“Why would you think I hid it—“
The hold on my skull tightened. My temples throbbed. His words were sharpened, razor tipped, “Because you told me you hid it.”
“You must be mistaken—”
The grip threatened its strength again. I felt every digit of His need.
“Last night—you told me. I know you remember because you are a lucid dreamer.”
It was Him in my dream?
Him—in my dream. My own private dream. This was a beyond-the-red-tape violation, but how could I air my concerns when He held my head in a vice. I dumbed the fluorescence of my surprise. He didn’t seem like a man you admit surprise to—but, as I looked at the man in front of me, I found His mapping points distorted; he was a poor plastic imitation of the man I had come to know. The unique blend of coils that made Andrew His distinctive self, had unravelled, or were conquered by something other. The mind behind the iris door was cloudy starless—or perhaps even empty.
Or was that what I wanted to think, what I needed to believe?
The dumbing pressure He stressed on my skull sliced my strings of sense—all my straight lines fell to loose ends. He was fever-swept with wrath, His eyes were barely a glimpse of the original man; He was wearing a skin of the diabolical, a skin of asylums, a skin that felt not to belong to Him. I didn’t recognise the face that bore into mine. Anger was too clumsy for Andrew; He was methodical and precise. He was a careful manipulator, a strategic chess player, not an abusive dominator.
He is dangerous, He is fire, The Ruby Red mantra playing on a loop, enveloping my grey space. My blunted consciousness screamed mute. I must centre myself. I must think, but the pressure of His palms. I could not—
Inches of sense bit through the strangled soreness. Was this physical bullying or bedevilment? I have never really believed in the latter, but having finally witnessed the unarmoured, undressed, soft mallow core that is Andrew, I didn’t want to believe he could hurt me; that jigsaw was too misshapen to unite. Ruby Red must be wrong—but here we are with my head in His vice.
If this was physical bullying, I would not cooperate. If it was words He wanted, I would say nothing. Besides, nothing is better than a foolish thought-crumpled something. My face plate plain, I gave Him nothing. Not a flicker of emotion, not a sign of discomfort, not even the spaghetti Western narrow-eyed fury.
Silence engulfed all. A quivering frolic of white dots danced against my vision. I pinched my eyes shut, but still said nothing, leaving a void aching between His actions and my answer. The pressure was becoming unbearable. Perhaps a passive response was not going to uncover an escape route.
I tried to think of all the examples of books or films where characters are bewitched or suffering a relapse of some fashion of trauma. The unhelpful Hulk came to mind, and then I couldn’t banish his hefty green form. I blame my friend Kitty for this unlikely grey-matter correlation. She is a Marvel master, an alpha geek. Every conversation begins with her exquisite command of the comic book world. Her voice descended on me as a perfumed godsend. I never thought her knowledge would come in handy, but what did I know.
“Now my question is,” she would say, her brows animated in the lithe topography of her voice, and her arms committed to a showdown, “how do you calm the hulk? You place someone he loves in his path.” Her hazy smile leeched into a green-muscle backdrop.
I wouldn’t care to assume so much of Andrew’s feelings for me, but alternatively, and along the same lines, could I appeal to Andrew’s morals—assuming He has them?
I latched onto His empty eyes.
“Andrew, look what you are doing.” His eyes drew a blank.
“You are hurting me, Andrew. You are hurting me a lot.”
He looked my face up and down. A glint of recognition touched His brow and the surly remote skin began to slip. I was getting through to Him—or I hoped I was.
“Look at your hands. Look at what you are doing. You are not yourself.”
He observed His hands, and faltered like a mismatched act. He stared with blown eyes at His guilty digits, His reprehensible, loaded fingers; as though something immoral had crossed His palms and they were no longer His.
The clouds stirred, His face paint-strip cleared, and He pulled His hands away, shaking them as though ridding them of their immoral conduct. His eyes pulsed in self-loathing.
The skin had slipped away entirely, and the man had reappeared. Andrew had resurfaced.
I lay immobile, fluttering stars in a sleepy void.
“I am so sorry,” I heard in swaddled soundtrack. “I am so sorry. Please forgive me.”
He was stroking my hair. Again, I said nothing. Again, my face spoke in bland and beige passives. Again, the stars flirted with the black void before my vision. Dancing fireflies or spirits or seraphs, perhaps.
“Forgive me. I never meant to hurt you. Forgive me.” He sat up, and I felt His arms holding me, His hands stroking my head, checking my breathing, my pulse. He was overtaken by a frantic tempo of concern.
The plume of angels extinguished their lights, one by one, and vision returned. Andrew was crumpled on the floor next to me, staring at His hands on my back as though they were Macbeth bloodied. His body depleted. He wouldn’t meet my eyes. My memory was latched in nowhere, unable to catch a drift of the sequences.
I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing.
I could not put all the pieces together.
All I heard was the well-trampled mantra of Ruby Red, He is dangerous, He is fire. For a moment I wondered if I had suffered another seizure. Where was I, what was happening?
The strings of sense grew long and fertile. Tendrils of thought explored and lit and began to return; my mind was my only weapon.
I had to centre myself. What had happened?
I fell into a blitz of thought, reloading events: my mind pounded back to the dream of the night before. I hid the gun, I had told him. Now He knows, and now I know Andrew was the man in my dream.
I felt an impulse of touch to rouse me, elasticated with frantic words.
I thought of Mrs Anna Arbre, and the monk who soared the astral planes to enter her dreams. Was this the same? No doubt, it will become yet another addition to my long list of unanswered questions. This man was such an enigma—His ‘Medical Condition’, the birds, the word ‘MeI’ji:’, and now this. Will He ever give me answers?
Then I remembered Andrew exerting His strength. A feverish rage to gain answers. A feverish rage, to which I was the victim. He could have left permanent damage. Thank goodness I was born with a thick skull—but my neck is not as forgiving, nor is the rest of me.
What spell was I under thinking I might ever trust this man? Why am I still doing this job when every corner hides another red light? When one corner, one day, may have no light at all.
I could do nothing to remedy that now; I had to deal with the present first.