Expired Vitamins By D.I. Jolly

As the first rays of sun slipped through the curtains and shone on Mathew’s face, he felt hope reach into his nightmare and offer him a way out. That night had been particularly bad, desperate shadows had reached out of every corner and pulled him ever deeper down into the earth. A heavy smothering darkness holding his arms still from fighting, crippling his voice from screaming and ultimately ripping at his flesh.  But then the light came in, a golden hand reaching down to lift him from his prison and bring him back to life. As he blinked his eyes open, he realised that he was alone, which wasn’t how he’d gone to bed, and seeing how early it was he knew something bad must have happened.

He’d met Brenda on a Wednesday afternoon in a bar. He was having a mental health whiskey and she a celebratory bloody Mary. They were alone and after a few moments of awkward glances, they managed to catch each other’s eye. He had needed a break after a few bad nights in a row and she had gotten the promotion that her friend was desperate for, and accused her of stealing. They found comfort in each other and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now as he walked into the kitchen, he found himself watching her reactions, desperate to know if he should rush forward and wrap his arms around her, or, as she flinched at the sight of him, keep his distance.

“Hi?” he said in an even tone, “You’re uumm…. Up early.”

For a moment he thought she might look at him but then she turned to the cupboards.

“When was the last time you cleaned these things out?”

“Been a while, not even sure what’s in some of them.”

“Makes sense,” he searched for a hint in her voice but came up with nothing. “I mean, there’s even mould growing on these.”

She turned holding up a box of what could have been vitamin C, but stopped halfway and turned her gaze away.

“Bren… what happened? What… what did I do?”

For a moment the world seemed to stand still, and then her voice gently danced passed his ears, like lavender on a spring breeze.

“You were sweating so much I thought you’d wet the bed, then I could see the pain on your face. The thrashing… and then you started to scream. It wasn’t loud, but it was a scream, and you screamed, and you screamed, and I grabbed you, and held you and shook you and screamed for you to wake up. But it didn’t help, nothing I could do would help. So, I came here… It’s been 4 hours.”

The room fell back into silence as he continued to watch her, then spotting his cue moved across the room with purpose and caught her as her knees buckled and they sank to the floor together. His arms enveloped her and he pulled her into a ball on his lap, whispering sweet kindnesses as she cried. It was the first time she’d ever experienced his nightmares; she’d heard about them but didn’t know what it really meant until now.

He’d been through this all before. He knew the danger of sharing his bed with someone. He’d heard the stories and seen the tears all before and knew what would happen next. She’d be fine with it for a while, ask questions, suggest doctors and therapies and pills, and no amount of explaining that he’d done it all already would help. She’d accuse him of not taking it seriously, of not listening to her, of not letting her help him, and their relationship would crumble. But that was tomorrows problem.

In that moment he’d focus his mind on being present, on holding her. She loved him now. They were there together and that was something. And who knows, maybe he’d be wrong about what would happen next.

There was always a first time for everything.

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