This is something (almost autobiographical in nature) I wrote in the early morning, after an accident that roused me from sleep. It’s mostly about fear: an attempt to describe it for those lucky enough to not feel it follow them around like I do, and how it feels in those moments when I can’t suppress it.

The girl steps into the shower, the door sliding shut with a soft thud behind her. She blows out a breath, shaky and uncertain, and twists the first knob to unleash the torrent of water from above. The water is supposed to strip everything away: not just dirt and dust but guilt, shame, fear – all sloughing off of her body and disappearing down the drain with the water. This is where she is safe.

Nothing bad can happen to me in here.

She feels dirty, stained. Ancient. Like she’s losing herself, piece by piece, function by function. First her guts. Then her rectum. Then her joints. A thought burbles up from the depths of her mind, disdainful and uninvited: a joke from her parents, about how the next house they buy will have to have more bathrooms – or an ensuite for them. She laughs in the memory, but the recollection stirs guilt in her stomach, hot and sour and churning. When will it end? How much will burn in the inferno that was struck ten years ago? How much will they be able to save before it burns itself out, and takes her with it, leaving behind only a dried-out husk?

It hurts.

It’s not hot enough. For every few seconds that pass, she adjusts to the temperature, soaking up the heat like a lizard lying in the sun. It’s a balm, soothing both the clench of nervous muscles and the slim iron vice twisting her intestines. But then its powers fade as her body adjusts, blood vessels dilating to radiate the heat away. So she twists and twists and twists the dial, until the steam is a not-quite-solid entity in front of her, almost tangible enough to touch.

It’s still not enough.

Something is wrong. Her muscles will not uncoil, no boneless sinking feeling emerging from the effects of the searing spray. She lifts her hands from underneath the water and rubs at the thin skin where her cheekbones meet her eye sockets. What, exactly, is wrong? Every thought emerges struggling-slow, like it needs to be dragged out through molasses, but with none of the sticky sweetness to mask the flat-iron tang.

I am not going to like this.

It’s as if there is someone else in her head, warning her of the terrible conclusion before she finds it, breath shuddering out in a rush as a bolt of lightning (or maybe just inspiration, given shape) touches down inside her head and gives a name to the thing lurking inside.

Open your eyes and look at it.

It is fear. Bright, awful, animal fear, that keeps her heart thumping rapidly in her chest and fingers quivering and her back taught like a too-tight bowstring. She is a doe, on the edge of flight, but caught short by the blinding whiteness of headlights. Trapped. Wanting to flee, but nowhere to go.

Just wait it out.

Although it took her a while to recognise this feeling, she is no stranger to it. It has hummed in her veins every day for ten years, varying in volume with each day. It has been low –

Soft slumber in her own bed, and how could she have forgotten how good this feels? Hanging on to the drowsy almost-consciousness because full sleep would mean losing sight of this delicious feeling, wrapped up safe and sound without a worry in the world –

– and it has been high –

Whirling around on the threshold, deliberately avoiding the gaze of the sign that reads Endoscopy Suite 1 as she turns to look at her mother, who has accompanied her for every test and trial and ordeal since the very beginning. She wants to beg for her mother to come and hold her hand during the procedure. But she is an adult now, and so she smooths the hospital gown down around her and leans in to hug her mother with a brittle-bright smile. “Won’t be long,” she chirps, and the roar in her veins drowns out her mother’s response.

– but what is this? An irritating drone under her skin. It remains even as she switches off the shower and dries off, an antsy edge making the shower feel worthless: usually, by now, there is only drowsy contentment. But she cannot be ruled by fear forever, so she steps out of the bathroom and back into her bedroom, towards the bed under the window with the soft covers.

What am I supposed to do?

The fear does not abate as she clambers underneath the blankets and watches the grey stillness of the pre-dawn sky. Instead, it sits there, a leviathan under the surface of her mind, as she waits and waits for the darkness to rush forwards and claim her before the dawn comes.

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