Penelope Street

Penelope Street is nearing the end of her life. She’s very weak now and it’s an effort for her just to keep her eyes open. It’s easier to stay head bowed and eyes shut because she doesn’t want to see what’s happening around her. There’s nothing she can do about any of it. Penelope wants the end to come quick, but every single second seems to take a cruel eternity to pass. She just wants it to be over now.

One hundred and thirty-three.

I’ve been here for one hundred and thirty-three hours now. How much longer will I last? Will I reach one hundred and thirty-four or one hundred and thirty-five? Christ, I hope not. I can’t take much more of this. I wish I could make the end come faster. The frustration’s worse than the fear now.

I feel so weak. I haven’t got my medication and I haven’t had anything to eat or drink since first thing Tuesday morning. That’s more than five and a half days, surely I can’t last much longer, can I? I can’t do anything but sit here with my head hanging down, looking into my lap. Sometimes I look up and around but it’s all too much. Everything has changed and I don’t know how or why.

Arthur’s body is just in front of me. I can see his feet sticking out from behind the sofa we were here to buy. He’s still, but they move all around me, oblivious to the fact I’m here. They are the dark, decaying shadows of dead people. They are cold, empty, emotionless bodies. When I look up I see the streets outside are full of them. I can’t move so they don’t see me, but if I make any noise they stop. I screamed and shouted at them to begin with because I thought they’d be able to help, but now I know they can’t. When they hear me they stop and bang on the glass, then even more of them come. I’m used to being stared at so I don’t move. I don’t react. After a couple of hours they start to drift away.

Arthur brought me here on Tuesday to choose a new sofa, not that he needed me to come. There wasn’t any point in me getting involved in the decision. It was down to him to choose one and try it out and decide whether or not we were going to have it. We got here early to avoid the crowds. If there are too many people then my chair just gets in the way. We’d just got through the door when it happened. I watched it get him and everyone else. I watched them all die and I wish it had taken me too. I kept waiting for it to come, hoping and praying it would, hoping and praying this impossible life would soon be over. I can’t stand being alone like this. It makes me feel more helpless and vulnerable than ever.

I’m so hungry. Thirsty too. My mouth’s dry and I’m so dehydrated that it feels like my tongue’s swollen to ten times its normal size. I can’t talk properly now, not that there’s anyone left to talk to. There must have been a fire near here, and people must have been trapped inside. I smelled the smoke first, then the burning bodies. It was like sitting the middle of a damn barbecue, the whole world stinking of roast meat. Every so often I can still smell it and even though I know what’s burning, it still makes the hunger pains worse.

The very worst part of all of this is not having any control. I’ve not had much control for a long time, but now I don’t have any. I can’t do a bloody thing about the situation I’m in. I can’t do anything to help myself or to bring the end any closer. Help might be just around the corner, but I can’t even get myself out of this damn building, never mind anywhere else. An inch might as well be a hundred bloody miles for all the good it’ll do me now.

Just trying to look up takes so much energy. There are more bodies outside now, gazing in at me with their cold, vacant eyes. I feel like a bloody shop window dummy, but then I have done since the accident. People always stared at me since then. Perhaps I should have got used to it? But I’ve never been able to handle the sideways glances and the way they’d avoid me. They either used to patronise me, or ignore me altogether and talk to Arthur instead. Either way, they made me feel like a freak. People always saw the wheelchair before they saw me sitting in it. I’m paralysed from the neck down, not up. I can’t move my body, but that was the only difference between me and everybody else. My arms and legs might be frozen, but I’ve always been able to feel hurt and get to scared and feel panic like everyone else. Christ knows I’m scared now.

I would have been all right if it hadn’t been for him, that stupid bloody husband of mine. If he’d left me there after the fall instead of trying to be a hero I would have been okay. It would have taken time to get well again, but I would have been okay eventually. But no, Arthur knew best, didn’t he. It was him trying to move me that did the real damage to my neck. He blamed himself and so did I. And now here I am, trapped in this cold, dark, empty place, starving to death with just his corpse for company. I can’t move an inch. What did I do to deserve this?

Come on death, hurry up. The joke’s over. I want this to finish now. I’m sick and tired of sitting in this bloody chair just waiting…



Autumn: The London Trilogy omnibus edition