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The Trap: Chapter 3


The next morning, I climb out from under the rubble and put myself back together again, piece by piece.

My name is Linda Conrads. I’m an author. Every year I discipline myself to write a novel. My novels are very successful. I am well off. That is, I have plenty of money.

I am thirty-eight years old. I am ill. The media speculate about a mysterious illness that prevents me from moving freely. I haven’t left my house for over a decade.

I have a family. Or, rather, I have parents. I haven’t seen my parents for a long time. They don’t come to visit. I can’t visit them. We seldom talk on the phone.

There is something I don’t like to think about. But, at the same time, I can’t not think about it. It has to do with my sister. It happened a long time ago. I loved my sister. My sister was called Anna. My sister is dead. My sister was three years younger than me. My sister died twelve years ago. My sister didn’t just die; my sister was murdered. Twelve years ago my sister was murdered and I found her. I saw her murderer run away. I saw the murderer’s face. The murderer was a man. The murderer turned his face towards me, then he ran away. I don’t know why he ran away. I don’t know why he didn’t attack me. I only know that my sister is dead and I’m not.

My therapist describes me as highly traumatised.

This is my life. This is me. I don’t really want to think about it.

I swing my legs over the edge of the bed and get up. That’s what I mean to do, anyway, but in fact I don’t budge an inch. I wonder whether I’m paralysed. I have no strength in my arms and legs. I try again, but it’s as if the feeble commands from my brain aren’t getting through to my limbs. Maybe it doesn’t matter if I lie here for a moment. It’s morning, but it’s not as if I have anything other than an empty house waiting for me. I give up the struggle. My body feels strangely heavy. I stay in bed, but I don’t go back to sleep. The next time I look at the clock on the wooden bedside table, six hours have passed. That surprises me; it’s not good. The faster time passes, the faster night will come, and I’m afraid of the night, in spite of all the lamps in the house.

After several attempts, I do manage to get my body to go into the bathroom and then down the stairs to the ground floor—an expedition to the other end of the world. Bukowski comes rushing towards me, wagging his tail. I feed him, fill his bowl with water, and let him out for a run. Watching him through the window, I remember that it usually makes me happy to watch him run and play, but today I feel nothing; I want him to come back quickly so that I can get into bed again. I whistle for him. He’s a tiny, bouncing speck at the edge of the wood. If he didn’t come back of his own free will, there’s nothing I could do. But he always comes back—back to me, back into my little world. Even today. He jumps up at me, begging me to play, but I can’t. He gives up, disappointed.

I’m sorry, mate.

He curls up in his favourite spot in the kitchen and gives me a sad look. I turn around and go into the bedroom, where I get straight back into bed, feeling weak and vulnerable.

Before the darkness—before my retreat—when I was still strong and lived in the real world, I only ever felt like this when I was coming down with a bad bout of flu. But I’m not coming down with the flu; I’m coming down with depression, the way I always do when I think of Anna and all the things that happened back then that I usually block out so carefully. I managed to get on with my life undisturbed for a long time, suppressing all thought of my sister. But now it’s back. And, however long ago it may be, the wound hasn’t healed yet. Time’s a quack.

I know I ought to do something before it’s too late, before I get completely swallowed up in the maelstrom of depression that’s sucking me into the blackness. I know I ought to talk to a doctor, maybe get him to prescribe me something, but I can’t face it. The exertion seems insanely disproportionate. And, in the end, it doesn’t matter. I’ll get depressed, that’s all. I could stay here in bed forever. What difference would it make? If I can’t leave the house, why should I bother leaving the bedroom? Or my bed? Or the exact spot I’m lying now? Day passes and night takes its place.

It occurs to me that I could give someone a ring. Maybe Norbert. He’d come. He’s not only my publisher; we’re friends. If I could move the muscles in my face, I would smile to myself at the thought of Norbert.

I think of the last time I saw him. We sat in the kitchen, I cooked us spaghetti with homemade Bolognese sauce, and Norbert told me about his holiday in the south of France, about all the goings-on at the publishing house, and his wife’s latest hang-ups. Norbert is wonderful—loud and funny and full of stories. He has the best laugh in the world. The best laugh in both worlds, to be precise.

Norbert calls me his extremophile. The first time he called me that, I had to Google it—and marvel at how right he was. Extremophiles are organisms that have adapted to extreme living conditions so that they can survive in habitats that are actually life-threatening: in great heat or freezing cold, in darkness, in radioactive environments, in acid—or simply, and this must be what Norbert was thinking of, in complete isolation. Extremophile. I like the word, and I like it when he calls me that. It sounds as if I’d chosen all this for myself. As if I loved living in this extraordinary way. As if I had a choice.

Right now, the only choice I have is whether to lie on my left side or my right, on my stomach or on my back. Hours pass. I make a huge effort not to think of anything. At some point I get up, go over to the bookshelves that line the expansive walls of my bedroom, take down a few books, fling them on the bed, put my favourite Billie Holiday album on endless loop and slip back under the duvet. I listen to the music, turning pages and reading, until my eyes ache and I’m soft and spongy from the music like after a hot bath. I don’t want to read anymore. I’d like to watch a film, but I don’t dare switch on the TV. I simply don’t dare.

When I hear footsteps, I jump. Billie’s stopped singing. At some point I must have silenced her sad voice with one of my many remote controls. Who’s there? It’s the middle of the night. Why doesn’t the dog bark? I want to drag myself out of bed, grab something I can use to defend myself with, hide, do something, but I lie there, my breathing shallow, my eyes wide open. Somebody knocks. I say nothing.

‘Hello!’ a voice calls out. I don’t recognise it.

And then again. ‘Hello! Are you in there?’

The door opens. I whimper—my feeble version of a scream. It’s Charlotte, my assistant. Of course I recognise her voice. It was my fear that made it sound so strangely distorted. Charlotte comes twice a week to do my shopping, take my letters to the post office, do anything that needs doing. My paid link to the outside world.

Now she’s standing in the door, wavering. ‘Is everything all right?’

My thoughts rearrange themselves. It can’t be night if Charlotte’s here. I must have been lying in bed for a very long time.

‘Sorry to burst in like that, but when I rang the bell and you didn’t answer I got worried and let myself in.’

The bell? I remember a ringing working its way into one of my dreams. I’m dreaming again after all these years!

‘I feel a bit poorly,’ I say. ‘I was fast asleep and didn’t hear you. I’m sorry.’

I’m ashamed of myself; I can’t even manage to sit up. Charlotte seems worried, although she’s not one to be easily flustered. That’s precisely why I chose her. Charlotte is younger than me, late twenties maybe. She has a lot of jobs—waitressing in several cafés, selling tickets at a cinema in town. Things like that. And twice a week she comes to me. I like Charlotte—her short hair that she dyes a bluish black, her sturdy figure, her flamboyant tattoos, her dirty sense of humour, the stories about her little boy. The ‘cheeky devil’, she calls him.

If Charlotte seems nervous, I must look terrible.

‘Do you need anything? From the chemist or anywhere?’

‘No thanks, I’ve got everything I need in the house,’ I say.

I sound funny—like a robot. I can hear it, but I can’t do anything about it.

‘I don’t need you today, Charlotte. I should have let you know. I’m sorry.’

‘Not to worry. The shopping’s in the fridge. Shall I take the dog out, before I leave?’

Oh God, the dog. How long have I been lying here?

‘That would be great,’ I say. ‘Give him something to eat too, would you?’

‘Sure.’

I pull the duvet up to my nose to signal that the conversation is over.

Charlotte hovers a little longer in the doorway, presumably uncertain about whether she can leave me alone. Then she makes up her mind and goes. I hear the sounds she makes in the kitchen as she feeds Bukowski. I usually love it when there are sounds in the house, but today it means nothing to me. I let the pillows and duvet and darkness engulf me, but I can’t get to sleep.


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