Katie knew that things were not as they should be. From the moment that the choral bird song joined forces with the insistent electronic buzz of her alarm, she knew it. She knew, as the sounds began to take their more familiar shapes within her, and nudged her towards morning, that something was not right. As the noises came creeping, and then rose to crescendo, before finally crashing down as she struck out at the clock, she knew that something was not the same.
Katie allowed the shapes that filled her room to gradually reassume their form. They grew form indistinct blotches in the periphery of her vision to misshapen blurs until they eventually began to gain a solidity that she could recognise. How often, she wondered, in the half dream like state that comes when an unrequited interruption pulls one from sleep, how often had she imagined these objects, her possessions, to hold a life of their own? How many times, she thought, had she woken in this, her bedroom sanctuary, the most personal of spaces, and looked at the things that she had collected around her? And how often had she imagined the life that these fragments of her took on when they fell from her gaze. Did they really change their shape and alter their very composition? Did they drift above her in the ether, only to be caught out when she awoke unexpectedly? She pictured them hurriedly reforming and repositioning themselves in order to fool her as to their permanence.
By now, Katie had awoken, her senses accepting her new consciousness, and her thoughts evaporated like the dew in the strength of the late spring sunshine. She threw back her quilt as if she were longing to escape from a cocoon which itself was trying to hold on to her for one more precious moment. She swung her legs to the side of the bed, and the coolness of the wood beneath her naked feet seemed to bring her fully to her senses. She felt connected now to a new day, a day which held the potential to lead her to places that she could hardly imagine, but one which would, undoubtedly, bear a taste of familiarity.
Katie set herself to stand, but a momentary twitch brought her back to her first waking moment; something was different. She began to scan her room and the possessions it contained, systematically moving her gaze from her bedside table to the bookcase which sat on the far wall to her bed, and then on to her dressing table. At first everything looked top be in place, as if all of her possessions had had the opportunity to return to where they rightfully belonged. Katie recognised everything, but her room had become a giant ‘Kim’s’ game, and somebody had removed one solitary item. It was Katie’s mission now to discover which of her belongings had been uprooted.
The small, square bedside table which sat snug up against the pillows, still supported the somewhat kitsch alarm clock, shaped like a floundering fish. The clock’s electronic ticks were barely audible as the second hand swept serenely from fin to tail and on to fin before drifting past the fish’s gaping mouth to rest momentarily once more by its dorsal fin. Without a sound it began its sweep once more, and Katie was reminded not of relaxed times and seaside holidays, but of the ceaseless passing of time. Next to the clock she could see her box of tissues, and the crumpled mess of two used ones that she had tiredly discarded the previous night.
Katie’s eyes scanned the bookcase. Everything appeared to be intact. Copies of books kept from her adolescence sat comfortably amongst both the well-thumbed paperbacks and the glossy covers of hard-backed editions yet to be opened – A combination of books that she valued and those that she felt, either through recommendation or review, that she felt she should own. All of them stood where they belonged, alphabetical, ordered and regimented. Even the pair of silver plated candlesticks, with their un-torched, jasmine scented candles, appeared unmoved.
Katie turned her attention now to her dressing table, a less structured collection of eye shadow, foundation and mascara, hairbrushes, clips and assorted ornaments. Here it would be difficult to prove the absence of any single item or, in fact, to be certain that they had even been there in the first place. She was ready to abandon herself to the idea that her mind had tricked her and played some elaborate early morning hoax upon her, when she noticed it. Or rather, she didn’t notice it. Slightly to the left of her plain, wood framed mirror, was a china ornament of a cat reclined on a sofa. It was an ornament that she had owned since she had been a teenager, fresh with enthusiasm and hope, and confident that in her first love she would find fulfilment. Long and more scarring years had passed since them, bringing with them more realistic and cynical visions of life and love, but the cat, her first gift of love, had remained, always constant and always true. Now the space where it had sat stood empty and looked not a little forlorn, a smooth polished patch around which lay a sprinkling of dust and spent make-up. Katie stared at the space with intensity as if she believed that by looking long enough at it she could return her cat. She was trapped between feelings of vindication of her own sanity and incredulousness at what had occurred.
‘Ever had one of those days when everything has a sense of déjà vu?’
‘Yeah, most days actually. Why what’s up?’ Katie was still preoccupied by what had greeted her earlier in the day and her response to her friends question was genuine. For once she really did want to engage in a conversation that would take her away from her own thoughts.
‘Oh, I dunno, probably just been doing this for too long. You know, you get up, get the kids up and ready; have the same old discussion about why they need to go to school, about how much they really like it; get yourself dressed; eat the same old breakfast, and leave yourself a sink full of work to do later. And Jay’s useless. He just potters around in his own little world for an hour, gets himself sorted ands then that’s him, and he’s off. He seems to think that everything else runs itself.’
‘Perhaps you’re just too organise, Leigh. You ought to mess up and let him take over for a bit!’
‘Yeah, right! You can see that coming off. Twice as much work at the end of the day and hassle along the way. Anyway, then you’re here and it’s the same old calls about the same old problems, from the same old idiots. It would be nice for something different to happen just once in a while. You know, for something unexpected to happen, something out of the blue.’
‘Actually,’ Katie began, ‘Something a bit odd did happen this morning.’
‘Hold on a minute, babe, I’d better get this before I get the evils from upstairs.’ Leigh’s voice switched in an instant from a casual conversational tone to one of controlled efficiency. ‘Good morning, Town and City Insurance Services. My name’s Leigh. How may I be of help?’
Before Katie had had the opportunity to even catch her friend’s eye and to motion that she would take up her friend’s conversation at the earliest opportunity, her own headset clicked into action, and she too began to recite the well versed lines.
By the time that they had reached their twelve thirty lunch break neither of the women felt the urge to engage themselves in serious conversation. Katie unwrapped the sandwiches that she had made for herself, and poured herself a mug of tea from her flask. The chicken tasted overly bland as if it were merely an homogenised source of protein designed to shunt her through another arduous afternoon. Thee warm, sweet tea, however, did its best to refresh her tired mouth, soothing her over used vocal chords. The two women exchanged the mornings stories; people who couldn’t follow the simplest of instructions when filling in a form; the ones who wasted both their and their own time with questions of inane proportions; and, of course, the obviously fraudulent claims, so clear for the two women too see, yet shrouded in lies which the callers felt sure would be convincing. As usual, and before either Katie or Leigh realised it, their lunch was over, and the next batch of callers were waiting, clambering to talk to them.
Katie had finished off the last of the wine, and now she stood in the doorway to her bedroom. It was late, but despite the fact that she had spent the entire evening with Leigh, telling her at length and going to great pains to ensure that no detail was left unspoken, about the events of earlier in the day, Katie’s mind was not at rest. She somehow could still not manage to get her head around what had happened: She could still not comprehend or form any rational explanation as to what she had experienced. When she had returned home from the bar the first thing that she had done had been to go upstairs to her bedroom. Once behind the door she had begun her rigorous and systematic search of the room. She had checked and re-checked every inch of the dressing table. She had opened, closed, and then reopened each drawer, thinking, perhaps, that she had inadvertently knocked her cat into one of them, and she would find it, nestling comfortably amongst her underwear. She found nothing. She searched the floor around the table, still finding nothing, before moving to her bookcase. She pulled the books forward in small groups, groping behind them expectantly. Again she found nothing. She pushed the candlesticks from their resting place in order to check behind them, even though she could already clearly see that there was no hiding place here for her ornament. Now she turned her attention to the bedside table. She checked behind the clock, noticing for the first time just how hideous it actually was, and then behind the box of tissues, stuffing the already used ones into the pocket of her jeans. She pulled the drawer from its runners, but it revealed nothing but its usual contents – her diary, a well thumbed address book, a mobile phone that no longer functioned and the remote control for her television which did, two pairs of hibernating sunglasses, a clip purse and a handful of loose coins. But there was no cat. She slid her hand down between the table and the wall, although she knew that the cat had never been slight enough to squeeze into such a small and tight gap. Then, crouching at first, before eventually laying prone, she explored the floor beneath her bed. There was nothing; still nothing. Katie felt exhausted. She was confused, tired and resigned to accepting the unbelievable. She shuffled slowly from her bedroom to the adjacent bathroom and then back again. She pulled back her quilt and slid between it and the cool sheet, letting her head settle and find the comforting depression of her pillow. She stared at the dark shadowy ceiling focussing her mind on one mantra-like thought – ‘Tomorrow everything will be normal again.’
Katie woke with the first rays of morning as the sunlight squeezed its way through the slats of her blinds. She sat up quickly, her brain already consumed with the memory of twenty four hours earlier. Her eyes were automatically drawn towards her dressing table, and were met, as usual, by the cluttered arrangement of make-up, brushes and objects that had never found their true home. She stared at herself for a moment in the mirror, unsurprised by the distant face that met her. Her eyes shifted slowly to the left of where the mirror stood. The vacant space was still there, the oval of polished wood stark against the slightly powdered surface of the rest of the table. A part of Katie drew in the relief that her sanity had been maintained – the cat had definitely gone, and the previous day had not been a nightmarish trial of her senses. On the other hand, of course, a part of her life had simply vanished, and, try as she might, she could not rationalise the occurrence. She screwed up her eyes, then opened them to the scene- It was still the same room.
The alarm had not yet cut through the familiar sounds of early morning, and Katie wondered how prematurely she had woken. Her eyes moved to her bedside table. There, next to the near empty box of tissues, and the small pile of crumpled, discarded ones, stood the space where Katie’s clock had once been.