19:59 – 10 years
The sun barely shines in the late evening sky, choked by cloud-cover. There’s no colour visible, and any light that escapes is a soft hollow glow. It filters through the blinds, illuminating the tiny dust-motes that float around, unaware of the surroundings. They are their own world, where beds and chairs are nothing but a surface to settle on; walls are a cage to enclose them in their ignorance.
The room is as bland as the sky. The walls, plain white, bear little decoration to add cheer. Flowers sit on a grey table beside the bed; Chrysanthemums in a glass vase. They are fresh, and their perfume wafts through the room, adding the faintest hint of life, hiding the clean odour that lingers in the atoms of the lacklustre room. It is filled with the whirring and clicks of machinery, technology with the sole purpose of keeping a person alive.
Soft white cotton covers the mattress, adding little warmth to the occupant of the bed. If she ever noticed. The bedcover is barely even shifted by the motion of her chest. Her small figure is flat and still in the bed, lying on her back; auburn hair fans out on the pillow. She’s in a deep slumber, soft shutters closed over her eyes. A small mouth rests beneath a slightly pointed nose – the lips do not twitch, her eyes do not move. Her sleep is dreamless.
Clear liquid drips into a pool. Instantaneously, the ripples are muffled.
She’s not alone in the room. A dark haired woman watches her silently, leaning against the wall. She’s desperate for a cigarette but can’t quite bring herself to turn away. It’s so strange, watching this little girl sleep. She looks so calm, serene. It’s like she could never wake up.
11:55 – 1 year
A high pitched, gurgling laugh peals out across the room. Azure walls glow softly in the sunlight, high in the sky, a white hot eye. There’s not a cloud to mask its stare. The room is so warm within the illuminated shapes. She smiles and laughs again as the creeping, spidery fingers dart across her torso, squirming at the sensation. Clenching her fist and releasing, she reaches over for a stuffed mouse, but can’t quite reach. She tries again, fails again.
Figures hear the whimper.
Somebody turns, making noises. Soft, soothing peals of sound. The mouse is gifted to her and she clutches it tight, as though she would tumble into oblivion if she released the furry toy. Stars swirl in the above, glinting in the light. A hand strokes her face.
Bells. They chime, but nothing rings. The gentle tune they sing soothes her mind and brings her eyelids to droop. The blinds close, and she goes limp. Yet she still clings to the toy. It is her anchor, her comfort.
The figures smile affectionately at her sleeping form, and shut the curtains before taking their leave with a quiet closing of the door.
12:49 – 2 years
The soft, light blue walls of the bedroom shudder with the screams. Her face is screwed up in a glistening, raw-red, ugly mess and the air recoils from the noise as she screams, and cries once again. She smashes the doll against the cage, furious that it ignores her. Will no-one talk to her? Rivers rush from her shining eyes as sunlight shelters from the cries, behind convenient clouds that are drifting by. Are the windows shaking, too? It is strange, they do not shatter.
In other rooms, a thin, distorted wailing breaks through the speakers. They look up at the sudden sounds, and the woman runs to the source, the man trailing behind.
The pristine white door slams inwards as they enter, crashing against the wall like thunder. The man staggers back against the shockwave of sound emanating from her, but braves it. They hurriedly move towards the cage, abandoned by the peace found in dreams. A sudden crack, the doll collides with wood one more time.
“Hush hush, now.” They desperately try to soften her screams, but she pays no heed. Where are the words? Built up by letters, the chain-links of the sentence are lost. The doll will not tell her and she is enraged. The woman reaches down to lift her up, out of confinement – a comforting gesture in thinking but not in acting. She slaps away the intruding limbs and wails.
She stops, quite suddenly.
Reverberating, the resonances and aftershocks die away and all is silent. They stare at each other in shock. What becalmed her?
A strange smile forms on her face, fluffy white orbs are drifting down from the sky and into the room, a bright light emanating from within. A soft glow lights up the room as they drift through the glass and brush her skin, tickling the pores. Giggles burble forth from her lips.
“Cotton!” She laughs in a fit of happiness.
13:35 – 3 years
“Look Mummy, Cotton!” She points at the window and smiles, watching as the small, fluffy balls drift in from the window and brush her face, getting caught in her hair. It tickles, and she giggles. It’s like rain falling from heaven, glowing orbs drifting from the sunlight and into the kitchen, making it glitter. It’s beautiful.
But the woman can’t see it and sighs, running her hand over her face. It must be some fantasy the girl is playing out, because there is no cotton, no drifting balls of sunlight, no glitter reflecting against the walls. The only cotton in the room is on their clothes. It’s the fabric. “Yes, dear, I see it.” She says softly, dipping a spoon in the olive coloured mush and holding it out to her. “Now eat your lunch, Charlie.” She instructs.
The little girl leans away, apprehensive. The woman sighs again, plastering a smile on her face to hide the fatigue, emitting the sound of a powerful engine flying through the air, “Here comes the aeroplane, Charlie!” She laughs, mimicking the sound of an engine again. The girl laughs and relaxes, allowing the spoon of mush to enter her mouth. She likes the plane when it lands in her mouth, although it tastes funny. She goes back to staring out the window, entranced.
The woman tries to divert the girl’s attention again. It’s strange, the girl is still learning to speak, with small, albeit constantly growing number of basic words in her vocabulary, and all she can talk about is this cotton. It was even her first word.
The sun drifts back behind clouds, and the girl focuses again on the woman before her. The fluffy balls of light are dimming now, and the kitchen is growing cold. She’s sad to see them go, but they’ll always return. She doesn’t notice the frustration on the woman’s face as the plane lands in her mouth; she doesn’t even know it’s there.
Her eyes flicker wistfully back to the window, longing to see the room shimmer in their glow, just one more time. Nothing happens. Reluctantly she turns back to the woman.
14:31 – 4 years
With the intrigue of an imp, her eyes peer out from her bedroom door. They flick to the window, watching a solitary soft ball of light drift through the window, dancing on the air currents of the landing, waltzing with the dust-motes. She grins as it passes her face, and slips out of the room. She skips down the stairs and runs for the living room, where sunlight streams through the windows, making even the air glow. She likes it better here, her room is so dark and cold – nowhere near the sun. Here, she can be happy. She plonks herself down in one of the brightest spots of the room, nearing a stack of paper and a box of crayons.
She glances around the room, surprised she’s the only occupant. Normally both of her parents are in here, watching something on the telly. It was the news, sometimes – although she found that to be terribly boring. Other times, it might be something to do with cars and machinery, or a soppy love story. Neither interested her in the slightest. Around this time though, they were brightly coloured drawing that would move, talk and sing – animations and cartoons. She loved those. They always made her laugh, always made her happy. She could never turn down an episode of the Smurfs.
She puts it out of her mind though, and turns back to the paper. Picking out a yellow crayon, she starts drawing.
At this point, her mother walks in. “Mummy!” The girl cries happily, pausing in her drawing for a moment to look up, her face splitting into a smile. “I missed you.” She remarks. This was true, she had missed her mother being absent, although she hadn’t focused on it for long.
Her mother laughs, “Oh, I only went to the shops, Charlie.” She says, walking over. She crouches down, noticing that the girl appears to be drawing something. “What are you drawing, sweetie?” She asks. The girl passes the paper over, and the woman looks over it, taking in the yellow orb, the forming of a blue background, and a few fluffy-looking, circular clouds. “Oh, you’re drawing the sky!” She exclaims, her voice appraising, “It’s very good, Charlie – well done!” She smiles as she congratulates the girl.
The girl shakes her head, “No, Mummy – it’s the cotton! It comes from the sun – see?” She indicates the fluffy balls.
The proud smile fades from the woman’s face, replaced by surprise and vague dismay. This, again. To be honest, she’s not surprised. Clouds weren’t usually as circular as that. “Oh. They come from the sun?” She asks.
The girl nods energetically, “Yes, they come and play – everything sparkles when they’re here!” She glances over at the windows and cries out in surprised happiness as she sees the walls begin to glitter, “Look, Mummy – They’re back! They’re back!”
Her mother glances over to window as well, and sees nothing. This fantasy is strangely persistent.
15:25 – 5 years
The woman checks in on her daughter in the living room. She is watching a cartoon on the television. She doesn’t recognise it, but the red and black top looks familiar. She smiles slightly and closes the door, heading into the kitchen, where a man with dark, velvety blonde hair sits at the table. He is reading the newspaper. The woman smiles. “Anything new?” She asks.
He stretches, glances up and smiles. “Twitter is being sued. Oh, and the Church is being scolded again.” He says airily.
The woman rolls her eyes, “Let me guess…” She says sarcastically.
He chuckles, “And she gets it.” He replies.
She laughs, bending down to lightly meet his lips. She sits beside him, her smile fading. He notices her troubled expression and looks concerned.
“Lis, what’s wrong?” He asks, putting down the paper and watching her, worry creasing his brow.
She sighs, wringing her hands and looking nervous. “It’s just… does Charlie ever talk to you about this cotton?” She asks apprehensively. It’s been bothering her for the past few years.
He frowns, thinking, “A few times. Why?” He asks, curious.
“Mark… it’s all she ever talks about, but I’ve never seen anything that could be like this cotton. Do you reckon there’s something wrong?” She asks. She’s terrified that her little girl has some kind of disease, some kind of disorder. Is it because she’s doing something wrong?
He stretches over and places his hand over hers, squeezing it gently. He flashes a sympathetic smile her way. “Lis, you’re worrying too much. It’s just a phase, like an imaginary friend. She’ll grow out of it soon enough. Come on; let me make you some tea.” He says. She smiles weakly, comforted by his words. She leans over and kisses him again, whispering small words of thanks.
16:21 – 6 years
She’s sitting in her room, trying to read through a short story, but finding it difficult to focus. She persists, knowing she has to read it so her teacher will be happy with her. She likes Literacy, and she’s not bad at it either. She wants to please her teacher. A few minutes pass and she gives up, throwing down the book and standing up on the bed. She starts bouncing up and down on the mattress, giggling at the strange sensation of moving up and down continuously. It’s fun.
A flash in the window distracts her and her head snaps to watch the little glowing orb that has just drifted into the room. It’s come to play again! Her face lights up with happiness as she jumps just a bit too far to the left, toppling onto the floor.
Her mother rushes to the room, hearing the crash. As she reaches the door, she can hear gasping, ragged breaths and small whimpers. She opens the door and enters, finding her daughter curled up on the floor. “Charlie, what happened?” She asks, shocked to see the tears on the girl’s face.
She points at the bed, “I was jumping, and I fell. My head hurts, Mummy.” She whimpers, holding on to her mother’s arm. She uses her free hand to show where.
“Oh, honey – I’ve told you before not to jump on the bed. Let me see…” She glances over at where the girl has pointed, and gently embraces her. “Do you want me to kiss it better?” She asks. The girl nods, wiping the tears off of her face. Her mother smiles, and kisses the area. “There.” She says, stroking the girl’s hair. “All better.”
17:15 – 7 years
The sun is waning in the sky. Daylight will last for several hours more, but the light is starting to fade.
Sunlight filters through the curtains of the dimly lit room, illuminating the faded bedcover, the wardrobe and the bookcase. The bookcase is mostly empty, with only a few possessions and a couple of children’s books taking residence on its shelves.
The girl sits on the bed, flicking through a story about the adventures of a scarecrow and a young boy. It’s one of her favourites, and she loves to imagine the scarecrow’s actions, and the society of talking birds. She’d love it if birds could truly talk. Maybe they can – only they’ve never said a word to her.
A flicker at the corner of her eye causes her to look up and over at the window. A solitary ball of cotton sunlight has drifted in. The dancing swirls almost seem questioning, wondering why she’s shut them out. She smiles to see it again, and reaches out her hand.
Her mother calls her down for dinner.
18:12 – 8 years
She’s tired. The fatigue tugs lightly at her eyelids, adding to the faint throbbing in the back of her head. Within minutes she’s forgotten the flashing pictures on the television and drifted off to sleep, cuddling into her mother’s side.
Her mother glances over at the now sleeping child and smiles slightly. She does love to see the girl asleep. She looks so beautiful when her eyes are closed. She’s changed, though, after the last few years. She just seems to lack energy and enthusiasm. The little girl who used to get so ecstatically happy at such small things seems to have vanished completely, leaving a languid changeling in her place. Ever since that time when she fell and hit her head. Lights have been switched off, or at the very least dimmed to a low, deep orange glow. A shadow of how bright they used to shine. Her mother observes the dim light with a wistful gaze. Even though the girl’s eyes are closed, she can still see the glowing inside. Maybe this was what the girl had been talking about? Those damn cotton lights she always spoke about.
The woman sighs, and picks up the girl. She carries her carefully upstairs to her bedroom and steps inside. With one hand free, she pulls back the cover of the bed and lays her down on the sheets. Pulling the covers back over the girl, she leans in and kisses her on the forehead gently.
“Sleep tight, sweetheart.” She whispers.
19:09 – 9 years
The woman clenches her fists to hold back the growing frustration. It’s been too long. She’s been dancing about it as though she stood on hot coals. It’s just so silly.
When she walks into her bedroom, her husband is already there on the bed. He’s sitting at the edge, removing his shoes. He smiles at her as she walks in, but she does nothing to return it. She’s glad to see him back, though. “Lis, what’s wrong?” He asks.
“A few things.” She sighs, sitting on the bed beside him. “Mark, I really think we should get Charlie looked at. I’m worried about her. Ever since she hit her head…” She tails off, biting her lip. It’s too much to think about.
He nods, “I know, I’ve seen it too.” He said quietly.
She raises her eyebrows, “And you said nothing?” She says in shock.
“Neither did you!” He snaps, making her reel back, unprepared for the sudden outburst. He notices the response he brought out from her and downturns his eyes. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have shouted.” He says, ashamed.
She shakes her head and smiles, “No, you were right. I said nothing, as well. We’ve been dancing about this, trying to avoid it, I suppose.” She comments. Over the past year, their daughter had become ever more withdrawn and listless. Her skin looked pale and empty, made ever more so by her dark auburn hair. She talked little, and slept frequently. Yet she’d decidedly not noticed this, unwilling to believe it was true. Apparently he’d done the same.
He laughs weakly, “Sounds about right.” He says, and then frowns. “I agree, though – we should get it checked out. I’ll call the doctor’s tomorrow.” He says determinately.
She raises her eyebrow, “It’s Sunday tomorrow.” She points out. The Doctor’s surgery close to them is always shut on Sundays. Clearly he’d had a long day, and forgotten this fact.
He laughs at that statement, slapping himself on the forehead. “Ah! I forgot about that.” He says with humour, “Monday, then.” He affirms, leaning in to kiss her lips.
20:01 – 10 years
The woman walks over to the window, watching the sun touch the horizon. Finally she can see its brilliant orange glow break through the haze of clouds. It’s beautiful and fleeting. She wishes it could last for longer, but in a few minutes the sun will be gone. She pulls herself away and looks back to the bed, listening to the hollow rushing of breath behind plastic. Over the last few months her baby girl had become so gaunt and sallow, had faded to a ghost. The happy child would never return. Her daughter didn’t even have the strength to keep herself breathing without something to help her. She could hardly bear the realisation that she’d have to watch the girl decay into dust. It was horrible.
Her breath catches in her throat, tears stinging at her eyes. She really needs a cigarette. It’s funny though, she can’t ever remember having the urge to smoke before. She doesn’t think she’s even picked up one of those tobacco-filled sticks for years.
She glances back to the bed and bites her lip. She walks over the door as if to leave, but turns back. She turns a dial on the machine by the bed, and leaves. Her quick, fading footsteps echo through the corridors as the medicine builds in the girl’s body, soon reaching a level her organs can’t handle.
The woman tries not to listen to the ringing in her ears. As she steps out into the open air, she thinks she can see a ball of soft white light drifting through the air. Soft like cotton.
by Jenny Steiert
published on DeviantArt, May 2011