12NOW: Claire Savage

img_6825Claire Savage is a short story writer and poet from the north coast who writes prose for both children and adults. In July 2014 Claire was awarded a National Lottery grant from the Arts Council NI as part of their Support for Individual Artists Programme, which helped her in writing a collection of short stories and poetry. Claire is now working on her debut children’s novel, which she plans to publish in the coming months.

Also a copywriter and freelance journalist at Claire Savage Editorial, Claire’s short stories have to date been published in The Lonely Crowd and The Incubator journals, along with SHIFT Lit – Derry writing magazine and The Launchpad journal.

Her poetry has also been published in the Abridged journal, Community Arts Partnership (CAP) poetry anthologies (2014/15), the Co Derry Post newspaper and poetry e-zine, A New Ulster. Another is forthcoming in an anthology in memory of Seamus Heaney later in 2016 and one of her poems has been shortlisted in the Fourth Annual Bangor Poetry Competition 2016.

Web: clairesavagewriting.wordpress.com and www.cseditorial.co.uk
Twitter: @ClaireLSavage
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ClaireSavageEditorial

Locked In

I blink once for ‘yes’ and twice for ‘no’. Sometimes the effort of blinking ‘yes’ takes too long and they think I mean ‘no’.

Not everyone waits to be certain of my answer, so sometimes, they misunderstand, and there’s nothing I can do about it but keep blinking. This confuses them and then we start again – if they can be bothered. By that time though, I’m usually tired and just close my eyes. On other occasions, the urge to communicate outweighs the heavy ache of fatigue, however, and I summon up all the strength in my weakened eyelids and will those filmy pieces of skin to do my bidding and talk to them.

It doesn’t always work, but at least I try.

Today, the clock has stopped at half-past three. It must have happened in the early hours of the morning, as it was fine yesterday and we haven’t made it to the afternoon yet. Unless I’ve missed something – which is unlikely.

I have appointments and the speech therapist is due soon. It feels like it’s her day to come – or someone’s. There’s always a person in the afternoon and no-one has come yet, so the clock must have stopped at half-past three this morning.

I wonder if anyone will notice, and if they do – will they take it down and re-start it? It will mean dragging the black padded chair over from against the wall to my left – where the window is – standing on it, reaching for the clock, unhooking it from the nail I suppose it’s hanging from, removing the old battery and inserting a new one. Setting the correct time and then putting it all back again. Tidying the chair away where it belongs.

I doubt they’ll bother, but I like to know the time. The steady tick-tocking of the clock doesn’t drive me insane as it would some people – I like to hear every second struck and measure my life against the steady sound. It’s a sign that the world is still moving around me – time is in flux and that, at least, I can be a part of.

I hope they fix the clock – but they probably won’t ask me about it.

Most of my life is reflected back at me in this room – I lie surrounded, saturated, by frozen moments of time, which laugh in the face of my moving clock. Photographs from last year, the year before – from sun-soaked days when the biggest worry was what to wear and whether I should wash my hair today, or would it do until tomorrow, as I had cross-country practice after school. Days when the lick of an ice-lolly wasn’t meant to induce a lemon-flavoured gag or to refresh my buccal cavity, but rather, to allow explosions of strawberry and pear to tantalise my taste buds. When the ice took the time to melt on my tongue and when I could swallow it without fear of choking.

The cards I detest. They mock me with their gaudiness and cheerful remonstrations – their heartfelt messages decorated with exclamation marks and smiley faces and little drawn-on hearts. Their intentions are good but they don’t deserve more than a day – why should they, when birthday cards and anniversary cards and congratulation cards seek only 24 hours to shout out their messages? These cards are on display all the time.

They don’t ask me if I’d like them put away though. ‘They cheer up the room’, my mum says and so, then, they must also cheer up me. But I don’t care if the room is cheery.

The room is painted daffodil yellow. ‘Cheery’. It has off-white cotton curtains which swing gaily by the window on a good day – when the weather allows it to be opened a fraction to let in the world and its intoxicating smell of fumes and grass and cigarette smoke and canteen cooking. They’re not so good in the winter, when the cold cuts through the thin fabric, and in summer days, the sun blazes mercilessly through them – blinding my eyes and daring me to grab a towel and race out to the garden to lie in its lukewarm rays.

I don’t know if there is a garden here, but I imagine not.

My bed is as comfy as any bed can ever be when you live in it, and my pillows have now reached an almost satisfactory level of moulding, which makes it likely that soon they will be replaced by ‘better’ ones, which will push me up too far and have no comforting hollows to hide in.

My bedside table has a glass of stagnant water, a pen, a box of tissues and a card – from whom, I have no idea. Someone who sends their wishes from afar but wouldn’t breach the confines of my home.

The clock on the wall before me is white and plastic, with black inked numbers – not numerals, thankfully – stamped around its circumference. When it works, its tick-tock is loud, but not overbearing.

My duvet is floral – aren’t they all? It’s ‘cheery’, but I’d prefer black – something to dampen the brightness of this carefree space and introduce a little drudgery into the room. Why does the room get what it wants?

Today is most likely Wednesday, so it’s the day of the speech therapist’s visit. Last week she brought a student with her. She looked scared stiff but hid it well – I just know what to look for. She glanced at me, not wishing to stare, but then kept glancing back. It’s rude to ignore someone like me you see. Rude though to stare.

They spoke to me in bright, breezy voices – the student’s more noticeably forced – and did some of their carefully planned-out exercises with me. Well, they’re always the same. I was tired – I mean, my mind is so busy and it’s such an effort to blink – but I squeezed out a few ‘yeses’ and ‘nos’ and they seemed happy with it, so it earned me some rest.

I think the girl was a little spooked by my pictures. I’d have told her to put them away but then, they’re there to cheer the place up.
When I think back to last year – was it only last year, it seems a lifetime ago – I still don’t know what happened. No-one has ever really explained to me the reason that I’m here, or if they did, I’ve blocked it out.

I was 24 years old. I was just finishing university – I had actually passed my exams and was all set to become a marine biologist. The sea fascinates me, but they seem to have forgotten that, as I never see anything remotely related to my chosen career anymore. I wish they’d put pictures of the ocean on the walls.

My hair was freshly cut and layered – just a hint of a blond highlight woven through my naturally fair auburn colour – nothing like what it is now – lank, no matter how they wash it, and darkened to a mousy brown. Lack of sun I suppose.

I was on my way home from the city – driving that route for the very last time before I set off on a well-earned holiday with my sister to celebrate graduation success and the real start of adult life – but I never got there.

I woke up in hospital and then I woke up here and I think they explained to me quite a few times why, but my brain won’t accept their stories or let me access them and so, I still don’t know what I’m doing here, or why I can move nothing but my eyes – why I can no longer talk or laugh or shout or walk or run or write or feed myself or wash myself or go to the bathroom. Why I can’t ever get up from this bed and go home, or ask who’s to blame for all of this and where they are now and if they feel guilty.

I live in this ‘cheery’ room, in this ‘comfy’ bed, in this over-heated residential unit, with its squeaky-clean floors and worn-out staff, and I think I’m going to be here for the rest of my life.

I have no body now. I’m the essence of me, but there’s nothing attached.

Except my eyes. They, at least, haven’t given up. They let me blink and answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but sometimes they get tired of being the only functioning body part and just want to sleep.

How can you exist as a thought? I feel like I’m a thought. I’m my mind and nothing else. My mind has so much to say and to do and it’s trapped and all I can do is let it be trapped.

They come and go – my mum, my dad, my sister, my aunts and uncles. My friends are too busy living their new lives. It makes them uncomfortable to see me. I know that. It would have made me uncomfortable if I’d had to go and see someone like me when I was ‘normal’. I feel sorry for my family but I need them to come and remind me I’m more than a thought.

They try and I can see it’s hard for them too. They always said I lived in my head when I was younger – ‘Gemma, your head’s in the clouds! You live in your own wee world!’ – and I guess now I really do.

I just hope they don’t get bored with me. I have so much more to say. I have so much I want to do.

The nurse is here at last.

“Mornin’ Gemma – how are ye today?”

I tell her I’m ok – I had quite a good night actually – slept right through. I didn’t dream, which was a relief and today, I’m a little refreshed.
Oh, but the clock’s stopped working so – could you please fix it?

I can tell by the look in her eyes that she hasn’t translated my silent stare. I blink – once, twice. ‘Yes’. Dammit – it’s all I can say. I smile at her with my eyes, but she looks away and fusses round the bed. I don’t remember her name.

“Yes, well, we’ll get you washed and cleaned up and all ready for your mum. She’s coming in this morning for a wee bit and then the speech therapist will be along later. You’ve a busy day ahead of you!”

I wonder if she’ll notice the clock. It’s stopped and I want them to fix it. I want to hear time tick on. I want to see it move.

I wonder if they’ll notice?