Earmuffs

It was a long night last night. The voices didn’t let you sleep much; they never do at the weekend, do they? It must have something to do with the excitement of the end of the week when you were a kid; when you were hustled through the darkness, packed onto a train and met at that far-away station by those funny people who spent all their time smiling. Strangers who filled their weekends with cakes and chocolates and trips to the zoo. Long drives in the country and tall glasses of iced tea taken on terraces, leaving rings of moisture on red and white checkered tablecloths. All you wanted to do was sit at home on your bed and draw pictures of bees with your crayons, didn’t you?

Do you remember how they used to wrap you up, as if everything was about to smash you to smithereens? As if your life depended on solid, uncomfortable shoes and thick woollen gloves! As if you were really likely to catch your death of cold in the steamy heat of all those modern restaurants with fancy names! As I remember, they used to force you into wearing big white earmuffs. You know, the fluffy ones? You got quite attached to them after a while and we never realized that it was probably because you couldn’t hear properly when you had them on. They never used to let you take them off until you were actually inside, so that everyone could see how well they were looking after you, didn’t they? If only they knew, those sanctimonious ruddy-faced old men and pinched old women, that you didn’t even know who these people were. They were just there, looking down at you with shallow, fawning expressions, pretending that they really knew you. They never knew, did they, that your world for most of the year was a small wooden cubicle, little larger than a kennel, surrounded by night-time shuffling and suppressed laughter. Icy water soaking into the hem of your nightdress.

That was when the voices first came, do you remember? Whispering in the dark before turning to muffled laughter and then loud giggling as Matron arrived, sweeping through the darkness and giving you the disapproving look. You! As if it was your fault! Still, she’ll be long gone by now. They probably all are. You’re sure that that man wasn’t long for this world. Didn’t you say so, when you got that unexpected letter from that woman telling you that she was your sister? Serves him right, really, pretending all that time that he knew all about you. He didn’t have a clue; how could he, when you didn’t know yourself who you were?

The voices you hear aren’t really all that bad; at least they tell you things and you can talk to them. Not like the neighbours; kids making all sorts of odd smells, coming and going at all times of the day and night. At least the voices only punish you by keeping you awake at night, not like that lot next door. You saw them down the road the other day, didn’t you? Do you remember, when the long-haired one which might be a girl came and talked to you? Asked if you wanted to have a tug, or some such nonsense? What are people on about these days? IT’s not like when you were a girl, is it?

You’re much happier now. No more long cold train journeys, no more being pushed from pillar to post all the time. It’s much better here; you really like it, don’t you? It’s a shame about the trains, though, travelling past up there, always just slowly enough to let people see in and poke their nose into your business. They always look down on you, just like those other people did. It’s getting colder, so I guess you’ll be needing to buy a new pair of earmuffs soon, won’t you? They wear out so quickly, don’t they? Maybe they’re not made to be worn all day, but you want to make sure that those people don’t come back. You promised them that you’d wrap up warm, so if the cost is buying new earmuffs now and again, if that’s what it takes, then that’s not so bad. Even if you can’t remember the reasons why you wear them any more.

Look. That man up there on the train, looking down at you as if he knows your business. I wonder where he’s off to? I bet he’s going to tell his tales and poke his nose in, just like all the others. Maybe you could write a little story and tell your tales of him, that’ll show him. That’ll show all of them.