Laura is a nurse in a pediatric unit. On long, quiet shifts, she and her colleagues, clad in their different shades of blue, care for sick babies, handling their exquisitely fragile bodies and carefully calibrating the mysterious machines that keep them alive.
Laura may be burnt out. Her hands have been raw from washing as long as she can remember. When she sleeps, she dreams of water; when she wakes, she finds herself lying next to a man who doesn't love her anymore. And there is a strange figure dancing in the corner of her vision, always just beyond her reach.
Dark yet luminous, sensual yet chilling, written with a visceral rhythm and laced with dread, Rest and Be Thankful is an unforgettable novel that confirms Emma Glass as a visionary new voice.
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.80(d)|
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Where You End, I Begin
The door is swinging, heavy, thumping against the wall. Each thump marks a person entering, marks a person exiting, marks the solid purposeful movements of the people in the room. Marks our collective breath in, breath out, we breathe together. Held too long. We hold and wait for the beat to return. The door thumps against the wall too hard this time, someone looks up and says no no, there are too many people in here now, please go. The ones that are left look around the room at each other. We all have the same eyes, the same chapped lips and wet brows. We are all different shades of blue.
The door is closed but the thumping continues, a steady dull pumping sound, and every now and then a puff of air a puff of air and the thumping continues. The sound is hollow. The sound is bone pounding on soft bone, a flat heart, lungs filled with oxygen from a tank, oxygen soon to spill and fill the belly and the pumping will be harder and my arms are aching already. My feet are off the floor, I am kneeling next to the little one. I am over her body with my weight. I am the thumping sound. My fingers are interlocked, the heel of my hand is red and sore, my hands and arms are drained white, two long fixed posts pounding. I am counting. Am I counting out loud or am I counting in my head? I feel the bed creak as more weight is added. Someone is moving close to me with a tray of needles, I see the corners of white paper towels unfolding, draping over the little legs. I move my eyes off the chest, there are faces all around me, distorted, crooked with concentration. These are the faces of people I don't know very well, but they are the faces of people I trust.
There are tools everywhere. Tools for fixing the broken. I think of my father with his toolbox rattling. Opening, nails and screws rolling across the workbench. A wrench for this. A screwdriver. Holding still. And then the all-important squirt of oil. We must oil it or it will squeak and stick. He reaches up for a rag hanging on a metal hook and wipes his big hands, brown from working outside, cracked and dry from endless wet weather. I marvel at the big blue bulging veins. We could do with one of those now. A big vein. Or we will have to drill into bone to get fluid inside. Hands run up the limp limbs. There is nothing here, there is nothing here. There is nothing on the other side. The hands travel down the legs. They examine the feet but the feet are cold. The veins are thin and buried deep in the cold, like saplings under snow.
I close my eyes to drown out the sound of the drill. The leg vibrates as the needle goes in and then it pops and then it stops. I hear someone say 'Jesus' and I wonder if it was me.
Lines are connected. Fluid is injected. I am told by the nurse in the darkest blue to keep going, to keep pace. Time stretches, rolling out clumsily like cling film, air holes, splits, wrinkles. We will be told of the smooth, controlled management of the situation. But I will remember the breaths missed, the shaking hands, the wrong-size tube, the dropped vials, the spilt fluid, the people, all the people aimlessly standing and staring and shitting themselves.
I turn my head to the window and see her mother. She has one hand covering her eyes, no, not covering, clawing at her eyes, one arm pressed against the glass. She is bent in half, barely standing. A nurse is behind her, one hand on her shoulder, another arm ready to catch her. A position we have all been taught. We are all taught to brace. I look back down at my threaded fingers. Locked in. Pain rages up my arms and across my shoulders. I keep going. Each compression means everything.
And this could all mean nothing.
The darkest blue asks me to pause. The world stops. I watch her face as she comes close to me, she reaches for the little arm, she presses deeply for a pulse. The determination on her face is years deep, cracked like unloved concrete. She steps back and nods, she touches my aching shoulder and says, 'You'll sleep well tonight.'CHAPTER 2
I Dream of Darkness
The ceiling is collapsing. Shards of plaster strike the bed. Chipped paint flakes and falls. Falls like snowflakes. Snow and cold. Coldness and wetness, but no water. Through the small hole, through the slits and cracks, I see stars.
I push through the rubble and crumble of ceiling and stretch my arms to the sky, reach up and rip the hole wide open. Reaching, I realise I can touch the sky. I float through the ceiling and I am close. Endless night. Deep blue. Colder as I float closer. Ice runs through my airways, my breath is a silver cloud. I press my palms against the surface and feel the coldness of the night. It sticks deep in my bones. Brittle ice, bitter cold. My shuddering skeleton rattles against the thick sheet of frozen sky. Dense and dark. The stars have disappeared.
I push against the solid sky to propel myself away from the impenetrable cold. My hands are blue and numb. I think I might fall. The cold has turned my core to concrete, I think I will drop like a stone, but I sink slowly, slowly down. The sky spreads out beneath me and is all around. Thick midnight ink. Sinking slowly. Thick ink but then thinner and thin and then I realise I can swim. I swim strangely through the deep blue, my arms and legs convulsing until the ice melts away from my muscles.
I swim through different shades of dark. Blue, black, dark blue, darker black. I follow the little specks of light that fleck from the glittering frost forming on my fingertips. The moon shines somewhere. I feel water ripple between my fingers as I move forwards. Cold water surrounds me. I'm in a lake. The lake has frozen over. I am trapped in darkness, treading the bitter water. I have been swimming forever. Tiredness tries to take me down to the bottom of the lake, to lie down and sleep on the soft bed of silken black reeds. They billow beautifully, dancing with the gentle current. My heavy eyelids weigh me down as I drift closer to the darkness. To sleep, just for a moment, to rest. My limbs are seized by cold and fatigue. I drift closer down to the reed bed, steady as a plank, ready to close my eyes and sleep the rest of my life, the soft sounds of the rippling reeds and water swooshing, soothing me to peaceful sleep. Then, I see.
At first, a figure, a faceless form, a shadow settled in silt. Reeds have grown over, woven and bound the body. A body. Draped in black, a black dress swelling, skirts surging. As I drift closer, I see her face, her features drawn and shaded softly in graphite pencil, smudged across her papery skin. Close, almost close enough to touch her. I lift my arm of lead and frost-bound fingers to touch her luminous cheek.
Her eyes flick open. The hushing gushing sounds of the sucking water stop. All noise and colour drain away. In the pitch black her face shines sickly white, picked out by a shard of moonlight. She slowly opens her mouth, a black hole, wide.
The words gurgle loudly from her mouth, her mouth opens wider and wider until her jaw falls away, her face falls away, blackness remains. Her words rise in silver bubbles. I look down into the darkness as the reeds reach out to tangle around my toes and tug me down into nothingness. I kick and flail with dead-weight limbs through the freezing water, trying to propel myself to the surface, her words making waves, rushing behind me through the water, lifting me up.
My head hits the ice. I slam my fists against it until my skin is bruised and bleeding. I taste metal in my mouth. There is no shift or drift in the ice. It caps the lake tightly. No air. No breathing. Screaming, until my lungs lock and stop. I don't want to die in the dark. Don't want to drown. What happens if you die in a dream? The water in my lungs weighs me down. Nothing in me but cold water and darkness. Nothing to fight with, nothing to fight for. All lights out. Just hush and shushing water. Soothing. And soon to be silent. A soft way to end.CHAPTER 3
I'm Underwater Again
You shake me gently but I am shocked by the sound of your voice close to my waterlogged ear and I hit my head against the wooden headboard. I am awake.
You ask me if I'm okay, you touch my head, trying to be tender but the strokes of your dry fingers drag my hair back. Hairs pull from the root of my scalp, the sharp pain cuts through me like chalk screeching, sketching on a blackboard. My teeth grit. You take your hand away and wipe it on the quilt cover. Your mouth turns down in disgust. You tell me I am soaking wet, I am late for work, you spit the words. You remain disgusted and get out of bed. I touch my head and feel the sore spot spreading like spilt milk under my fingertips. I try to open my eyes fully and clear the blear, but the sleep has stuck fast. I rub the crusts from the corners and lose some lashes. Bright light pries my eyes open and burns away the darkness of my dream. The ice has melted and left me soaking wet, my skin is drenched, the bed sheets are saturated with sweat. I roll on to my stomach and push my face into the wet pillow. It smells like pond water. I breathe deeply in the dampness and then I cough and then I splutter. My lungs are tight and tired. Everything aches. I feel weighed down with wetness. I hear splashing from the shower, the deluge brings me down and I am underwater again.
You are right, I am late for work. I don't need to look at the clock on the bedside table. I know. But I still don't move, I can't. I hear you thud down the hallway, wet feet slapping against the tiles. You call to me, you say, 'Laura, get out of bed.' You're in the kitchen, slamming cupboard doors and slamming cups down on the worktop. Each loud sound makes my head pound, my head throb. I sink deeper into the pillow.
You come back into the bedroom. I hear you blow on the hot coffee and take your first sip. It sounds like water rushing through reeds. You splutter and dribble some on your beard. I can hear you slurp. 'You don't have time for a cup of coffee,' you say, 'so I didn't make you one.'
'I can't go to work today,' I say, into the pillow, my tongue licking and liking the taste of muddy water and algae seeping through the fabric.
You tell me I'm ridiculous and take another slurp of coffee and slam the cup down on the glass coaster on the bedside table. The coaster cracks, the coffee spills – 'Shit,' you whisper. I hate your guzzling breathy whispers and the coasters were a gift from your mother and I don't care if they smash.
I am pathetic, I am childish, I am ridiculous. I lift my head up from the pillow and look at you properly in the morning light, bright, your skin is luminous. I watch you wiping the spilled coffee with the corner of your towel. Love leaks from me. The shape of your back is beautiful. Your shoulders are broad, your arms are thick with muscles, veins stand like ropes wound round. In this light your skin is pale and speckled with freckles, tiny dark hairs curl at the nape of your neck, your long neck. I touch your neck, I weave my fingers into your hair. 'Stop,' you tell me in your lowest, coldest voice.
You get dressed and leave without saying anything more. I move around the memory of you in the room to gather my clothes and shoes. Your wet towel, puddles of coffee, worn socks, shorn hair. Things that belong to you. Your belongings, piled, strewn, blocking. This is how I live now. Navigating your stuff, careful not to knock things down, careful not to leave marks. Your hairs stick to my bare feet, there is dust in the corners of the room. This is how I live now, in this domestic disgust.
I rinse my dirty feet in the bathtub, in the dark. We do things in the dark since the light bulb blew and you won't change it and I can't change it. I can't reach. And there is nothing to see, we have both decided that. I brush my teeth. Whilst I brush, I pick up your toothbrush and feel the bristles between my thumb and forefinger. They are splayed out and soft, overused and old. Bristles like your whiskers. I rinse both brushes and drop them back in the glass. They cross one another.CHAPTER 4
I Am Blue
I tie my shoes outside under the street light. The light is orange and warm to settle the receding night and encourage the unsure day, white and weary, like me. I swing my bag on to my shoulder and step out from under the light. The air is mild, smells sweet for a moment. I close my eyes and think about being somewhere else. Like in my dream, in a forest with a lake in the clearing, the wind light and warm and blowing and sending me gifts of petals and green leaves, my hair shifting gently, drawing in breaths of blossom and grass. I feel tranquil and light like the air.
And then a car screeches past, a siren followed by an ambulance, motorbikes, more cars, smoke grease grit and growls erupting in the street. I open my eyes and start to walk into the growing day, the sky going from white to grey, bleeding pink from the rays of sunlight reaching up to make room in the sky for the sun to sit on a shelf of cloud. I try to love this part of the day because I won't see daylight for the next twelve hours. I try to love London but London doesn't love me, doesn't love itself. I love this morning light but I can't love the grime, the concrete, the dead pigeon. Pigeon, poor wings, what wings, detached, feathers clumped and matted, parting to let white bones protrude. Sickly white and shiny, they have been licked clean. The beak lies further along the street. Strangely, no blood on the concrete but sad feathers, scattered, stuck in litter. I look down for too long, looking for the other missing parts of the pigeon. I feel sad. Where are his gnarled feet? Poor Pigeon does get a little bit of my love, but I must keep some in reserve.
I walk down the steps into the station. The darkness inside is split with yellow strip lights. The man in the big coat and hat stands by the ticket machine. He is rubbing his hands together and shifting his weight from foot to foot, stamping on the dirty tiles. Over time, his stamping has caused cracks in the tiles and when he retires from his post or dies, there will be two big boot prints, two inches deep from where he has stood and stamped for so many years.
He smiles and nods when he sees me. I smile and nod back. He is the ticket-hall attendant but I have never seen him attend to anything other than trying to keep himself warm. I have never heard him speak, I have never seen him move, other than to rub his hands and stamp and shuffle. Even in the summer, he stands in his big coat, rubbing his hands together whilst people walk down into the darkness of the station hoping for relief from the singeing summer sun and sighing miserably when they hit a new wave, a new wall of stinking hot air from the trains and the tunnels below. He hasn't ever felt warm. His nose is long and blue.
I pass through the gate and step on to the escalator, I let it carry me down. The motion is smooth, a wind whips above me, the top of my head is blown, my fringe flies. I resist the urge to throw my arms out like wings. I think of Pigeon. If I fell from this height my bones would break, my wings would crumple. I watch the ground swallow the steps, one by one, as I glide closer. It would swallow me but I step off just in time and turn to the dismal platform. I walk to the place where I wait every day, opposite the flaking poster advertising breakfast cereal.
I am far away from everyone down here. I am far away from you. There is one other person down here, a figure at the end of the platform who waits. A face, white and drawn, eyes in shadow, indistinguishable. Dark clothes blending into the blackness of the tunnel. From this far away, just a face, but a tired folding body, just like mine.
I used to be afraid to take the train. So small, cramped, dirty, suffocating. I used to breathe in every time the train sped through a tunnel. Would we make it through the tiny opening, would the metal scrape the concrete, cut off the roof, cut off our heads? But the trains fit perfectly like banana skins or cotton socks. And now the vastness of the tunnels scares me. Huge, gaping black holes, rumbling pit-belly sounds that shake the ground, shake the lights hanging from chains. Tunnels connecting nothing but miles and miles of darkness. The figure at the edge is a speck and the tunnel is an open mouth, screaming or swallowing.
Grumbling sounds. Could be my empty stomach but then the screech of metal on metal signals a train speeding on the tracks. I take a step forward and watch the peeling corners of the poster flutter. The track is lit by the headlights of the train, I watch a little brown mouse clamber and clatter over the dirt-crusted metal and take cover as the train rattles closer. The train thrashes past me, I turn my head to see the figure with the white face, the white face, the white face with black eyes wide, and I watch as they step off the edge.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Rest And Be Thankful"
Copyright © 2020 Emma Glass.
Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
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