Number 20

59XfSuIt’s Christmas, and all of Lucy’s neighbours have gone elsewhere for the holidays. Anyone else might feel lonely in a deserted neighbourhood at such a family-centric time of year, but Lucy feels empowered. She has temporarily inherited an entire street of houses.

The white picket fences and sculpted gardens have been decorated with fairy lights, not for the pleasure of the families, but for the pleasure of onlookers in their absence. Lucy has got into the habit of taking a daily stroll, just as dusk envelopes the houses, and the streetlights flicker on. It’s the perfect time to see the fairy lights and if she walks along the sidewalk with the right momentum, the lights illuminate as she passes, like magic.

Lucy counts the houses as they light up, 12, 14, 16, 18, but there’s a pause and then number 22 lights up. She stops and looks back. Number 20 has missed its cue. The show goes on further down the street, 24, 26, 28, oblivious to the mistake in their chorus.

She looks up at the big empty house. Number 20 looks sad and lonely, wrapped in darkness, and Lucy feels responsible. As the temporary protector of the street, she tells herself it is her duty to know why Number 20 isn’t behaving itself. She decides that she is well within her rights, as a good neighbour, to take a closer look.

She finds a spare key under the doormat, curses the stupidity of her neighbours, before letting herself in. The lights aren’t working inside either, so she begins her search for the fuse box. Her common sense leads her to the basement, and, as she descends the steps, the reason for the power cut makes itself known. Lucy is standing at the edge of a flood.

The door above her slams shut and her knees lock. Suddenly she’s five years old again, wearing a pink swimsuit and a yellow rubber ring around her middle. She had spent the morning splashing around in the hotel swimming pool, but time had passed too quickly and it was lunchtime. Her mum climbed the steps and reluctantly, Lucy followed, but at the top she couldn’t resist the temptation to jump in, one last time. Her clumsy leap into the air caused her to flip over. She landed in the pool upside down, the rubber ring preventing her from righting herself. Head under water, legs kicking the cold air, Lucy panicked and swallowed a lot of water. Her Dad pulled her out by her ankles but, faced with more than a sink full of water, Lucy feels that same sense of terror, a lump rises in her throat, and she finds it difficult to breathe.

Lucy can’t move, or speak. She stays where she is, trapped inside her panic attack, unable to focus on anything else. She imagines the water level rising above her head, and the heavy sensation she felt as a child pushing down on her chest. Her struggle to breathe intensifies.

‘What if the door’s jammed?’ she thinks. ‘What if I’m trapped here? No one knows where I am, no one knows…’ Her panic allows her to feel alone for the first time, wallowing in emotion, paralysed by self-pity. ‘And what if I drown here? What if my body lies here for weeks, disintegrating in the water, unidentifiable?’

Alone in the dark, paralysed by her fear of drowning, Lucy is helpless to deal with the situation. No one knows where she is, no one knows she is in trouble, no one will look for her until it’s too late. The water level continues to rise, slowly enough for Lucy to escape, but nevertheless it rises. Lucy cannot bring herself to move.

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