Trevor Murray – Adrift

profile-picTrevor Murray is a 26-year-old journalist and fiction writer currently studying his MA in Writing at NUI Galway. He is currently working on a series of short stories as well as his debut novel. His journalism work has seen him published on RTE.ie, Yahoo News and theJournal.ie, as well as many others.

Adrift

By Trevor Murray

She felt like she was about to throw up. A seething nausea lurched inside her stomach, catching every now and then in the back of her throat as she tried to soothe herself with rhythmic caresses of either temple, using her fingers as a sort of placebo.

It was pointless, she knew deep down, but the ritual of it gave her something to focus on without having to think too much, and that helped her a little. It meant she stood a fighting chance of not breaking down or giving into the woozy wave rocking through her. She thought she felt the bed sway.

Earlier, in the harsh light of day, she had felt a pauperised version of herself. Her every step around the house as she had crunched on some toast, from tiled surface to mahogany floor, compounded the pain with a fresh drumming of incessance, complimenting the screeching soundtrack skipping inside her skull.

She had been a long-time sufferer of migraines for about five years. Before then, whenever anyone had mentioned the illness to her, she had just thought it as a sort of bad headache. Not anymore. They had come on her suddenly, and though she couldn’t remember exactly when, a half-memory of smoking birthday candles and sponge cake in the shape of ‘35’ told her it probably coincided with the arrival of middle-age.

The familiarity she had built up with her chronic illness ever since middle age had done little to help her find ways to battle it. Like an enemy general who kept changing their tactics on the eve of every war, she had been constantly wrong-footed in every effort to fend off the assaults which launched themselves at her, often out of nowhere.

She had tried everything to find a way to sop them: Diet diaries, to find a trigger; burning incense to soothe her when she felt one building inside her; drinking more water in case dehydration was the cause; placing an ice pack on her forehead to fight the discomfort; taking aspirin; she even went for a few acupuncture sessions, a waste of time. On and on the procedure of trial and error continued with few positive results. The only thing that worked for her was a particularly effective drug sold in a little red box, covered in yellow writing. To find it in the medicine cupboard with an attack brewing brought almost as much relief as the tablets themselves. It was the only reliable cure – without it, she often became lost to the day.

Today was such an occasion. All hope had been sucked out of the rays of light which had infiltrated the divide in her heavy brown bedroom curtains for much of the early morning before she had conjured the exact kilojoules of energy, and no more, to haul herself up to tug them together. All expenditure of energy beyond the absolutely necessary like leaving the house, meeting a friend for a coffee, reading a book or doing anything other than to lie motionless in her darkened room with only the dulled sunlight for company, were off the menu.

Indeed, questions themselves and any mode of thinking were to be avoided at all costs – she had little room for anything other than pain – all she could do was wait for its tumult to come to a solvent and gradual end.

A fizzing concoction brewed sovereignly on her bedside locker a few inches to the left of her head, it’s effervescence fading from aggressive to passive as the uncounted seconds ticked by. Luckily, she had found half a bottle of water and some aspirin in her handbag beside the bed as the rattling had started silently insider her.

Still, there was something soothing about the way the sizzling, cloudy liquid worked away of its own accord, the frothy bubbles whispering the prospect of a reduction in pain in the shadowy environs of the four walls. Listening to the two tablets disintegrate out of sight would probably give her as much relief as the aspirin-infused fluid itself. Anything she could get her hands on without a prescription wasn’t much good to her; she had thrown this potion together more out of hope than anything else.

That these bouts of misery ambushed her on days of existing stress such as today made the affliction all the more cruel. Bereft of any energy or will to move a muscle let alone to nip down to the shops meant she wouldn’t see the inside of the village pharmacy today – she’d not get her day-salvaging capsules before they pulled down their shutters at 5:30 pm.

Nestled beside the glass sat an assortment of documents, papers and receipts as well as her mobile, alarm clock and ransacked purse, relieved of more scattered receipts than money. It was a picture of reckless research. A docket from the Department of Social Protection had informed her early that morning that her payment had been suspended because she had not signed on at the beginning of the month. She had been trying to fashion a budget in her upstairs bedroom to stretch her until the following Tuesday when the migraine struck her, building insidiously away from her notice until it had reached an unmistakeable level of discomfort, cracking through her concentration with an icy sharpness.

Soon, it bore through her with shivering ruthlessness until her vision blurred and she could hardly hold the sheets scrawled with hastily worked-out sums, never mind read what they represented. She’d thrown them from her before slumping against her pillows, eventually slinking under the covers to hide herself from any further attacks or antagonisms. Against her better will, though, some thoughts squeezed themselves through the constant pain and into her mind.

Those mean motherfuckers didn’t ever miss a trick, did they?  Slip up once and they’re all over ya, just waiting to strip you of whatever small benefits you’re getting from them, she thought. How’m I supposed to get to next week with only thirty quid? I can’t do it, she shouted inside her head – doing it out loud wasn’t an option. In the hallway, through the barely open door, her cat mewed for some attention and food.

Unable to entertain the one-way debate, she unconsciously disengaged from her anger for a moment. She would have gone straight in to town to have a word with the Department, but she was essentially rooted to her room, and even the prospect of pounding the three miles to the bus on foot in her state made her wretch in a mixture of disgust and self-pity, but she was mainly disturbed by the sheer notion of moving. Under the duvet, she still felt the disorienting anti-rhythm of spinning against her will, but with no objects to distract her, she allowed herself to float in the semi-darkness. It hardly consoled her, but it did at least deaden one aspect of her debilitating migraine enough that she hammered out a brief text to her daughter, trying to not look directly at the bright screen.

Kate can you bring me back advil please? Ta pet x

Her daughter was studying late in the university. There was a chance she’d see the text and remember to stop by the 24-hour pharmacy on her way home. It was a hit and hope message. She might decide to head out on the town. It was impossible to know unless she got back to her. Again, her feline friend let out a fussy howl.

The day had ebbed by imperceptibly without her fully realising it. Hours had segued together in throbbing unison, easing bit by bit as the light’s power shrank dramatically and the shadows expanded around the once well-lit room. A buzzing rippled through the blankets out of sight, and she went fumbling for her phone on the other side of the bed, pressing her hand around aimlessly until it met a familiar plastic touch. A response from her daughter.

Hiya mam, will be back v late, heading out tnite – that ok? x

Crushed, she threw the phone away from her, hearing it thud against the carpeted floor. Frustration and anger blended inside her as her head throbbed again, replying to the message of its own accord. It wasn’t the text she’d been hoping for. She couldn’t possibly blame her daughter for such a throwaway text – students would be students, after all – no, it was something else. Clarity of expression evaded her, but part of her felt that she was just annoyed with herself, exhausted with life’s miseries and sick to be stuck alone with no help.

Despite her desire to drift to sleep, it had evaded her and she was now restlessly lying in bed with the meringue-like duvet, thick and puffed in places, spread about her for comfort, waiting for drowsiness to whisk her away somewhere less focused on the now, the tension, the tautness of mind and head. It was a tired picture, a familiar one, a feeling she had become all too used to with every passing week. Like looking through an old family photo album after a couple of high-percentage beers. She almost heard her phone hum into the think fabric floor covering – perhaps the battery had been drained.

Lilting, drooping, easing. Her head swayed ever-so-slightly one way, then the next, back again, against her mountain of propped pillows. The pain was still there, but the awareness had started to slip away against the cushiness of her surroundings. Scrambled thoughts accompanied an absent-minded yawn and an involuntary jerk of her left foot. Eyelids fluttered against the darkness. Nudging the bedroom door open with one of his fat white paws, her impatient cat padded his way inside, pouncing up on the bed, ruffling the covers here and there, before finally lying down beside her with particular caution. His murmuring purr lullabied her as they both turned to sleep for some comfort.


A few minutes later, on the rural road outside, a second-hand silver hatchback rolled over the sleek tar macadam driveway with its full headlights ablaze, illuminating the curtained window enough to normally catch the eye.

A change of mind: her daughter was home. Sitting on the bedside cabinet, the palm-sized alarm clock flashed 20:09. She was early. Unexpected. Surprising.

Downstairs, out of her mother’s notice, the young woman fumbled with her clutch of keys at the back door. Stepping across the threshold, up the timeworn stairs, and through the open bedroom door she whispered into the darkness:

Mam, Mam – are ya awake? …

Her mother didn’t take any notice.

She was in a deep sleep now.

But when she woke several hours later, she’d hear the muffled sound of the telly downstairs, smell the scent of student cooking come home and see that little familiar red box, covered in yellow writing, waiting for her to open.

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