Read from the beginning here.
Seven days. It’s been seven fucking days and they’re still not gone. I still see Nelly-Next-Door’s 0 bobbing past the garden fence. I still spot the postman before he’s even up the driveway, his 0 glowing through my curtains. I still wake to a 9 lighting the bedroom ceiling.
I watch the flecks of silver as they dance across the plaster like iridescent waves, imagining an ornate nightlight creating the patterns instead. Like the one I had when I was a kid, stars and planets circling the walls. They writhe and pulsate as Darcy rolls onto her side, letting out a snuffling sigh. She’s beautiful. Unblemished skin, delicate contours, a gentle upturn to her nose. I watch as her eyelashes tremble, deep lines forming between her brows. 9’s light morphs from gentle waves to a violent tsunami, thrashing from surface to surface.
5:55am. Slipping out from between the sheets, I pad across the bedroom, pausing only to pull my dressing gown around my shoulders. Downstairs, I take to the sofa, tucking my feet beneath my body and pulling the gown up under my chin. The rest of the sunrise calls to me – finally, a light that I don’t have to shy away from.
Two hours later and we’re leaving the house in silence. Darcy has to drive me to my check-up seeing as I’m not allowed behind the wheel until I’ve been given the all clear. I can’t imagine it will be a very enjoyable journey, having barely made eye contact whilst we picked at cornflakes and nursed instant coffees.
She slams the door and starts the car without a word, putting it in gear before I’ve even managed to park my behind. The second the passenger door closes, she’s off the driveway and down the road. I buckle myself in and try to ignore the 0’s as they whizz past the window. 0 after 0 after 0. A smattering of 1’s sprinkled in. Darcy drags the Mondeo round a corner and I’m practically thrown against the glass.
‘Jesus, Dee. Chill out.’ I rub my shoulder, still sore from the dislocating it suffered.
‘Don’t tell me to chill out.’
‘Don’t drive like a lunatic, then.’
Back to silence. Just the rev of the engine to keep my thoughts company. I consider confiding in the neurologist, or at least gently mentioning to a nurse that things have been different since the accident. But how do I spark a conversation that starts with ‘hey, I’m imaging numerical integers above everyone’s heads’, without being sent straight down to the psychiatric ward?
My thoughts are jarred when we’re swung across a roundabout, a series of horns and rude hand gestures following us over the exit.
‘Darcy, for fuck’s sake!’
She ignores me, the skin around her lips whitening as they tighten around her teeth. Instead, she leans on the accelerator further, the engine sputtering with resistance.
‘Shut up! Shut up,’ she spits. ‘I’m fucking sick of you. I’m sick of all of this.’ The blood draws away from her knuckles as she strangles the steering wheel. ‘Do you know how hard this has been for me?’
‘For you? What about me?’ I finally break. ‘It’s not exactly been easy for me! I can’t help the head I’m stuck in.’
‘And while you’ve been stuck in your head,’ – she lets go of the wheel to make quotations marks around the words with her fingers – ‘I’ve been on my own. Completely on my own, Will. She was my baby, too, and I had to deal with it completely on my own.’
Her words hang awkwardly between us, fizzling away into a stagnant silence. My hand aches at the memory of tiny fingers, a tiny fist balled around my pinkie, flushed and warm with life. Grey and still the next morning.
The engine thrums in time to the blood pulsing in my head. 0’s and 0’s and 0’s. Hurtling towards me and whirling away. An elderly lady, staggering on her Zimmer, her 0 shooting past like a star. Mother and child, matching 0’s. Commuting workmen waddling in colonies like penguins, a mass of 0 after 0 after 0. A young boy on a bike, his 0 leaving a trail of light behind him. A lollipop man shepherding tiny 0’s across the road, a shining 1 above his head. A familiar heat rises in my chest.
‘Slow down, Dee. Please.’
Her 9 is almost blinding, sending intermittent cracks of sparks across her shoulders, bouncing off the closed window. She sucks her lips in between her teeth as a single tear reaches her chin.
‘Pull over, we’ll talk about this. We need to talk about this.’
‘There’s nothing to talk about,’ she shouts. ‘Not anymore.’ She chokes back a sob as more tears cascade her cheeks. The speed dial approaches fifty.
‘I hate you.’ It’s almost inaudible, a wet whisper muffled by her blocked nose. She finally brings her face round to mine. ‘I hate you!’ comes her scream, and all of a sudden she lunges at me with manicured fingers extended towards my throat.
The car swerves onto the pavement.
The bonnet meets a brick wall and I’m slammed back by the airbags.
A scream is the only sound that pierces through the ringing in my ears.
A boy, no older than fifteen, his dark blazer glinting with blood. His bike is beside him, one wheel still spinning as if continuing its journey to school. His torso is crushed between the car and the wall, his legs tangled beneath him. The 0 above him flickers methodically, dim and struggling. Darcy grasps my arm and presses her free hand against her mouth as 0’s approach from all angles, some stern-faced and ready for action, others doubled over and retching. They jostle past us as we approach. ‘Call an ambulance!’ they’re shouting. ‘Call an ambulance.’
My heart is beating in my throat. My palms are cold with sweat. A woman is bent over the kid, pumping what’s left of his chest, breathing into his cheeks. The 0 above his head gently dissolves away, a cloud of smoke taken on a breeze. She takes his wrist. I could tell her it’s pointless. She sits back on her heels and weeps, long, drawn sobs.
Gasps and murmurs pass through the crowd of 0’s.
Darcy’s grip on me loosens. Her arms land heavily by her sides. She turns to me, her cheeks a chalky shade of white.
But all I can see is her 9. Her angry, glowing 9, right in front of my face. I watch its embers dull before it, too, dissolves into nothing. A roaring 10 takes its place.