Lock Me In – Kate Simants

You want to know fear? Imagine someone there, every day when you wake. Imagine knowing, without even opening your eyes, that someone is watching you. Take your time. Let your mind get used to consciousness. A girl. There. Not in the passage, not at the door, or by the window. Not even at the end of your bed. Closer than that. She stares, unblinking, her eyes burning into yours even though you keep your eyelids shut tight. You move, and for a moment, she slips away from you. But she’s not gone. You know that much. You think, please. Not again.

Your teeth tighten so hard they squeak against each other. You don’t mean to do it, but this is real, right-now fear, and your body doesn’t care what you want. Your heart starts firing out ball-bearings instead of blood. Open your eyes, you tell yourself. You say her name, and she stiffens. You feel her do it, rigid and alert in your stomach. She is inside you. She is always inside you, listening under your skin. When you were little, the doctors said this was a known disorder, that they could help. That this other you, your alter, the one who’s always there like an unwanted imaginary friend, could be brought out into the light.

That this other girl that you sometimes became was there because, at some point in your life, you needed to switch your reality off. There must have been something, they said, that brought her bursting out of you: some trauma, some incitement, some moment of quickening. You never found it. In the end they gave up, telling you she was nothing to fear, that she could be managed, medicated, contained. The doctors were wrong. You feel her rising. And it doesn’t matter how much you know it’s not a physical condition, that it’s all in your head: when she fights you, it hurts. If you want your body to be yours and not hers, you have to fight back. Now comes the tension, a thickening, swelling the marrow of your bones. You wrench the bedclothes in your fists, and you press your heels into the mattress.

She is stiff and screaming in your veins, inside the cells of your blood. You try to cry out but your voice sticks behind your tongue, no breath behind it. She has her hands in the wet depths of your throat, bending the stiff cartilage of your windpipe. And just like that she bursts into smoke. Goes quiet. You’re left with the ragged sound of your breath, your heartbeat thundering in your ears. Even as it slows, you know she isn’t gone. She doesn’t go, ever. You have learned never to trust the silence, never to let your guard down. Even as you sleep.

Especially as you sleep. You want to know fear? Fear has a name. Her name is Siggy. 1. Ellie London, 2011 I woke gasping, the sheet dislodged and twisted tight around my limbs. I kicked a leg out against the thin partition between my room and the kitchen. Through the wall I heard the radio being clicked off. ‘Ellie?’ Mum’s voice, muffled through the plasterboard. Siggy went still, and became a cold, thin layer at the base of my brain. She was quiet for a few moments, then she disappeared like a flame in a vacuum, leaving just the staccato sound of my breathing.

‘Ellie, sweetheart? You awake?’ I let my eyes open, worked my jaw and mumbled a croaky, ‘Yeah.’ It was later than I’d thought. A cold screen of early winter daylight sliced through the middle of my tiny room. Motes of dust danced in its blade. I spread my hand across the bare wall. All our walls were bare, in all the flats and houses we’d lived in since I was a child. We never stayed long, and whenever we left, we left in a hurry. ‘She gone?’ Mum called. She always managed to sound cheerful. ‘Mm-hmm.

’ I untangled myself from the sheet and tried to swing my knees over the edge of the bed, but I couldn’t do it. Too heavy. It was bad this morning, worse than usual. Soreness bloomed across my right shoulder and down my arm. I had to heave my breath in. ‘Just doing coffee,’ she said, her voice already moving away. She turned the radio back up. The track finished and was replaced by a DJ in an inoffensive, sing-song voice. I heard her unlock the crockery cupboard, taking out mugs, locking it again, setting them down. I lay for a minute in the S-shape of warmth, trying to salvage what I could of the dream.

There was a bright blue sky, and that building. Always that building, the one I’d drawn as a child over and over again: long and low, as unchanging and precise as a photograph, every time. Every night. Slowly, under the duvet, I shifted. But as I moved to push myself up, bright, brilliant pain shot across my hand, bringing tears to my eyes. Bisecting my palm, intermittent but extending right over to the base of my thumb, was a ragged tear. Deep punctures, red and swollen. I touched it and winced: it was exquisitely sore, the flesh not yet dry. Gingerly, I pushed away the covers and looked myself over. Across the right of my pelvis, a blue- black mess of bruising.

I pressed the tip of a finger to the centre of the darkest part. The ache, bonedeep, rose up to meet it. Where had it come from? A fine thread of fear started to tug at me, hard. I sat up, planted my feet on the floor. Built up the courage to look at the door. It would be locked. It had to be locked. Hadn’t I heard Mum lock it? I played back the last moments of the day before. Matt had dropped me off after our quick trip to the pub near the narrowboat he was renting. Mum had made me dinner, a pasta thing we ate together in the kitchen.

I’d gone to bed early to read for a while. Mum had locked me in before she left for her late shift. She had. With my blood roaring in my temples, I turned my head. Opened my eyes. It was only a fingerbreadth, but the door was open. There, on the white gloss of the frame, was something that made me shoot out of bed as if it had caught fire. I crossed the room in three steps and lifted my fingers to the dark marks on the paintwork. Smears of reddish-brown, crusted at the edge. And on the backs of my hands – I saw it now – the same thing, the same colour, exactly.

Mud. Siggy had taken me outside. Mum appeared in the corridor, holding mugs. She stopped dead, then nudged the door fully open with her toe. ‘What—?’ she started. I met her eyes. ‘You locked it.’ She gripped her eyelids shut for a second, as if dislodging an image. ‘You locked it,’ I repeated, louder. ‘You did.

I heard you.’ She set down the two mugs of coffee and bent to touch the door. She was still wearing her cleaning uniform from the nightshift at the same hospital where Matt worked, the bleach-stained mauve tabard over blue scrubs. ‘Holy shit,’ she whispered, the blood sinking from her skin. She went back out, examining it from the other side. ‘What the hell happened here?’ I followed her. In the hall, the bolt that should have been above the mortice lock on the outside of my door was lying on the floor, its two separate sections still secured together with the padlock. Torn paint and splinters of wood clung to the screws where they’d been wrenched out of place. Several inches higher was what remained of the sliding chain lock, the plug hanging uselessly, swinging on the chain. The force it would have taken to break it like that, wrenched inwards with enough power to break the locks on the outside … Siggy’s little fingers plucked the fibres of my biceps.

If I hadn’t known her better I would have wondered if she was smiling. ‘Do you not remember anything?’ Mum asked. ‘No. But … look.’ I lifted my hand, and her eyes went wide. I let her take it, and she turned it over. Under her breath she muttered, ‘Jesus,’ then decisively, ‘Bathroom. Got to wash it. Come on.’ Holding me by the wrist so she didn’t touch the wound, she guided me through into the bathroom and pulled the cord for the light.

She flipped the toilet lid down and sat me on it like a child, then yanked up her sleeves, exposing her ropey, muscular forearms, hardened from the years of push-ups she did to make sure she was stronger than Siggy. ‘This’ll sting, love.’ The tap screeched as she turned it on, and a thick twist of cold water ran into the avocado-coloured sink. ‘Stick it under here.’ I did as I was told. Frowning at my palm, she pointed. ‘My guess is barbed wire. Look at the spacing.’ She was right: the punctures were even. Each a centimetre from the last.

She turned and angrily whipped the towel from the electric heater that hadn’t worked in the eight months we’d been there. She dried her hands and kicked it into a bundle by the washing basket. ‘Fucking Siggy,’ she said, dragging her fingers hard across her scalp. ‘What did she do with you this time?’ She wasn’t expecting an answer. We called them fugues, and I never knew what Siggy made me do during them, where she took me. Or why. All I could do was piece it together from whatever mess Siggy left behind, crowbarring in cause by surveying the effect, trying to make sense of it. The fact that the fugues always happened at night had baffled psychologist after psychologist, neurologist after sleep specialist when I was younger until Mum got so frustrated with them that we stopped going altogether. It’s a time in my life I have almost no memory of, but Mum kept journals: all the medicines, all the experts, all the sessions and techniques and homework. Nothing worked.

The drugs they said would help with the dissociation made no difference. The fugues continued; the nightmares kept coming. Although I didn’t get worse for a long time – I was plagued by panic attacks, but I never started ‘switching’ during the day, which had always been my fear – I didn’t get better. Eventually, they ran out of things to try. We never got a cure, and we never got an answer: we were dismissed as an anomaly. But this was back when Siggy was playful, doing small stuff, things that didn’t matter. Like when she filled our shoes with milk while we slept or pulled all the books off the shelves and made them into colour-coded piles. Just the little things, things we could laugh about, almost. This was before we started needing locks. This was before Jodie.

My fingers were going numb with the cold, but the torn flesh on my hand was burning now and had started to swell. The mud darkened and flaked off under the water until soon there was nothing left, just clean, pink, angry skin. I turned to wash the mud from the other hand too, and found more of it, up my arm, as far as my elbow. Where had I gone last night? What had I done? Eventually the cold got too much to bear, and I pulled my hand out of the sink and shook my hair back. Mum’s eyes went to my throat. ‘What the hell happened to your neck?’ I got up, dodging round her to get to the mirror. I lifted my chin. ‘Don’t freak out.’ Mum stood behind me, put a hand on my shoulder. ‘Control it.

Do not freak out.’ Dark marks the size of grapes, with blue-white crescents indented at their outer edges. Bruises: four in a line on one side of my windpipe, one on the other. Just above the old, jagged scar from years before. Four and one. Fingers and a thumb. ‘Come on, sweetheart, try,’ she said, angry now. ‘Try to remember.’ I studied the bruises, touched my fingers to them, lining them up, then I stared at myself in the eyes in the mirror: one green, one blue. One for me, one for Siggy.

Think. Mud. Barbed wire on my hand. And a handprint on my neck. My breath turned solid in my chest as the thought bloomed, running its course. ‘Mum. What if someone was trying to stop …?’ I trailed off. Matt. I lurched out of the room. My phone wasn’t beside my bed, and it wasn’t in the jeans I’d worn the previous night.

I went to look for it in the pocket of the raincoat I was sure I’d left on the back of the door, but neither the phone nor the coat were there. I stumbled out into the living room. Spotting my phone charging in the corner, I yanked the cable out and dialled, pressed it to my ear, thinking, answer. Answer, for Christ’s sake. ‘OK, stop,’ Mum said from behind me. ‘Take a moment to think about this. Ellie. Stop.’ I turned to face her. ‘What?’ ‘We need to think smart,’ she said, reaching for the phone.

I ducked away from her before I processed what she’d said. I’d been thinking there must have been a fight, something I could fix. But my mother, she was already thinking of Jodie. Of what Siggy had done before. That she’d done it again. The fog in my head cleared suddenly and the gentle Scots of Matt’s voice was in my ear saying you’ve reached Matt Corsham. I’m probably in my dungeon – the photo lab, in the hospital basement – leave a message. I hung up before the beep and dialled it again. Looked at the clock: 07:43. He was on earlies, started at eight, he should have been on his way to the hospital, on the 267.

He should have his phone in his hand. I slumped onto the sofa. He should be texting me. Mum sat beside me and took my face in her hands. ‘What do we do?’ she asked me gently. ‘Things get tough, what do we do?’ ‘We deal with it,’ I told her in a whisper. ‘That’s exactly what we do. You and me.’ She sighed, took my good hand and peeled each finger from the phone, until I released it. It went on the table, out of reach, then she moved up next to me, pulling me close.

I relented, sank my head against her chest. ‘Please don’t let this happen again, Mum.’ ‘Shh. He’ll be OK, though. Probably just have worked late or started early or something.’ She gave me a gentle nudge. ‘Don’t worry. Just a bit of mud. Just some scrapes.’ Even then, neither one of us believed it.

2. Mae Detective Sergeant Ben Kwon Mae stopped at the lights. He raised his eyebrows in the rear-view mirror and the kicking to the back of his seat immediately ceased. Bear, his 8-year-old daughter who was suspiciously engrossed in the palm of her hand, slowly lifted her chin to meet his gaze. ‘What?’ Eyes all wide, butter-wouldn’t-melt incredulous. ‘It wasn’t me!’ He laughed. Thirty quid a pop, the drama lessons his ex-wife made him shell out for and look what it bought. ‘You’re a terrible actress, Bear. Really bad,’ he said, returning his attention to the school-run gridlock. Should have walked.

The kicking resumed, and he swung around. ‘Oi! Stop it!’ She laughed, but then he clocked the crisps all over her almost-freshly-laundered school sweater. Busted, she started to brush at them, scattering them into the footwell. He blew out his cheeks. Didn’t say anything. Didn’t need to. ‘I’m hungry.’ ‘But crisps, mate?’ He wanted to leave it, because the clock on the dash gave him eight minutes to get Bear to school and wasting one of those minutes complaining about her diet meant wasting them all. When the bell rang at 8.45 he’d be looking at a clear week and a half until he got her back.

But Nadia had complained enough times about having to deal with what she called ‘the BMI situation’ on her own. It wasn’t fair on her for him to just ignore it. He shook his head. ‘I did offer you a proper breakfast. I thought you loved scrambled eggs.’ ‘Not since I was like three. I hate it.’ He could only see the top of her head now, but he was pretty sure she was holding back tears. ‘You never have any decent food in your stupid flat. I’m always hungry at school after I have to stay at yours.

’ ‘OK, well. I’ll stock up next time.’ The lights changed and he turned back to the road. ‘Just have to make healthy choices, that’s all I’m saying.’ ‘All you’re saying is I’m fat and no one likes me.’ She stared angrily out of the window, nicking at the raw skin around her thumbnail with her teeth. ‘That’s absolutely not true.’ Nice one, Superdad. One guess what she’d remember about the visit with him now. In the mirror he saw her lean her head on the glass, and they finished the journey in silence.

Could they bunk off for an hour? Take her to the park, make things okay between them so they’d part on good terms? No. Obviously not. Nadia would find out, for a start, and his approval rating was already on the floor. Things had eroded badly enough between them lately without him adding truancy to the list. Only three minutes late, he swung into a space miraculously close to the school entrance. He got out and went round to open Bear’s child-locked door. ‘My tummy hurts,’ she whined. ‘OK. Well, let’s get some fresh air and see how you feel in a minute.’ ‘But I’ve got a headache.

’ Her voice was quieter. He followed her gaze out across the playground to where two boys, older, were in direct line of sight. They turned away as soon as he made eye contact. Bear sighed and looked at her feet. He leaned across her to undo her seatbelt. ‘Friends of yours?’ ‘No! Get off, Ben,’ she snapped, twisting away. He made sure the sudden sag in his chest didn’t make it to his face. ‘It’s Dad,’ he told her, pulling her bag and reading folder out from the back seat. This Ben thing was new this visit. No way did she call Nadia by her first name.

He hadn’t even heard her shorten it from Mummy yet. He wasn’t having it. ‘You call me Dad.’ ‘Whatever.’ She squeezed past him and stumped off towards the gate. Catching her up, he reached for her shoulder but let his hand drop before it touched her. Best not push it. ‘Tell you what. If you don’t give me a cuddle, I’ll cave your head in with a fire extinguisher.’ A bit too hopeful, the way it came out, but she let him draw level.

He coughed, dropped his voice a bit. ‘Gouge your eyes out with a soup spoon. I will. I’ve done it before. In Helmand.’ Which won him a very small smile. ‘You haven’t been to Helmand.’ ‘Flipping have.’ ‘And you’ve used that one before, too.’ ‘Right, right.

Sloppy.’ He shoved his hands in his pockets, thinking. ‘In that case I’ll just have to grate your nose off.’ ‘Yeah? How?’ ‘Cheese grater. Like I did in Operation Desert Knickers.’ A single sniff of a laugh, and she glanced at him. The shape of her eyes so almost-Caucasian, hardly a sniff of Korean about her. Like even his genes were being diluted, rinsed out of her life. But her sideways smile was all his. She took a deep breath.

‘I’ll boil you alive and peel your skin off and sell it to the shoe shop so they can make shoes out of you.’ The realization that she’d planned that, rehearsed it, glowed like a coal in his belly. ‘Nice.’ He gave her a serious look and slow-nodded. ‘What’s the score? Seventeen-twelve?’ ‘You wish,’ she said, appeased now. ‘Nineteen-twelve.’ She cheerfully swung her bag at him, obliviously but narrowly missing his bollocks. Bear started to skip but stopped when she got to the gate. She was scanning the yard for those boys. Mae crouched.

‘If there’s anything you need me to deal with—’ She shot him a serious look. ‘No. There’s nothing. There isn’t.’ ‘Because if—’ ‘Please, Dad.’ Mae shrugged, straightened up, committing those two lads to memory: bags, hair, sneery little faces. The last of the latecomers ran past them, ushered in by her classroom assistant (Mr Walls, 29, newly qualified last year, single, previously a gardener, caution for shoplifting aged 13). Mae bent to fix the mismatch of toggles on her coat, and she let him. ‘Thanks for hanging out with me, Bear.’ He squeezed her shoulders.

‘See you next week.’ She ducked him and was gone, off down the path, trying to press into a group of girls he halfrecognized. Flicking a hand up briefly as a backwards goodbye. He flexed his fingers a few times in his pockets and headed back to the car. It didn’t get to him. Saying goodbye and not even getting a hug: it was no big deal. He dealt with assaults and suicides and RTAs, no problem, all the time. Cat C murders, child abuse, DV, the lot. All the fucking time. So, his little girl forgot to give him a hug before a whole nine days away from him, even though five minutes ago she was three years old, falling asleep in his arms as he read The Gruf alo for the eighteenth time? Christ! Take more than that to make him cry.

From the driver’s seat he watched Bear disappear into the building. Music. He reached round to dig a CD out from the pocket behind his seat, and his fingers closed on a disk in a square plastic wallet. She must have left it there by mistake. He brought it out: Lady Gaga for Bear! on the disk in sharpie, and then under the hole, (not really, it’s Daddy’s very best CLEAN hip-hop mixtape). And it was clean, too: he’d checked and double-checked each track, and there wasn’t a single swear. It had taken some doing. He tucked it into the glovebox, then tried again and found Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle under a fine layer of fried potato crumbs. It was scratched to shit but last time had played fine up to ‘Who Am I (What’s My Name)?’, which would be long enough to get him to the nick. His speakers were almost as creaky as his brakes, but they were loud, and loud meant a clear head.

Ignition, arm round the headrest to reverse. And off. All business.

.

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