Under the bed
Under the Bed
The woman lying on the bed felt her bracelet slip from her wrist and fall to the floor. She reached down to find it. But instead of a bracelet, she felt paper. She grasped it and lifted it up to her eyes. “What's that mummy”? Said the boy, sitting on the bed next to her.
“Its a newspaper” she replied.
“Show me,” he said.
She lifted her head from the mattress and pushed herself up with her elbows. The light in the room was poor, the windows covered by thick curtains to keep trapped what little heat there was in the room. Speckles of dust shimmered lazily in the damp air, disturbed by her movement. She looked at the paper, recognising the red top banner immediately. The boy craned his neck forward in order to stare at the front page. “Who's that?” he said, pointing at the paper. “That man standing in front of the big door. Is he nice?” The woman examined the photograph. The ink has faded a little and the paper had creased across the picture. At first, it was difficult for her to make it out. The boy coughed -a hoarse, rasping hacking sound that made him shake. He was clearly very ill. He coughed again and a small drop of blood splattered on to the picture. She put one arm on his shoulder and, with her other hand carefully wiped the blood away. A sob slipped from her cracked lips. “Are you crying mummy? Did I do something wrong?”
“No my dear” she responded. “It's just.....”. She looked away, and, composing herself, swung her legs down from the bed. “It's just that this is a picture from the Before. It's an old newspaper - look can you see the date?” She pointed to the top of the newspaper.
“Who is he then? Why is he making you cry?” She stroked his hair, blonde, unkempt. When was the last time she had washed it for him? She couldn't remember.
“I'm hungry. Is there anything to eat?” he asked.
“I'll check,” she said. Unwrapping her arms from his skinny frame, she stood up and walked the few feet across the room to the cupboard opposite the bed. She looked back at him. Sometimes he seemed almost transparent, so tight and pale was the skin on his face and legs and arms. She opened the cupboard door and took out a packet of biscuits. There were three or four left. ”We've still got some of these,” she said, “ you can take one and still have some for tomorrow”. He coughed again and more blood skipped from his lips. He smiled.
“Thank you mummy. I love you!”. The woman walked back to the bed and sat next to his small frame. She gave him the biscuit. “Who is he?” he asked again.
“I remember him now” she responded. “He was the prime minister during the Before”.
“What's a prime minister?”. The boy munched on the biscuit and looked expectantly at her, his blue eyes gazing fixedly at the picture.
“What's a prime minister? Ah – a good question. It's like being the president. Do you remember the president?”
“Of course I do. He was the man on the television.” He popped the last piece of biscuit into his mouth and started to lick his fingers. The woman put her arm around him again, feeling the boy's bones pressing against her arm. He was so thin - like he was fading away.
“Let me tell you what happened during the Before. You should know. You're nearly nine and big enough now.” He snuggled against her and looked up. “Yes, I'd like that”. She picked up the newspaper and pointed at the photograph.
“This was the man who started everything bad. Everything bad that happened at the end of the Before”. The boy kicked his heels against the mattress and some dust flew into the air.
“Do I need to know? Was he good or bad?”
“Well,” said the woman. “he was bad but he didn't know it. What he did changed everything and all the good things- like sunshine and cold milk and oranges and holidays – they all stopped being”. The boy coughed again. This time the sound was like a dog bark, rough and heavy and loud. She knew he didn't have much time left.
She carried on, not looking at him but rather staring at the window as if looking for something. “It started with people in charge wanting to have things the way they were a long time ago. They promised that going back to the old days would make everything better. When they made their changes and things didn't get better, everyone started arguing about what had been promised. That started the fighting and when the prime minister was killed someone else took charge. The first thing they did was call themselves president.”
She paused. The boy looked at her and said: “Was that the end then?”
“No. That was just the beginning. Everything started to run out, like food and medicine, and people got angrier and angrier. Then there was a big problem when a country called Iran decided to stop letting us have oil”.
“Why do we need oil?” he asked, “is it for cooking?”
She laughed. “No this was oil for cars and lorries and buses. And when it ran out we decided to bomb them. And then another president decided to send his bombs and that's when the Before finished.” She stroked his hair again. He felt hot, so hot, even though the cold in the room was enough to chill her breath. “Then the hospitals stopped working and so did the trains and buses. And we had to stay inside to be safe. That's when they took daddy away”. His breathing was shallower.
She felt faint. It was a long time since she'd eaten properly and she hadn't been outside since she didn't remember when. It had just felt too dangerous. She couldn't recall much about the Before and what little she did seemed so jumbled up. She knew that she needed her injections but had been rationing herself over the last few days which had made her so much weaker. How much insulin did she have left - a few more days? She didn't really know. All she wanted was to keep the boy safe for as long as she could. She was the only one to take care of him now, and she'd not dared to venture out of the house – people might recognise her and that wouldn't be good for either of them. The boy's eyes fluttered and closed and she eased his head on her lap. His breathing was laboured now. And then his eyes opened again and a smile flickered across his face. A tear slid out of his eye, ran past his nose and nestled on his lip.
“I love you, mummy. Don't leave me alone.”
The woman gently brushed the tear from his face and whispered. “ No. Never”
“Why didn't you make the bombs stop mummy?”
“I tried,” she said. “But nobody listened”. Her words hung in the air - as if someone looking into the room could read them.
“It's good that you tried though mummy”.
Those were his last words. She was alone now. The end would come soon, not just for her, but for everyone. She tried to remember the name of the man in the picture, but it was gone now. She looked down at her lap and the boy had disappeared. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew that he had never really been there at all. And now all that was left was an old newspaper and a bracelet which had slipped from her wrist and nestled itself under the bed.
On the television, the reporter began her introduction to the evening's news bulletin.
On tonight's news we remember ex-prime minister Theresa May, who passed away in the early hours of this morning. It is reported that she had slipped into a coma and died, having failed to take her insulin injection the night before. Her husband, who has been held under arrest for the last 3 weeks, expressed his sadness at her passing. He told reporters that she would be sadly missed. When asked about her, he responded by saying that their biggest regret was being unable to have a child. The president passed on her condolences but indicated that Mr. May would, in the interests of national security, remain under arrest for the foreseeable future..
In other news, the fighting in the Korean peninsula has escalated, with President Kim Jong-un announcing that he is ready to protect his border with whatever means at his disposal. The White House continues to issue no formal statement about the situation although the president issued a tweet this afternoon that read “Hell is coming to you Kim”.