The dais was cold underfoot. Her skin glass, muscle mercury. Sarah turned slowly in the centre of a large ballroom. A queen chastised a servant. She turned. A horse readied for war refused its rider. She turned. A homeless man ignored by theatre goers raged at the sky, the lights, the early evening drizzle. No-one listened. She woke.
The bedsit was crowded with ghosts. Walls carried shadows of long dead posters, their outlines scorched on the wall like Hiroshima's dead. A faint trace of Lynx deodorant hung in the air. Even the bed, now Sarah rose, carried the ghost of her sleeplessness impressed on the sagging mattress. She walked to the window and lit a cigarette, the smoke rising to the ceiling high above, layering on a thousand other individual breaths. The room lay quiet. A coin box on the TV, rendering the screen a void, preventing her feeling the caress of the baton. The shock of the stranger in the room.
By her feet a cardboard box crowded with her books. No films. No pictures. She opened the top and reached in for an old pub ashtray, burnt and scarred by forgotten cigarettes.
Outside a screech. The tomcat clawed its rival. Teeth closing on an unprotected ear. Sarah flinched. Needles and hot breath at her face. She turned from the window and flicked the radio on. Words left her alone, she could clothe the words with her own faces, her own worlds. No touch. When she read, her imagination hooded people in cloth masks and white cotton gloves. Sherlock Holmes hid his face behind green fine weave, Jane Eyre a shapeless blue.
A knock at her door. She stubbed out the cigarette, adding a new burn mark to the ashtray and crossed the room. The knock started again. She twisted the painted latch, and pulled the door toward her.
"Settling in ok?" Her landlord, the owner of Hillcrest, stood in the hall, squinting through greasemarked thick glasses.
"Fine thank-you," she said, stepping back into the room, suddenly conscious of her clothes crumpled by sleep.
His foot scuffed the carpet, blocked the door.
"There was something else," he said.
He scratched his cheek. An itch blossomed in her face. She kept her hands by her side, ignoring its insistence.
"Do you sleep late?" he asked.
She felt his eyes scout over her.
"No. Not usually. I was unsettled last night. A new place."
"I need to do some building work the next few days," he said, "building regulations. I have to change the bedsits under yours. Work will start at eight in the morning, and stop by ten in the evening."
"I understand," she answered.
"There will be noise," he said, waiting. Expecting more, "and dust."
She nodded again and shut the door, closing him out, leaning against the panels and moulding. A thin barrier, but a barrier none the less.
"Eight o clock in the morning. Lots of noise. Don't forget," he said in the hall.
She nodded. Noise was fine. Noise she could cope with. A comforting blanket that enveloped. Enclosed.
String ran between her and the man. Muscle to muscle, skin to skin. He raised an arm to wave. She returned the gesture. His hand rose to stroke a bare shaved head. Her fingers caught in her long brown hair. The man grinned and brought his fist hard into his own face. She fell, the strings stopping her short from hitting the ground. Sarah woke.
Somewhere below an angry poltergeist screamed. Sarah rolled onto her side and looked at the alarm clock. 8am. The drilling turned to thudding strikes of a sledgehammer against brick. Her face felt wet. She checked for tears, then glanced upward. The moulding, plaster fruit and corn, curled round the ceiling dry as powder. Outside rain drummed against the tiles, cascading over the blocked gutters.
Cigarette in hand she read the appointment letter, dressed and left the house two steps at a time.
Dr Ranner glanced up from the computer monitor, his hands rested flat on the desk. She could feel the texture of the wood under her cupped palms.
"And how have you been recently?" he asked.
She shrugged and looked down.
"I avoid people," she answered, her voice quiet.
He reached for his glasses. The metal pressed into her hands, cold and thin.
"Miss Sandler, you cannot let your condition take over your life. You must not isolate yourself."
Sarah shrugged and didn't answer.
She looked at her feet, cheap brown boots scuffed and cracked. He would be scratching his hair now, a small tumble of dandruff falling. In the 15 years Dr Ranner had been her specialist he always scratched his head when she would not follow his suggestions, and every time she could feel ghost fingers exploring her scalp.
"It's my life Dr Ranner. My choice. I can live it how I want."
"What you have now is not living," he said rubbing his eyes, "I would be happier for you to be outside in the community if you were interacting with other people. Making progress."
He sighed. "I would like you to return to the clinic. We can support you. Have you more," he paused, searching for the word, "prepared."
"All the clinic prepared me for was more time living in the clinic."
She glanced up. His nails dug into his palms, the half moons of pressure turning purple. She felt the pain in her hands, gritted her teeth.
"My poor broken mirror girl," he said, a look of pity and predator on his face.
The sensation withering her spine came from inside and truly belonged to herself.
She looked down. Her skin had gone. Ribs, muscle, organs all absent. In their place the flat metal plates of a glockenspiel. She glanced up. On the other side of the room stood a figure, face hidden under spider's webs. Through their fibres he smiled, canines catching the light. He raised a wine glass, with a flourish. Saluting her with the vessel he placed it on the Formica table and ran a gloved finger round the top until a note resonated through the room. She glanced down again. One of the dull metal keys vibrated. The man reached behind, in his left hand a violin, his right the bow. With a gesture he played a series of notes. The vibrations ran through her, throwing her to the floor, a cut marionette. Sarah woke.