I would talk really fast on the out breath, and everyone would stare at me, waiting for me to finish the sentence, which I was unable to do until I managed to breathe in.
As I got older, I learned how to say stuff in a precise manner, but when I was younger, it multiplied my embarrassment.
One of the upsides of my affliction was that I rarely needed to be banged on the back because I had ‘breathed something in’.
You know the scenario; you are eating a biscuit, and someone says something that requires an answer. You breathe in quickly and down goes a chunk of biscuit followed by you coughing and sputtering followed by some large bloke pounding you on the back or worst still, trying the Heimlich manoeuvre on you resulting in three cracked ribs and flying biscuit crumbs.
Doesn’t happen to me.
When I breathe in small children, stop and stare.
The convenience store is open [I’m pretty sure that they stay open unless someone dies, and even then it’s only a ‘half day’] and I don’t recognise the person behind the counter, and more importantly, they don’t recognise me. I grab a newspaper and a pint of milk. I might be technically on the run, but I’m not missing out on milk in my cup of tea; a person must maintain standards.
The newspaper doesn’t have anything in it about me, and I’m not sure why it should, but it is reassuring all the same.
The date on the newspaper tells me that I have travelled forward in time by one hundred and fifty-eight days.
People are still driving cars and talking on mobile phones, and there are no longer any unmarked police cars parked outside my house.
Amazingly my letterbox is empty; someone has been collecting my mail.
When I get back home from the convenience store, I see Mrs Wilson waiting for me.
It’s too late to hide so I keep on walking, and I say ‘hello’ as though there is nothing unusual about this day.
“I’ve been collecting your mail for you. The man on the TV said that burglars notice if the mail piles up, so I have been taking it to my house each day. Not Saturdays and Sundays, of course, they don’t deliver on the weekends. They used to on a Saturday when I was a little girl.”
Mrs Wilson is pleasantly nuts.
She’s been pleasantly nuts for as long as I’ve lived on this quiet little street.
The other neighbours talk about her behind her back, but I’ve always liked her, and she has always been friendly to me.
She babbles on for several more minutes without mentioning the police raid or my boarded up front door. She doesn’t ask me what happened, and she doesn’t want to know where I’ve been, she’s just happy to see me.
She reminds me of a large faithful dog. They don’t care where you have been, what you have been doing, or why you have been away for so long — you are home now, and that’s all that matters.
As I mentioned, Mrs Wilson is more than a little bit crazy, and I wonder how she has escaped the attention of the authorities and her greedy family.
Her house must be worth a small fortune, but somehow they have not been able to sell it out from under her.
I asked her about it once, and she gave me the best answer.
“I know where they live, and everyone’s scared of people like me. They never know what we might do,” she said with a cheeky grin.
I listen patiently as Mrs Wilson continues her monologue but it occurs to me that I’m somewhat exposed standing on the street, in daylight, in front of what remains of my front door.
“Would you like to come to my house for a cup of tea Mrs Wilson?” I say, remembering that it has been six months since I’ve had a cup of tea.
The thought of that much time makes me wonder how I managed to go that long without a cup of tea; then I remember it has been only a few minutes for me.
I feel a little silly and hope that the next time I’m drunk I don’t mention it to any of my scientist friends — I’d never hear the end of it.
“That’s all right dear; I’m fine for the moment. Besides, you don’t have any gas or electricity.”
Mrs Wilson is sharper than people think she is.
“That nice young man was here a few days ago. He was carrying a large black bag when he left your house. I asked him about it, but he said that it was okay, and I was not to worry. He did ask me to say hello to you when I saw you and to tell you —— now what was it? I know I can remember it, just give me a moment ——- that’s right he said to tell you, ‘thank you, and remember Custer’s last stand’. He said you would understand.”
I must have looked a bit confused because Mrs Wilson asked me if I was feeling all right.
I smiled and told her that I was okay, but in my head, I was working out how I was going to get to Blairgowrie.
‘Custer’s last stand,’ was what we called Michael’s grandfather’s holiday house.
Now I know where he is, and I’m going to beat him with a very large stick when I catch up to him.