The day of the Carnival. Not a non-white face in sight in the soup of countrified, rural, middle class, smugness. In a marquee the noise was ramping up to a point where people next to me had to strain their throats just to tell each other about how lucky we’d been with the weather. The piercing shriek of parents telling children off cut in and out of the air. Slicing a biopsy under the plastic canvas.
A man in a red tracksuit, my age, flat cap on back to front, walked slowly down the marquee from the tea counter. He was carrying a cup of tea and some cake on a blue tray, which was shaking violently, as was he. His whole body seemed cursed by essential tremor. He sat down and continued to shake in his seat. Most of his tea was pooling on the tray bottom.
‘Jesus…..everyone staring…’ he muttered, before turning round to someone on my table. ‘People must think all sorts about me,’ he said. He was right. I thought he had Parkinsons, or some other degenerative brain disease, and was just trying his best to live normally before he couldn’t even walk. He shoved the cake up to his mouth, barely getting some in before the tremors smeared cream around his cheek. He sighed and turned away.
The noise built up into a great cone of no escape. The vibrations pulsed through my brain. My head thumped, my heart started to race. I’d forgotten to take my tablets. I started to panic. People were speaking to me, I was sure of that, but none of it – even the parts I could hear – made any sense. The election, somebody’s ex husband, another woman reeling off the names of all the people she’d slept with: her husbands brother, uncle, best friend, neighbour. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was something sinister going on. Like the knowledge we were moments away from an enormous meteor strike, or a biblical flood. God was going to start things over. He knew humans had gotten out of control.
I broke free and took a walk around on my own, watched some captive bees for a while. Those dumb insects, I thought. Trapped so easily in that Perspex with each other. All interweaving and breaking their backs for what? Going nowhere. I hoped for a message from my friend to lift the emotional fog. It arrived. I sat under a tree and breathed. And smiled. A dog display carried on in the background. Tired sad-looking dogs jerked about on leads. Whistles shrilled, signalling something or other. Some dogs believed what they heard, one ran away across the carnival and up the road to who knows where. It had seen the chance to escape and taken it.
At the pub later someone told me the guy with the tremors had been found in a catatonic state only last year. Total nervous breakdown. Unable to speak, move, acknowledge anybody. The shakes were being caused by a withdrawal from his meds. He was a topic of conversation for many. Everyone had an opinion on where it all went wrong for him, and some doubted the facts. But not me. I bought it all when I looked in his eyes. He’d seen hell. And it wasn’t over yet. Takes one to know one, I guess. Not that I’ve ever been catatonic, but I’ve tasted that fruit. Plus I was currently starting to have my own twitching, headache, thoughts racing, first throws of my own medically engineered sense of loss. He deserved better from the community he lived in. Don’t we all?
The day was a write off until the very end. I lay shouting at the Foo Fighters on tv, then laughed a lot messaging a friend. She made me smile, and a feeling of completely natural non-chemical warmth fuzzed out from my chest until I was sure I looked like the kid from the old Ready Brek adverts. A forcefield against the worst of things.