The room is silent, just the ticking of an old clock to keep him company. Can he really hear the clock? Of that, he is not sure it could just be the drugs. Pregabalin, Diazepam, and Sertraline are his company. The drugs help, but the side effects are awful. They do keep him somewhat sane, and for that, he is grateful. He is waiting for the door. He’s always waiting for the door. Coffee, drugs and the door. The story of his lonely existence.
The tock follows the tick. He had not really noticed it until now, but it was always there. The background noise of the clock filling the emptiness of his life. As night follows day, the tock follows the tick. He sits in an almost hypnotic state, counting every second as it passes. Mesmerised by the ticking and the tocking. Tock to tick and tick to tock. He jumps as the letterbox slams shut.
He can hear it creeping, slowly moving forward. The scratching of a second hand along the thin skin of the eardrum. A fingernail being sliced across the grey matter of his mind. It is slow at first, but it grows with confidence. He knows it will soon be faster. An urge to run fills him, but he knows he has to look. He can’t leave it forever, and turning and running is not the answer. It is more straightforward; oh god, it’s easier, but it’s a trap. If you run once, when do you stop running?
The door is behind the curtain. Like the wizard in Oz, he knows he has only to pull back the curtain to see the truth. He knows it’s there, but all he can hear is the scratching. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He is almost ready, once more, with the breathing exercises. Another breath, holding it for a moment and then out. He reaches for the curtain and pulls it open in one quick movement.
A giant spider grips both sides of the door frame. Eight feet of legs and eyes that look at him with an amused grin. He can feel his heart racing. He wouldn’t have believed it could have quickened, and yet it did. Tick Tock. Tick tick tock tock. Ticktockticktockticktock. Bile is rising as the spider moves closer. Splurging from the bottom of his stomach to the back of his mouth. The spider’s palps are right in front of his face. It touches him, and one lingers along his cheek. The physical scraping to go with the mental. He can feel the breath, the putrid stench of decay as the creature gasps. As it exhales, he can almost hear the word “scrounger.” When it inhales, it’s almost as if it is saying “workshy.” He feels the legs slowly creep around his body, the grip tightening as it pulls him closer. He stumbles; it is his only way out, to fall back away from the beast. He falls, banging his head on the staircase behind him. His head makes contact, and his eyes flick open. The spider has vanished to be replaced by just a brown envelope.
The spider was terrible. This is worse. He knows what it is before he can even pick it up. The spider is psychological torture, but it’s short; it is over quickly. The letter is worse. Fuelled by decades of “workshy scroungers,” it’s torture, the final cerebral weapon. Something designed to chip away at you a little at a time. It is not over in a short space of time. It drags on and on. When you think it’s over, the next one drops on the doorstep. A prolonged weapon to be used against the sick and disabled. He leans forward and grasps the letter in his hands. His heart is pounding so hard now. His hands shake violently at the thought of the contents. He rips the top open and peeks inside. He looks, and it is what he expected. Suddenly he feels a sharp pain.
A sudden tightness in his chest is followed by a cold sweat. Heartburn that feels so close to erupting from his throat. Dizziness follows, and breath shortens, a commodity he has always taken for granted, and now every gasp is so tricky. A ripping tears from the centre of his being, exploding in all directions. The ticking stops, as does the tocking. Darkness starts to engulf him, and he feels peace.
At last, he feels a calmness he has not experienced in years. When he is found two weeks later, the letter lies on his chest, held tightly in his hands. It is a work capability assessment. He’d had one six months prior.