The floor tasted like salt in a way he didn’t expect. Maybe it was the recent rain accumulating in little dried piles. He breathed heavily. There was an earthy smell too, muddy and rich. For a moment he was a child again, making mud pies with his brother, their mother calling them in for tea.
But no, here on the floor he was alone, his brother was as distant as the sky. Here, there was only the feel of the cool floorboards on his cheek and that salty-muddy smell, to tell him he was alive.
He tried to reach with his good arm, he could see his phone, sitting on the coffee table, gleaming like a grin. He managed to pull himself around but his arm fell short and it dangled uselessly in the air until he dropped it again.
He felt the blood pushing around his body, all at once. It was buzzing through him, alive as a swarm of bees. He lay still a moment, waiting. The feeling passed and everything was quiet again.
He thought again of his brother, he remembered the way his brother would pin him to the ground. His brother sitting on his chest, triumphant. The feeling of being unable to move. The deep fear, irrational, persistent. A dark shape sweeping through his body whispering—you can’t move, you can’t move, you can’t move…
He couldn’t help it, but as soon as his brother released him he would roll to the side and curl up like a threatened caterpillar. Strange really, that his reaction being trapped, was to bind himself in a ball of his own.
He longed to do that now, to roll to his side and curl in on himself. Make the strong smell of salt and the warm wood of the floorboards disappear into the cave of himself. But he couldn’t move. He knew that, as he looked at the gleam of his phone.
The pain in his chest began again, sharp and tight. It travelled down his arm this time, up into his jaw and deep into his back. The pain explored his skeleton, sent out to excavate his bone marrow. It spread like an invader. The tip of its arrow a dark reaching inside of him.
He concentrated on breathing now, short shallow breaths so as not to move his lungs too much. He could not inflate his chest without the pain gaining another inch, colonising another continent of his body.
It lessened for a moment, and he thought he could smell lemons. He thought of the lemon tree in the garden. His brother used to lob them like missiles over the neighbour’s fence. The smell of the bruised fruit, bleeding juice was the smell of his childhood.
His phone began to ring. He could not. Reach it. He could not. Do anything. Now.
He lay there.
Smells entered his mind one by one. It was confusing. It was as if his senses had been transposed. The salt smell was a gauzy fog that blocked his vision. He could feel the mud-smell as a warm blanket laid on his chest. The lemon, this he could taste, sour and astringent—it made his throat clench.
Faintly now, he heard his phone still ringing. He closed his eyes. The weight of his brother was on him. They were boys again and his brother had him pinned to the ground. All he had to do was keep breathing. He concentrated on this—short shallow breaths. He waited for his brother to roll off. He felt himself being pressed, slowly out of his body. He kept waiting for his brother to leave. As he always did.