Christmas time and the fair had come to George Square again. Alisha went with her friends and watched as they whizzed around on the waltzers and queued for the chairoplane.
“Why aren’t you joining in?” they asked her. She told them she was afraid of heights.
The colours and lights were giving her a headache. Nicki Minaj blasting on a sound system that was illegally concealed in a carousel. The smell of hot chips and donuts and the slobbery breath of too much drinking. Alisha was almost thirty; she was too old for this.
The more she stood staring, the more her head started pounding. A flush spread over her cheeks and the tingling stung the surface of her skin.
“Oh fuck,” she whispered. It was returning. The screams shrilled louder, merging into white lines of terror in the air. They fired light into her eyes that burned and burned, and she could not stop shaking with the sensation that her brain was swelling, swelling, her skull tightening and the throbbing not stopping. She tried to close her eyes but then the visions came to her: she saw the amoeba dance with all the shimmer shapes coming off of it in trails of hail, needles stuck through bullet holes tattooed along a body…her boyfriend’s body. The boy she had not seen in years…and his mouth was a jagged hole punched in glass; she reached for his cheek but her fingers went through it, felt the silvery liquid pixelate against her skin. People flying through the sky, screaming, falling – the chaos of things colliding. A metallic taste on her tongue and she felt herself falling backwards, her body involuntarily shuddering, slipping down, down to that gaping space below her – a chasm of fiery stars, insects dripping horrid oil and the putrid smell of cordite that she could not place – not quite – she looked at her arms, trying to find something solid, but they opened up to her – she saw the red flesh of muscle as in a medical textbook, veins oozing and wriggling with the heads of snakes. The ache, the ache, the ache.
“No!” she cried out, but no-one was listening…
Children’s laughter, echoing out, morphing into banshee shrieks. The veins criss-crossed to form a colossal knot that pulsed and juddered like a human heart. She wanted to touch it, to untangle it, but the black slime stuck to her fingers like molasses and now there were shadows coming towards her and her tongue was – she could not feel her tongue! – she felt the clammy swallow of absence in her throat and sank back against the railings. A luminous sun was upon her, bright rays raging over her face. Love, love, love it sang. Love, love – then there was distortion, radio-crackle and harshness…she thought how all she wanted to do was fall back into that starry space…that blackness…
Something strong hauled her up and she felt the world reassemble again. Patches of reality: a pram, a carousel, a string of Christmas lights blinking in her vision. Some terrible pain lurched in her chest and still she could not speak. She waited and waited, struggling to breathe.
“Alisha, what’s wrong?” She recognised, finally, the face of her friend Sarah standing with a security guard in a high-vis jacket. Alisha could not help it; she turned round and vomited over the railings. She felt the disapproving stare of mothers; she was too old for this to be happening.
“Was it the donuts?” Sarah asked, looking concerned. The security guard disappeared to deal with a bunch of teenagers drunkenly trying to kick in the ice sculptures. The sound of glass shattering burst in Alisha’s head.
“N-no,” she stuttered, “it’s just…I…something bad happened here once.” She stared down at the smooth surface of her wrists and felt a swell of relief; the sight of solidity, of her own milky skin – even the gurning of her jaw and gums – that was real, that was love.
(Prompts: fairground photo, accident, flashback)
by Maria Rose Sledmere