They hadn’t been renting the apartment very long, but she’d got used to it very quickly and found herself little nooks and crannies in which to sit. Her favourite was at the end of the hallway, she could sit in a small alcove next to the window, which she liked to leave wide open and feel the summer breeze on her face, chain smoke cigarettes and feverishly write or even draw in her diaries.
At first this had been relaxing, she’d relished this little life that she’d carved out for herself, a life she’d once believed unreachable, but lately she worried. Things were happening in the world around her, and the future she’d envisaged for herself was slowly being ripped away from her.
Irene Adler often found herself worrying. Worrying was all she’d learnt to do, from the day she’d come into the world – different to how it is now, or then, or whatever. Semantics.
Born into this world with eyes as white as snow – eyes that bore neither irises nor pupils – she’d immediately been a worry upon her parents and, as she’d grown, it had become quickly apparent that she didn’t just lack these things – but that she was blind. Blind as a goddamn bat.
Irene had grown up in hellish circumstances, the kind she was loathed to talk about and, in fact, simply didn’t, her lips were resolutely sealed shut – not even with the woman she loved so dearly would those truths about herself come out.
Irene was blind but, as she discovered not long after her ninth birthday, sometimes, when she closed her eyes, she could see.
What she saw was not what one would consider seeing in the literal sense. The things that she saw were not in front of her but more abstract – places that didn’t exist, people she wasn’t sure existed and this wasn’t an exact science.
It often came quite without warning and while, sometimes it left her feeling calm and hopeful, it more often than not left her with an overwhelming sense of doom and dread. Such was the state of the world. As a child, newly formed, in dire straits and surrounded by terror, she had always been filled with terror after one of these instances but since things had changed, since she’d left that place where she grew up, things had been a little more hopeful.
Recently though, whenever she closed her eyes, everything went to shit.
She hadn’t meant to close her eyes but the smoke from her cigarette had made it necessary and when she opened them up again and was faced with what was decidedly not nothing. It was a familiar place, she’d found that the kinds of locations she often found herself in during these times changed as she herself had grown and changed. This was not the same place she’d found herself in at nine years old when she’d first seen, but nor was it a different place, and the clientele was the same yet also different, much like Irene herself.
She was sitting in a smokey coffee shop, very much not what she imagined things looking like in the present, her present at least because the line between the future, present and past had always been murky at best with Irene. It was just the way of things.
The coffee shop was full, she saw that there was an untouched mug of steaming black coffee in front of her and, tucked in between her fingers was a lit cigarette. She glanced around at the familiar clientele – all of whom were identical women with shocks of dirty blonde hair, some of them with long flowering locks, others with short bobs and even more still with it shaved almost to the skin.
They were all dressed differently – some in dresses, some in trousers and shirts, others in short skirts.
Now, Irene had been blind from birth so she’d never looked in a mirror, seen a reflection so, by rights, she had absolutely no idea what she actually looked like. Despite this though, she knew and she’d always known, quite instinctively, that these women, the clientele of this space, this space where she could see, was her. At least, reflections of her.
The room went quiet, as it always did, and the lights started to dim because the show was starting. At the front of this coffee shop was a stage, only a small wooden contraption, quite rudimentary really, with a microphone stand and one spotlight above, illuminating whomever was performing.
Today it was an Irene with curly, shoulder-length hair and a bright red scarf holding back her bangs. She was pale, paler than most of the others and she smiled as the voices in the room went quiet. This was funny because none of the other Irenes, those in the audience, appeared to have even been speaking.
She was holding a big wooden carriage clock, it was clutched in her left hand so tightly that her knuckles had turned white, and with the other hand she reached out to pull the mic from its stand and the room went dark.
All Irene could see was herself on the stage, illuminated in a soft orange glow.
“Things are going to himself. He’s going to be angry, angry at the wrong one, anyway. After the wrong one.”
Her voice was slow and melodic and Irene tutted softly to herself, so it was going to be one of those performances.
“I love the wrong one, anyway.”
The woman performing, the other Irene, licked her lips, looked sadly at the ground, groaned in anguish.
“After the world is angry angry and she’s going to panic,” She raised the hand clutching the carriage clock high above her head,
“Terror!” Her voice got higher, both in pitch and volume.
“Pandemonium!” She screamed this and spit flew out of her mouth and the carriage clock rocked on its hinges. Then, her voice went soft again and she looked around the audience dramatically; “…and more certain.”
“The boy called Carter is a mutant.”
Irene pricked up her ears at that point, she knew a boy called Carter and he was a mutant. These kind of performances were abstract and one could glean very little from them, sometimes they were not what they seemed.
“Mutants are getting more and more and more and more certain.”
At this point, the Irene on the stage threw the carriage clock violently at the floor where it smashed, falling to pieces, the cogs, the springs flying in all directions until all that was left to even be able to tell it was once a clock was the white clock face, with a large crack down the middle.
“Kill thousands, tens of people and she’s going to leave. She doesn’t believe it now but things are worse. Much worse!” She screamed these words, a full blown bellow of anguish and they appeared to reverberate around the room, bouncing off the walls.
“Raven is going to panic, terror, pandemonium! and she’s going to get bad.” The Irene on the stage took a deep breath, seemed to relax her shoulders and paused here. She lit a cigarette and pulled up a bar stool from next to the stage, sitting down on it before looking conspiratorially at the audience, the audience of herselves. “Real bad, man.” She crooned out. She sounded tired, sad.
“Raven left. Raven, the genocide, that’s going to come for good reason.”
Suddenly the drum of bongos sounded out from somewhere in front of her, somewhere off stage, and Irene turned her head to spy another Irene, this one with short hair slicked back tightly to her head wearing a black and white striped shirt and a beret sitting solemnly behind a set, tapping them gently at the natural pauses.
“Max was too radicalised, and Charles was too chaotic, too naive.”
Whenever she heard the name Max, Irene would worry.
“Raven, the woman who loves me.” There went the bongo drums again, “…going to get bad. Real bad, man.”
“Raven,” She paused for more bongo drums and smoked her roll-up cigarette, “It’s the wrong one.”
“I think it’s the world,” She looked out at the crowd, she looked out specifically at Irene, Irene with her cigarette and her untouched mug of black coffee and she looked her directly in the eye, as much as one could do without pupils or irises, “Angry angry and Charles was too chaotic, too chaotic, too chaotic, too chaotic, too optimistic, too naive.” She moaned out the last few words as if she were about to cry.
Then she did cry.
“Raven the woman who loves me, is going to choose the world.” She let out a loud sob, but started to scream again, “He’s angry, angry at himself!”
More bongo drums, all of the other Irenes sat in the audience were watching this solemnly, sadly, resolutely, as if resigned to their fates. Some even nodded.
“He’s done things, pretty bad things, he can’t even admit some of them.”
More bongo drums, and then;
“Real bad, man.” She placed the microphone back in the stand sadly and sat back in her seat, tears streaming down her face.
“Raven, the genocide, he’s going to come for her. Raven, the woman I love, the woman …”
“Hey, you okay?”
The answer was much more complicated than that but, then, wasn’t it always?
In the living room down the hall, she could hear the television was on, it was the News, she could hear the voice of their President on the screen, an asshole if ever there was one.
“This mutant problem is very real. These things are in our schools and we must have records of who they are and what they can do.”
She’d heard this particular soundbite many times over the last few days, seen it in her head many times before as well.
“I’m sorry.” She forced a smile onto her face and finished rolling the joint she’d started over ten minutes ago. She felt around on the windowsill she was on for her lighter, feeling it cold, cold and plastic and she thumbed the metal end, feeling for the circular wheel that would give her fire. “I just got a bit distracted.”
“That’s bullshit, Irene. You’ve been like this for weeks, all shaky and anxious. You jump every time I walk into a room.” The voice was soft though, caring not angry and there was an array of footsteps.
Irene smiled, despite herself and lit up the joint, the feel of flame briefly warming her face, but just for a few moments and as she inhaled the joint she felt a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“There’s something you’re not telling me.”
Irene bit her lip but didn’t reply for a minute, choosing her words, she had to be careful here, she always had to be careful. In the living room, she could hear the television;
“PROTECTIVE LEGISLATION NOT NAZI REGISTRATION!”
“Things are going to get worse, Raven.” Irene brought up a hand to adjust her sunglasses – she always wore them, even indoors, even at night but for once she pulled them off and turned to look up at the woman standing behind her, not that she could see her.
Irene was blind to the world around her in the present, but what she could see was so much vaster. But right now, it was a jumble, things were getting complicated, changing by the day, by the minute almost and she was in disarray.
Raven laughed and Irene felt the hand on her shoulder tighten comfortingly, “Things are always getting worse, Irene.”
“He’ll come for you soon.”
“And I’ll tell him where to go.” Raven’s voice was hard, certain and the hand on her shoulder was so steadfast that for a moment Irene almost believed her.
“I hope so…” She said in a small voice and took another drag of the joint in between her fingers.
“Irene, why is it that you always have to smoke on the nights that I cook dinner, huh?” Her voice was teasing and her fingers dug into Irene’s shoulder, massaging it gently.
Irene lived for moments like this and she leant back into the soft touch of her partner, Raven had always been good with her hands, she closed her eyes lazily and, when she opened them again, she was back.
Another Irene was on the stage, this one wore a face of solid certainty, she peered out at the audience as if she were some kind of army general. There was a small smattering of applause from the other Irenes which she waved away with disinterest before barking out her own piece;
“Raven’s going to burn the dinner again.”
Short, succinct. Understandable.
She opened her eyes again and let out a small chuckle, despite herself. “Because you always burn it.”
“Rude.” Raven laughed and Irene felt the familiar sensation of a soft kiss on her cheek, but it was at that precise moment the familiar smell of burning drifted out of the kitchen down the hall.
“Oh shit.” Raven muttered and straightened up, Irene could feel the body behind her and stiffen before suddenly the hand on her shoulder was gone and she heard the sound of running footsteps. “Oh shit shit shit shit.”
She sat alone on the window sill, felt the cool night air on her face and finished the joint, staring into nothing, images flying through her head. Images not of the present, but of the future, the incredibly uncertain future, and most of these images were getting worse by the minute…