Smoke and Shadows
The headlights revealed a straight tarmac road and level wasteland as far as they could shine. Christina assumed the fine mist collecting on the windscreen was from the nearing ocean. A man was discussing infertile fish on the local radio station, listing toxins in a river, but as she flicked on the wipers his voice faded and, before she could hear the river’s name, the radio went silent. Her mobile phone beeped its no signal warning and she felt claustrophobic pressure at her temples and chest as if being enclosed and squeezed momentarily.
Rather than cleaner, the windscreen appeared smeary so she squirted the screen wash.
And then, as quickly as it had come on, the pressure subsided, the radio became audible again and her phone lit back up. She felt as if the air was lighter and bubbles fluttered in her abdomen.
Christina saw the wall she had been expecting, drove behind it, and stopped.
Motion-sensitive lights lit up a long, glass archway leading to a door. She walked through as she had been directed.
The door opened.
They both stared as if neither was quite expecting what they were seeing. Christina reminded herself that she was not at work and Mrs Cook’s health concerns were none of her business… Even if her left eye looked decidedly low compared to the right…
Mrs Cook? I’m Chris Philpotts.
Mrs Cook took her outstretched hand and blinked slowly. ‘Doctor Philpotts?’
Mrs Cook gestured her inside and closed the door behind them. ‘Forgive me – I was expecting a man. An older man.’ She seemed disturbed.
Christina looked around at rooms joined by more glass tunnels. ‘Oh, it’s wonderful. And you designed it yourselves?’
Mrs Cook smiled faintly. ‘Yes. 1976. When we were young and adventurous. There were lots of interesting things happening with angles and shapes, and that glass tunnel at the Pompidou in Paris. Bob’s an architect, you see… Was an architect…’ She rubbed her hands distractedly.
‘Oh, you can tell. Oh, I do love the angle of that ceiling.’
Christina walked to tall, wide windows. A terraced garden was floodlit and the steps down were peppered with built-in lights. The planting looked sparse and structural, and there was a large level lawn at the bottom. Beyond she could see nothing but black night. ‘That looks like a lot of fun for kids.’ She turned around smiling.
‘I suppose.’ Mrs Cooke remained by the hall door, looking uncomfortable. ‘Are you a scientist? A Ph.D?’
‘No, a medical doctor.’
‘You’re not what I was expecting. Do you have a family?’
‘No… I…’ Bubbles in the abdomen again. So soon? Could she be feeling him kick at only 17 weeks? ‘Well… Yes. I suppose I do!’ She grinned and placed her hand where she felt the flutter.
Mrs Cook put her hand to her mouth and shook her head. ‘I’m sorry. This has all been a mistake. You shouldn’t have come. Please go.’
Christina hurried to the door, not wanting to upset the poor woman any further. She would come back another day. Maybe the estate agent could show her around next time.
She turned to thank her. Should she mention the eye? No, she couldn’t.
‘You mustn’t touch the residue on your car.’ Mrs. Cook called as she closed the door. Don’t clean the windscreen with bare hands. Not in your condition. And keep your windows closed!’
Christina drove away, sadly. The poor woman. She seemed so confused and upset. Whatever was affecting her face was clearly affecting her cohesion too. Did she know she was dying? Is that why she was selling the house?
The almost-full moon was clearer as she left but it soon became semi-obscured by mist. Two minutes into her journey her phone bleeped and the radio cut out again, and she felt the same sensation of pressure. She stopped the car, flicked off the headlights. She looked around for the moon, the lights from the house wall behind her. She opened a window and felt a weighty presence in the air. As she turned on the interior light, fine, silvery/white curls twisted playfully into the car, exploring her space, dancing with the light.
It wasn’t mist. It was smoke.
She closed the window and drove away from swirling shadows, with the sensation of coming out of a dark tunnel.
‘I have a Mr Cook’s X-ray, for you, Chris:
“Sixty-Five. Shadows on both lungs. Plays tennis. Never smoked”. How was the house?’
‘Beautiful. Individual. Strange. I absolutely loved it… Ah, Mr Cook. You play tennis, I hear?’
‘Well. I can’t do anything now, but yes. We have our own court. Astroturf though. Couldn’t get the damned grass to grow…’