He’s in his head

the-scream

He strides into the supermarket, his head and eyes fixed on the beige, lino floor in front of him, sometimes shuffling to avoid standing on a join between the laid sheets. His heart quickens. He glances up to read the aisle-end signs, searching for the confectionery. He walks the most direct route to aisle seven, turns in and heads down, appreciating the intricacies of the lino floor again. He looks up for the chocolate and standing there, is the sister. She smiles. He forces a smile back, more a painful grimace.

‘Hello,’ says the sister. ‘You’re shopping?’ she asks, a surprised inflection in her tone.

‘Yeah. For chocolates. For after our dinner tonight,’ he says, forcing a chuckle that sounds more like a grunt. ‘These ones.’ He snatches the box nearest to his hand. It shakes as the wild tremors of alcohol or drugs withdrawal.

‘Look at your hand,’ says the sister. Her own hand is spread open as if ready to catch the box that may fall from his unsteady. ‘Why’s it shaking so much?’

He nods, signalling an acknowledgement to an invisible someone. ‘They’re watching me. I didn’t want to come you know. Because they’ll get me,’ he says.

The sister smiles. ‘I know. But you came and no one’s watching you. Look around, there’s no one here.’

He scrutinises up and down the aisle in eyes of a rabbit startled by headlights on a dark, outback road. He doesn’t answer. His eyes are fixed on searching.

‘You know it’s all in your head. It’s not real,’ says the sister.

‘Mmm, that’s what Mum says.’ He draws in close to the sister. ‘Don’t you think they’re watching me?’ he asks. ‘I mean, really? They’ve got cameras everywhere, hidden.’

The sister smiles. ‘No. It’s in your head. It’s your reality but it’s not real. You’re a good person.’ The sister smiles. ‘You know I’ll always look after you and I’d tell you if you were in any harm.’

He nods. ‘I know.’

She kisses his cheek. ‘Now go home before your hand shakes off.’

He giggles as a tickled child, revealing a glimmer of his old self. He pecks a kiss good-bye on the sister’s cheek and dashes to the checkout, paying without lifting his head from his wallet and almost skirting off without collecting his change. He marches to his car parked out of the way, with a string of frazzled peeks around him. He unlocks the car and bundles in, tossing his bag on the seat beside him to expose the box of chocolates.

He’s home in record time and once there, heads for his studio. He shuts the door behind him and draws the blinds closed. He sits alone and paints under artificial light, while the sun and all its rays dance outside.

*An excerpt from ‘Sadie’.

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