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Angel Caging by Martin Reed

Angel Caging by Martin Reed

Fiction, Vol. 8.3, Sept. 2014

X Factor was on the last time it happened.

“It rapes carpets. Nice pedal,” said Tina.

It wasn’t what she was trying to say. Not nearly.

Not again, she thought.

Trevor didn’t hear. He had the television up loud and her words sank deep beneath the judges’ banter. She reached for Trevor’s hand, which was stroking at the worn velvet of his armchair, but she missed by a finger and her hand flopped into the gulf between their chairs. His eyes were fixed on the tanned, toothy judge. The smiley one. Damn, if Tina could just lean to him a bit further and reach his hand, but she could barely move when she went like this. And on the telly, those teeth. Trevor wide-eyed. He’d not be looking her way anytime soon.

“Towelling,” said Tina, bitterly. Please not now, she thought. The words in her head lined up, ready for her mouth, and spilled out as nonsense, someone else pressing the buttons.

She’d been in town first time it happened, at Pharm-a-tastic, collecting the meds for Trevor’s ears. She said something about jelly, smiling as the sales woman took her money. She’d meant it as a compliment. New hair style. Orange streaks. Striking. But instead, jelly. The woman stared at Tina for a moment, then burst out laughing. A young couple in the queue behind her joined the giggling when Tina tried to repeat herself and made even less sense.

Of course they all had a laugh about it the following Sunday. Well, Trevor did, when they bumped into Bessie and George before the service at St Michael’s. Tina kept quiet. She had nothing to add.

“She’s always talked nonsense,” said Trevor, “and there’s not a lot we can say to each other after forty-one years.”

Bessie cackled at that.

“True, true,” hooted George, “I can’t remember the last time I listened to Bessie.”

“Cheeky bugger,” said Bessie.

“Somebody say something?” said George, and the three of them cracked up, Bessie nudging his arm hard, spilling his pint.

“Oh you,” she said.

Trevor winked at Tina, raised his glass. She smiled stiffly.

“It’s part of growing old,” he said later, as they walked home. Tina’s arm was looped in his. Was this him trying to be understanding? “It’s part of that long decay. Skin rips easier. Bruises last longer. Everything aches. Your ears go—see how my ears have gone? And you’ve always been the daft one. That right?”

The X Factor judges were grilling some poor contestant when Tina tried to reach for Trevor’s hand again: “Do the world a favour: stop singing today,” quipped the too-tanned judge on the right, the man everyone loved to hate. Tina could barely raise her hand. She gave up.

“Able mean took,” said Tina, all but shouting for Trevor’s attention, her mouth dry, throat rasping. The room had gone double. It didn’t usually go on this long. She’d always been back to herself by now. The television. So loud. Unbearable.

The audience booed the last judge as the rejected contestant slunk off, stocky, unshaven, broke.

“I’m with the judges,” Trevor called at the man. “Someone should’ve told you. Do the world a favour. Really, do you not think, Tina? Someone should have told him. Do you not think?”

“Angel caging. That meat,” she replied.

Turn and look at me, she thought. Please. At least she could gesture if he’d only look, twitch her hands, shudder her head or something. But his gaze didn’t leave the television.

At one point, months ago, she tried to talk to a doctor about it. She phoned at any rate, but it was emergencies only until Thursday and there was something in the receptionist’s tone that made her think it would be best to wait. Besides, Tina felt fine at the time. And she only felt a bit of a wobble in her head afterward, whenever it happened, but apart from that she was no less normal than always. Just part of growing old, like Trevor said. But frightening. So frightening. Locked in like this. How many times was it now? She’d lost count. Eight, maybe. Nine.

“Don’t get up, I’ll make you a cup of tea,” Trevor said when the advertisements came on.

“Drizzle,” Tina whispered, as Trevor walked out the room.

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