Affliction, by Charlie Brodie
A woman sits at a desk, positioned beside a revolving glass door. Her eyes meet mine for a fleeting second and then drop back to the computer screen.
“Please take a seat. I will call when they are ready for you.”
The waiting area is filled with various kinds of people; there are men much taller than me, with sorrowful looks plastered across their faces, women squeezing their arms around themselves, confused children looking around the room and the elderly, content and at ease. At the far end of the room is where I take a seat, beside a middle-aged woman wearing a button-down denim shirt. She doesn’t turn to me or smile as I sit: her eyes are focused on the wall opposite us, but I get the feeling she doesn’t see it.
All around the room, the walls are ash grey. I feel uneasy staring at such a solid colour. I feel a small lump begin to form at the pit of my stomach. I try to swallow but, it moves up in my chest and into my throat.
My eyes dart to the voice next to me, a small girl with dark brown hair stands at my side, holding out a plastic cup of water. There is something about her that makes my mind convulse, shudder with thoughts that I can’t comprehend, as if I’m numb to the sound.
The girl is dressed in a yellow sundress with a red leather belt, her hair held up into a high ponytail and tied with a red ribbon. Across the room, there is a clock; there are no numbers on its face and its hands are frozen, pointing to a perfect straight line. Although the it appears to be stuck, there is still a distant sound of ticking. It’s buried in the walls, thrumming against them like the sound of a beating heart. It gets louder and louder, closer and closer, until it’s just screaming white noise.
When I turn back to the young girl, she is staring at the wall behind me. Her eyes are glazed over and her hands are gripping the fabric of her dress. I crane my neck to look at the wall, but there is nothing there. It’s still the same, dull grey as every other wall in the room. There are no windows either; the only glass is that of the revolving doors that I came through earlier, and even that is tinted. It is impossible to know what time of the day it is, but I take peace in the fact that there were rain or thunder, I would surely hear it.
I look around the room at the others. They sit like zombies as they stare at the walls, their pupils dilated and their mouths pulled into a thin line. The walls whisper now. They call out to me and coerce me into staring at them, too. I refuse to listen.
To avoid their dull grey nothingness, I direct my eyes to the ground and scream internally. The granite floor is a shade four or five times darker than the walls, but it sounds the same. It’s calling to me.
The sound of my alarm startles me. I swat at it until I hear crashing, then silence. My brain screams and my liver curses at me as I spot the cans of beer surrounding my side of the bed, crushed into themselves.
“Alison!” I scream, instantly regretting the sound coming from my mouth.
I expect her to come rushing in, but the door remains closed and the house does not stir. A blurry image of the previous night rushes by—only fragments remain. I remember screaming, then crying, and the sound of smashing glass. I try to scream for Alison again, but it’s as if someone has poured sand down my throat. My hand blindly searches and finds a half-empty can of Old Mout cider. I pour the contents down and push myself from my bed.
My brain cries out at the sudden movement and I have to resist the urge to fall back onto the stale bed. The pungent smell attacks my nostrils, reminding me of an overused urinal. That’s when I realise that the bed is wet. I am wet.
I slip my boxers to my ankles and cringe at the feeling of sodden cotton brushing down the insides of my legs. I wish I could say this was the first time, but that would be a lie. Alison used to berate me for not having control of my bladder; she rarely does that anymore.
Once I have cleaned myself, I walk out into the rest of the house. The sound of silence is so overwhelming that it fills the room. I take a step into the kitchen and scream. A shard of glass pushes through my skin, ripping away at the sole of my foot. My body is overcome with a chill that runs up and down my bones, scratching away at them.
I pull the shard of glass from my foot, screaming out as the blood gushes from the opening. My hand reaches for a towel to try to stop the onslaught of blood spilling onto the floor. Eventually it stops enough that I can hobble to the bathroom for the first aid kit. Alison is always prepared. It’s one of the things that I love about her. I wince as I swipe an anti-bacterial wipe across the gash; it feels as if my whole body has been submerged in water. I wrap white cotton around the whole of my foot as a small spot of blood forms on its surface.
I hear a key turn in the front door. I pull myself from the bathroom and into the living room. The door begins to creak open and the top of a woman’s head pokes through. She turns and her eyes widen when she sees me.
“Andy, I don’t want any trouble. I’m just going to collect a few things and then I’m gone.” Her voice is different, sharper than I remember.
“What are you on about? You can’t leave, where are you going to go?”
Alison doesn’t answer me; she makes a beeline for the bedroom. The front door swings open and my eyes jump to the black car across the street. Alison’s car. In the back seat is a young girl with brunette hair, her head turned downwards.
“Where the hell do you think you’re taking our daughter?”
I hobble over to the bedroom door and rest myself on the frame. Alison turns to me midway through packing and levels me with a stare that turns my blood cold.
“She’s scared of you Andy. You frighten her. I’m not putting her through this any more.”
“She’s still my daughter.”
“And I’m your wife, but you’re out of control. Until you can get your shit together, you can stay away from both of us.”
I spot her keys, the ones with the photo keychain. With one swift swipe, I grab them and head for the front door, wincing every time my foot hits the floor.
“Andy, give me my keys!’ she yells.
I can feel her presence behind me. A hand grabs at my elbow, but I shake it off. It grabs at my shirt, using every muscle to pull me back.
“You’re not taking my fucking daughter from me!”
Ellie looks up. She flinches when she sees me and looks back down at her game. I pull open the door to the driver’s side and slam it shut, but before I can lock the car Alison opens the passenger side and climbs in next to me.
“You’re scaring her.” She turns to Ellie in the back seat and rests a hand on her knee. “Stop this, please!”
Everything looks disjointed and the blood begins to rush from my head. I grab at her denim shirt and yank her close, my breath fanning her face.
“You’ve poisoned her against me. I’m not letting you take her!”
She squirms in my grip, grimacing as my stale breath hits her face. I push her back into the passenger seat and release her shirt, ripping a button in the process. I put the key in the ignition and pull out into the street.
“Andy, please, you’re still drunk!”
My eyes are focused. My hands squeeze the steering wheel, creating friction against my palms. In the corner of my eye, I can see Alison turning to look at Ellie. My eyes dart to the rear-view mirror. Ellie’s face is red and her lips are trembling. She is trying to hold in her cries, but her eyes can’t keep the tears at bay; they stain her cheeks as she scrunches the fabric of her dress, the yellow satin bunched up in her little hands.
There are marks around her wrists—the same shape and size of my hands—bruising her soft skin. That’s when the memory seeps in. I just wanted her to stop crying. She wouldn’t listen to me and she just kept sobbing and sobbing.
I didn’t want to hurt her.
Charlie Brodie is a 20-year-old writer, currently studying English as an undergraduate at University of Suffolk. He started writing because, although it’s one of the most difficult way to process his thoughts, the outcome is always worth it. He’s incredibly inspired by contemporary novelists and young adult authors, including Jennifer Niven, who inspired him to write the stories that he would want to read.