“I am going to make your life the most normal thing I can until this pile of crap you call a brain decides it’s had enough.”
“My dearest Pemma, you sure do have a way with words.” I chirp, winking at her as I do so.
“Therefore, I am staying here as your carer, nanny, whatever. Most definitely not because I enjoy spending time in your company or the fact that I refuse to return home until my waste of space of a father decides to leave.”
I know she’s teasing me, but it feels good to know that she’s not going anywhere anytime soon. I’ve been so difficult towards her in the past and I certainly don’t deserve all of this. A mundane life with Pemma is the best thing I could ask for, so I quickly change the dire subject.
“So, do you want anything special for the weekly shop?” I ask, to quickly change the subject.
“You sound like an old man. Who plans weekly shops anymore? ‘Want anything from the old weekly shop dear’? She croaks, in an elderly voice.
I retort with an equally hoarse tone, “’Don’t be stupid, we must stockpile for all of winter!’, before returning to a normal voice, “Seriously though, do you want anything?”
“Yeah, but I’ll pay for it.”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“You’re being stupid, stupid. Let me pay.”
So here I am, facing a wall of frozen goodies with a trolley-full of fresh, fairtrade produce (at Pemma’s command.) She reaches for the highest shelf in the dairy section, right on her tiptoes. I can’t help but give out an inhuman snort. Instantly, she whips around with eyes like daggers.
“Don’t laugh, you idiot.” Her small hands hold a large trifle, like those family portion ones. I grin. “Is that for us?”
Pemma looks like I’ve personally offended her ancestors or something. “Are you mad? Of course not, this is just for me.”
“All of it? Well colour me impressed.”
“Nobody says that.”
“I do.” And I snatch the trifle from her, laughing maniacally as I do so. With a full trolley of food and the trifle, I struggle to keep ahead of a raging Pemma until I reach the till. When we emerge from the shop, I hand her the trifle and she lightly punches me in the arm.
“I could’ve paid for that, you idiot. But thank you.”
I tried snatching a piece of Pemma’s trifle at dinner, to find, not to my surprise, that my sense of taste has gone as well as my smell. Two down, three to go. I almost lost an arm trying to infiltrate the highly guarded dessert that was the trifle, and I didn’t even get to taste the reward, which is pretty lame.
This is exactly the way the doctors predicted it- first my taste, then smell. Then, my touch. Potentially the most dangerous as it means I won’t be able to feel heat, cold or sharp objects, I just can’t wait for that one.
My fingers subconsciously trace over the infinitely delicate dots sprinkled over her cheeks and nose, memorising how they feel in my head- this won’t last forever.
She wrinkles her nose and squints at me. “Quit stroking my nose.”
“I know, ‘don’t touch the masterpieces’ et cetera, but I can’t help it. Your freckles are like brown constellations.”
“I can’t tell if ‘brown constellations’ is a compliment or not. When did you decide to become such a terrible poet?”
I can’t help but laugh. “About eight years ago.”
Her eyes are heavily lidded, her face flushed- she must be exhausted. “Man, that’s a long time.”
I lay awake at night, worried for Pemma and the others after I’m gone. When I open my eyes, it’s almost like the blackness is sucking them out of their sockets, straining to see even the slightest object or light. This is all I’ll be able to see soon. It’s almost painful to look into the abyss- people say that you can hallucinate from looking at nothingness for too long, but I think you’ll just get bored. Otherwise, wouldn’t blind people be hallucinating all the time? My late night questions fill my head with unanswerable statements, so much so that I barely notice the howling wind, or the branches hammering against the French doors beyond the heavy curtains in my room. So much so that I barely realise I drift into a dreamless sleep.
I’m awoken by the soft padding of feet across the linoleum towards me. Pemma’s the only other person in the house- what could she possibly want from me at this hour? I reach to turn on the lamp beside me. She’s positively dishevelled- she must’ve only just woken up. Her pyjama shorts are hooked up higher on one side, exposing her mid-thigh, and her fluffy socks are pulled up to her shins. Her hair is a bird’s nest, her black pupils wide and dilated from the darkness surrounding her. I wait for her to explain to me why she’s here, but she slides back my sheets and forces me to scoot over to the other side of the bed. There’s a constant patter of rain against the tall glass door, accompanied with violent gusts of wind that have worsened since earlier. Only when I hear a thunder clap, like pans being smashed together, and Pemma flinch, do I realise why she’s here.
I can’t help but smirk. I thought Pemma, the robot, the Terminator, was impervious to everything- spiders, heights, the dark. But thunderstorms, a perfectly natural and harmless aspect of her life, are her weakness.
“Usually when the storms hit I go to sleep with my sister, but she’s not here, so you’ll have to do.” Her voice sounds pitiful in comparison to the powerful forces of nature outside, but it’s evident in her voice that she’s annoyed that I’m the only option available.
I don’t mind settling as a substitute. She soundlessly curls herself into my covers and pillow- I can tell by her deep breathing that she’s taking my scent in, which makes me blush. I reach to turn the lamp off and as I do, a clap of thunder rocks the apartment, causing Pemma to practically leap across the bed and latch onto the back of my shirt. Her breaths are fast and ragged, her muscles tense. I’ve never felt her so afraid before.
I try to soothe her. Albeit awkwardly. I’ve never had to do this for anyone before, never mind someone who broke my nose when I went in for a hug once. “Hey, it’s okay.” I turn to face her, her eyes wide with fear. “What did you and your sister do to tide the storm over?”
“She just hugged me and sang to block out the noise.” She mumbled, audibly embarrassed. My heart aches for a smaller Pemma, one terrified by thunderstorms, cuddling up to a younger sibling for safety because a father wasn’t around and obviously she didn’t feel comfortable around her mother. This isn’t a Pemma I’ve seen before, she’s small and vulnerable.
I snake one hand over her side so that my arm sits perfectly in the valley between her ribcage and hip, and the other one awkwardly strokes her messy auburn hair. She closes her eyes for a while, her muscles relaxing, until a cacophony of crashes interrupts her sleep again. She curls even tighter against me, her knees and forehead both against my chest, but I stand my ground. What else was I supposed to do? Oh yeah, sing.
“I warn you, I’m not the greatest singer. Any requests?”
Her voice comes back as a shrill whisper. “Just make it go.”
I tunelessly sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’, bringing back memories of school trips in a time before I met Pemma, a time where I was comfortable just surrounding myself with superficial people as long as it kept me satisfied on the surface. She doesn’t flinch when I try to hit higher notes, and doesn’t scoff when I have to repeat the same verse over and over because I don’t know the rest, as I feel her smiling against my chest. After about three rounds of the same verse, I realise she’s asleep, drooling on my arm and the pillow beneath it.