A Short Story by GEOFF BRENNAN 1
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This is the second story from “The Poxy Ward” series. The other can be accessed at www.citypsych.com
Goodbye Donkey. They will come for me now. When they have finished their talk in the little goldfish-bowl room they will come to me, are coming for me, are coming at me. There are four of them talking, three men and a woman I wonder who they are. I don’t care. The sun is shining and I can see yellow daffodils outside the window. They wave to me with their yellow heads. The man beside me smells of stale tobacco and has not stopped smiling at me. He is saying something. “Cigarette.” He wants a cigarette. He is an ugly man with funny teeth, but then all men are ugly, not sleek like seals in water, not smooth like children, not soft like towels. His bristles, those hard, stiff bristles, rise through his skin like quills, to rub raw and scratch and impale cheeks. When my father was alive and I was a little girl he would lift me up and rub his face on mine and I would squeal and cry and laugh and hug him as his skin rasped on my skin. The man moves away as they draw near. He is scared of them. He is scared of what they will do. I have to be careful. They are so close I must stop writing as they will not go away. They stand over me now and will not go away. 3
If fear is a gift mine has been given to someone who needs it. I am no longer scared. They have gone now and left us alone. I want to continue my chat with you; to continue my chat, my chant, my rant. The woman asked to see you, to see your little heart beating on the pen marks, but I wouldn’t let her see inside you. It wouldn’t be right. It would be indecent. They might kill you with their hard looks. They might drown you, might smother you, and might steal you away with their words. Might is not right, and they might. They might kill me, but I don’t care. Death is an ever-present, ever-laughing, ever-knowing, ever-seeing, ever waiting in the corner, ever-talking to the audience of hangers on who laugh along, and I can smell it rotting behind everything. I can smell him when they laugh. I could smell him on her breath, on the smiling man’s clothes, on the books, the chairs, the floor, the walls, my own hands. I could smell death. It is dark now and I am still here, in this room, on this bed, on these sheets, in this air, on the surface of this planet, in this time, this space, this place. The daffodils are hidden in dark night shadow. They are sleeping. They are warm and quiet. They are not dead. Perhaps I have always been here and everything else is a dream. I hope it was a 4
dream. When the darkness comes it is my time when I can live and dream and the silence can become mine. You have to be mad to be here. That woman in her stained nightdress and far away smile told me it was a place for the mad. She talked fast and furious and didn’t want me to say anything back. She was jumping though her moods, crying, laughing, swearing, loving, and didn’t mind I had none to return. They took her away, but it was too late, she had told me what I needed to know. A prison for the mad. I won’t escape. The balding man who spoke with the woman, who smelt of smoke and milk and old pain, he said the police would carry me back again if I left. I don’t want the police to come after me even though I deserve the punishment. They will come back anyway, to judge me, to punish me, to give me my just desserts, so I can wait for them here, in the prison of the mad. You would be so proud of me, not saying a word and not even looking at them when they talked to me. They have not heard me say anything. They have not heard my voice. It is morning and the sun is smiling in the window. There are tiny tears on the glass, but the sun is changing them into blobs of colour, 5
changing them into little trapped rainbows. Little smears of nursery crayon trapped in a water bubble. Did you arrange that for me? It is very beautiful. Oh for a beaker full of the warm south full of the true, the blushful hypocrite with the beaded bubbles of the trapped crayon rainbow. They taught me poems at school. But there will be no beaker for me. The beaker will not be for me. Not for me the beaker will be. No cup full of poison for them to fill my body with cloud and rotting and vile noises and dead. They will not hear me speak. They will not smell death on my breath and his last kiss on my lips. They do not have the right. They do not have the might. They are coming back and I must stop. They came back. They had a little plastic pot with something in it, a liquid like water, but no rainbow. I wouldn’t drink it. I am not Alice but I am in the hole. There was no white rabbit and it’s too late. They talked to me for a while, the woman trying to get me to look at her but I wouldn’t. They talked and talked and pushed the little pot in my face. More of them came until the room was heaving under their weight and I got dizzy as their lungs took up all the air. I was dizzier and dizzier and they pushed that pot into my face. I took the pot and threw the sticky liquid into the air so that it landed 6
on some of them, in their hair, on their clothes. They were revolted, I could tell, like the wicked witches, as if the liquid had a magic and they would be consumed. They left me with a few people, but eventually they came back, all hot words and hard breath and another pot and I threw that one as well and then they held me down and put a poison needle deep in me and poured in all their filth and bile. I deserve it, the filth and bile, and I took it as my just desert with cherries on top. The woman stood at the door afterwards and talked and talked. She stood there for ever, but eventually her voice got tired and went and left her just standing there. Eventually she got tired as well and just faded away. I didn’t see her fade away and dissolve into nothing but there was no smile left hanging in the air where she had been, just the smell of rotting. I didn’t say a word the whole time. Not one escaped. All the time they were there, all the time they talked and all the time the woman just stood there, I didn’t say a word. Not a sound. You would have been proud of me. I wish you were here. Last night I dreamed of him. He was in the dark and I could hear him, I could smell him, I could sense him, but I couldn’t see him. Without warning a rainbow shot out in the darkness and I could suddenly see his face in the colours, red and green and yellow and 7
indigo and I cried out, but he didn’t hear me. He didn’t know where I was in the darkness, he couldn’t sense me. I reached for him and shouted his name, but no sound came and still he couldn’t sense me. My arms ached with stretching for him, but he still couldn’t hear me. I called and called, but all was silence, and he didn’t look at me, didn’t turn his head, just opened his mouth to scream in pain and fear and blindness, but there was no sound. I could sense the razors edge to his scream in the glowing silence. My arms ached and I stretched, his mouth screamed but I still couldn’t hear it. The light turned to Blue, Blue, Blue and he turned towards me and I stretched until my arms snapped out of their sockets like a dolls. He saw me! He recognised me at last and cried, screaming into silence. I could see real red tears streaking his face and knew they streaked mine. Then the silence hummed and shivered, like the void was about to vomit and his face shattered into a million tiny blue pieces, as if a sledgehammer had smashed into glass. Only then did I hear his scream and my scream and I woke up with his tears streaking my face. They came running then and I screamed and screamed until they put that poison needle into me and I slept. The man with ginger hair and a smooth chin came to talk to me. He sat on the end of my bed and smiled at me. He wore a tweed coat, 8
like my father used to, but it was clean and new and smelt of sheep. He came into my room and sniffed at the stink of me and I was ashamed. He was so much like my father I was ashamed. There was a small blue folder of paper in his hands when he sat on the bed and he opened it to read. I watched him reading and felt a sudden peace, as if he had been sent to me, as if his quietly reading and sitting on my bed with my father’s coat was a sign. As if he was a friend. Eventually he looked up and smiled. But he was no friend. He asked me things and I answered quietly. What was the date, who was the Prime Minister, did I know were I was? The bristles on his head were soft and ginger, like little golden blades of grass and I could smell a sweet smell from his breath. Like a fool, like an idiot, like a dunce, like a moron I trusted the sweet smell and the golden blades and the blue folder and my fathers coat but not his face and tried to think of his questions, to help him answer them. I wanted him to tell me it was all right, that I had dreamed it all, that he was waiting somewhere, and that the screaming had stopped now and it would all be ok, but he didn’t. I asked him where he was and he looked at me and told me he didn’t know, that he would find out and I knew then that he didn’t understand, that he was part of it all. Then he said his name, the name in my dreams, the name my father shared and he 9
had no right to say that name, and I knew I had to stop, to resist, that he was no friend and I saw him write something in the little blue folder and I screamed. I jumped for the folder and ripped at the pages and they all came and held me, but I fought and screamed and they brought that poison and I felt them pour the bile into me and fought and fought, but it was no use. I was so tired. I slept. When I woke up it was dark again and they had placed a sentry soldier outside my room with the door open. He was reading the newspaper and it was full of words and pictures, but none of them about you or him or me. I have been so stupid. It has been time since I wrote in you. I am sorry. They keep coming with the little pot and I keep hiding you. I take the bitter dregs of poison with no rainbow because I don’t care anymore. I don’t know where he is. The sentry does not go away, though they change from time to time to confuse me. I am so tired and I shake now with cold and fear. I must sleep, but you will sleep with me so they don’t see you. It has been more time, more nights and then more time again. I don’t know how long it has been because I don’t know how long I sleep. Have I been here hours or days or have I been here weeks and months and years? There are 10
no more daffodils outside the window. The sentries come and the sentries go. Some of them try and talk to me, some of them try and get me to change my clothes, some of them bring tea that I won’t drink and some take it away and some take me into the dining room where the others are but I don’t want to be. I sit and nibble at food that tastes of ash and all the time I smell death and hear you calling to me and telling me to hold on, that he will come back, but I sometimes doubt that. Please forgive me, but I do. It has been so long since I have seen him. I am frightened. The sentries come and go and some of them are trying to be kind, I think, but I wish they wouldn’t. I recognise faces and some of them smile at me and try and talk to me, even though I don’t want to talk to them. There is a black woman who comes often now and she always smiles. She is a big woman, all lace clothes and stiff corsets that creak when she moves and perfume and coconut oil on sleek black hair. She bullies the others to make her tea and they say “yes Duchess” even though she complains about the tea. It’s too strong; it’s too weak, too sweet, not sweet enough, too hot, and not hot enough. She smiles at me when she says this and it is our joke that they can’t make the tea she likes. She asks them for a biscuit, but it is never the right kind of biscuit, too dry, too sweet, and chocolate when 11
she is on a diet, not chocolate because they are miserly and greedy and she complains again and smiles at me again as if it is another of our jokes, as if only she and I know the punch line. She makes them bring her cushions or blankets or take cushions or blankets away. She complains every time the others come past and smiles at me with a wink. I don’t smile back. I wish she would go away and leave me alone. They dug my mother up today and brought her to see me, barely alive. She came when a sentry was watching me who I didn’t know and smiled at them because she didn’t know what to say to me. She was embarrassed. I didn’t want them to see her but she sat on a chair beside my prison bed, even though I wouldn’t talk to her. She said things to me, asked me questions, but I still wouldn’t talk to her. She began to cry and pulled out a Kleenex from her handbag and I could smell the mints and powder on the Kleenex, see the big marker pens in her bag, but I still wouldn’t talk to her. She was getting desperate now, looking over her shoulder for one of them to come and rescue her, but no-one came. She tried to talk about my room, “Bit small isn’t it? Not very clean either. Would you like me to take your washing away and do it for you? It does smell in here and maybe that would help.” 12
I didn’t say a thing. She talked about the other patients. “So many young people. I’ve never been to a place like this, and they are all so young. That boy can’t be more than nineteen or twenty. I hope they have family who come to see them. Do they have family?” Not a peep. I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. This was not my mother. “I spoke to the doctor on the phone and he seemed nice. He thinks you are getting better, but they are all worried you won’t talk about what happened. I told him that you would talk about it in your own good time. They said that you would be in for some time, but that he couldn’t be certain. I hope you can come out with me soon.” I felt so tired that it was easy to hide behind a wall of silence. Outside the window the daffodils had given way to other flowers and bright sunshine and people smoking in the garden. I could hear mother’s voice through a fog. It was harder to concentrate on the words. My hands shook and I didn’t know why. And then she said the name, like the ginger man she said your name and I shouted. She was terrified, jumping up from the bed and asking what was the matter, but I just kept shouting, breathing, screaming. My hands had stopped shaking now. Then they came running and she was frightened when she saw them.
“I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything. Should I go? I’m sorry. I’m sorry” I shouted and screamed louder and she left, sobbing, with black corsets, who weren’t smiling now. When she had gone they threw words at me. I yelled at them to go away. They didn’t. The sentry came back and I swallowed the liquid without a rainbow and pretended to sleep. The sentry settled down to read a newspaper and I lay thinking of you, saying your name over and over in the silence of my mind, like it was chocolate in my head, like it was the touch of clean sheets, like it was the first snow drop in winter, burning your forehead and promising a clean blanket of newness. I said it in my head and pretended to sleep. The sentry read on. Peeping out at the sheets of paper that hid the sentry’s face I saw the blue shirt of a football player and the chocolate turned to ash in my mind, the sheets were crawling with maggots and the snow drop melted to acid. I felt sick. My hands started shaking again. I slept. Waking in the darkness, the sentry was still there, looking into my room in the half light. Mother had gone. I dreamt the blue dreams and woke up crying. There are other mad people in this prison. When I first came I thought they were all the same. But I was stupid, silly, blind. No, I wasn’t stupid as I didn’t care who was here 14
and who was not, but now I can see that they are different, that there are subtle shades of other between us all and most are like me. The ones who stay here at nights, the ones who sit down in the lounge without moving for hours, the ones who never come out of their rooms, the ones who stand and peer through the front door, they are all like me. The ones with the keys, the brisk step who can’t stay on one place for more than a few minutes at a time, they are less like me. I think they are the jailers, the other. The ones like me are the convicts waiting in the mad prison. I am not sure what we are all waiting for. Today one of the other prisoners stood at my door and talked to one of my sentries. She wanted something from them but they would not go. She asked what was the story about me, but the jailer would not answer her. She went off, unhappy and muttering to herself. The jailer tutted and went back to reading her magazine. Someone famous was on the front with her new baby and they both looked healthy and smiling. I waited until another jailer came and then I took the magazine and ripped the page into a million pieces and started to eat them. They gave me another pot of poison for that and I laughed as it washed down the pieces stuck in my throat. They didn’t laugh with me. They didn’t know the punch line. They didn’t know the joke.
I wake and the jailer is there. I pee and the jailer is there. I eat and the jailer is there. I stare out the window, I walk in the garden, I stare out the window, I eat again, I take the pot full of poison, I stare out the window, I count the six hundred and twenty seven tiles on the wall of the garden while I walk, I race two raindrops down the window as I stare and I go to bed to the blue nightmares. The next day I do it all again and the jailers come and go. Come and go. Today I spoke with black corsets. She came into my room when it was her time and sat on the end of the bed looking at me. My fake mother had brought a few things when she visited and they had been left on my bedside table. I hadn’t looked at them, but black corsets asked if she could look. I don’t know why, but I nodded. I was tired, and black corsets wasn’t one of the jailers to be frightened of. I have watched the others and I can tell who is not frightening and who is frightening. Black corsets is not frightening and the other convicts pass an easy time with her and they laugh and smile at her punch lines, so I thought she would not say things to bring on the blue nightmares. But I was careful. She picked up a small photo album my mum had brought. She asked if she could open it and I shook my head. She put it back down and picked up a CD. I didn’t have a 16
player and she put it back. Later, when she came again for her next duty, she brought a player and we listened to my music. Black corsets started singing to a song she knew and she had a good voice. I couldn’t help myself and I watched her face. It felt good. Others came to the door, and she shut it in their faces. I liked that and it made me laugh. She kept singing and, when the song was over she said to me. “Girl, my cat has better taste than you.” But she was smiling. “I don’t want to be watched any more. I want some peace.” My voice grated like a penknife full of sand. She stopped smiling and looked at me. “You won’t talk to us, you have to be made to eat and drink. My Saturday night curry you won’t even look at, and people come from everywhere for a plate of that. It isn’t right you know. You want to stop being watched? Well come with me and have some food and drink in the dining room. You work with me and I’ll work with you. I promise nothing, but don’t come and nothing will change.” “Why can’t you just bugger off and leave me be.” She looked at me for a long moment before replying. “You are someone child. You are someone. You might not care about that but I care about that. You could be my child. I can’t just walk 17
on by as if you weren’t here. We don’t do that here, and you can’t ask us to do that. No one can ask us to do that. Now come with me or don’t come with me and we stay here, but I’m not going away.” “But it’s not fair. I didn’t ask you to give a damn. I don’t think it’s fair that you are such a pain. Everyone hates you, you know, they all say things behind your back, laugh at you.” She thought again before replying. “You sound like the donkeys in Trinidad, you know? We have lots of donkeys in Trinidad. And these donkeys like to talk. Some of them even think they are people. And you know what they say, the donkeys? The donkeys’ say the worlds unfair, my arse is round and my shit is square. Life not fair girl, `and that’s the truth. ” I don’t think I found it funny, in fact I know I didn’t. I was just tired of being miserable. So I laughed, and once I started it was like crying. Uncontrollable, mad, and frightening it spilled out of me. I laughed till my sides ached, and I laughed till I was aching in my head. She didn’t laugh with me and I stopped. Then I agreed. Food and drink, and she would try to get them to leave me be. After we sat in the dining area and had a cup of tea and some biscuits, we came back to my room to find my CD’s had been stolen. I didn’t care that much but she was furious. She 18
found them, I don’t know how, and got them back for me. I didn’t tell her that someone had also stolen two pairs of the clean knickers brought for me. She may go round and get people to strip off if I did. The next day another nurse came and told me they would be “giving me some space”, but that I was to tell them if anything was up. When they left me alone I sat in my room and cried. I just felt a total failure. It was so strange feeling more bereft without the sentry, but I did. But I cried as quietly as I could so they would not hear me, even when they came to look into the little window in my door. It has been more time since I wrote. Yesterday they took me into a strange room with strangers who knew me, but I didn’t know them. I am not sure why I went in. They had asked me before, but I hadn’t answered them, or gone with them, but this time I went. Inside people were sitting in a circle. They had been talking before I went in, like some class had just taken place, or some club meeting. Somewhere people know each other and the atmosphere is polite small talk and little jokes. That changed when I went in and I had a memory of arriving at a party just as it has decided to end, but, now you are there the thing has to go on for a while or it would be rude. I recognised the ginger haired tweed with 19
his little files and his sheep smell. There were old coffee cups on the table. There was a man in a light blue safari suit and hair as if under the constant effects of static electricity. He had a kind smile and a soft voice and asked me how I was. Everyone stopped to listen and ginger tweed scribbled away on his little file. I told him everything was ok, and he asked me if I knew why I was here. I told him that I wanted to leave, that I had made a mistake and that I didn’t want to talk to him in this room with all these people I didn’t know. He seemed to accept that and let me go. Afterwards the nurse came and told me the man’s name. I was disappointed as it was a name I didn’t like, and he had seemed nice. She also told me I had to stay. She said a lot of other things as well, but that’s all I remember. Later I tried to just walk out the door, but it was locked and they pulled me back. It’s a maelstrom. The forces here dance and weave in a display of wasted energy. Thoughts, feelings, actions become uprooted, detached, erratic, dangerous. Yet the storm dissipates and the dust, each speck a piece of struggling life, settles. The world returns, comes back into focus, charged but unchanged. The aftermath is brooding, fearful, confused. It can take only the slightest of sparks, the turning of a key, the lighting of a cigarette, a glance, a word. The switch clicks to 20
unhinge. The barometer rises quickly, the sweet banquet of the senses becomes sour and we are back in the eye of the storm, hiding behind black corsets or one of the other rocks, or huddling together, or alone in our rooms waiting for the shadows from the fire to settle and let us see again and hope that this time it will settle for good. But the maelstrom is in me as well, churning and pulling, twisting and dancing in my guts, in my viscera, in the very centre of me. I am at a loss, and I am lost and I am in loss and I have lost. I have lost so much. The storm passes, but never leaves. I am the storm. I can smell death again. How long has it been since I came here. Today was the worst day, not because terrible things happened, although they did, but today the storm came out of me and it was black and rotten. Yesterday morning a young woman I had never seen before exploded from somewhere and dragged the storm with her. I was in my room and the thunder and sparks woke me from a drugged sleep. I lay and the noise grew and grew like the tornado in the wizard of oz. The woman kicked my door open and ran in screaming. They came running and they were all after her in my room and my things got caught in the whirlwind, flying and crashing and lying broken and dead. They couldnâ€™t hold her and she destroyed my things- the toiletries, the towels, the CDâ€™s, the 21
photo album- before she could be grabbed. She was so enraged the air crackled and fizzed. The others eventually dragged her out and I was left in the mess. In all the time the storm crashed over my head, I had lain in bed and not moved. I was frightened, but I felt that this was my due after all, my punishment for the wrong I had done. A nurse I had never seen before came and tried to talk to me and offered to help me tidy up. I told her to get lost. She went away. After a few hours black corsets came into my room and looked at the mess. I had tidied up my things, the little pieces of paper and material that were easy to replace and smooth out, but the bathroom was still a mess. Black corsets looked into the water, shampoo and squashed up soggy toilet roll and sniffed. She didnâ€™t say anything but tutted and tutted. I suddenly felt like a schoolchild who has been discovered doing something bad that, although not their fault, they will be held responsible for. Black corsets took me out of the room for a cup of tea. The shifts changed and so did the atmosphere. As the evening drew in the day receded and the nightmares returned. The dark veil of sleep blurred into a shimmering window and he was there again, complete in the blue haze, noiselessly distressed and distressing. Again the shattering of glass and I wake to a cold sweat and the memory of things hidden. I walk 22
into a twilight room, with only other shadow figures, lost and quietly alone. Making a cup of tea one of the shadows talked to me “Be quiet, we don’t want them to come” and I can see the glow of a cigarette. The windows is open the tiny crack that lets in air and the half haze of old smoke out and I sit for a while, clearing my head and hoping for the dawn. The light comes on and someone else is there, a night jailer I have never seen before. An argument starts with the smoker. The jailer has heavy eyes and doesn’t like us being out of bed. “What are you doing smoking?” I went back to bed to the sound of the argument. Later an alarm went of and the running went on while I fell back into nightmare. In the morning black corsets came to drag me up and I told her to go away. She came and sat on my bed. “I have run you a nice hot bath. You can’t use the shower and everyone is asleep. Come now. Lets get you clean.” I simply stared at her. Did she not know? It came to me that she didn’t, that I would have to put into words, draw the poison knife from deep in my guts and show her the rot. I could not do that. So I told her to go away, leave me alone. I shouted that she couldn’t make me, that she was a heartless bitch, that I hated her 23
that she was rotten, rotted, rotting. She just stood there wearing her frown. “Now you can do this all day, you know, stand here and make lots of noise and wave our hands about, and then do what I say. Or we can just do what I say.” I resisted for an hour, called her everything. She went away and came back. She niggled, nagged and bullied. I hated her. But eventually I knew she would out last me and, when other convict patients joined in, I couldn’t fight them all. I could see that I would not be able to hold out. The thought of it, though, made me terrified. It all became too much and I found myself sitting on the bed and weeping. In books I always hated the word weeping- so melodramatic, so girlyweak. All that was meant, I thought, was crying. But there is a difference. I sat on that puce brown plastic mattress, the sheets having been removed to the laundry by Black Corsets. The tears pooled on the waterproof layer. I focused on this to stop the images and turmoil in my head. Black corsets came and put an arm around me and I was too weak to resist. “What is the matter child? What is this all about? It’s not about having a bath, I think. What is tearing you up so? Tell me child. Come on. Just tell me.” “I just can’t do it. If I have a bath something terrible will happen.”
“How do you know that? I’ll be there with you. I’ll stay with you child. You won’t be alone. The only terrible thing is that you won’t smell anymore. People might even like you more. Unlikely, I admit, but you never know.” I let myself be led to the bathroom where she locked the door and filled up a bathtub with slightly golden water. As it gushed into the tub and the room steamed up I felt my heart thump and my knees shake and a thin sweat cover my skin. I remembered the last time, how tired I had been, how the water had been a noise to drown out the cries, how the steam had eased my chest, and how I had been grateful for that. I felt sick. I felt as if I would die. When she turned off the taps I expected the screams to come rushing back, and indeed I think I did get a brief echo, but it was far away in a wilderness of lost time, like it was the memory of another person. From somewhere she produced a bag with bath foam, shampoo and conditioner. Soon the hot steam was sweet smelling and I could find no more strength to resist. I undressed with shaking hands and stepped into the water. I was exhausted, but I didn’t die. I lay there for some minutes and she asked me if I wanted her to wash my back. When I didn’t say anything, she soaped a large flannel and asked me again. I nodded and she washed my back. I haven’t had my back washed by another 25
person in years, and I found the touch of her hand, with its strong, hard strokes, unbearably lovely. I started to cry again and she stopped. She didn’t say anything and my words rose slowly to the surface and into the air like miners after a cave in. My boy’s name had been Henry, like my father. He was a concerning pregnancy leading to a distressed baby born to colic and problem feeds and my partner had left us to the screams and exhaustion and tension. I had fallen out with my mother over this man, had left everything for him, as he had left his family for me. Now I was alone and the baby Henry was screaming and the phone never went and the only visitors were about the baby. I looked across at Black corsets and she was motionless. “He died. I was having a bath. He was screaming, but I was too tired to care. I must have fallen asleep. When I woke up he was quite and I was happy. Can you believe that - I was happy? I made a cup of coffee and I went into his room. He was blue around the lips and cold. I wanted him gone and he died. I killed him. My son. My beautiful son. I killed him and you should kill me.” She sat without changing her face, without responding for a few seconds. “Have you nothing to say? Do I disgust you that much?” She lowered the flannel and looked down.
“Your children may die in this life, but they never die in you. They never die. You loved him, that’s why it hurt so much. You miss him, that’s why you cry his name in the night. I’ve been here, I’ve heard you. We know about the boy, your son, about Henry. We’ve known all along. I buried two children, two babies, in Trinidad before we came here. They might as well have taken a lump out of me and put it into the earth with them. There is a part of me still there, forever, for always. There’s a part of them here with me, like an itch, like a piece of grit inside that just won’t go away, and I don’t want it too. I am so sorry for your loss.” I looked at her as she was unable to look at me. She put the flannel on the side of the bath and smoothed it flat. A small ripple of suds ran down the enamel and we could hear voices outside the bathroom. We watched the suds crawl down to touch the water. “I am sorry for yours,” I said. She stood and eased stiffness from her knees while I pulled the plug on the dirty water. We watched it slurp away. “You clean?” She asked. “I’m clean.” I said. Well, little book; we are coming to the end of our path. It has been a lifetime since I wrote anything in you, and now I am just here to say goodbye. I have just had a bath and I am packing up my things, because today I go 27
home. They are sending me on a thing called “leave”, but I have no intention of coming back. Keep that to yourself, will you? I haven’t told them. They have given me some pills to take home, but I won’t be taking them either. Keep that to yourself as well. Yes, it’s time to say goodbye to this place. This horrible place. People are nice, though, once you get used to them. Now I am leaving I find that I like them and may even miss them. I wonder what it will be like when I am no longer so watched, so studied. I think it will be bloody brilliant, but who can tell? My mum is coming to give me a lift in an hour and I will take you with me. You will be my reminder of a time I don’t want to be reminded of. It has just occurred to me that my mum is getting her child back and I can’t ever have that. I think that I am happy for her, but I am not sure. I think I also resent her motherness as I have had mine taken away. The Duchess wouldn’t like that. She would argue that I was a mother the minute I gave birth and I can’t change that. Who knows, maybe she’s right. She is on this morning and I know what will happen when I say goodbye. There I’ll be, in the doorway to the nursing office saying, “Well Goodbye then Duchess, thanks for everything.” And she’ll ignore me. I’ll either have to say it again or one of the other staff, Archie or
Angela, will give her a nudge. She’ll look at me and say. “You still here? I thought I could smell something.” And I’ll say goodbye and she’ll say. “Goodbye donkey.” And giggle. But she will be right. Goodbye donkey. Goodbye.