I was woken up by a banging at my bedroom door, I bet myself Hetty had found herself covered in tin foil again. I yawned and shouted at her to come in. The flimsy wooden door almost swung off its hinges and Hetty ran in, clad in a long t-shirt, all the flesh that was visible shining, crinkling, silver.
Her brown eyes were wide and panicked.
‘Okay, okay don’t worry sit down’, I said hunching my legs up so she could sit at the end of the bed.
I got up and knelt on the floor in front of her.
‘Come on let’s get it off then’.
She was crying. She sniffed, wiping a silver hand over her eyes and the other under her nose before forming the left into a claw and scratching her right wrist with it uselessly.
‘Look it’s different this time’, she said.
‘It won’t come off, when I try and scratch it off it just hurts, look I cut myself’.
She showed me her left forearm there was a shallow cut the width of a finger nail, a trough in the foil that was dark red. I looked up into her eyes again and sighed.
‘Now we need to go to casualty, they can’t just laugh it off this time.’ I said more confidently than I felt.
I clasped her hand in mine. ‘Now go and get dressed, I’ll take the morning off work and come with you’.
After pulling on yesterday’s jeans and t-shirt I ran down stairs pulled my coat off the hook by the door and stuck my head round the kitchen door. Pete was sitting on the worktop where I left him yesterday pinging with two slices of still hot toast sitting in his gaping metal mouth and his eyes spinning sightlessly.
‘The foil seems to have replaced Hetty’s skin for real now. We’re going down to casualty.’
Pete didn’t say anything. He had increasingly become a toast maker of few words. I sometimes wondered if he was in there at all any more. I took a slice of toast. Mmm perfect, just how I liked it. He was still there, somehow.
No one answered the phone at work, and I wondered if anyone had made it in.
Hetty was ready a few moments later in the hall, most of her foil skin hidden under a red duffle coat and navy blue bobble hat. She’d even put her gloves on.
‘You’re going to be too hot like that.’
She bit her bottom lip and looked sulky.
‘I don’t want people to stare at me too much.’
‘I’m not sure you’ll be the strangest sight out there’.
We left after Hetty shouted “bye dad” at Pete through the open kitchen door, her mouth full of the other slice of toast. She wasn’t going to get away with skipping breakfast today.
The street was quieter than ever. A milk float was parked blocking the junction at the end, its lights flashing the little electric motor still whining. I noticed a wooden starling pecking at the lid of a bottle in a crate on the back. It had a tiny milkman’s hat on and cocked it’s little head at us as we walked by.
I held Hetty’s gloved hand in mine as we turned into the High Street. There was still some traffic here, and pedestrians walking around. Some of the shops were opening, and the Greggs seemed to be doing a brisk trade. There was a stout pig faced woman cheerily selling sausage roles from behind the counter.
I smiled at Hetty reassuringly or at least I hoped it was a reassuring smile, I caught a glimpse of myself in a shop window and it looked more like a rictus.
A short Indian man with three stumpy wooden legs like a milking stool waved a Metro in my face and I took it, glanced at the front page looking for hope. For something that might reassure the both of us.
PM LEAVES BLIGHTY TO JOIN REMOTE AMAZON TRIBE! Screamed the headline.
Nothing useful there so I rolled the paper up and shoved it in the nearest bin; which shouted OI! Before spitting the paper back out and shaking it’s fist at me.
We picked up our speed and I was thankful once more for not living too far from the general hospital.
In Casualty it was quieter than I expected, a man was sat in one of the cheap orange plastic chairs clutching a shattered pottery arm, but apart from him and a mother and her small boy with a saucepan stuck on his head it was deserted of patients. Nurses and porters too for that matter.
We sat down to wait as far away from the others as possible, I retrieved a ludicrous tea break magazine for myself and a Ms magazine for Hetty.
‘Mum, I’m scared what’s happening to the world?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Do you think dad is still okay?’
‘Did you like the toast?’
‘Yes. Yes I did. He’s still there isn’t he?’
‘I know he’s still there. All we can do is wait.’
I ran a finger round the neck of my t-shirt, something was making my neck and back itch, and the chair seemed even more uncomfortable against my coccyx than normal.
After a few minutes that seemed to stretch out into hours a whirring noise came from the corridor leading to the examination bays, followed by silence, followed by cursing, and then the sound of cranking or winding, and then more whirring.
Hetty looked up at me, she seemed to have pulled herself together a little bit.
Two nurses or a doctor and nurse appeared around the corner. One was still a human woman in a blue uniform dress, the other also a woman was wearing a white coat stretched almost entirely out of shape over her brass and rubber body which was balanced precariously over a single wheel with a smart black rubber tyre. She had a big copper coloured key sticking out of the back of her doctor’s coat.
The human nurse went over to the moaning half pottery man first of all, while the mechanical doctor wheeled over to the woman and her son and I realised with a start that the boy didn’t have a saucepan stuck on his head at all.
Eventually the doctor wheeled her way over to us and braked jerkily. Having watched the process from afar I pressed her button nose and a ticker tape rattled from her mouth grill.
‘What seems to be the problem’, it said.
‘This is Hetty, my daughter. She’s covered in silver foil, and I think it’s become her skin.’
Hetty smiled shyly at the metal doctor-bot.
The doctor rocked back on her wheel and I could hear a clicking noise coming from inside, almost like her thoughts turning over. After about a minute the clicking stopped, and her plastic red eyes seemed to look at me expectantly. I pressed her nose again, and more ticker tape rattled out.
‘That’s not a problem. Look around you, is she in pain? Is she dying? No. Go away and don’t come back until you have a real problem.’
She rocked back on her wheel and turned away whirring back over to the boy with the saucepan head and his now crying mother.
I felt hot tears sting my eyes and shouted after her, my shout was more of a strangled yelp though; and I put my paw to my mouth in surprise. Hetty looked round at me, eyes wide.
I stared at the paw pads, with little claws poking out, and black fur on the back.
‘Mum, you’re turning into Gladys.’ Gladys had been our black cat who died when Hetty was about four.
‘Oh no. Hetty, I’m sorry.’
I felt a sense of helplessness, of inability to defend my daughter as my clothes seemed to grow around me, engulfing me briefly in darkness. A moment later daylight broke in as Hetty pulled me out of my useless clothes.
‘Come on mum, let’s go home and see dad.’
She was surprisingly matter of fact about, and for a moment I felt a sense of pride. A purr escaped from my mouth and I meowed agreement.
We got back to our street unmolested, I could tell I was getting a bit heavy for Hetty’s skinny arms and I jumped down to run on ahead, desperate to curl up on the kitchen worktop around Pete. Just to feel the three of us together.
I squeezed through the gate and ran up the path. Stopped and looked up, and then yowled. I heard a gasp of dismay from Hetty behind me. The house was still the same shape, still had the door, windows, guttering around the roof, even the broken doorbell hanging. It looked just the same as when we’d left except it was a solid block of green and grey marble.
(a little bit of silliness I wrote this morning, missing or extra hours always make me want to write)