Cycle has 6 installments
By Anna Taylor
Edie busies herself during the days — she is getting the hang of doing so, finally. She feels better, she's discovered, if she keeps to a kind of internal schedule, rather than just allowing the current of time to roll her through its rapids. She draws all morning, eats lunch at a quarter past one. Sometimes she is surprised, when she hears George's key in the lock, to realise that it's nearly dinnertime. She used to be ready for him. Plates — oven-warmed — waiting on the bench.
Occasionally she gets dinner on in time, but then walks away from it — a pot of bubbling chickpeas form into a blackened sour-smelling crust; the skin of spiced chicken wings become leather dry, flesh shrinking away from bone. She opens all the windows in the kitchen, trying to get the smell out. Stands on the tiled floor — at the centre of a great wind — as framed pictures, tea towels, and the kitchen curtains flap and ripple around her.
‘Dinner's on its way,’ she says to George when he arrives home, no matter whether it is or isn't.
She smiles at him, waiting for a smile to be reflected back at her. Instead he presses his lips to her cheek, slumps himself into the armchair, looks out the window and then into his lap, picking at the skin tags round his thumb-nail. It is the tiredness, of course. The pockets under his eyes grey from it.
Edie oversleeps; doesn't even hear George leave that morning. She stumbles out of bed, stone heavy. It is raining lightly, the windows covered in tiny threads of water. She makes tea, sits at the kitchen table with her hands flat against the wood. She has things to do, she tells herself this: wake up, and get moving.
For an hour or so she charges round the house — tidying away her sketch pads, sweeping the tiles, gathering up George's abandoned socks. As quickly as the energy comes upon her, it dissipates. She goes to the calendar, counts the days, then counts again.
The sky lightens briefly, and she stands by the French doors, noticing how the drops of drizzle are illuminated by a shaft of light. They glisten out there, like little lamps.
Later she is woken by the phone ringing. She doesn't even know she's been asleep. Nobody ever calls — not at this time of the day — and her chest seizes at the urgent sound of it, her body pumping dread. One side of her face, pressed against the arm of the chair for god knows how long, has gone slack, is slimy with drool. Whoever it is on the phone may be able to hear in her voice that she's been sleeping. A ghastly thought.
There's a pause when she picks up, and she momentarily considers putting the receiver back down, feeling somehow that she's been saved, but then she hears it — the wheeze of machinery, patter of footsteps, above it all, the crackle of a bad line.
‘It's Isaac,’ a voice says, hardly audible above the static that envelops it.
George leaves work early. He feels that his flesh is hardly containing his bones anymore, imagines that he hears them knocking against one another, as he climbs into the car. It has started to rain heavily, and one of his windscreen wipers has developed its own unique version of a limp, dragging its rubber behind it like a bad leg. He turns on the radio, but it's the afternoon show, the announcer's lilting voice making his eyelids feel like they need to be held open with toothpicks. He clicks it off again.
He is pulling out from Bay Street when he sees her — the woman who worked as a temp at the museum until just a few weeks ago. She is unmistakeable, brass dangly earrings as big as his fist, grey stilettos, a coat with an asymmetrical collar. She is standing on the corner, waiting to cross, two futile hands trying to protect her hair from the rain. He slams his palm on the horn, three times, awkwardly manoeuvres the car in beside her. She opens the door, and the smell of wet wool floods in through it.
‘Would you look who's here,’ she says. ‘A knight. In a shining car.’
She climbs in before he even invites her to, seeming to fill up all of the space, even though she's small; quite slight. Her stockings are rain-spattered, a loose tendril of hair sticking to her neck. George can't think of a clever response, so he just smiles at her.
‘Where can I take you?’ he says. He flicks the indicator with his little finger, eases his foot off the clutch. Pulls back out into the road.
Edie appears in the doorway exactly three hours after Isaac has called. It is late afternoon, and after a period of torrential rain, the sky has cleared, filling his room with a pallid light. He feels a stab of mortification at her seeing him like this again — hospital-gowned, tubed up — but she's holding a bowl filled with fruit between her hands, hesitantly, and something in her stance makes him remember her; remember why he called.
‘I’ve got sketch books too,’ she says. ‘In my bag. And pencils. Not that you probably need them.’
She seems to float across the floor, her feet hardly sounding against the linoleum, and he notices that her hair is out, held back at the sides with two tortoiseshell clips. She is wearing a red jumper, and it pulses in the white of the room.
‘Don't feel that you have to talk,’ she says. ‘I can just sit here. I'm fine.’
The corridors outside his open door are filled with sound, humming with it.
‘You can enjoy the silence,’ he says, raising his hands, open palmed.
The doctors are contemplating surgery, but Isaac doesn't tell Edie this. They are trialling new pills since they’ve agreed, finally, that the side effects from the digoxin are — in their words — potentially problematic.
‘No more drugs,’ Isaac had said when the ambulance brought him in, but his body is filled up with them now. Twice a day the nurses bring him little capfuls of colour and he swallows them, mutely, without even a pause of protest.
When he sleeps his dreams are filled with garish colour, everything too big and too bright. A wall of water — a waterfall — is the wrong way round, travelling in reverse, its rapids spuming upwards, tumbling out into the air. When he wakes his mouth is perpetually dry, as if it is filled with clay. Water, he thinks and looks around for some, but there's only ever a jug of it and a small cup. He needs a lake, a river.
Edie sits beside him and draws. He looks every now and then at what she's doing, and sees on the page the creases of the bed cover, his hand. A pillow. The curve — is it? — of his own ear. Yes.
He asks her questions and she talks, in between long pauses. Her hand moves all the time, pencil scratching the paper.
She looks at her watch, places her palms against each other.
‘I have some very new news,’ she says, suddenly, and without her even having to say it, he knows what it is. There is something in the way she holds her fingers together so tenderly, something in the smallness of her voice — that speaks only of wonderment.
He closes his eyes, trying to gather himself in. He feels that he might be moving out of his body, shaking it off. The corridor — no, too much noise. The sky — just a box of it in the window, but he could move through that, and out, be absorbed into the cool expanse of the air.
He hears Edie shift in her seat, and the boom of his heart drags him back. He presses his wrist to the hard of the mattress, turns his head, his shoulders, then one knee towards her. Opens his eyes.
Edie is silhouetted against the window, the late afternoon light spilling in around her. The tortoiseshell of her hair clips is illuminated, glowing gold.
‘I'm here,’ he says, pulling his hands free. ‘Tell me.’