Illustration by Christine Renney
Isabella courted catastrophe or, rather, she carried it with her, unknowingly dragging it behind her. Invisible and weightless, for almost fourteen years it didn’t hinder her and was benign. Only when it struck, when catastrophe bloomed, did she feels its weight, pulling at her. It almost lifted her from the ground. She was standing in the lounge of her grandmother’s flat, on the eighth floor of a sixteen storey block. Seven flats below and a further eight above.
‘What is happening?’ her grandmother asked.
Isabella, struggling to remain upright, didn’t reply. She managed to grab hold of the string, it was delicate, just a thread, but it didn’t give. She wrapped it around her right wrist and then tried to trace the line, to find out where it was attached and, as she knelt down to gather the excess at her feet, it cut into her skin.
‘Isabella, what is wrong?’, her grandmother sounded distraught.
‘It’s nothing, Gran, just a power cut, you know, like in the seventies. Remember you told me all about it?’
‘I don’t mean that’, her grandmother said sharply.
‘What’s happening over there. What are you doing?’
‘I just stumbled in the dark. Don’t worry, I’m okay.’
Isabella stood and, with her left hand, she fanned the air above her head but couldn’t reach whatever was trying to pull her up. She groaned.
‘Are you hurt? Are you in pain,’ her grandmother asked.
‘Then what is it, Isabella?’
‘I don’t know but it’s heavy.’
Her grandmother crossed to the window and pulled back the drapes. The block of flats opposite stood like a mighty obelisk and there were squares of light dotted here, there and everywhere.
‘It isn’t a power cut’, her grandmother said softly, ‘at least not like in the seventies.’ She could see her granddaughter a little more clearly now and she resembled a pen and ink drawing. A skinny girl buffeted in a gale.
‘I have to step outside’, she said to Isabella, ‘just for a moment. I won’t be long.’
Carefully she manoeuvred herself around the dark shapes that were her furniture. Grappling and groping, she made it into the hall, but before reaching the door at the end, she could see through the glass a dim light from the flat opposite. Nevertheless, stepping outside, she hit the switch on the wall and the landing and stairs below burst into sight.
She placed her hand at the centre of Isabella’s back, gently pushed and they began to move forward, the excess line dragging on the carpet behind them.
At Isabella’s wrist it was taught and she tried with her free hand to grab and pull at it, but it slipped through her fingers and cut into her palm. She held out her hand.
‘Look, Gran, can you see it?’
‘No, not in this light.’
‘But you believe me?’
‘Of course I believe you.’
At last they reached the sofa and as she sat, Isabella managed, with considerable effort, to lodge the line beneath the wooden arm and both she and the sofa began to rise.
‘Now can you see it?’
‘Yes, I can see it,’ her grandmother sighed. ‘I’ll fetch the scissors,’ she said resignedly, ‘or a knife and we’ll cut it. I’ll set you free.’
‘Oh no, we can’t do that,’ Isabella wailed, ‘if we do, it’ll go up through the ceiling and through all of the flats or it might go down, it might fall through all the flats below, either way it’ll be a catastrophe. Anyway, it’s too late, whatever it is it has hold of me.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I don’t know exactly but I know we mustn’t cut it and I can’t be free of it, not now.’
As Isabella spoke something began pulling at the excess line, taking up the slack. She reached down and, grasping hold of it with her right hand, she struggled to wrap it around her left wrist.
Her grandmother began to sob as, suddenly, everything seemingly returned to normal. The lights came back on and the television began again to glare and blare.