Three years on from
the sudden death of her husband Matt and a subsequent miscarriage, interior
designer Laura is still lost in grief, hiding out in the smart London townhouse
that was going to be her family home. On the encouragement of her best friend
Carla, she signs up to a dating website and receives a message from a
mysterious stranger, imploring her to visit him in New York because he has seen
her face in his dreams.
Meanwhile, Laura visits an art gallery and is
captivated by a painting of a beautiful woman in a flowing dress. It seems to
be speaking directly to her, beckoning her to take a leap of faith.
These seemingly disparate events lead Laura on
an epic journey to the bustling streets of the Big Apple and the desert
landscape of Wyoming, where the clues to her future happiness are waiting to be
WIPING the silver frame, Laura stared sadly at a picture of her
and Matt skiing in the mountains. Her mind was lost in a
white chill: empty, unconnected and exhausted. Too weary to feel,
to think, to escape even into the usual comforting fantasy she had
built for herself. This is what her world had shrunk down to.
She moved slowly and listlessly to the window without
disturbing the stillness that had been her armour for three
interminable years, 37 months, more than a thousand tired days
and unrefreshing nights. She had seen the old pear tree at the
end of the garden lose its fruits, the last of which were still rotting
on the grass. Now the wind was taking its leaves and rain
dripped from its branches.
This window was her eye to the world; its gentle quietness
demanded nothing and spoke to her in language she could
understand, especially during these winter evenings. The grey
sky, the falling darkness, the approaching night…this was as
much as she could cope with.
Holding her hand to her chest, she walked silently into her
bedroom and buried herself in the empty bed. The room was
stale and dark; the window shut, the heavy curtains drawn. The
light was not welcome inside. The clock beside her bed had long
since stopped. Time no longer mattered and her sleeping pills
now lay where she used to put her jewellery before going to
Looking at the ceiling, she waited for sleep to come but her
jumbled thoughts and feelings gave her no rest. There was no
escape into the oblivion she craved which, in any case, would
only last a few precious hours. She knew that the struggle for
sleep would be fought again and again, tonight like every other
Reluctantly sliding her legs out of the bed, Laura pushed herself
to stand up. This was the first battle of her day. The night hadn’t
brought any refreshment. Sleep had come, but not from anywhere
pleasant. A heavy chemical blanket had smothered her
consciousness, but had failed to conquer the dreams that had
demonised her night.
Her first heavy step took her to the kettle.
Why do kettles have to be so bloody loud?
She reached for her morning mug and the coffee jar. Her hand
trembled. The steam from the cup was the promise and the first
gulp of the dark liquid was a reunion with her companion
through the darkness.
Lightly stimulated, her eyes wakened as an unexpected knock
alerted one of her other senses. Startled, she wrapped her
dressing gown tightly around her and went to the door. Four
years ago, when Matt had bought it for her as a Christmas
present, they had both loved its sensuality. But now it was as
ragged as she was.
She opened the door to be confronted by a fern tree. A
freckle-faced boy with blonde hair peered at her from behind it.
He thrust a small white envelope towards her.
“It came with the order,” he explained.
“What order?” Laura asked, tearing open the envelope.
“Pay the boy and start decorating!” read the note inside.
Laura grinned at Carla's familiar tone. Stepping aside to let
the boy enter, she shook her head and muttered: “I don't do
“Where do you want me to put it?”
“Oh, right by the window.”
After the boy had left, Laura stood in front of her tree. She smelled
its resin, felt the chill that clung to it from outside and spotted the loose
pines on the carpet that had already fallen from its branches. Why do
I need this in my life? What is there for me to celebrate?
The ringing of the phone arrived like a rude poke in her ear,
and she let it go straight to answer machine.
“I’m Laura, I'm not at home…so you know what to do!”
“Come on, girl, pick up, or don’t because I'm coming over
tomorrow anyway to take you out. I don’t want any excuses.
Five pm sharp!”
Carla was the only one of her friends who had defied Laura
when she had stopped receiving visitors. Their pity, sympathy
and inability to know her pain was too much for her to bear;
their lives were continuing but hers had died, and she really
didn't feel that there was any way back for her.
When she had thrown that handful of earth onto the coffin
and heard its soft thud, her own existence, with its emotions,
appetites and hopes, had stopped. Since then, isolation and pain
were all that was left for her.
Only Carla continued to kick at the door she had locked in
order to keep out the rest of the world. Carla visited her
frequently, wiping away her tears, checking that she was taking
her prescription medication and forcing her to have a bath and
wash her hair.
Carla had kept her spare house keys ever since that day, three
years earlier, when she’d used force to open the door and found
Laura unconscious following an overdose. She continued to
keep a close eye on her friend, adamant that such a terrible
occurrence wasn’t going to happen again.
Back then, a panicked Carla had shaken the thin body of the
once vibrant Laura. Her lips were cracked, her eyelids were
swollen and her tears and dribbles were dry on the pillow.
“Come on, kid, you're not killing yourself today,” she said. “I
am not ready to let you die yet.”
Laura's head was swimming. She was dizzy and sick, but her
stomach was too empty for her to vomit.
“You have no right to do this,” she lashed out. “Who told you
that you could do this? Do you think you are God? Just leave me
“Come on, girl,” Carla reasoned. “You can decide on a lot of
things but not this, and don't imagine I will leave you like this.
No way, no damn way!”
“I want to die, leave me…I can’t go on any more...I can't,”
came Laura’s heartbreaking reply.
Hot tears burned Carla’s eyes before they rolled down her
face. “Why my baby, why?”
What a mess Laura’s life had become. Her little baby, a son, so
longed for and so loved, was gone. The only ultrasound picture
she had was already faded from constant handling. This precious
person, with tiny fingers and toes, was all that she had wanted for
her future. She had longed to be a mum for as far back as she could
remember. She had even been looking forward to the labour.
Then one morning, still reeling from loss, she noticed he
wasn't moving and the ordinary events of a tragedy unfolded.
She called the hospital, took a cab, met the consultant, got
undressed, put on a gown, took the anaesthetic, felt the nausea…
Then home, alone.
The place she had loved was now suffocating.
Getting into bed was like climbing into her coffin, and every
event of that awful day was a screw on its lid.
No wonder she had wanted to end it all.
“I know it's not fair, it's horrible,” Carla had said after finding
her in such a bad way, following the overdose. “You just cry.
Hell, even I am crying!''
Carla held Laura's almost weightless body until her tears
finally stopped. “Don't you worry, kid,” she said. “I'm going to
be here. Death isn't getting any more out of us, not this week.''
Laura's guts felt as if they were being ripped apart as everything
she had and hoped for fled from her wreck of a body.
Exhausted and completely empty she sank her wet face into
her pillows, drew her knees up to her empty belly and slowly
drifted off to sleep. Carla tenderly pulled up her covers and lay
down next to her, cuddling her back and gently stroking her
head until her breathing calmed and the shaking stopped. Then
she quietly reached for the bedside phone and rang for a doctor,
explaining what had happened and asking for someone to come
A young Indian doctor helped Carla to sit Laura up. She
examined her and made a swift assessment.
“We will have to get you to hospital,” she said.
“No bloody way,” came Laura's vehement response.
“Well, at least let me take some blood samples to make sure
you haven't done yourself any permanent damage.”
Laura let her arm be stretched out and didn't even flinch as
the needle penetrated her vein.
“How are we going to make sure that you are going to be all
right?” asked the doctor. “I can't leave you here on your own
like this. I could actually get you detained in hospital for a short
time, even if you don't want to go.”
“I’m not very busy at work just now,” Carla interjected. “I
could easily take a week off to stay here with her.”
After a lot of further discussions and instructions, the doctor
left, promising to send a community psychiatric nurse daily to
check on Laura’s progress.
For a full week, Carla stayed with Laura, pouring life slowly
back into her: bathing, dressing and feeding her, and giving her
the correct medication. At first she could hardly speak or stand
up. Sleep was her only escape, but even then she cried and
fought, not knowing whether she wanted to live or die. Carla's
stubbornness shielded the small flame that was her life. This
flame wasn't enough for light or warmth or nourishment, it was
merely sufficient to keep death away.
It wasn't really life.
But, as time wore on, Laura slowly and very reluctantly began
to do the things that living people do. At first, just sitting up in
bed was a huge effort. Gravity seemed so much more powerful
than before. Carla even had to help her get to the toilet. Drinking
was painful. Her tummy rebelled over cold fluids and she was
only just able to tolerate warm milk. It was over a week before
she could swallow any solid food. When she could eat, buttery
brioche with strawberry jam was all she wanted. Even getting
warm was almost impossible; her hands and feet stayed pale and
cold for weeks.
But Carla and James, the Mauritian nurse, managed to pull
her back into some semblance of life. After Carla returned to
work she visited her every night to keep her guard against death,
staying with Laura for weeks.
Thankfully, the medication Laura had taken hadn’t caused
any permanent damage and slowly, as the weeks stretched into
months, she began showing signs of recovery. She gradually
built up her days into a pattern of doing; washing, dressing and
feeding herself. She was progressing, but these tasks were all
achieved without thought or feeling. Her breakfast always
consisted of the same thing: coffee in the same KitKat Easter egg
mug, toast with strawberry jam, always made with the same
knife. Lunch was either a tin of spaghetti hoops or soup, or, if
she could be bothered to make it, some cheese on toast. Most
days she didn't feel like eating much in the evenings. Her stomach felt like a tightly clenched fist, but when she eventually
felt hungry she would snack on skimmed milk and shortbread
biscuits. Before retiring to bed every night she put the same set
of dishes in the same position in the dishwasher, and whenever
she became aware of their presence she would gather socks,
knickers and bedding together and stuff them into the washer
dryer. The only interruptions in her routine were Carla's
Wednesday and Sunday visits and her twice-daily phone calls
from her doctor’s office to remind her to take her meds.
Radio Four, with its porridge of human sound, was the aural
wallpaper of her days and she kept it on right through from the
Today programme to the melodious anaesthetic of the Shipping
Forecast. But the words never penetrated her thoughts; instead
they formed a fence around her mind.
In bed at night she could feel the weight of her body on the
mattress. It was too firm for her on her own, and the queen-sized
duvet seemed to drown her. Her hands and feet hardly ever got
warm and even a hot water bottle clenched between her ankles
only comforted her feet. Her hands were permanently cold and
yet moist. More than anything else, she missed having somebody
to lean against. Her sleeping pills would eventually press her
down into a kind of empty sleep, but it would still take her about
two hours to quieten the thoughts and noises of her mind until
the darkness took over.
Those nightly three hours, maybe half an hour more if she
was lucky, formed her only mental rest. It wasn’t enough for
repair, let alone for refreshment, and all too quickly her slumber
was cruelly invaded by frights, accusations and terrors without
names. These would start to push into her resting mind like
uninvited weeds poisoning her peace and bringing her too soon
into her daily struggle with the wounds that had so nearly killed
Release Date: 16th
Elida May was born in Albania in 1972.
Growing up in a Communist country, where access to books was severely
restricted, helped to nurture her love of the written word, and she avidly read
whatever genre she could get hold of, including a lot of European literature. Today
Elida lives in London with her son Elidon. Following Evan is her first novel,
and she is currently working on her second, Diary of Michael Vica.