Sonia (the woman in the orange skirt) comes each day to check up on me and bring me milk and fresh fruit. I still feel very tired and spend a lot of time sitting down, either on the sofa indoors if it’s too hot outside, or on the lounger outside when it cools down. The house has a serene organic look, set into an overgrown bank, half submerged among ferns and creepers. It reminds me of a fisherman’s cottage, maybe in Cornwall, or Crete. The window frames are even painted blue. I climbed the bottom few rungs of the ladder and had a quick peek upstairs yesterday and found an airy roof space with big windows at either end, and a broad, low wooden bed waiting for me above where the sofas are down here. It looks very inviting but in the state I’m in, I fear I may not make it down again in one piece. ‘And we don’t want that again’ says Sonia. I don’t ask.
So in the evening I’m sitting out on the lounger, watching the parrots and monkeys in the trees opposite. They always seem to be especially active just before the sun goes down, shrieking and shaking the branches. It’s quite comical really. I take a sip of my lemonade and look up and down the road. No one comes along here much – just occasionally someone on their way to the beach, which I’m told is just over that rocky rise on the right. I can hear the waves and the gulls from here and sometimes the gulls come up into the river to bathe in the pools. They have pale blue beaks and feet. Quite stylish.
It’s hard to focus that far away for long. I sink down in my seat and look at the sky but that’s too bright and my sunglasses are indoors and I can’t be bothered to go and get them. I look down at the path. It seems to be made of rounded pebbles, and weeds fill the spaces between them – bright little orange pea flowers and magenta mallow flowers on trailing stems. I watch a velvet worm make its laborious rippling way from the pile of leaves by the water butt to the terracotta pot by the door. It’s about ten inches long. I don’t think I’ve seen one that big before. I look at the bundle of dead sticks in the pot and consider asking Sonia if she’ll find me some seeds to plant. The whole exterior of the house needs some attention I notice. That would be a good thing to do when I’m feeling fitter.
A delicate metallic sound comes to me from the left, along the road. I turn and look but can’t see anyone because the road curves round out of sight toward what I’m told is the town. All I can see is the steep bank that my house backs onto (“my house”? The one I’m staying in anyway). I took a short walk along there yesterday with a stick for support. I don’t know much about tropical vegetation and I stood and stared into the mass of cactus and fern and palm and agave and trailing flowers all tangled together, and the nectar birds and the emerald lizards and chameleons and tree frogs, mantis and butterfly and a myriad other more cryptic life forms I have no names for yet, all going about their business. I nearly toppled over into it. Now there’s a man driving a mule cart past, heading toward the sea. He tips his cap to me and I nod back. They all know who I am apparently but I have no idea who any of them are, except Sonia of course.
‘Have you remembered anything?’ she says next day as she bustles around, tidying things up. I look around, ashamed. I’ve been a total slob. There’s tissues and books scattered about all over the place and I don’t suppose there’s a clean cup left in the cupboard. They’re all over here, with dregs and tidemarks. A couple are in the bin in pieces because I forgot how to walk and carry things at the same time but I’m getting the hang of it now. Sonia tutted and shook her head but I get the idea she likes having someone to fuss over.
‘I’m sorry’ I say, avoiding the question, ‘I’m not normally as bad as this’ and I make a feeble attempt to stand and help her with things. She just goes ‘Pshht’ and waves me back down. I slump back gratefully. I don’t think I ever felt so totally exhausted in my life...
There was a little house on a hillside and a woman in a white cotton dress...
I can’t seem to remember her face or her name. I find myself weeping quietly about it. Sonia doesn’t notice. She’s too busy. Good thing.
I try instead to work out what my last memory is before I woke up here.
‘Was I injured?’ I ask her.
‘You could say that.’
She gives me an expression that asks if I really want to know.
I nod and lie back. No, I really don’t.
I remember a canyon, or a crevasse. I have this feeling of being there, looking up at that thin, jagged streak of sky high above, watching the weather pass, and birds circling (buzzards I guess, or vultures) for what seemed like the whole of my existence. Anything that might have happened before, I let go of. It made it worse, remembering. Better to be like a rock, or a branch, broken and fallen into a ravine, waiting for rot and erosion to cover me and blend me with my surroundings, to return to my elements.
The warm sun and the soft, comfortable furnishings of the house feel like a mirage or film, like I could push my hand through the brightly coloured surfaces and find stones underneath – the sharp, ripping, crushing edge and mass of them. The water was not cold enough to freeze but cold enough to feel it trickle and seep into every part of me. I feel myself heavy with it, waterlogged. Meanwhile I feel my blood, still warm and sticky, draining away into the grit and moss that has settled around me. And some of the edges grinding and scraping are not the shards and splinters of the wood that fell with me – some of them are bone, my bones, shattered and exposed to the air and the drizzle. Steaming and clotting I can’t bear look at the damage. I am becoming a compost, a ground person, chopped and mashed and mixed with my fellow minerals and organisms here in the dark and the wet and the cold.
And yet this tumble is not something that has happened recently. There is no emergency. I’ve been here as long as I can remember. Soil has formed around my arms and the rocks crushing my pelvis and legs have settled into position. Moss has spread from the soil behind me across my shoulder. (What was I wearing? A coarse material, canvas or heavy linen, dark blue – it decomposed into the humous as I lay there but I can still see a trace of my pale, porous skin exposed through the dirt. How strange.) A tree seedling I can plainly see has appeared in front of my face where my body should be. I hate to think where it has sent its roots or what it’s feeding on. It’s at least six feet tall.
I remember some peculiar, insubstantial characters came along to talk to me sometimes. I never saw them, just heard their voices, or perhaps not heard them exactly, but I understood what they meant. They were sympathetic but not much help otherwise.
‘How long was I there?’ I mutter.
‘Sorry?’ she says, turning and smiling brightly at me.
‘How long was I down there?’ I repeat, more clearly.
She says she’ll ask Peter to drop by later on. Apparently he was the one who found me.
‘Ok’ I say, doubtfully, but I’m not sure I can stand any more company just yet.