OTHER

I’m in the cinema bathroom, retouching my lipstick, when Little Me appears.

Here we go. Little Me is five years old and an unwelcome yet viciously persistent visitor. She’s about waist high and she stands next to me. She gives me a reproachful look and her bottom lip trembles.

“Get lost.” I spit.

She refuses. I shut my eyes, count to ten, and open them again. She’s still there. I’m two decades older than her and still she’s able to have a violent effect on me. It’s like I’ve broken out into an instant fever – I’m aching all over, too hot, woozy, and my hands shake as I shove the lipstick into my bag. I want to smash the glass – I almost do, but then a woman comes out of a cubicle and walks over to the sink next to me. Little Me doesn’t budge. I scowl at her and she scowls back.

“What did you see?” The woman chirps.

What did I see? I just sat in front of a big screen for two hours and now my mind’s gone blank. Whenever she turns up, everything I’ve experienced since five years old seems to just get wiped. She’s selfish – only wants me to feel what she feels.

I don’t answer the woman, just turn and walk out. I’m immediately jarred by how crowded it is, the rush of bodies and voices.

“Audrey!”

There’s a guy walking toward me, smiling. Right, it’s Friday night, that’s why it’s so busy. I’m here on a date. It was a pretty good one, hence the need to redo my lipstick. I stare at him as he comes over and I try to place him. Jack, that’s his name. I’ve been seeing him for a little while. Not for long though. It’s never for long.

He leans forward. I can’t stomach the closeness – I turn sharply and start walking. He catches my elbow.

“Hey, what’s wrong?”

“Don’t touch me,” I bark.

A couple of people glance over. “Jesus. Are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

Little Me has gone to stand beside him. I see him through her eyes. The twitch of irritation in his jaw, the narrowed eyes, the way he dwarfs her… I know I’ve always liked him, but now he cuts a terrible figure.

“You keep doing this,” he says.“‘Everything’s great, then a switch flicks with you and I’m supposed to just deal with it?”

I can’t respond. Little Me has left his side and begun to trail after a little boy about her size. I watch her watch him as he follows his father into the men’s.

Little Me is morbid for a five-year-old. She’s filled with a terrible sense of knowing. Being locked into her perception forces me to hear her thoughts as she scans the children who walk past. She follows one for a moment, then latches onto another. Her mind whirls through images of what she’s convinced is happening to them, or of what will happen. She takes me on a chilling ride. My hands shake.

“Hey.” Jack’s voice has softened. “Are you okay?”

I’m about to answer him, but then Little Me opens her mouth.

“It happened.”

She stands across the cinema now, surrounded by couples and chattering families, and yet the words reverberate. I look over at Jack and see his mouth move, the worry on his face, but he’s too far away, or maybe I am.

“Why don’t you ever listen to me?” She’s even louder now. All I can do is shake my head. She walks over to a bench by the kiosk and I follow her gaze. There’s a man sitting there, tickets in hand, a little girl perched on his lap. He’s got an arm around her. Little Me stares at them, then stares at me. 

“It’s still happening to me,” she says. “Can you feel it?”

I have to – she’s holding me hostage to her experience and forces all the distance I’ve tried to put between us to melt away until I am her and she is me. She’s always had the power to make me lose my grip on my current timeline and succumb wholly to hers. Now it’s her agony that pulses through my body, her helplessness that chokes me, her panic that lights up my brain. My eyes are her eyes, full of rage and distrust, staring at the man on the bench with his daughter on his lap.

I rush forward and slam past people, not caring, barely able to see them, only seeing him and that little girl.

“Don’t touch her!”

I shove him hard. The force sends him backwards and tips his daughter off his lap. Good. I get between them, ready to lunge at him again.

“What the hell’s wrong with you?”

The noise of the current world comes crashing back in, and for a moment I’m completely dazed. When I come to, the man’s right in front of me.

“Get away from her,” he says, his voice sharp. I hear a whimper and look down. The little girl’s on the floor, staring up at me again.

I step away and he reaches out to her. She throws herself into her father’s arms. Everywhere around me people stare, forming a sea of apprehensive, disapproving expressions. Even Jack steps away from me like I’m insane.

Little Me is nowhere in sight, though. She’s taken off. I suppose this is her revenge – periodically possessing me and then leaving me to deal with the wreckage. I suppose I deserve it. I abandoned her first. I’ve spent the last two decades trying to savagely stuff her truth back down her throat and erase her from existence.

I know that she’s right, and I’m wrong. It happened. She was violated. Now all she wants is for me to acknowledge it, to tell the truth when someone like Jack asks what’s going on.

But I just can’t. I’m afraid to look, really look at her and I’m afraid to let anyone else see her either. There’s always been this awful sense of otherness, like I’m severed from everyone else, marooned on an island to serve out a life sentence.

“I’m sorry.”

I direct it to the little girl and her father, but really it’s for Little Me. I’m stuck, and as long as I am, so is she.