Inspired by the “Harry” by Rosemary Timperly
“So, Ms James. You’ve been with us now for… Oh wow, 8 years.” Dr Leighton put straightened her glasses and leaned back in her chair, relaxed. Her white teeth shone in the afternoon light that came through the thick windows, and she wore casual clothes that seemed out of place in such a formal environment. “So, how are you feeling?” Samantha James fidgeted in her seat, her emaciated knees rubbing together like two matchsticks and she lifted her green eyes to meet the Doctors. “I’m feeling, okay. I’m feeling okay today thank-you.” Dr Leighton nodded switching to a toothless smile, then changing her pose to mirror the patient. Samantha tried not to let it irritate her, the same way it irritated her when the doctor started every sentence she said with “So”.
“So, as you know this is your bi-monthly review. I can see that you’ve been taking your medication without complaint and that you have been partaking in the art therapy class.” The patient nodded eagerly.
“Yes, I’ve really been enjoying those.” The Doctor’s smile never left her face, like it was stapled there. “That’s great to hear. So, how do you think it has been helping you?” Samantha James fiddled with her short hair, tucking it behind and out from her ear. “Well I’ve been trying to paint things in my back garden at home. Things my,” She swallowed, “Things my daughter used to play with when she was little.” Dr Leighton nodded, punctuating every other word that her patient said with a “Mmmm” or “Yeh, yeh”.
“I have been looking at your artwork.” She said, picking up a small booklet from on the low table that sat between them. “They are really nice. Can you talk me through them?” She did, with the doctor flicking through the photographs of her paintings and Ms. James describing each one as she went from picture to picture like a family photo album. “Great,” Dr Leighton said when she had finished. “It’s clear to me that you think very fondly of home and of your daughter.” Ms. James could feel the “But” coming. “But, I notice, and your art-therapist noticed, that you still haven’t incorporated the colour orange into any pictures.” The silence was as heavy as a still night as neither of them said anything for a long while.
Dr Leighton put down the album. “So, are you still afraid of red hair?” Samantha took a deep breath.
“Not afraid just… wary. I just don’t like it.” The Doctor cocked her head like an owl looking down on a mouse. “Wary? So, would it be okay for Rodney, the nurse, to come and look after you again from time to time?” Ms. James tried to control her breathing as she pictured the red headed nurse, with his freckly face. “I… wouldn’t mind.”
“I’d need to be sure Ms. James. I can’t have you attacking any members of our team again.” The patient frowned and shook her head. “No, no! Of-course I wouldn’t, honestly no! No. It was… I just… It was years ago, and everything was still raw. No. There’s barely any violence in me at all. I wouldn’t… no.” The doctor didn’t seem convinced but she moved on.
“And I know it’s been challenging with your daughter not wanting to see you.” Samantha covered her nose and mouth as she said this trying a failing to keep back a wall of tears. The doctor held out a tissue. “Sorry, I know it’s hard.” The patient took it and dabbed her eyes.
“How is she?” She asked weakly.
“She’s fine. She’s starting high school this summer.” The doctor watched the weeping woman for 2 minutes as she calmed down, waiting for her to speak. “Is there any chance she’ll at least talk to me?” She asked finally, balling the tissue up into a fist.
“Well actually, yes.” Samantha James sat forward in her chair.
“Really?” The Doctor nodded with a serious look on her face.
“She has agreed to have a telephone conversation with you. We said it might be good for your recovery and she consented.”
Samantha was almost quivering with excitement as she sat forward in her chair. “When? How?”
“Right now,” the Doctor responded. “As you’re in my room and we have a telephone, I think now is as good a time as any. Are you ready now or do you need some time to prepare?” Ms. James shook her head, “No! I’m ready now. I’ve been ready very since I came in this hospital.” The Doctor nodded for her to follow and sat the excited patient down on her comfortable office chair behind the wooden desk. It was clean of everything, even pens and pencils, with nothing but a modern, cordless phone on it. She smiled then picked up the phone and pushed a button. “Hello Aggie? Yes, we’re going to do it, can you ask them to call on this number? Thank you.”
She passed the phone to Ms. James who took it and cradled it like a new-born baby in her hands, staring down at its tiny screen and thick buttons as if it was the most precious thing she had beheld in all her life. After, what felt like an eternity, the little screen lit up with green light and the phone began to ring impatiently in her grasp. She wasted no time and pressed the green button and held it to her ear. “Hello?!” She said desperately.
“Hi,” a soft girlish voice, tinny through the phone, came back.
“Christine?” She breathed.
“Hey,” Christine responded nervously. “How’re you Sa… Mum?”
“I’m doing fine Christine,” Ms. James responded choking on tears. “Oh how are you?”
“Fine,” The girl said. There was a long pause.
“Are you looking forward to starting your new school?”
“Yeah, a bit nervous but that’s normal I guess.”
“Yes, Yes of course. Very normal.” She laughed nervously, her entire body quivering with emotions she couldn’t begin to regulate or understand.
“Does you Dad pick you up from school now?” She heard Christine sigh down the phone and take a breath before she answered. “No Mum. I walk home myself now.” A lightning bolt of dread speared Ms. James right in the heart. “By… by yourself?”
“Yes Mum.” The girl responded, slightly irritated. “By myself.” Another pang struck Samantha; this time stained with anger. “You know I never meant to leave you? You know it was an accident?”
“Mum…” The girls said as if embarrassed.”
“It’s not your fault you wandered off. It was Harry wasn’t it? Harry…”
“Oh my God! Mum!” Dr Leighton was shaking her head.
“Christine just tell them! Just tell them it was him and I can leave. I can come home! We can be togeth…”
“Mum! Stop it!” The voice grew distant from the phone as she shouted “Dad!”
Dr Leighton snatched the phone back and put it down but not before Samantha heard her husband’s voice “Sam?” The phone clicked back into place on its saddle as Samantha James placed her head in her hands. “Why won’t you just believe what I say?” She demanded. “It was him! He took her on that day! It wasn’t my fault.”
“Sam.” The doctor replied gently kneeling by the seat.
“You abandoned your daughter. She was missing for over a week. There is no…”
“He took her!” Samantha shouted, a growl in her voice like a she-wolf. “Harry took her! Her brother!”
Doctor Leighton sighed and relayed the story as if she had never heard it before. “So, Harry was her brother when she lived with her birth-parents. He died saving her from a gas-leak. There is no Harry, not anymore and there was no way that Christine would remember him, she was only a baby.”
“You weren’t there!” She hissed getting up and backing away from the doctor. “She was talking to him! She called him by name!”
“Children have pretend-friends.” The Doctor began slowly. “It’s all part of growing up…”
“Not big-brothers who kidnap their baby sisters!” Samantha snapped back.
“No-one stole her.” The doctor responded, infuriatingly calm. “You were deep in the depths of a psychotic episode. Harry isn’t real, he is dead. You are struggling to remember things clearly because you were, you still are, very unwell. You need to accept this!”
“How can I!?” Samantha James shrieked, a shrill tone entering her voice. “How can I just accept what happened, when I know my daughter is still under the thrall of her dead brother?! She’s not safe.”
“Harry is dead!” Dr Leighton said firmly, pushing a call button on her desk. “We are not going to discuss this any further. Go back to your room and rest.” A nurse came in and touched Samantha kindly on the arm. “Come on Sam, let’s go.” She turned, wide eyed to see the red hair and freckly face of Rodney. He smiled at her, watery blue eyes kind and hands reaching out to support her. The chair was the first thing to hand, so she slammed it into his head.
The phone line went dead with a monotone burr and after a moment, Mr James put the phone down. He massaged his brow and looked at his adopted daughter apologetically, “I’m sorry sweetie.” He said kindly. “I shouldn’t have let you do that.” Christine shook her head, auburn hair bobbing by her temples. “It’s okay Dad, I wanted to. It’s only right to try. I’m sorry you didn’t get to speak to her.” He shrugged.
“I’m sure there’ll be another time.” He held his arms out and she walked into them sharing the embrace. “Is Suzy coming over tonight?” She asked and she felt his head shake over her shoulder.
“No Sweetie. It’s just the two of us tonight.”
Her dad had started to care less and less about her mum since Suzy over the road had begun to visit at night. “Do you want a coffee dad?” She asked turning toward the kitchen.
“That’d be nice,” he smiled back then frowned. “Are you sure you’re okay?” She was just at the kitchen door when she turned back. “I’m fine Dad. Thanks for arranging that for me.”
She took out the coffee grinds and tipped a measure into to mugs, one with “Best Dad Ever!” on it and one with daisies all around it. He was waiting for her there, arms folded across his chest. “How did it go?” He asked from the other side of the kitchen. Christine turned to look at her brother. “I gave it a try but, you were right. She still doesn’t understand.” Christine shrugged.
“I don’t think she wants to understand.” He said, shaking his red head. “She wants you to forget me.”
“No.” She replied. “I won’t forget you. Ever.”
“I know you won’t.” Harry responded with a smile.
“Is it going to be me and you forever?” She asked him.
“Always Sis.” He nodded. “Just me and you.”
“Who’re you talking to love?” Her dad asked coming to the door, seeing Christine stood by her self. Christine picked up the two steaming mugs and handed one to her father with a smile.