“You have to understand,” he whispered, as he brushed my hair behind my ear. “I can’t stay.”
I lifted my head and shook it so that the hair came loose and rolled onto my back. He was propped up on an elbow looking down at me, smelling of sweat, his chest hairs thick and dark on such a pale body. I had pulled them before and called him a werewolf.
“It’s not my fault,” he said. “I’d stay if I could. You know that, don’t you?”
I smiled, but for him more than for me. I was feeling tired now. I wanted to sleep. I turned back onto my side. The window was open and the bottom of the curtains danced like the hem of a dress. Of a ballgown. I could picture it sweeping across a tiled floor while music played. Classical. With violins and other wooden instruments with strings. The men all in tuxedos. The hall was big and full, but there was room to dance and everybody knew how to. I couldn’t imagine knowing how to dance like that. To make it look so effortless and graceful. I’ve never had the patience to learn these things.
“You have to understand,” he said. “It will only cause trouble. Neither of us need that trouble. I’m in an impossible situation. You can see that, can’t you?”
The same story. I could mouth the words to it as the violins played. And they played. And I danced. And the man came to the microphone and sang about impossible situations. Then he paused. And the next verse was about age differences and responsibility.
“I’m older than you,” he said. “You don’t understand. Being married is… You have to understand. I have to support the family. When you’re married…”
He trailed off.
“I have to go now,” he said as he lifted himself over me and off the bed, his bulk casting a looming shadow over me as he passed like a blimp in an old movie. I imagined him falling and crushing me. “You stay here,” he added once his feet were on the floor. “Get some sleep.”
He bent down and kissed my cheek, and he ran fingers down my side, stopped, rested his palm on my hip. Gave it a squeeze.
As he pulled on his trousers, I pulled the blanket up over my shoulders. It was a hot night, but I pulled the blanket tight.
I took the glass of water from the table and took a long gulp. My throat was so dry. The ice cubes had melted while I’d been talking, but the water was still cold. Clouds seemed to drift in it like ghosts of the ice. I swirled the glass slowly and watched them break and mingle and form new shapes. When I sipped again it seemed that I could taste them. They were like oil, sliding down my throat.
I heard my name.
Somewhere through the clouds and the oceans, pushing aside icebergs to drift elsewhere. A ship.
Dr. Clemens had waited before talking to me. She sat where she had been the whole time I spoke, in the armchair she always sat in. Her notepad was on the arm, resting. The pen, still in her hand. She rolled it between her thumb and fingers and watched me. She said my name once more. I looked at her and nodded.
“Take your time,” she said. “Take all the time you need.”
“It’s fine,” I told her. “Really.”
“If you’re sure?”
“That’s why I’m here,” I told her. “To talk.”
“Have you ever spoken to anybody about this before?” she asked.
I shook my head.
“Before we go any further,” said Dr Clemens. “Please look at me,” and I did. “I need you to hear this: You did nothing wrong. You need to know that before we continue.”
I wanted to tell her she was wrong. I wanted to believe she was right. I nodded slowly. Tears were welling up and I tried to think of something else. Of KFC for dinner. Or maybe Burger King. Which would I prefer? But there was nowhere to hide now. “My mother really loved him, you know,” I said.
Dr Clemens nodded.
I looked at my hands. My nails were bright pink. They were supposed to be cheerful.
“I believed that he loved her too.”
“Of course you did.”
“When she died...” I said and stopped.
“Do you think I should have told her?”
Dr Clemens sucked her bottom lip. “There should never be a situation where you have to tell her that,” she said softly.
Burning fury. That was not an answer. I closed my eyes and balled my fists and toes. Opened them again. Opened everything. “He always talked about himself, you know. And about her. And the family. And how he was trying to make everything a good and happy place. And I couldn’t understand what he meant.”
“He was trying to confuse you. He was scared because he knew what he was doing was wrong, and he thought that he could manipulate you.”
“He could,” I told her.
“You were so young then,” she told me.
“When she died,” I told her. “When my mother died, for all of those last years, she would call me and I wouldn’t take the call, because I didn’t want to lie to her and I didn’t want to tell her. She came to see me and I refused to be seen. I blamed her for not knowing, and for not doing anything, and I hated myself for blaming her and I hated her for making me feel that way, and even after he died, I couldn’t tell her because she, how could I throw that into her grieving on top of everything else? It wouldn’t have changed anything.”
“You were put into an impossible situation,” Dr Clemens told me. “But it is time now to start the healing process. It’s time the truth came out.”
I laughed. I didn’t mean to, but it happened. “Just like that?”
“Of course not,” she told me. “Time and patience, time and patience. These two things will help. You need to be brave and strong and I will help you however I can.”
I nodded. I wanted to thank her, but to speak now would be to break down and I didn’t want that. Besides, I could see on the clock that our time was over. Dr Clemens had been listening and ignoring this fact.
I drank some more water, just for something to do. I could feel Dr Clemens watching me, but I didn’t look at her until I’d composed myself.
“Ok,” I said. “Patience. I can do that.”
I stood up and stretched. My limbs felt strange; heavy and loose and longer than usual.
She said my name again.
I nodded at the clock.
“Are you ok to go back?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Where else am I going to go?”
“I wish,” she said. “That I could make you see how strong you are.”
Again, I laughed. “Yeah,” I told her. “That’s what I need.”
“I’m serious,” she said. “Now that we’ve come this far…”
“It’s ok doc,” I told her. “Don’t make any promises or anything, ok?”
Outside, in the corridor, Brooker was waiting. Of course. She looked at her watch and raised an eyebrow at me and I shrugged.
“I was starting to think I was going to have to knock on the door,” she said.
I fell into step and we started to walk.
“You’re quiet,” she said after a couple of minutes.
“I’m quiet sometimes,” I told her.
“Fair enough,” she said.
We left the medical block and walked towards B wing. The air was hot and close, but traces of a breeze drifted through. “Are you close to your parents,” I asked Brooker.
She paused for a beat and looked at me as if deciding whether to answer. “No,” she said.
“But I am close with my in-laws. Weird right?”
“I don’t know,” I told her. “I never had any.”
“People always seem surprised when I tell them, but I love to spend time with my husband’s family. We visit them for most of the holidays.”
“That’s nice,” I said.
“Yeah,” she agreed. “Why do you ask?”
We were at the doors to B wing now, the keys grinding in the locks.
“Just curious,” I told her.
She turned to me then and looked me up and down, two and two clicking together into four. “Families are tough,” she said.
“Yeah. They are.”
I felt like she was going to say something more, but she didn’t. We both stood in the open doorway looking at each other until my name was shouted and I stepped through quickly, Brooker a step behind me. The door slammed shut. The key turned.