Avatar Review

Kay Sexton

And then I woke up . . .

      I’m standing at the top of a flight of steps. My nose prickles with the clashing scents of different male toiletries and sheets of vapour flee across the room to cling to tiled walls. I know where I am, it’s the shower room of our local health club. Usually I only visit the men’s shower room out of opening hours, when I’m with the Centre Manager, talking about their order for flat-pack toilet tissue and tile spray, so I am paralysed by embarrassment. A naked man with a towel across his shoulder walks across the space below me, heading for the showers. There’s something horribly wrong. The room full of silent, watchful men; they’re not splashing and joking as I imagined men were at such times. And surely the water is too hot, the concealing billows of steam look as though they’d boil anyone who actually stood under the showers? And they’re all hiding something, holding things. What’s going on?

      I know they are going to attack the naked man. I can’t cry out. My paralysis changes from shame at being in the wrong changing rooms to crippling fear. I can’t breathe. I watch as they turn to face him, raising arms that hold knives and hammers. Terrible sounds come from him, first thin screeches as he tries to avoid their blows and then wet, meaty slaps as their weapons find his flesh. They are slipping and cursing as each tries to be the one who strikes the final blow. He is crawling on the slick floor and the white tiles bear pink blossoms of flung blood that hang for a second before sliding down to join the pools of blood-water covering the floor.

      I back away as they lift their heads to face me. Then they lift their knives and hammers. I run for my life.

      I stumble on the steps and save myself by pushing my hands against the floor like a runner in the blocks. I half crawl, half sprint away from them, out of the changing rooms and across the empty lounge where every month I take the manager’s order for paper towels and hygiene wipes. The changing room door bangs against the wall again and again as each man charges through, looking for me. I cannot run fast enough. They will corner me and stab and bludgeon me to death. It’s a nightmare.

      It is a nightmare. The thought wakes me. It was a nightmare. Even before my eyes are open my hand reaches for the light-switch, flooding the room with brightness. I struggle to breathe, pushing the bad dream away from me as my heart slows its jagged thundering. At least since Simon left I don’t have to worry about my nightmares waking him up.

      I gaze into the light, my mind moving from the horror of the dream to what I have to do tomorrow. First I’ll drive Adam to school, I’ll have to stay for the first lesson because tomorrow is the memorial assembly for a girl who was struck down by meningitis and died. She wasn’t in his form but all the parents are worried about an epidemic – it’s happened before. He’s got head-lice again too. When I was at school my parents would have died of shame if I came home with head-lice but Adam seems to get them every term. If it’s that easy for lice to spread through a classroom, what about worse things?

      After Adam’s at school I’ve got five visits to make. According to the Hygiene Works training manual I should make seven visits and three of them should be cold calls, but if I do the full quota I won’t get home in time to give Adam his tea. He has to walk home on his own anyway and it’s illegal for a child under twelve to be in the house alone, but what can I do? I’m not meeting my targets. If I can’t catch up by the end of the next quarter, I reckon Hygiene Works will sack me. Where will I find another job that allows me to take Adam to school? Without my job and Simon’s child support I won’t meet the payments on the house.

      Forget that, don’t borrow trouble. I try to plan tomorrow’s visits; first is Battery Estate, there are two companies down there that might need hygiene bins in the women’s toilets. Then Marina Industrial Park, I’ve got a client there who might be persuaded to take on some extra equipment. His staff still use roller towels, I could try and persuade him to change to paper ones. I’m not going to Goldwater though.

      I bought the local paper yesterday. The front page story is a local man accused of murdering his best friend’s girlfriend. He kept her body for six weeks in a lock-up unit on Goldwater Industrial Estate. It was only when neighbouring rentals mentioned the smell that he dumped her in some nearby woodland. CCTV records show he visited her corpse for hours every day.

      I try to relax, not to think about murderers, killer viruses and job loss. Into my mind comes the thing I’m trying not to think about, the hysterectomy that my gynaecologist says I must have. It means six weeks off work, bed-rest, no driving. Who will take care of Adam? But if I don’t have the operation, the tumour in my ovary could change from benign to pre-cancerous.

      It’s been two weeks since the biopsy and I still can’t decide how to manage this. What will happen if it can’t be managed? I turn off the light, close my eyes and will myself back to sleep, back to the health club and what waits for me there.

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