2 Chapter sample of Splitting Infinities
Chapter 1 – Friday 4th June
Dawn pushed open the door quietly – reverently – as she had done so many times over the last two years. She frowned and sighed, shaking her head as she stared at the sage green bedroom walls. Why on earth had she given in and allowed Gary to redecorate?
Stepping inside, she pulled the door to behind her and crept across the wooden floor, perching carefully on the edge of the single bed. She ran her palms over the plain, dark green duvet cover and closed her eyes.
Her mind instantly accessed the familiar memory of Ben’s star-field duvet cover upon which the Horsehead Nebula had been a striking central feature – Ben had loved the stars and space ever since he was tiny. His first duvet cover had depicted colourful, stylised planets and a bright orange rocket with an astronaut smiling from its single, round window.
Dawn’s mouth tightened into a brief, sad smile that slowly twisted into a tormented grimace. A tortured, guttural moan escaped from between her distorted lips. She screwed her eyes tightly shut, but there was no holding back the flow of hot, salty tears that began spilling down her cheeks. Drawing a shuddering breath, she doubled over her knees, clasping her hands either side of her head and dragging a handful of hair into each fist. She raised her gaze to the framed photograph she had lovingly placed on the bedside table the day after Gary left and whispered croakily, “Love you, Ben.”
Her shoulders slumped and she averted her gaze from Ben’s image, unable to bear the pain of seeing his face smiling back at her as she wept.
But now her eyes were drawn to the green walls and bedding once again. Anger welled up inside her and she realised that she was actually grateful for the arrival of a different emotion – albeit another negative one – to temporarily displace her overwhelming sense of loss.
After Gary had gone, Dawn had tried to recover Ben’s bed set from the charity shop Gary had sent it to – along with any other of their son’s belongings she could identify. She had despaired when she’d discovered how few items remained in the shop for her to buy back; although, after more than six months, she should have been grateful to find anything at all, she supposed. If only she’d been strong enough to call the shop and get Ben’s things back as soon as she’d discovered what Gary had done, instead of suffering in silence until he’d gone.
After recovering so few of her son’s things, she decided to try to replace his distinctive duvet cover and had spent days trawling the Internet looking for an identical one. Eventually she had been forced to admit defeat, telling herself that a duplicate wouldn’t have been the same as retrieving the one Ben himself had bought and slept under. Her only real consolation was that she had at least managed to buy back his favourite denim jacket, which now hung in his otherwise empty wardrobe.
Snatching a tissue from the box she’d placed strategically beside Ben’s photo, Dawn ran across the room and flung open the wardrobe, pulling the jacket noisily from the hanger. Hugging it to her wet face, she inhaled the smell of Ben that lingered on it, even after all this time.
Twenty minutes later, her tears having eventually run dry, Dawn replaced the jacket on its hanger and ran her hands down the sides to ensure it was neat, exactly as she had done so many times when Ben had worn it.
Feeling around the thick denim, she located the source of her puzzlement – something hard concealed in a small, inside pocket. Struggling for a few moments to unfasten the stiff, stud-like button, she pushed the little object up from underneath and a stone popped out into her palm.
Dawn recognised it immediately: it was Ben’s good luck charm – a pebble he’d found on the beach during a holiday to Devon when he was twelve.
It was grey, flat, roughly circular and just the right size to sit comfortably on the palm of her hand. There was a perfect round hole just about big enough to push a pencil through offset from the centre and a raised, brown, heart-shaped spot on one edge. Ben used to say it must have been a one-in-several-million chance that he’d spotted this unusual stone amongst all the other ordinary ones lying on the beach, concluding that luck had drawn him to it.
From that day on, it had been his ‘lucky stone’ – it had seen him through both GCSEs and A levels, sitting on the front corner of his desk when he took his exams – although Dawn knew that it was brains and determination that had earned him all A*s and As – along with a single stray B grade – rather than his precious talisman.
But how was it here? Her brow furrowed as her memory struggled to make sense of this conundrum. She clearly remembered taking it to the hospital and positioning it at Ben’s bedside, where he’d be able to see it if he regained consciousness. She was almost certain she hadn’t brought it back home with her, but since her return home on that dreadful day was a memory she actively avoided reliving, she couldn’t be a hundred per cent sure. Perhaps it had been Gary who picked it up and returned it to the house after…
A lump formed in her throat and she hugged the lucky charm to her chest. If felt oddly warm for a stone – especially since it had been inside Ben’s jacket in his cold, dark wardrobe. Such a pity, she thought wryly, that he hadn’t had it with him to keep him out of harm’s way that foggy Saturday morning two years ago. If he hadn’t left it on the sideboard when he went out that day maybe the accident wouldn’t have happened; by the time she’d picked it up and placed it beside him it was already too late for his good luck charm to help him.
Nonsense! She berated herself. It was just a stone – nothing really special, although it was attractive and fairly unusual.
Dawn would keep it of course; it was a link to her son – something deeply personal that she could treasure and keep to help her hold on to those precious memories that Gary would have had her suppress and try to forget.
She lifted the stone to her lips and kissed the little heart-shaped mark on its surface then flinched, dropping it on to the laminate floor, where it skipped under the edge of the bed. Dawn immediately fell to her knees, scrabbling to retrieve it before it rolled out of reach.
“Stupid woman,” she said out loud. “Stupid, stupid woman with an overactive imagination!”
Just before she’d dropped it, she thought she’d felt the stone vibrate like a mobile phone. She plucked it up from the floor, placed it on the palm of her hand and stared at it. It certainly wasn’t vibrating now and almost certainly never had.
She must be going daft, she decided, shaking her head in disbelief at her own foolishness as she closed her fingers around the stone and sat back on the edge of the bed.
Ben’s picture smiled crookedly at her from the picture frame and Dawn smiled too. “Your mother’s finally going round the bend,” she said, kissing her index finger and pressing it gently against her son’s cheek.
Slipping the lucky charm into her jeans pocket, she made her way reluctantly back out onto the landing, shutting Ben’s door quietly behind her.
“Night night, baby boy,” she whispered.
It was several seconds before she could bring herself to release her grip on the doorknob. Then, with a deep sigh and a heavy heart, she wandered along the landing to the master bedroom.
The reminders in this room were of a very different kind. The photo montage on the wall opposite the bottom of the bed now bore only three photographs – one of Dawn reading a book as she sat beside the hotel swimming pool on a forgettable holiday the summer before Ben died and a couple of cute snaps of her cat, Tonto, sunning himself on the patio. The other apertures remained empty, since Dawn had no recent snaps of happy times with which to replace the images that had featured Gary. She had torn those out and burned them in a fit of rage just two days after the acrimonious end of their twenty-two-year marriage. Gary had removed the photos of Ben some months before that and Dawn hadn’t been able to face the agony that trawling through photos on the computer to find replacements would inevitably cause.
On the wall beside the bed hung a pretty print depicting a forest in spring, carpeted with vibrant bluebells. Bought for her as a birthday gift last year by Gary, the only reason Dawn kept it was because she’d chosen it herself and spent several weeks dropping less-than-subtle hints to her heedless husband about how pretty it would look on their bedroom wall. Finally she’d had to spell it out for him in words even he couldn’t fail to understand.
Dawn undressed quickly, neatly folding her jeans before placing them on the wicker chair in the corner and depositing her shirt and underwear in the wash bin. She turned and plumped up the pillows, admonishing herself for doing Gary’s too. “Old habits…” she muttered to herself, slipping into the refreshingly cool bed.
A moment later, she jumped back out, grabbing her jeans from the pile of folded clothes and thrusting her hand into the pocket. Quickly locating the stone, she grasped it firmly in her fist, clumsily refolding the jeans before jumping into bed once again.
Turning off the bedside lamp, Dawn lay in the dark staring up towards the ceiling. Unable to see the little object properly, she turned it over and over in her hand, running her thumb around the outer part of the hole and then feeling for the heart-shaped bump with her forefinger. Finding it, she pressed it to her chest, desperately seeking a link between her broken heart and her lost son.
When Dawn eventually fell into a restless sleep, Ben’s lucky charm was still pressed to her chest, where it vibrated gently and grew warm against her skin.
Chapter 2 – Saturday 5th June
On Saturday morning, Dawn was awake not long after sunrise, as seemed to happen frustratingly often. Her very first thought was of Ben’s lucky stone. She panicked, realising immediately that it was no longer in her hand, but she quickly found it tucked under the edge of her pillow. Retrieving it, she closed her fingers tightly around the precious object and let out a little sigh of relief at having found it.
She glanced over to see what time it was. It was 5:12am.
Experience had taught her that, once awake, she wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. Somehow, she always woke up facing Gary’s vacant pillow too, an unwelcome reminder of exactly how alone she now was.
Her family home, once full of life and laughter, was now inhabited only by herself and Tonto – and this morning even the cat seemed to have abandoned her.
Dawn frowned. Tonto always crept into her room during the night, sleeping curled up at her feet by the time she awoke. It was her beloved cat that she turned to for a cuddle when the inevitable morning tears began to flow.
This morning, with Tonto missing from his post, Dawn found herself irrationally worried about her feline friend. Panic rose in her chest.
“Tonto. Tonto,” she called, softly. Then, remembering that there was no-one else in the house to be woken by the noise, she called again, louder this time. “Tonto?”
There was a thud from below and the sound of paws padding their way upstairs, then Tonto’s tabby-striped face appeared beside the bed.
“Maow,” he said, jumping up next to Dawn and rubbing his face affectionately against her outstretched fingers.
“Where have you been?” she asked, reaching for the light switch. “I’ve woken up with you by my feet ever since I’ve been by myself. Where were you today?”
Suddenly, a black cat with white feet and whiskers joined Tonto on the bed, making Dawn jump.
“What…? Who the heck are you?” she asked as the second, smaller cat sat down beside Tonto and started purring loudly.
Tonto, who normally hissed and spat at any unknown cats, simply sniffed the newcomer.
“Well, it seems that you two are friends – or at least acquaintances – otherwise fur would be flying by now. You haven’t found yourself a girlfriend have you, Tonto?” Dawn teased.
Tonto was a rescue cat and, although he had been microchipped, Dawn had also bought him a collar and a tag with his name on one side and her telephone number on the other. The interloper, she noticed, was also wearing a collar with a round ID tag.
“Let’s see who we have here,” said Dawn, leaning slowly towards Tonto’s new pal, trying not to scare her away. She needn’t have worried; the black and white female butted her head affectionately against the extended fingers and Dawn stroked the cat’s head with one hand, reaching tentatively under her chin for the ID tag with the other.
‘Custard’, it read.
“Well hello, Custard,” said Dawn, smiling as she remembered the cartoon series she’d enjoyed watching as a child about a dog and a pink cat named Custard.
Turning the tag over, she read the telephone number on the reverse and did a double take. She checked it twice more before she was absolutely certain – the phone number was precisely the same as that engraved on Tonto’s tag – her own home telephone number.
“Someone’s made a curious mistake,” she muttered, reasoning that Custard’s owner must have a similar telephone number to her own and hadn’t noticed the error by the engravers. “But that’s a heck of a coincidence.”
She checked the tag one last time: she must have made a mistake. But it was definitely her telephone number. She shook her head in disbelief.
“How weird,” she mumbled as Custard curled up next to her thigh and Tonto began casually licking the other cat’s head.
Climbing out of bed on Gary’s side so as not to disturb the two cats, Dawn went to choose a clean shirt from her wardrobe, picking up her jeans on the way. As she crossed the room, something in her photograph frame caught her eye. There, in the centre aperture, was a photograph of Custard.
Dawn stared at the image for several seconds. Her mouth, she realised, was gaping open in amazement. She crossed the room to turn on the main light, returning to scrutinise the photo once more; a black cat with white paws and whiskers, sitting on her sofa in her conservatory.
She sat heavily on the side of the bed, her jeans still hanging over her left arm. She gawped in utter disbelief first at the photograph, then at Custard, who was now making a wheezy snoring noise while Tonto sat a few inches away giving his face a thorough wash.
Dawn tried to think logically. No-one else had access to the house except her best friend Sarah. She had given Sarah Gary’s key once he’d posted it back through the door after picking up the last of his belongings a couple of months ago, and Ben’s hung downstairs in the front hall.
She grabbed clean underwear from her drawer and put it on, her mind still awhirl. The appearance of Custard had to be some kind of peculiar practical joke, surely? There simply wasn’t any other explanation.
Pulling on her jeans and shirt, she stuffed Ben’s stone into her trouser pocket then hurried downstairs, almost tripping in her haste to check that Ben’s key wasn’t missing. It was still in its usual place on the first hook of the coat rack.
As the feeling of panic and helplessness grew within her, Dawn racked her brain for a logical answer. The only possibility, despite all evidence to the contrary, was that someone had been in her house – in her bedroom – while she slept. A cold shiver ran up her spine.
Had she perhaps left a door unlocked?
Feeling uncomfortable, as if she was being watched, she checked first the front door, then the back. Both were securely locked, and the back door key was in its usual place under the rug. Dawn didn’t know whether to feel relieved or not – she’d assumed she would find a rational explanation for the situation, even if that meant someone had been in her house.
Scratching her head, she wandered vacantly into the living room. Unable to think clearly and decide what to do next, she sat down on the arm of the sofa.
“OK,” she said out loud. The broken silence served to dispel the oppressive atmosphere and calm her racing heart a little. “Come on, Dawn, think about this logically. How can this have happened?”
Custard could easily have gained entry to the house through Tonto’s cat flap, but that didn’t explain the photograph. A prankster then, she guessed. But what kind of person would creep into someone’s house in the middle of the night and leave a cat and a photograph? It simply wouldn’t happen, would it? And even if it had, Tonto certainly wouldn’t accept a strange cat in his domain without literally putting up a fight. And what about the telephone number on Custard’s ID tag?
There was only one possible answer left: she’d actually, finally, totally lost her mind.
Custard must have been here for some time for Tonto to be so comfortable around her – and for she herself to have taken a photograph of the cat to go in her montage frame. And logic told her that she must have been conscious of Custard’s presence since her arrival, whenever that had been – after all, the little cat was well cared for and friendly enough.
So why now? Why today had she apparently suddenly forgotten that she owned a second cat?
“Aha!” she exclaimed suddenly. “She must be a neighbour’s cat that I’m looking after. That’s it!” But no, she’d remember something like that and it didn’t explain the ID tag or the photo either. “Argh!” she cried, her hands flying up to clasp either side of her head.
Custard chose that moment to saunter into the room and begin rubbing her face against Dawn’s knees, soon followed by Tonto.
“Amnesia then,” Dawn said to Custard. “Stress-induced amnesia. I’m sure I’ve heard of that happening to other people – some of them even forget who they are and can’t remember anything of their lives at all. Perhaps I should be grateful that all I’ve forgotten is a cat. It certainly explains everything – a logical answer. One I can accept… I suppose.”
“Maow!” shouted Tonto loudly.
“Miw!” chorused Custard.
Dawn took a deep breath through her nose and blew it out between her lips, then stood up.
“Right then, you two, time for breakfast. Whatever’s going on with me, you still need feeding, don’t you?”
In the kitchen, there were two food bowls and two water dishes – more evidence that Custard truly belonged there and giving support to the conclusion that Dawn had some kind of selective amnesia.
Once the cats were eating, Dawn searched the cupboard where she kept Tonto’s vaccination record and quickly found one for Custard too. It showed details of vaccinations for the younger cat dated just over six months ago.
Six months? How could she forget half a year of cat ownership? That meant she’d had Custard since before Gary left, and she clearly remembered that.
Suddenly it occurred to her that there could be other things she’d forgotten about too. That thought bothered her considerably, niggling away like a mental itch she couldn’t scratch.
While chewing a spoonful of breakfast cereal, she considered ringing her friend Sarah. Abandoning her breakfast, she dashed into the front hall and picked up the phone. She got as far as dialling Sarah’s number – but then she hung up, too embarrassed to ask even her own best friend for help. It was her life, she’d lived it. Surely it would come back to her of its own accord. Surely…
Rinsing her breakfast bowl, Dawn wandered into each room in the house in turn in an attempt to discover whether she’d forgotten anything else. She was relieved to find that everything was in its normal place, with the only additional discrepancy she could find being the contents of the fridge; she was sure that she’d bought half a dozen eggs yesterday, but there were only two in the fridge. And the bag of salad she’d bought for today’s lunch was missing too. Rooting through the recycling, she found her till receipt from the supermarket: no eggs and no salad. Odd.
Although she was pretty sure that items missing from her fridge didn’t really tally with the selective amnesia hypothesis, Dawn decided it wasn’t significant enough to be a worry and resolved to carry on with her day trying not to fret too much about things she couldn’t do anything to change.
At quarter to eleven, she made herself a cup of tea and went to sit in the conservatory. As she sipped her drink, she pulled Ben’s lucky stone out of her pocket, turning it over and over in her hand.
She was about to put it back in her pocket when somebody knocked on the front door. She put her cup on the floor, pocketed the stone and went to answer it.
“Hi, Dawn. Ready to go?” asked Sarah.
Seeing her friend’s puzzled expression, she added, “The big shopping trip to Ashford. You hadn’t forgotten, had you? Are you OK, Dawn? You look a bit…” her voice trailed off as she seemed to search in vain to find the right word.
Feeling her face redden from embarrassment, Dawn decided to bluff her way out of the awkward situation. “Yes, I’m fine – I lost track of the time, that’s all. Come in for a sec while I get ready. It won’t take me long.”
Dawn rinsed out the cup she’d left in the conservatory and then popped upstairs to fetch a cardigan and run a comb through her hair.
When she returned downstairs, she found Sarah sitting in the living room with Custard on her lap and Tonto curled up next to her.
“I can’t believe how friendly these two are with each other,” commented Sarah, smiling. “I have to admit I thought it was a mistake when you said you were going to get a second cat, but Custard is such a sweetheart that even Tonto couldn’t object to her joining the family.”
“They do seem to get along pretty well,” agreed Dawn.
“Pretty well? You told me they’re inseparable – like newlyweds without the ‘how’s your father’, that’s what you said.”
“When did I say that?” Dawn asked, rather abruptly.
“I… I don’t know,” Sarah stuttered, frowning at her friend’s odd reaction. “A couple of months after you brought Custard home, I think.”
“I’m sorry,” Dawn sighed, scratching her chin. “I didn’t sleep very much last night and I’ve been a bit on edge since I found this.”
She reached into her pocket and drew out the stone, opening her fingers to show it to Sarah.
“Wow! That’s Ben’s lucky charm, isn’t it? Where on earth did you find it?” Sarah leaned forward to touch the stone, but Dawn closed her fingers protectively around it.
“It was in one of the pockets of his jacket.”
“The denim one you bought back from the charity shop? I thought they normally washed donated clothes and emptied the pockets.”
“It was in an inside pocket. Maybe they didn’t notice it,” suggested Dawn. They couldn’t have washed it, she reasoned, or it wouldn’t still smell of Ben like it did either.
Sarah laid one hand gently on Dawn’s arm. “It’s no wonder you’re a bit out of sorts this morning – that little stone was…”
“One of Ben’s most treasured possessions, yes,” Dawn finished the sentence for her, having to clench her teeth together to suppress a sob.
After a few seconds’ silence, Sarah said quietly, “We can cancel the shopping trip if you like – if you’re not feeling up to it.”
Dawn shook her head and forced a smile. “What? Cancel the big shopping trip? We’ve been planning it for weeks!”
Sarah’s eyes narrowed. “I only arranged it with you the day before yesterday.”
“Yes, well,” Dawn blustered, standing up. “Let’s get a move on – you know how the car park fills up.”
“Are you sure you’re alright?” asked Sarah, tilting her head slightly and wrinkling her nose.
“Yes, yes!” insisted Dawn. “I’ve just been a little distracted since finding Ben’s stone. Come on, let’s get going, shall we?”
Several times during their shopping trip, Sarah had shot worried glances in Dawn’s direction.
Dawn tried her best to smile brightly and act normal but, despite her best efforts, she didn’t seem to be fooling her friend.
Sarah shopped enthusiastically, buying a variety of items including a pair of shoes, a handbag and two pretty summer tops. Dawn, usually an avid shopper, bought only one item for herself – a pretty blue scarf with an elephant pattern border that Sarah encouraged her to purchase. Dawn knew she’d been less chatty than normal too, but hoped that her friend would put it down to the discovery of Ben’s stone. Although Dawn wanted to share her troubles with her closest friend, she didn’t want Sarah to think that she wasn’t coping – that she might need professional help.
The missing food in the fridge and forgetting she’d arranged a shopping trip were merely minor memory lapses, something easily explained away. Something that could have happened to anyone. It was the Custard mystery that niggled away and the more she thought about it, the more Dawn convinced herself that she might be suffering from amnesia.
By the time she hung up her new scarf and slid into bed that evening, she had relented and decided to tell Sarah everything, concluding that having someone trustworthy to talk to about it would help her decide the best course of action.
Tomorrow was Sunday and, with the weather forecast being favourable, Sarah had invited Dawn to share a picnic lunch in her beautiful back garden.
As she stared at Ben’s stone, Dawn felt certain that telling her friend about the amnesia was a good idea – at the very least, Sarah would be able to help her fill in any more obvious gaps in her memory and a trouble shared was a trouble halved, so they said.
Sliding the pebble underneath her pillow, she pulled the sheet up under her chin and closed her eyes.
Almost two hours later, she eventually fell into a listless sleep just as the stone beneath her pillow began to gently vibrate.
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