From the Inside

by Carrie Bachler
He didn't know where he was.

He woke up to cold, empty sheets beside him, a shallow pang of fear in the pit of his stomach. He wanted the rumpled blankets to tell the story; he wanted the pillow thrown across the night table to reassure him.

It didn't.

She was making him pancakes for breakfast, chocolate swirl with whipped cream on top. His favorite mound of buttery, chocolate madness. He didn't eat healthy, but then neither did she, and they were happy.

But the sheets weren't his. Red? Red. He didn't have red sheets. They weren't his; they weren't hers.

There was no shaving cream in the medicine cabinet. There was no cabinet above the sink, no sink in the bathroom, no bathroom in the hallway, no hallway outside his door. Because it wasn't his door, it wasn't his room, it wasn't his house.

She wasn't cooking pancakes. Maybe there wasn't even a kitchen, but he was too afraid to look.

He rolled over and stretched his legs, one socked foot reaching for ground, the other hanging in limbo from the side of the bed. His eyes blurred, fuzzed, filled up with soda pop that swallowed his vision. He took a gasp of air and let his eyelids slide closed.

Whoa. Get a hold of yourself.

He dug the palms of his hands into his eyes, ran his fingers back through his thick, brown hair, stretched his legs back onto the bed.

He sat up and opened his eyes to a hazy fog. The sheets were still red.

Frantic, afraid, he tossed his head back and forth, searching. There was no deodorant on the floor, no cap lying in the middle of the room, pushed off the night stand by a tired hand searching for an alarm clock.

Every morning. Every morning his deodorant ended up on the floor.

There was no dusty gray haze beginning to settle across the television at the foot of the bed, neglected from dusting for weeks.

There was no TV.

There was no TV and his shaking hands ran across the empty bed beside him. He lifted her pillow from the night table but it wasn't her pillow. She only slept on feather and this wasn't feather, this wasn't hers.

But her glasses. Her reading glasses. There they were, under the pillow, balanced  on the edge of the table. What color were they?

He dove across the bed, the colors around him swirling as he threw his body into motion, strings of vision colliding into a single blur in front of him as he focused on the glasses. Lilac. They were lilac. Lilac and hers.

He scanned the table by her side of the bed, time lagging behind his eyes as they darted back and forth. Her vitamins, her water, they were there, there beside the lamp. The lamp molded from twisted plastic branches with a green umbrella leaf for a shade, the lamp that wasn't hers, wasn't his. But her vitamins.

He smelled pancakes, pancakes for breakfast, pancakes that only she made him. He smelled her pancakes sizzling through his nostrils and eating away at his stomach.

But there's no kitchen, Matthew, there's no kitchen.

He bolted from bed, bolted from bed shouting to free the monsters that had crawled inside his body over night.

"Jane, where are you?" His voice cracked, a childish voice of a teenager growing into a man, and his feet sunk into the carpet, sunk in up to his ankles. His eyes swirled in silvers and maroons and he grabbed a hold of the bedspread, climbing back into bed, sucking his feet out of the mess that had engulfed them.

Your name is Matthew. Get a grip.

"Matt?"

The voice was thin, transparent, colorless, leaking through the walls into the bedroom and through his ears. He closed his eyes and pulled the pale blue bedspread up to his chin. If he just stayed warm she could get him some medicine, get him another blanket, stop the maddening colors from swirling across his vision.

"Jane? Jane, is that you?"

He heard a mumble, a shuffle of feet. "Yes," the voice replied, swimming through the door in a wave of sweet sugar, melting in his ears. "Yes, this is Jane."

He felt uneasy, felt a surge of white panic crackle through his bones. He opened his eyes and flipped his head to the side, a film of haze clouding his vision.

It's Jane, he thought. It's Jane and it's my house.

He listened to soft footsteps padding towards the room, closer, and as he frantically darted his head through the room his eyes clouded with red and he caught a glimpse of his gray hooded sweatshirt on the armchair in the corner. Not his armchair, but definitely his sweatshirt. Greasy from working on the car.

A cool gush of wind swam through the door and slurped through his fingers, gushing like water, cementing him to the bed.

He felt the fear build up inside him, filling his organs and leaking out of his pores.

He didn't know who he was.

*

In heaven there are midnight blue clouds that spring like rubber when you jump on them, catapulting you high into the pearlescent stars. There's a car shop perched on every cloud, complete with greasy monkey wrenches and big round jars of Turtle Wax. Endless beer for everyone, free banana splits, free slabs of steak with giant sautéed onions.

In hell the orange and blue flames dance in and out of your ears, slurp through your intestines, burn your retinas but refuse to blind you from the sight of an endless nothing. No cars, no food, no beer.

Matthew sat up. He sat up but refused to open his eyes.

You're not in hell, Matthew.

He buried his face between his knees, bobbing back and forth on the cushioned bed, a bottle floating in a barren blue ocean.

He felt a hand between his shoulder blades. His chest caved in, blood stopped circulating, muscles contracted into tight pretzels shooting pain up and down his bones. The fingers traveled up his back, over his shoulders, rested gently on his chest.

A Hail Mary creaked through his lips. "Jane?"

"It's me. Don't worry." He could feel her small body behind the frame of his shaking limbs, and it comforted him. It was his Jane after all. He relaxed his body, fell back into hers, his eyes still closed to a world that he didn't want to return to.

"I had just a terrible night, baby. Just awful. I don't even know..." His voice faded away as he tried to comprehend what had happened to his head.

"Don't worry, Nathan. I'm here."

Matthew shot out of her embrace, his eyes fluttering open as he spun around in bed, furiously, animal like, clawing at the covers and kicking himself backwards. Nathan? One black emotion spun into another fiery blue one. Fear clotted in his blood as an inconceivable red anger shot through his veins.

She sat there against the headboard, Jane in periwinkle, her head curiously cocked to one side.

"It's me. Yes, it's Jane. Don't worry."

A glare of white light clouded his eyes, sent him grabbing for the stability of the mattress, spun his head into a web and sent him picking his way out through the silky strings of silvery light.

Jane was gone.

Her periwinkle nightgown slid down the side of the bed and crumpled to the floor, a silent wisp of jasmine floating through his nostrils.

This was not his house, not his home, not his life. But it was, and he was in his bed, his bed with someone else's sheets.

He fell backward into the ocean of blankets, opened his eyes to the cracked white plaster on the ceiling. The cracked white plaster that he had fixed the week before.

A deep, animal howl bellowed from his lungs, shot through the silence, pushed the oily tears down the sides of his face and left him struggling for breath and sanity.

And then, almost like he was normal again, everything was back.

Orange sun slanted through the beige blinds that he hated, the TV boasted a shield of dirt and dust, his deodorant rested on the floor, leaving slivers of white powder crusted atop the fibers of the carpet.

He was Matthew.

He was home.

Jesus. What is wrong with you?

He ran a sweaty hand through his hair, scooted toward the side of the bed and sat up, stretching his legs straight out in front of his body, relaxing the muscles.

Jane was gone, but her side of the bed was warm. A warm wave of cinnamon syrup flooded his nostrils. He sighed, shook his head and rubbed his thumbs deep into his throbbing forehead.

Jane was making pancakes. Chocolate-chipped, whipped-creamed, syrupy buttery pancakes.

*

The cool carpet squished between his toes as he placed one foot in front of the other, stretched out his insides, made his way down the hallway. His sanity was back. The dark shadows crept out from behind the framed photographs, slithered around the potted plants, fell to the floor in a corridor around him.

He hated the dark. But at least this was his home.

A smile broke out across his face despite the pounding in his head, and he took off in leaps down the long hallway. He was wearing nothing but a pair of baggy gray sweatpants. Beads of sweat tapered down the small of his back.

"Jane, baby!" He shouted with all the strength of the world behind him. "I'll help with breakfast..."

His voice trailed off as his body flew to a stop at the end of the hallway. The kitchen was to the right, and gray beams of sunlight slid through the blinds, casting a sour glow across the room.

Matthew stared, his eyes shifting left and right, right and left, back and forth. He blinked once, twice, squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again.

The kitchen was empty.

The sweet syrupy odor drifted through his nostrils, eating him up inside, but the pans hung neatly on the wall. Silvery metal, big, medium, small. The black tablecloth skimmed the seats of the wooden chairs, blowing gently. The window was open.

He never kept the windows open overnight.

He never kept the windows open and that wasn't even the right tablecloth, wasn't even hers, the flowery one of soft oranges and pinks that she loved.

The now familiar panic again seized his body, filling up his lungs and leaving him gasping for oxygen.

Where was he? Who was he?

He stumbled to the sink, filled up a glass with water and poured the cool drink down his throat, sparkling droplets spilling down his chest and collecting on the edge of his sweatpants.

He turned.

Looking out across the lifeless kitchen, a sickening desperation settled into his stomach. He spun around, flying, running through the house. Greasy pancakes and confusion governed his insides as he threw open doors, the maddening light and colors of the house swimming across his line of vision.

Jane. I need Jane. Where are you?

In desperation he ran back to the kitchen, ran back to the disillusioning smell of buttery life.

No one was there.

Matthew fell to his knees. He fell to his knees and a sharp, red pain stabbed through the palm of his hand as he clawed at the tile. Crimson syrup seeped through his fingers, dripping on his sweatpants and leaking into the crevices between the smooth ivory tiles.

His eyes cleared and in a sudden, sickening realization the crystal tactility of the glass surrounding him pierced through his insides.

It was under his knees, stabbing through the flesh of his hand, glittering under the kitchen table. Thick slabs of darkened glass surrounded him, a slimy, sticky fluid cementing the fabric of his pants to the floor and gluing his fingers together.

He surveyed the area around him, his motions slowed, his shoulders slumped in despair. The neck of the bottle, one side jagged with shards of glass and the other a shimmering paper gold, peeked out from beneath the legs of a chair. Droplets of thick brown liquid peppered the tile.

A shimmering lavender scarf, silent and twisted atop the carpet in the dining room, caught his eye. He had to crawl across the kitchen floor to put its soft color to his face, to smell the jasmine in her hair.

He sat on his knees, blood dripping from his hand, his legs prickling with pain, a soft lavender scarf crunched against his face. He knew now who he was, where he was.

He was Matthew, and he was home.

Jane, he knew, was gone.
Carrie Bachler is an editor at Halfway Down the Stairs. For staff biographies, click here.

© 2006, Carrie Bachler