Foreign House: Fourteen

FRIDAY

I get mollycoddling at the hotel. Cindy stays with me, quiet and tucked into my arm. Ozzy keeps looking at me. Not looking at me, but looking at me. Like a doctor would. Looking at my eyes, and my gait. He keeps coming close to my face, inspecting it then smiling and clapping my cheek with his hand. Typical company founder. He thinks he is everything. Now he is the team doctor. 

But I feel fine, physically. Just out of it, as if nudged out of sync. That lightheaded feeling of steeping out of a cold day, into a busy, warm shop.

I’m moving through the lobby. The bellhop is still there. Asking me if I’m OK. My affirmative mumbles, pulled off target by Cindy’s gentle guidance. Am I the only one who is bothered he is still there?

Then I’m floating down the corridor towards the dining room. It’s set up with the cloaked, gold trollies of food. Who prepared them? Where is the rest of the hotel staff? Why does nobody else care where all of this food is coming from?

Someone suggests I should go upstairs for a lie down. Cindy says I need some food first, then I can sleep. I hear her in my ears and in my head. She has cocooned my mind with hers. I didn’t even notice. Maybe I should let go. I am plonked onto a chair. Then Ozzy’s hand is on my forehead. Some reassuring noises. Then he is pulling on my eyelids looking into my irises. Cindy says something about getting me food. Ozzy goes and gets some. Cindy lets go of my mind.

I slip back into sync with the moment, although the recent events still feel jumbled. At least the room feels real. Cindy sits with me at the table and clasps my hands. My colleagues are all on their own tables, giving me mildly concerned glances. 

Cindy’s eyes want to speak to me but there are too many people around. She wants to know what is going on. I don’t know where to begin. I don’t know how to not sound insane.

My brain is already repacking the experience in the woods. Grinding up the images into powder, putting them into pills, making the memories easier to take.  

>Be my brain

>See strange doll people  

>Rationalisation.exe

>You fainted

>It was a dream

>A rush of blood to the head 

Ozzy puts a plate of meaty, club sandwiches in front of me. “Where’s Kanu?” I ask. 

“Ashley and whatsaname were looking after him. He’s around, somewhere. Want me to fetch him?” 

“No rush,” I say.

“If you don’t want to come to the training session this afternoon…”

“Ozzy, I am fine. Honestly. I must’ve just had an adrenaline rush after seeing the stag.”

>You had an adrenaline rush after seeing the stag.

I slap my thighs, then notice my jeans are wet, and dirty. “Let me eat something and get changed and I’ll be back down for the training.” 

I take a few bites out of the sandwich. It’s damn good. The bread tastes fresh. Ozzy brings me coffee with thick cream. Don’t think about where all this fresh food came from, what’s the point? 

Cindy sits there and watches me eat. Silent, smiling, squeezing my thighs. No strained sympathy, no worry, no “are you alright?” no suggestions. Just being there and waiting for me. She knows what to do. She knows how to just fucking be there.

I put my hand on top of hers. I grin. Her smile is amplified by chubby cheeks. 

>You had an adrenaline rush after seeing the stag

Kanu comes through the door, wearing his mask, and glides through the tables. I stand and give him a hug, unwanted, like a straightjacket, my arms wrapped around his, locking them to his side. I kiss his forehead. 

“Can I talk to you?” he mumbles into my chest. 

“Of course,” I say. 

“Later, in private.” 

“Ok,” I say. Giving him a big smile. But he doesn’t return it. The room suddenly feels darker around the edges. “Where have you been?” 

“With Marilyn and Ashley. Their room is on the same floor as ours.” 

“Ok,” I say again, because there’s nothing else.

>Yet a little am I with you, and then I go unto Him that sent me. 

I finish the sandwich. Kanu seems to be acquainting himself with some of the other younger members of the team. Talking about TikTok and other internet shit I’ve half heard of. Cindy comes with me upstairs to the room, trying to make it look like she’s not looking after me. She is a pro at this girlfriend stuff. 

I take off my jeans and wash my legs in the bathroom with a flannel.

Cindy approaches me from behind, fondles my boxers lazily and lovingly. 

“Don’t make me go into the training session with an erection,” I say. 

“I’ll have to make sure I’m quick then,” she says, squeezing gently. 

“I thought you wanted to know what…”

The pitter patter of little feet, barely audible, little thuds. Hands sliding down the walls. We both freeze. The sounds stop as suddenly as they started. 

“Can you feel anything out there?”

“Any-thing?” she asks.

“Can you?” 

“I can’t feel any-one.”

“Stay here,” I say and put on some clean sweat pants.

“So you can protect me from a child?” she laughs. 

I shake my head, “Come on then, Xena.”

“Meh, I’ll wait here.” She stretches out on the bed. “You go and tell the kids off, boomer.”

I open our bedroom door and step into the corridor. Nothing. But further down, between our room and the stairs, opposite Kanu’s room, a door is ajar. 

*

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