning on the gas fire and watching it burst into life. Close to the fire, the red wine took on its heat and Hannah sipped its unfamiliar warmth. But nothing could warm her, not the fire, not the wine, as she sat breathing in the cold of dread and breathing out the chill of despair; a disquieted sparrow that has out-manoeuvred the sparrow-hawk and fears its return. All the while Joss Stone’s words beat out from the CD player. From the bookcase she pulled a well-worn journal and scrawled her essence on to its pages. Release came from committing the unspeakable to paper, recounting the gratuitous torment of her waking hours and kept for her eyes only.
‘Where are you, my sweet bitch?’
Hannah started upright, instinctively stuffing journal and pen into her bag. She must have let herself fall asleep. Idiot. She scrambled into the hall, cold sweat creeping from every pore.
‘Hi Matt. Had a g …?’
‘Don’t – you – ever leave me like that again.’
‘I was so tired, Matt. I did look for you.’
‘And I looked a fucking arse.’ Matt lurched towards her and she could taste his sweat.
‘I asked Claire to tell you I’d left for home.’
‘Claire? You should have told me. Now get me some food pronto and shut up that fucking noise.’
Hannah hesitated. What to do first? Matt made the decision for her, drawing back his fighting arm and sending her reeling like a jointless doll. A chair broke her fall. She jabbed at ‘eject’ and the silence pounded in her ears.
‘And get me a Bud.’
In the kitchen she grabbed bread and bacon, knife and pan, salt and ketchup. With the smell of bacon fat filling her nostrils she smothered thick slices of bread with the scarlet sauce. Matt staggered towards her; ‘your being is fiction / your dream is mire,’ he sang, voice like a spade slicing into gravel. She held out an opened lager and he poured the liquid into his mouth, swiping at it with the back of his hand as it overflowed onto his chin. He seized Hannah, biting into her soft neck and she let fall the blackening bacon onto a wad of bread. ‘You rave and rove / and set on fire,’ he rasped into her ear.
In the chasm between herself and sanity Hannah hears footsteps invading her space.
‘Hello, Hannah. It’s Mary. You haven’t been at group this week. Everything alright?’
Hannah pulls her shawl tighter and tucks her arms inside its folds. The woman sits beside her and Hannah is aware of others in the distance.
‘Still writing, Hannah. You’re so good with words.’
Hannah pushes her leather-bound life under her and sits defiant, tugging the ends of her shawl, and rocking back and forth, back and forth. From outside her head she can hear the murmuring sound of a wailing child and feels the sounds in her throat. The rocking and the wailing synchronise and her distress spirals into the darkness.
‘It’s alright, Hannah. But I’d like to take you somewhere safe. Get you a hot drink. Make sure you’re okay.’
I am okay safe away – from everyone who can hurt me – safe in my own space not in the world’s place – caged like a bird never free. Hannah cannot say the words and her silent protest suffocates.
A second woman steps forward, bends to pick up a bloodied knife with an ice-white handkerchief and places both in a plastic bag. From the corner of her eye Hannah sees the dark coarse fabric of a uniform as the woman stoops in front of her.
‘We can’t leave you, Hannah, you know that. You’ve blood on your face and arms. You need to tell us what happened.’ This second voice jolts into Hannah’s consciousness, a fully tuned radio station.
How can I tell you what I don’t know myself?
Flanked by the two women, Hannah allows herself to be led to a waiting police car.
I remember leaving the club – the quiet of my flat – remember the music and Matt and the knife in my hand and the blood. Why can’t I remember the rest? They know what I’ve done. That’s why they’ve come for me.
The car’s rear door is opened and Hannah feels a hand resting on the crown of her head as she stoops into the vehicle. It is his hand pushing my head down, down towards the floor. The WPC stretches over to click shut the seatbelt and leans into Hannah making her suck in her breath and draw back into the seat using her journal as a shield. His body crushing down onto me, crushing until I can’t breathe, crushing down until my head is wedged between the sharp edge of the cooker and the door. I taste Matt’s sweat and my own fear as he drives into me then the taste of blood as I sink my teeth into his thrusting tongue. Her breathing races like the heartbeat of a hand-held chick.
‘It’s alright, Hannah,’ says Mary. ‘You’re safe now.’ She reaches for Hannah’s hand and chafes her frozen fingers. Hannah withdraws further into herself.
I’m not safe – you know I killed Matt – that’s why you’re taking me in – I’ll go to prison and not back to hospital – I know and you know I’ve gone too far this time – and nothing can save me.
Hannah flails her arms away from Mary. I killed Matt – I’ll go to prison. Hannah’s cries catch in her throat. Someone help me!
‘There’s the psycho bitch. Tried to kill me.’
As she is led into the police station Hannah is startled to hear Matt’s voice, raising hell like always.
‘You fucking bitch. You’re a psycho. You’ll be locked up for good this time.’
Hannah sees dark crimson on the scrap of cloth around Matt’s arm, and a smear of red on his cheek. She clutches her journal, and a deep-purple scrawl flashes across her mind,
meat and fat and blood red sauce,
searing pain that splits my brain,
bloody knife will end this course
She sees trickles of blood mingle with her words, words that will not shield her from the consequences of her guilt. Words that only lay bare her own evil thoughts, her own deceit. Words that can never tell of the evil she has come to know.
Hannah Jones focuses on a small crack in the tiled floor and stands alone, truly alone, trapped between her fear and her wordless memory. And her aloneness in that moment is more dreadful than she had ever imagined.
World Mental Health Day, minus six
10 October each year is recognised by the World Health Organisation as World Mental Health Day, and the theme chosen for 2020 is “Mental Health for All”.
During this time of global uncertainty it seems especially important to care for our own mental health, and to be aware of the mental health needs of others. Each day in the week prior to 10th October I shall be posting poems and stories that explore issues around my own mental health, or that I have written in response to important emotional and psychological themes.
My story today centres on a young woman trapped by fear in a toxic relationship of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Her only outlet is her private journal, her only lifeline a mental health support worker. Total breakdown may be the catalyst that saves her from abuse and allows her to share her words with those who can help her.
Thank you for reading my words.
Take care of yourself, and those you love. But most importantly, take care of yourself.