Endgames

My ageing radio-alarm says 03:31. What sort of a time is that to wake? I leave my bedroom door open at night so it’s no surprise to see a light on and hear someone moving around.

Except it is. I live alone now.

My next fully-awake thought is of a burglar but, they don’t hum to themselves, do they? This person, male or female – I can’t tell, seems relaxed and even happy. I even hear a Ha! sound as if the person is delighted with something.

Now the kitchen tap’s running at full force and I think the kettle’s being filled.

No one has a key to my house but me. I have to go down and find out what’s going on. Dressing quickly, I take my care alarm just in case I need to press it. I also grab my phone. I could take a picture or something in case … in case of what? For the police? I simply don’t know.

The person has started singing now. It wasn’t a light switched on because it moves, but not like a torch beam, more of a glow.

“Who’s there?” I call from the stairs.

“It’s only me. Um, I don’t have a name as such. Jasmine blossom tea for you is it? I sniffed your mug. You didn’t wash it and this packet smells the same.”

Again, I don’t get any feeling of threat, but grip my alarm just in case. The kitchen door is open and the person looks like an angel or spectre or a bit of both. It’s really difficult to focus on anything. The light comes from skin and clothes.

Looking at me, the apparition says, “Do you have any bread, cheese, that sort of thing?”

“Who are you?” I enter the kitchen.

Looking at my packet of tea the person says, “Um, Jasmine? Call me Jasmine, will that do? Or Blossom … let’s go for Jasmine.” I stand speechless. She smiles. “I’m a supernatural being, maybe the only one of my kind so completely defined. I need to talk to you. Is this a fridge? Is this where cheese may be found? Oh, please. Just this once.” Without waiting for permission she rummages through the contents. “Ooh, Camembert!” Turning to me, she adds, “Crackers or anything?”

“There,” I point, “in the cupboard. There are some in that tin but they’ll be a bit soggy by now.”

She skips and claps her hands. “Soggy is quite excellent. My teeth are like the rest of me, a bit insubstantial and see-through.”

I’m totally dumbfounded but strangely relieved as I decide everything I’ve ever been told about anything is quite wrong. She’s placed my cup on the table and I sit in the chair nearest. Her eyes widen and crumbs skitter down as she takes a bite. “Sorry, I’m a bit messy but this is my first time.” Leaning against the counter she says, “You are a very important person and about to do something really clever. You just need to think in a cool new way. Well, not new … just wiser.”

It’s not cold here. At my age I leave the heating on low at night during winter. However, I like the warmth on my fingers as I wrap them around the mug.

“Oh,” she says with her mouth full, “It’s me who needs to talk, isn’t it? Yum, this is lovely. Sorry about my manners. Anyway, this is about Angie.”

“Angie?” I ask, “Angie who? The only one I know is…”

“Angie Fairchild. Yes, that’s the one – your stepdaughter. She’s in a spot of bother.”

“She always is. I … I don’t really know her. I haven’t seen her in ages. We don’t have much of a…”

“Actually you do, well she does. Do you know you’re the only person in her life? She has no friends – nothing. That makes you terribly important even though she doesn’t really know it.”

This is not good news and the room has mysteriously grown icy cold.

Jasmine sits and lifts her mug. “What are you thinking?” She watches me in silence as my thoughts spin and tumble. Taking a sip of tea, she spills some splashing on the table but doesn’t react. “OK, I’ll tell you what you’re thinking because I’m a bit of you and a bit of her. “She’s trouble. She’s selfish … selfish? Do you really think that? Selfish because she attempted suicide and that caused her mother and you pain and disruption?” She frowns. “We need to do something about that.”

I shrug as an awful weight of premonition lands, pushing me deeper into the chair. I grunt, “It’s not really anything to do with me. She’s reclusive, doesn’t speak to people, me anyway. Lately she’s always pushing me away, leaving the room as soon as I finish speaking, impatient to be gone. She doesn’t really like me any more.”

Jasmine pulls a framed photo from her pocket or something. “But she sent you this – a picture of you and her mother together.”

“Well, yes.”

“This is one of her prized, most cherished things.”

“It can’t be. She wrapped it badly for a start – and got the address wrong, well, almost illegible.”

“You don’t think it was a struggle for her to do even that?”

“Well, I didn’t think…” I run out of words.

Jasmine rolls her eyes and slaps the table. “That’s the problem with humans! They always judge. They say that a person walking in front of a car is a fool and don’t stop to think the person may be stressed or having a stroke or something.”

“Angie was always a bit slapdash about things though.”

“Let me tell you what her depression is like. It started with expectations, hers, yours and those from society. She wanted to save the whole world and always felt a failure. The pain started and grew. She became more desperate, wilder ideas and expectations, greater goals, bigger risks and worked so hard. Nothing could have worked – nothing would ever be enough.”

I sit back. “Yes, that does seem to describe her a bit.”

“She took risks even to the point of compromising her own principles and ethics – as she saw others doing so successfully. Tiny little things but enough to fuel her own self-contempt. The pain stops you thinking.”

That has me stumped. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Oh, that’s the easy bit. Chronic stress and pain change how you think. It’s chemistry. The brain stops being so efficient. Circular thoughts whirl round and round and round endlessly, uselessly and the sufferer has no control over them. The pain grows into relentless torment. The person begins to contemplate suicide but fights it off because they know it’ll hurt the people they love. They’re at the stage where contact with other people is already awful because they don’t want their useless, contemptible self near anyone they care about. The pain worsens to the point they can hardly think of anything but it and the people they love. Self-contempt is extreme and their thoughts so out of control they begin to see their death as a blessing to others. They’re usually way, way beyond asking for help by then. The brain has stopped hoping. The realisation comes that even the people they love would forgive them their suicide – if those people understood how merciless the agony is. Finally all consciousness is limited to unendurable suffering and its immediate end. There is nothing else.”

I sit struggling to speak, my thoughts in turmoil. “She’s going to try killing herself again?”

Jasmine leans forward and lifts the photo. “Giving away precious possessions to people who will take care of or treasure them is often a very last act.” She places the photo on the table and pushes it to me. “That’s where Angie is now.”

“But why doesn’t she…?”

“Because she can’t think – her brain is not working: she’s helpless! Look, I say the pain is unendurable because it’s a million miles beyond your experience and imagination. Don’t call her selfish, call her.”

“But … but how would I know what to say or do?”

“Who does know?”

My mind freezes. “I don’t know anyone who…”

“It’s simple. Who do you call in emergencies? You have a phone in your hand.”

“The police … an ambulance… There must be someone, some service but…”

“But what?”

©Gary Bonn, 2019

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