Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chapter Four

Sirens fracturing the night.  Inside the ambulance with the paramedics.  Found thrashing in bloody bathwater.  Two furious slits in her wrists.  Celia doesn’t want to die.
     Put her in a white bed.  A white room.  Dressed her in a white gown.  A large crucifix on the wall.  Blackout, sucked down again.  A nun inside the room with her.  Grabbing her wrists.  Look, Celia, look. 
     Blood. 
     Taste it in her mouth, see it flowing from her wrists.  Blood in the bathwater.  Clicking backwards like a film projector.  She is at the mirror.  Razors, clean and silver.  Slices open her own wrists?  Yes.  Mum is dead.  Celia is alive.  Shadows.  There are shadows in her mind.  Click.

Celia opened her eyes to a real, present world.  She felt nauseous, like something had coated her insides with baby-oil.  Machines bleeped around her.  She could hear the sucking of a respirator from somewhere.  The smell of illness and antiseptic hit her. 
     She realised she was lying in a hospital bed.  She could hear people talking.  The clatter of trolleys and bedpans.  Her eyes stung a little.  Everything seemed too bright.  She saw a nurse talking to someone in the opposite bed.  Heard snatches of their conversation.  She pressed her eyes shut for a few moments.  She could hear other people talking at the end of the ward.  She turned her head and saw a doctor and a nurse.  They looked in her direction. 
     Celia sat up in the bed and took a long, deep breath.  Her head was tight.  A bell or alarm sounded from somewhere.    
     A black woman in the next bed was smiling curiously at her.  “Afternoon, love.”
     Celia coughed and winced, staring at the woman a few feet away.  “Where are we?”
     “St Pat’s.  You were having a dream, I think.” 
     Celia glanced to her left and saw the doctor and nurse from the end of the ward approaching her bedside – a handsome Indian guy and a slender older woman. 
     “Hey there.  You’re finally awake.  Good.  You were slipping in and out for a solid hour.  I’m Dr Shah.  This is Nurse Peters.  We’ve been taking care of you since the paramedics brought you in.  How are you feeling?”
     Celia could hear someone coughing madly.  She pressed a hand to her forehead.  “Confused.  What’s going on...?”
     The nurse said, “You were unconscious.  We thought you might’ve had a seizure, but Dr Shah couldn’t identify it.”
     The doctor frowned.  “Are you epileptic?”
     “No,” said Celia.  “Been tested before.  Blackouts, but no pain.  Just silver stars in my head, then darkness.  Since I was a kid.”
     “No pain?  Ever?”
     “No.”
     The doctor nodded and glanced at the nurse.  “Well, we’ve been waiting for you to wake up.  Do you remember anything, about last night?”    
     There was a moment of recognition like the plunge of an aircraft, and suddenly all of Celia’s memories of the previous night were there in her head.  The memories had teeth. 
     Lou…Oh God, no…
     “My friend – Louise, is she…?”  Her words trailed away as if they had floated up off a page.
     The doctor looked genuinely concerned.  “Louise?  The woman you came in with?  She’s alive.  A policeman is with her now.  We’re keeping her unconscious.  Her left lung was perforated in the assault.  She’s on a respirator.  But she was lucky.”
     “What?”
     “A machine is breathing for her, until she gets the strength back to breathe on her own.”     
     Celia wanted to vomit, to purge, but nothing came.  “Jesus…she’s in a coma?”
     The doctor touched Celia’s hand.  “No, no, we’re keeping her unconscious because she’s weak.  She also lost some blood; her body needs time to heal.  Someone called the paramedics.  I can imagine how worried you must be for her, but as long as she has time to heal she’ll be ok.  Ok?”
      Oh, Lou, fuck... 
     The intruder, the diary.  The knife. 
     Celia dropped her legs over the edge of the hospital bed and stood up.  Her sense of balance was reasserting itself.  The nausea was fading quickly now.  She remembered the feelings from childhood.  She pressed a hand to her belly.  Her insides had stopped quivering.  She felt fairly steady on her feet.  The doctor nodded at Celia’s intent.  “Are you sure you’re ok?”
     Celia just stared at him.
     “Nurse Peters will assist you then.  I’m glad to see you’re feeling better.  Apart from a few little cuts and scratches I think you’re going to be fine.  We’ll talk shortly, ok?”
     “Ok.  Thank you.” 
     The doctor smiled and left her bedside.  Someone was coughing again.  She felt practically naked standing there in her hospital gown.  A phone was ringing somewhere.  A different doctor appeared and handed Nurse Peters a chart.  They mentioned something about medication for another patient.  Celia took another long, deep breath.  
     She needed to see Louise. 
     Nurse Peter’s took her to another part of the I.C.  Celia ignored the other people as she passed them.  Her strength was returning already, like all the blackouts from before, but her mouth was suddenly dry.  Everything seemed infused with a low-frequency static. 
     Louise lay hooked to an electrocardiograph and a respirator.  A uniformed policeman was sitting beside the bed.  He glanced up at Celia.  His face was soft with concern but he merely nodded at her.  Nurse Peter’s stood beside Celia, putting a hand on her arm.
     “Can’t believe this,” Celia muttered.
     “You didn’t cause any of this, love.” 
     Celia watched the respirator suck and wheeze, breathing for her baby girl, and she wondered if both of them were still dreaming.
     But hard-edged definition was etching itself back into place.  Her lover lay silent.  She took Louise’s hand and gently kissed her mouth.  Celia saw the policeman watching.   He quickly averted his gaze. 
     Some part of Celia had wanted the intruder to come back – the precious ugly moment in a sea of calm.  She sat down in the other chair, feeling awkward and bizarre in her hospital gown.  She looked at the policeman and wanted to hate him for some reason, but he had kindness in his eyes.

After half an hour of sitting in silence the policeman said, very softly, “Can I take a statement from you now?”
     They went and sat just outside the I.C.  Celia felt awake but numb, drifting inside and settling nowhere. 
     “Can you remember what happened?”
     “Not really.  I think I left the back door unlocked, or something.  He broke in and…took some jewellery.  I fought with him.  Then he stabbed her.  He was wearing a mask and a hood, dressed all in black.”  She laughed at that part.
     He nodded sagely, writing in a notebook.  “The doctors tell me you were unconscious when the paramedics brought you in.  A seizure.”
     “Yeah.”
     “Can you tell me anything about them?”
     “Had them as a kid.”
     “Do you know what caused them?”
     “No.  Doctors could never figure it out.  I’d have a seizure and just black out.  Sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for hours.  Eventually I’d wake up feeling fine.”
     “And the scars on your wrists?”
     Celia didn’t look at him.  “Teenage indiscretion.”
     “What kind of jewellery did this intruder take?”
     “A pendant, some gold earrings.”
     “Can you describe them?”
     “Officer, I just want to go home…”
     The policeman frowned and nodded.  “Ok…enough questions.  I think I have what I need.  But you might think about staying with family or friends for a few days, and getting better security for your home.  An alarm, for starters.  Ok?”
     She gave him a humourless half-smile.  “Yeah…  Sure.”

Dr Shah had done a final check-up on Celia.  He brought her a white t-shirt and a pair of blue jogging-bottoms.  She’d arrived naked at the hospital.  She didn’t want to leave in  nothing but a gown.  She thanked him with all the sincerity she could muster.  She changed in the ladies toilets, trying not to look at her reflection in the mirror above the sinks.    
     Now she sat barefoot in the waiting area, sipping a coffee that an old man had been kind enough to buy her.  She stared at the other people waiting, at the nurses passing back and forth.  Some of the waiting people talked to each other, and laughed, and checked text-messages on their mobile phones. 
     Nurse Peters came and found her sitting there.  She told Celia that she had been checked out and was ok to leave.  Apparently there was a psychotherapist on site if she needed anyone to talk to.  Celia tried for a genuine smile of appreciation. 

She watched the new night pass in the windows of the black cab, feeling the fabric of the floor beneath her bare feet.  There were invisible clouds in the night, hiding the stars.  The overweight driver was watching her from the rear-view mirror.  His eyes were keen. 
     “That’s it – I knew I recognised your face.  You’re Cynthia…no, Celia Gray, right?”
     “Yes.”
     “Saw you on that late-night thing.  You wrote The Rising Rain?”
     “Yeah…a while back.”
     “You did two.  What was the other one?”
     Leaving Her.”
     The cab driver nodded to himself.  “I used to be part of a book-club in Bethnal Green. My ex made me join.  Quite fun actually.  I ended up liking it more than she did, if you believe that.  I think you’re a pretty good writer.  Lot of sadness in your stories though, especially the first one.  Straight from the hip, straight to the heart.   My honest opinion.”
     “Thanks.”
     “No problem.  You reckon you’ll write another book?”
     “I don’t know.  I doubt it.”
     “Pity.  You’ll be missed.  By me at least!”
     She smiled at him in the rear-view.  Maybe none of this was happening.

The house didn’t feel like a sanctuary anymore.  Still, it was her home.  She didn’t want to fear its rooms and hallways.  The police had left hours ago but she sensed their presence.  She could feel their deductions in the air, their trained eyes on everything.  She drifted aimlessly around the house, eventually clearing the glass from the shattered living-room doors.  She bolted all the windows, even though the intruder got what he came for. 
     Later she lay in her bed, kitchen knife in hand, staring into the dark.  She cried like when she learned her mother was dead, when she finally faced the world – a world from which Alice Gray had been taken.
     You are not, you are never, alone.  I am here with you.  Inside your footsteps.  Within the beating of your heart.  The flesh is earth; dust.  I am more than the returning to the Earth.  I am forever…as are you.  Beautiful girl.  You have my eyes.
     Celia woke screaming and thrashing in the bed.  Too much.  She began beating her head against the wooden bedpost, praying for that final jab of searing calm.  She wanted to feel something, or nothing – blinding blackness, like damnation.

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