by Angela Gallagher
THERE was no reason to suppose it had been stolen: no strange man standing unnaturally close on the Tube. And she could account for it on the bus – she remembered glancing down at it and thinking how glorious the colour was. She felt utter contentment at that moment, almost smugly so. And a little thrill of guilt at the smugness. Emotions were complicated but basically she’d been happy. So she couldn’t work out why, now, that happiness seemed a little distant, or as if hiding somewhere in a fog. Maybe she’d mislaid that too.
It had been a good day. Exhilarating. Exciting. Carrie always said she lived life at a hundred miles an hour. Well, seize the day and all that. What was the point in doing anything else? Yes, a great day. Maybe that was why she was so tired now. But it wasn’t like her to be tired; normally she just kept going like a train.
All of which didn’t answer the question of where it was. She’d start again. If she went through every drawer she must be able to find it. She couldn’t bear it if it were lost. She could feel the panic start to rise.
Pulling open the top drawer she began peering between layers of clothing. Underwear. Pants and vests in boring whites and beiges. Since when did she wear vests for goodness sakes. They were for maiden aunts. These weren’t hers; they were old-lady garments in sensible fabrics. Where were her beautiful silks in the jewel-colours she so loved, that made her feel alive? Her life was full of colour. It defined her. A “whirling dervish of the colour-wheel” Tom at art school had called her. Today, looking at the contents of the drawer, her world suddenly felt drab and magnolia-filled.
She snatched at the next drawer. It was bursting with alien jumpers and woolly scarves. She hated woolly scarves, so heavy and restrictive. Even in the coldest weather she refused to be battened down and shoved away in dark tweeds and flannel. So these things were a surprise. Again, not hers. She had a sudden impulse to throw around her neck one of the crazy long scarves that were her signature but they weren’t here either. That would somehow steady her, reassure her. The wild but familiar. If she had those they would make her herself again.
The feeling of panic was rising up from her stomach into her chest.
Someone was playing a trick. Maybe it was designed to put her off her search. But she hadn’t forgotten what she was looking for. They hadn’t thrown her off the trail – she was cleverer than that.
But if she couldn’t find it she’d know it had been stolen – along with the rest of her things by the look of it.
The feeling of panic was more intense now. She grabbed at the bottom drawer; it wouldn’t open. She pulled harder, her fingers gripped desperately round the handles so that she could feel her nails digging into her palms. She gave it an angry wrench and it came, suddenly, sending her flying backwards onto the bed. Breathless, she felt tears of panic rivulet down her cheek, but she had done it. Foiled them. They must have hidden it in there – that’s why they’d made it difficult to open. They’d done something to it but she’d got it open.
A strong woman.
The phrase floated in front of her. She’d been called that too. Something else that was her, that couldn’t be taken from her. Obviously. She’d just proved that.
Perched now on the bed she bent down and started going through the drawer’s contents, more desperately now. She couldn’t find it. Why couldn’t she find it?!
The panic was up in her throat now and drove her on, though she could barely see through the tears. She began throwing things out of the drawer, snatching at them and sending them flying across the room until the drawer was empty. She had a vague recollection of reading books that mentioned false bottoms. Or was that suitcases? She knocked on the base of the drawer in various places but couldn’t quite remember what that was supposed to tell her. She began scrabbling with her fingers but nothing came away. No sign of any secret compartment. Just sore, red fingers and smears of blood.
She began on the other drawers, throwing things out with a frustrated desperation. The panic was out the top of her head now, like a pressure-cooker exploding. She attacked the wardrobe next, now not really looking, just wanting to vent all the fear. She threw the stranger’s clothes behind her. Boring, boring, boring. Caramels and camels, sand and ecru. All different words for what she despised: safe neutrals. The horror of beige.
When it was empty she stood breathless. It wasn’t here. It was gone. It had been stolen.
Looking around at the clothes surrounding her she felt depressed. They were trying to drain the colour out of her.
She became aware of someone standing in the doorway. She looked up to see a middle-aged woman with a look of shock and pain on her face. Must be one of them. They obviously didn’t expect her to fight like this.
Shuffling amongst the chaos of clothes she squared up to her and looked her hard in the face.
“Don’t think I don’t know. You’ve stolen it.”
The pained woman sighed. “We’ve been through this so many times. I haven’t stolen it.”
She was surprised when she felt the pained woman put her hand on hers. So gently. It felt nice. They looked at each other, both with tears in their eyes.
But she was looking around at the debris around her and didn’t hear. It was like a whirlwind had passed through. A whirling dervish. Why had that phrase popped into her head? It was distantly familiar but she didn’t know why. She looked at the cream walls, the stone-coloured bedding. All the colour’s been sucked out, she thought.
“Someone’s stolen it,” she whispered. The tears found their way into her mouth and she sucked them away. She was breathing hard.
“Have they stolen me too?”
©Angela Gallagher 2016