Transcribed from original typed manuscript, with pencilled notes and corrections, as below. Publication details, if any, unknown.
Eileen just managed to press down the back door latch, though with difficulty. Her thumb joint was very stiff and swollen these days, but she could have managed it perfectly well if it hadn’t been for this aching in her arm, and the numbness that was beginning to settle into her hand.
She held on to the door-jamb, and stared at the chair. She willed it to come to her. The chair stared back, unmoving but not unkind. It said she could reach it or not, as she pleased, but if she reached it, it promised to cradle her.
She moved. She pushed one foot forward, as one moves a flat iron. Then she leaned on it, and wondering absently what the procedure was for taking your hand away from a door-jamb, almost slipped into unconsciousness. Her chin jerked on to her chest, her knees buckled. She snatched at the latch above her as she fell, and pulled herself upright.
Forward again, flat-iron-pushing, nothing to hold on to. She reached the chair, sat in it, was cradled.
Behind the black iron screen, the fire, still heaped up, blazed at her, scorching her cheek. A beam of sunlight shone between the geraniums on to her wrist, bare between the thick coat and the woollen gloves.
She stirred. It was darker in the room. The fire was a carpet of white ash. How could that be?
She wriggled and scraped herself off the chair, thumping to a sitting position on the mat. She thought vaguely of wrapping the mat round her, and made a weak attempt to pull it up from the carpeting, but the chair stood firmly on it.
She turned on her side, then on her front. She slowly maneuvered her legs behind her. She began to crawl on her stomach towards where she knew the other door must be, and the stairs that were beyond it, and warmth.
She was very slow. Several times she lay motionless with her head on her arm like a baby asleep. Then she would suddenly rouse, and begin to scrabble with her fingers on the rough cord carpeting, crawling again. The crooked index fingers on both her hands poked through the fraying gloves. Her glasses slipped off her nose, and she pulled herself over them.
It was a long way across the living-room floor of the little cottage. By now the room was quite dark. The sun had passed both windows, and was very low in the sky.
Sometimes she rested on her knees and elbows, with her head hanging down, looking backwards, her hair trailed on the floor. Then scarcely raising herself, she would crawl a little further, her forehead resting on the back of each hand in turn. At last, resting like this, she became aware that she was supported. The back of her head was against something hard and bare. The door.
It felt comfortable. A good place to stop, to say “No more”. She stayed there.
When she recovered consciousness, she could feel an icy draught along the back of her wrists. She lay there for a long time, vaguely wondering, while the draught blew gently in and out of her mind. After a time, while she was still conscious, she realised the coldness came from beneath the door. It was pushed to, but the latch kept it from closing.
She rested again.
It was terrible to do it, but she began to shuffle backwards, to go back over the ground she had so laboriously conquered inch by inch. She rested again, her head hanging down between her elbows, as she tried to grasp what to do.
Her left middle fingers dug into the carpet, inching her hand slowly across the floor to the bottom corner of the door. One finger stretched out, hooked itself round the door, and pulled it towards her. Gradually she shuffled back, until the door could swing across her in an arc. The cold air from the front door hit the back of her neck as her head still rested on the floor, as it had done all through this maneuvre, and the fingers of her right hand continued to swing the door. She rested.
Then she moved forward again, on knees and elbows, to the place where the door had blocked the way. The door was there. It was there again. It had swung back.
The loose latch rattled with the wind, while she rested for a long time. Sometimes she was conscious, sometimes not conscious.
At last she scrabbled forward again with her fingers. She hooked the corner of the door again and tried once more, holding on to the bottom of the door as she hitched herself back, till it was able to swing in an arc across her face. This time she lay flat, and followed it back with her right arm.
At last, keeping her right hand there, she inched forward, over the thick beam, that served to keep out the draught when the door was closed, and that shot agonising pain into her knees as she dragged herself over it so that she caught her breath in a sudden sob. She was through to the stairs.
Fortunately, she had managed to get slowly, to the sharp bend in the stairs before she lost consciousness again. Her thick coat piled itself around her, and wedged her in. The things she had placed that morning in little piles on the steps, to be taken up when she went upstairs, gradually slipped, fell, cluttered to the bottom. Letters. Spectacle-case. A book. A small heap of ironing.
Her knees were painful, for her weight was on them as her toes scrambled to keep on the step. Her shins were bruised, on the bone or the swollen veins. She pressed her whole body against the stairway, resting there.
She was grateful to the steps. She rested her chin on them, her elbows, her knees. She was content to lie there, drifting, dreaming. Her winter boots saved her from slipping down whenever she lost consciousness. Their largeness and clumsiness wedged her into the narrow angled staircase. And the soles, cut into a pattern to prevent slipping on the snow, engaged with the roughness and the corrugation of the cord carpeting, and helped to hold her fast.
Now she lay, almost upright, against the steep cottage stairs, her chin over a step, her face, turned on one side, against the rough hairy surface. A memory came back, a baby’s memory of a father’s shoulder, then slipped away again.
She pressed on her toes, and, stretching her legs, folded her whole body over the top, like a half-open penknife, only her legs remained on the stairs. She lay there, comfortable and peaceful, her head on her arms. As she rested, she became aware of a strange smell. At first she thought with despair that she had wet herself. Everything that she was wearing, all the layers of indoor and outdoor clothing, was sodden. Gradually she realised, with relief but surprise, that it was sweat. It ran down her forehead and into her eyes as she fought to open them, and she closed them again, against the smart.
When she pressed herself to move again, she drove her head at once into something made of iron. Her hair was very thin, and the sweat had clogged it into tendrils that plastered themselves against the pink scalp here and there, like daisies on a lawn. A little trickle of blood ran across her scalp. She tried to remember what happened at the top of the stairs, tried to bring back a picture of her house, hut her thoughts kept drifting in and out like a cobweb floating in a draught.
She remembered. There was a radiator across the wall that faced the top of the stairs. She pushed with her right shoulder, and twisted herself to the left. She had moved too far. The side of her cheek met crumbling brick – the old fireplace. Her face was grazed, but not badly, for she moved very slowly. She righted herself and crept forward again.
She moved too slowly to fall down the two steps. Instead she felt she had come to the edge of a precipice. She weaved about with her head into space like a caterpillar on the end of a twig. Then she let her whole body slither straight down. She made no effort to use her legs. Her wet coat, her clumsy boots, combined in a friendly way with the rough carpeting, so that she slithered slowly. At the bottom she bent her knees again, and crept forward.
At last she felt her head against a door, a thin light door. It was not fastened. She crept on over the carpeting, pushing with her head, and it opened for her. She was in her bedroom.