She'd wet the bed the night before last, and knew she would again some time. She'd tried clenching certain muscles to prevent it from happening, but somehow it still did. Not every night — because that would mean it was a problem with her body. It was irregular, and for no obvious reason, so therefore her pathetic head was to blame. Her stupid brain. Of course it embarrassed her. She'd love to have an explanation for it happening, or at least some excuse, but she didn’t.
Usually, after it happened, she'd wake up in the night and hear nothing but her family sleeping — as she lay, ashamed, humiliated, terrified, in a damp patch. She never knew what to do in this situation. Her instinct was always to cover her actions up, but this wasn't easy. Even if she did manage to strip her bed without waking her brother, who slept in the bunk above hers and was always ready to poke fun — as siblings of their age often are — she didn't know how the washing machine downstairs worked. She knew how to run the bed sheets under the hot tap in the bath and scrub them with a soapy flannel, then hang them over her curtain rail and hope they'd be dry by morning, but it was very likely someone would notice and probably shout or laugh if she tried that.
So she'd just lay there in bed. Lay there in her wet pyjamas, and wait for the wee to dry around her legs and back. It made her feel very cold and sent shivers down her spine, so she'd hold her duvet to her body tightly, even though that was wet too. Eventually, the wee would dry completely before she’d have to start getting ready for school. When it dried, it seemed like the whole bed-wetting thing had never happened. But of course it had, and it left traces — physical traces — behind. She would smell strange at school, and her mum or dad would find out what happened the next time one of them changed the bed and uncovered the faded yellow smear on her crumpled bed sheets. And whichever one of them found out first would tell the other, and then tell other parents when they hosted dinner parties or went to church. She didn’t like the thought of her parents telling anyone, but she literally prayed they’d never tell the parents of her friends.
It seemed a mystery to her — her wetting the bed all the time. She was a fit and healthy young girl who spent time with her friends, went through books at an impressive rate, and played a lot of sports — extremely well in some cases. She had a positive attitude, a competitive spirit, and largely succeeded in things she drove herself towards.
Her friends could’ve probably been more supportive. She’d never admit that they appeared closer with each another than with her. Or that she often felt lonelier in their company than she did in her own. Or that they’d isolate her with their language, sometimes even using the F or C words. They’d never actually attacked her or caused any bodily harm — apart from this one time, when some rusty goal frame came crashing down on her shoulders while she played football with some boys at school. Two of her friends had pushed them over from behind her — a joke that she took tragically well. And then this other time when they threw snowballs, with stones in them, right at her face, from point blank range, after she uncharacteristically yelled at them for ruining the snowman she’d made. She’d woken up extra early and walked to school while it was still dark to roll the snowman’s body around the playing field — the February cold biting her small, determined hands for two hours. It had taken her friends about fifteen minutes to kick it to death while she stayed behind and talked to her favourite teacher about books she liked — completely oblivious.
But her friends weren’t mean to her all the time. She’d spent two nights at this other girl’s house, where they played video games, watched TV and exchanged their thoughts and feelings on people and things. They’d even slept in the same bed, and she didn’t worry about wetting it for a second, because, in that time, she felt like a normal girl. Those two nights were the most accepted she’d felt in her entire life. But that was a long time ago — while the other girl’s best friend was away on a family holiday, it later transpired. The other girl rarely spoke to her after that.
For some peculiar reason, she tended to think about things in shapes. If the situation with her friends could be visualised, then she would be a dot outside a closed circle with spikes protecting it. She never felt that the ties she shared with them were permanent, and feared they could be terminated at any time — without notice. That thought absolutely terrified her. People have got to have friends, however you define them. And if they knew about her wetting the bed, they'd leave her, she was sure of that.
Her friends had problems of their own, of course. But they were body problems — nut allergies and stuff like that — and those problems were fine, because they were things that people generally understood there could be nothing done about, that weren’t that person’s fault. Unlike hers. Some of her friends also had more understated problems to do with their families — problems she noticed when she very occasionally went round their houses after school and saw doey-eyed fathers on oxygen machines while mothers drank dark liquids and anxiously read triple-folded letters. But again, those problems were fine, because that stuff was probably perfectly normal to them.
Wetting the bed was just embarrassing. There was nothing remotely okay about it. People who had problems like hers were disgusting — there was something wrong with them. She thought she’d have grown out of it by now. Her parents sure expected her to. She felt horrible for letting them down, on top of everything else — forcing them to change the bed sheets, with heavy sighs, each time it happened. How dare she deny them the right to have a normal child, that they could show off and be proud of? She only had herself to blame.
Over the previous few months, her parents had been going through a tough time that involved them shouting at one another a lot. She was aware of this, but didn't like to acknowledge it. She thought that somehow it wasn’t real — that they were just being dramatic when they argued, or pushed one another around the place, usually in the kitchen, which was small, or onto the bannisters – breaking one of them on one occasion. She could never tell who was pushing who. She was always out of the room. Her brother told her he saw mum pin dad down on the floor the night after they’d got back from Sunday lunch at grandma’s a few weeks back, but she didn’t believe him. It couldn’t be happening to her family — it only happened on TV.
So she lay in bed, listening to them, forgetting about the bed-wetting for a moment. Through the floor of her and her brother’s bedroom, her dad’s voice sounded more like a groan when he spoke. In this case, he was shouting. Her mum was wailing, loudly, and shouting back. There were loud footsteps and slamming doors when there wasn’t shouting. Why? She thought. Why to her? Burying her head between two pillows, she pulled her duvet right up to her chin and curled her toes. She wondered if she was the only girl still awake at this time of night. Was there someone else out there experiencing this? Or, of all the girls living in the world, could it be only her going through this exact experience right here, right now? And would things change when she went to the bigger school, or if her dad stopped getting angry? Her heart was racing as questioned herself.
The moon cast a spidered glow on the wall next to her head. Without even thinking about it, she reached out and touched it. It felt warm. Immediately, she sensed that she'd remember this moment in years to come, even if in that moment itself, she felt she was being just a touch dramatic. It wasn't a moment that should belong in real life, let alone to her, she thought, as she tried to imagine what her life might be like in the future. Friends who would never leave her. Boys who would find her attractive. Normal things she could do to make her family proud. Children of her own, who she wouldn’t attack for wetting the bed — she swore herself to that one.
She kept her hand there as she imagined all this. Closing her eyes tightly, she felt a chill run up her neck and into her cheeks. Then her eyes felt wet. Suddenly, she realised the moment was real and it was hers. Something had clicked in her head. It felt neither good nor bad, just different — a radically different way of viewing her life, which had started right there and then.
There was some pushing downstairs between her mum and dad. She thought she heard the sound of cutlery clattering. A pillow brushed against the wall above, making her jump. She felt her bottom bunk shake as her brother shuffled around on his mattress. She took her hand off the wall and remained perfectly still. A few moments passed. Then a few more.
"Are you scared?" her brother asked.
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