It is the absence of senses, when the body is not receiving any information, that is the scariest thing of all. Sensory deprivation is the worst thing you can do to a person.
June’s a mum like any other. Well, she’s alone but that isn’t that uncommon these days. But even though it’s not uncommon, it’s still hard.
So incredibly hard.
She’s forever putting out fires, that’s a normal day. And she doesn’t want to ask for help but sometimes she just can’t do it all by herself — be there for all her kids. Be in two, or even three, places at once. June envies other single parents who have family support.
She has no one.
And sometimes she leans too much on her eldest to help with the younger kids, but she has no choice. It seems all her choices have been taken from her.
Her kids say she rants when she’s upset. And when it feels like the world is against her, which it does more often than it should, June does find it hard to stay calm.
It wasn’t meant to be this way — her, middle aged and alone with three kids. Working every hour of the day at a dead end job. Up half the night worrying. Sometimes she feels the tears coming on but she blinks them back. Saves it for when she’s alone in the car. She shut down all nostalgic feelings a long time ago. Han, they call it North Korea. Suppressing negative feelings.
But now June feels like she’s losing her mind, like it’s all catching up with her. The suppressed memories are starting to fight back.
She hears voices, as if the past is taunting her. She hears voices on the phone and on the car radio through the static. She can’t hear what they are saying but she knows the message is important. Every time she tries to retune the station, the voices become less distinct. She feels she must wait for them to decide when they want to become clearer to her.
She notices her children are looking at her differently and no matter how much she tries to act normally, they sense the change in her. They look wary and mistrustful.
She tries to remember what she used to do everyday, before she started hearing the voices. She tries to remember how to be the old version of herself that her children trusted. But there are small deviations in her behaviour that she can’t control — like forgetting things that she would never have forgotten before — to cook dinner or to pack lunches or even to do the grocery shop so they have food in the house.
It is obvious, even to her, how these seemingly small lapses became big issues and installed mistrust and uncertainty in her children. She can see how her children might feel she had been replaced by someone else.
And when June’s forgetting to do the basic things, she is doing other things instead…staying up all night. Being hyper vigilant. Saying odd things.
She puts it down to tiredness. She refuses to put it down to the “old trouble”. This is different. This is something real that is happening, that is actually happening to her. She is sure she isn’t mad. She is sure the things she half remembers, the things she fears, are real. Because if they aren’t real…
…the doctor in the other place told her to keep a rubber band on her wrist so she can snap it against her skin and keep bad thoughts at bay. Now she does it, not for anxiety or depression, but to keep herself sharp. To keep herself from forgetting.
Her husband, Billy, had known it was real. He’d seen it too. But he walked away and now she has to face it by herself.
She’s quickly tidying the house after the kids have gone to school, making the most of her time before a late work shift, when she sees it. Half tucked under a stack of magazines on Ben’s side table. Curious, she picks it up. Peers at it. It’s a photo, a small square one from an Instamatic, slightly charred. She can’t see the image clearly. What is it? She moves out into the light of the hallway and watches the shadows in the photo converge into shape.
Suddenly, it’s hard to breathe, impossible to draw the air into her chest. Her windpipe has shut down, is paralysed. There is something sickening rising inside her.
Her eyes darkening in her stark face, she recognises the image with a sense of dawning horror. Silence screams through her. Then adrenaline floods her system, allowing her the smallest movement.
She turns the photo into the light and it gives the image a chiaroscuro effect — all dark angular shadows and burning highlights.
But a shape she knows.
That thing in her house with her children.
And June realises that while she has been trying to hide her fight with her demon from her children, they have been fighting the same demon too.
Words in bold will be linked to the continuing story in other submissions