This story is by Ebony Allum and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
“You’ve come in early this month.”
Alison glanced over at the man behind the desk, then back at the floor, her attention caught by the constant movement of her leg.
His deep voice was soothing, measured and confident; exuding professionalism in demeanour and appearance.
“Has something happened?”
She glanced up; he preferred eye contact, but her eyes were fixed on the clock on the wall behind him. Plain faced, black rim around white, contrasting to the pale blue of the wall and neatly framed by peaceful prints of purple flowers. She could hear the tick-tock of the hands, she could see the passage of time in the movement of the sun from the light through the window.
“I was at work.” She said softly, clasping her fingers in front of her, twisting them against each other, back and forth.
“You were working? That’s good.” He smiled encouragingly, as he made a note on the page in front of him. “Tell me more.”
She breathed in deeply, and exhaled, “It was the afternoon shift. We were filling shelves.”
Her voice wavered slightly, “Jason was working behind me.”
She paused and the silence grew, broken only by the even metronome of the clock. Her fingers fidgeted with the tasselled edge on her scarf. He put down his pen and watched her.
“Alison? Please, continue.”
She started to speak but her voice failed her. She swallowed, glancing up to see his heartening smile.
“He dropped something.” She said quietly, feeling foolish, “A bag or sack; something heavy. The sound, it was so…”
The silence stretched out once more. She couldn’t look him in the eye, overcome with shame at her actions. She could feel his scrutiny and, at the edge of her vision, she could make out the look of consternation on his face.
“How did you react?” He asked quietly, without judgement.
“I dropped a jar of jam.” She breath caught in her throat and she half sobbed. “It smashed all over the floor. There was red everywhere.”
She gulped down air, trying to control the sobs that were threatening to overwhelm her.
“He asked me if I was alright. I couldn’t answer.” Her lip trembled, a tear rolled down her cheek and she absently brushed it away. “They pushed me out of the way to clean up. I couldn’t move. The manager sent me home.”
He offered her a tissue, setting the box on down in front of her when she didn’t accept, and wrote another note.
“How long ago was this?”
“Three days.” Alison wiped her eyes, “This is the first time I’ve left my apartment.”
He stopped writing and really looked at her, studying her appearance. Her pale skin was drawn and sallow. Her hair hung around her face, stringy and dishevelled. Her clothes were wrinkled, unmatched and not entirely suited to the wintry day outside.
“Alison, have you slept?”
Mutely, she shook her head.
“For three days?”
The small shaking motion was almost hidden as she hunched inside her coat.
He came around the desk and took the seat next to her, reaching out to still her fingers as they picked at a frayed edge of her scarf.
He waited until she looked up.
“Alison, I think we need to revisit the hypnotherapy.”
“No!” She shook her head once more, but with more spirit than he’d seen throughout the session.
“No, please, Dr Harris! I can’t see that again! I can’t see those eyes!”
“Alison, calm down.” He held her in the seat, grounding her in her panic. “Take a deep breath. Now hold it, 3…4…5. and breathe out.”
Continuing to coach her breathing, Dr Harris helped to re-establish her centre and broached the subject again.
“Consider this, Alison.” He spoke firmly, “You haven’t slept in three days. You need to sleep.”
He paused until he had her agreement on this point.
“I know that your last experience was a little less successful than we’d hoped but remember, you were able to return to work. That was enormous progress.”
He waited as she continued breathing deeply, feeling calmer thanks to his stability.
“What happened at work?” She finally asked.
“You experienced a trigger event, that caused your mind to recall your trauma.” He replied, When this happens, the body reacts in one of three ways: fight, flight or freeze.”
“I froze.” She stated, sounding calmer than she felt.
“Hypnotherapy can help, if not by removing the trigger event, it can at least help the mind to heal and lessen the effect in the future.”
She bit her lip, still unsure. Her fingers played with her scarf.
She sat in silence, looking down at her constantly moving leg. She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it silently and bit her lip again. She glanced up at him.
“Okay.” He replied, giving her an encouraging smile. “Just like before. I’ll be with you every step of the way. Okay?”
She swallowed, took a deep breath, then another. She tried to smile as she nodded but it only further tightened her face.
“Okay, I’m ready.”
She was surrounded by darkness, then she heard his voice.
“Tell me what you see.”
Alison stood on the sidewalk, outside a row of townhouses. Black wrought iron fences topped with decorative spikes lined the pavement, interrupted by the short stairways to each door. A few cars were parked at the curb. Small trees were evenly spaced along the street, each with a small fence surrounding it.
“I’m in Ashford Street.” She replied, feeling oddly detached from the memory, “It’s fall.”
“What can you feel?”
A breeze blew from behind her, finding its way through her clothes and sending flurries of red, orange and brown leaves rustling along beside her. Her coat was tight across her shoulders, her woollen dress didn’t keep out the wind, and her new boots were pinching her toes.
“It’s cold and windy.” She said, “My feet hurt.”
“What can you smell?”
The breeze carried the smell of rain, of a storm building up. the smell of car exhausts and trees mingled in the cool, damp air.
“I smell the city before it rains.”
“Good. Good. Now, Alison, what can you hear?”
A car was driving passed. A train horn blew in the distance. Leaves rustled in the breeze, both on the ground and on the trees. Somewhere nearby sparrows chirped and hopped around while pigeons cooed. Footsteps sounded on the pavement. A door closed and children’s voices rang out.
“I can hear traffic. There are leaves rustling, people walking, speaking, playing. There are birds above me.”
She paused, “I heard a “whoosh”!”
Her breath started to escape as short gasps as her mind attached meaning to the sound she’d just heard. She began to panic, knowing was coming next.
“Alison, you’re alright. Stay focussed.”
Alison closed her eyes, blocking out the street.
“You’re going to be alright.”
She breathed in deeply, held her breath while she mentally counted to five, and breathed out. She opened her eyes and the world filled in around her.
“Take a deep breath and step forward.”
She stepped forward.
“Now, continue walking along the sidewalk and look up.”
A shadow appeared in front of her on the ground and, with trepidation, she looked up.
“Stay calm, Alison.” That reassuring, deep voice grounded her as she saw a body falling from the sky.
“Breathe in slowly and, as you exhale, the world will slow down.”
The body stopped falling, becoming suspended in the air as she held her breath before it slowly began to float towards the ground.
“That’s good.” His voice was low, a deep murmur in the back of her mind. “Calm and slow.”
The body was that of a young man, gaunt and emaciated. He was barefoot, in ragged jeans and a torn black t-shirt. His dark hair was unkempt and rippling slowly from the force of his descent. His eyes were closed but his face was troubled.
“Help him land, Alison.”
Feeling separate from the experience, and still taking deep breaths, Alison guided the body of the young man down, controlling his floating descent.
He landed on the pavement in front of her, that heavy, thumping sound muted; her feelings separated from the memory of the event by the disassociation of the recollection.
His body settles, the impact slowly shuddering throughout his form and, as his head lolls towards her, the eyes are open and she realised.
His eyes are unseeing, not filled with pain as life leaves him.
He had already passed.
Her own eyes open. Still breathing deep, slow breaths, she looks up at the doctor.
For the first time in months, she smiled.