Sophie Mackintosh was born in South Wales in 1988, and is currently based in London. She is the author of novels The Water Cure, Blue Ticket, and Cursed Bread, and her work has been published by the New York Times, Granta, the Stinging Fly and others. The Water Cure was long listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize. Her richly imaginative prose often follows the contours of fables and myths.
Hear an audio extract of ‘Theories of Care’ here
‘Theories of Care’
I spent a lot of time the summer I divorced sitting in what my family called the nervous breakdown chair, listening to what I personally called nervous breakdown music. Nervous breakdown music meant anything obnoxiously cheerful that I could picture soundtracking me in a montage where I was committing a crime spree. The details – murder, robbery – didn’t matter, so long as whatever it was would be rampageous and remorseless both. Nervous breakdown music meant the Beach Boys, basically, so I sat there staring into space listening to ‘Good Vibrations’ on my headphones on full volume, thinking: the vibrations are bad. The vibrations are very bad indeed. And the irony of this small thought gave me enough comfort to lift myself above my pain for a second, even two, at a time. I surveyed the vista of that pain with curiosity, as if it were the surface of another planet, before returning into my body with a sick thump.
Sometimes a ladybird would land on my softly-furred bare thigh, and I would watch it move slowly about. Sometimes I would allow a horsefly to suckle tenderly from my forearm. My aunt would scold me for this, applying repellant to me as if it were sun lotion, her hands more vigorous than they needed to be as she rubbed it into my skin.
They carry disease, she would say. Have you no sense of self-preservation?
I did not.
There she was, my aunt, suddenly at the other end of the garden, waving from a distance. The tears in my eyes were almost pleasurable. Did I want a drink? She gestured again, raising her hand to her lips and tipping back her throat. I nodded, but made no move to get up.
Two minutes later she appeared next to me as if by magic, tall glass bustling with ice. I popped the lever so that I went from reclining to sitting in one exuberant motion.
You need to shower today, she told me. You stink. She passed me the ice. I took a sip – gin and tonic, strong, as if prescribed.
And please, behave, she added.
Define behave, I said, finishing the drink in one. She slapped me in the face, paused, then did it again.
Pull yourself together, she said.
And like this, the hours in the nervous breakdown chair passed.
Continue reading ‘Theories of Care’ here.
Explore more of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists.
Follow Sophie Mackintosh on X.
Image © Alice Zoo