You surrounded yourself with posters to make your room feel more like an average teenage girl's bedroom. Your mom let you pick out the wallpaper, but that was when you were eight and now the cutesy pink flowers seem childish, and matched with the pink carpet, you feel, in your sophisticated fifteen year-old self, that the room is embarrassing. But lucky no one ever sees it except you and sometimes your nineteen year-old sister. But she doesn't really see it. The walls are adorned with Donny Osmond, Cat Stevens, Bay City Rollers and The Sweet. All those glittery men in platform boots and flared plaid trousers seem to compensate sufficiently. An artistic antidote to childishness. They are reassuring. They smile at you and pose for you in a way that suggests fear has no place in life. The drummer has his drumsticks raised over his head, crossed at the wrists and touched to his forehead. His look pierces you with come-to-bed eyes, even though you have yet to know the adult world of beds. Sing a song. Rock out. Strike a pose. Life is sweet!
But every night fear creeps in and you look to the posters, hoping for comfort from the panicky feeling when you first detect soft footsteps in the hall. But as hard as you try to subsume your fears with pop star crushes and dreams of your first training bra to boast about, there they are--when you are tucked up warm in bed, safe and sound. But you are not safe. You try praying to God. You don't know how or why, you don't really believe but you need to say or do something to ease the panic, maybe she won't come tonight, maybe she's ok, maybe she's asleep, maybe you won't have to tonight. And sometimes you wake up the next day and it was fine and you did sleep. But you never get to go to bed like every child should, worrying about nothing more than the imaginary bite of bed bugs. No such luck. Because she does come sometimes, with a begging request to sleep with you because her voices are screaming and her brain, she says, is dying. She has picked at her scabs and her arms and back are covered in open sores and although you put ointment on them during the day and mom asks you to be sure she has her mittens on for bedtime, they always come off and she always manages to rip at her skin. It helps her. So some nights you are brave enough and you answer, "Sure, come in." She is, after all, your flesh and blood.
But the worst fear and the scariest nights are when you pretend you cannot hear her scratching at the door, when you have jimmied the lock so she can't get in. Your door has a kind of old-world latch, and you fold up a scrap of paper and force it determinedly into the space so the latch can't lift. You hear her pitiful voice asking sweetly for company, refuge from her world into yours. You can see her in the hall in the stained nightie where the ointment has made shiny opaque designs over the Laura Ashley bouquets. You can see her pressing her lips to the crack of the door where she tries to pry her supplications in and on to you. You can see her hands pressing against the door-- resting her head against the back of her wrists. You can hear her trying to open the door. You pray even harder now that the home-made lock will hold and she will just leave you alone to be fifteen. You see her turn from your door and retreat to her private torture. It's your own cowardice that's so chilling.
And one day, you will get a phone call at work and you will know she had taken a day trip from the hospital, had bought some rope and had stayed in a nice hotel, and the empty words of a well-meaning doctor, "There was nothing you could have done" will strike like arsenic in your gut.
Judith Hurst was made in America, but raised in the U.K. Residing now in sunny Florida, she never knows which season she is experiencing. She was a public school teacher for many years, but is feeling better now, and is currently focusing her efforts on encouraging young people to think and write creatively.