She follows me everywhere I go. When it started, about a year ago, I only saw her occasionally, but now it is almost constant. Sitting in this pub, I can see her reflection in the glass covering the picture above the fire-place. There is nothing which corresponds to the object causing the reflection.
I call her ‘Featherhead’. She is a female mod or skinhead, with peroxide-bleached hair which is close-cropped around her crown, but grows in a long, floppy fringe around the front, back and sides. It falls over one eye, so much that I doubt that the eye can see very much. She wears a white polo shirt, a green Harrington jacket with a few button-badges on it, blue jeans, white towelling socks, cherry-red Dr Marten shoes, and braces which hang uselessly round her legs. She never speaks. In fact, I don’t recall her ever having opened her mouth. She mostly keeps her eyes downward. She never drinks. She never eats. She never reads. She never communicates with anybody. She is just there.
The only thing that changes about her is her proximity to me. I don’t know why this changes, but it does. The first time I knew for certain that she was there was while driving along the M1 from Leeds to London last December. It was one o’clock in the morning. There was a light drizzle, but visibility was fine. She was standing on the hard shoulder, unmoving, in the rain. I would pass her, but then I would see her again a couple of miles further on. This kept up all the way to the outskirts of London. I started to read the distance between sightings, to see if there was a pattern, but there was none. Since there was hardly any other traffic, I tried slowing down to 30 miles per hour as I drove past her, but it just meant that I could see her for a longer time. I tried to make myself pull over and stop the next time I saw her, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
When I got to London, I stayed in a cheap hotel and she stood on the fire escape all night, one floor down from my room. When I awoke from a very fitful sleep, she was just outside the room. She had the palms of her hands on the safety-glass window of the door, as if she was looking in, but I don’t know what she was doing. She still looked vacant and one eye was still obscured by her stupid, straw-coloured hair. The moment I turned my back, she moved. It was not until nearly lunchtime that she appeared again, standing outside a sandwich shop.
Her desire seems to be to make sure that I can see her. I leave the pub with the mirror above the fireplace and go into another one, with a more modern interior. The only shiny surfaces in here are polished wood, which doesn’t reflect very well. And so she will have to make an appearance in the body. I drink a pint. Nothing. I start another pint, and she is suddenly there, on the other side of the bar. She doesn’t sit. She doesn’t stand at the bar. She doesn’t play the fruit machine. It embarrasses me, the way that she just loiters aimlessly at an incongruous distance between the bar and the seating, neither coming nor going. Nobody else notices her, but I have no idea whether that makes it better or worse.
Featherhead has been following me for two years now, and I am going to try an experiment. I am doing this because I cannot think of anything else.
I have been to B&Q and bought some large sheets of plywood. I am building a box. The box is big enough for a bed and a chair, and tall enough for me to stand up in, but no bigger. It has a door with hinges and a padlock, both on the inside. When I lock myself in, there is no light, other than a torch (which is switched off), no glass, and no reflective surfaces. I need to find out how she is going to make me see her.
I am lying on the camp bed, picturing her face in my mind’s eye. It is no more vivid than any other image. I can think about a flower, or a galloping horse, or a fountain, and visualise them just as clearly as Featherhead. Time passes, marked by the pulse in my temples. I can’t see a clock and so I don’t know how long I am going without seeing her. I wish I knew how long it is. Two hours and forty-eight minutes is the longest I definitely remember being free of her while awake in the last two years.
I think I have been asleep. I don’t know how long for, but it feels like hours. The last time I saw her was on a traffic island on the way back from B&Q. I lie in the dark with my eyes open. I’m free. I can lie like this for as long as I want, and be alone. For the first time in years, I am alone. I think I may fall asleep again.
I can hear an electric drill.