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October 07th 2008 print

Solveig Foss

Time on my Hands

Solveig Foss
Time on my Hands

Now that I have so much time on my hands I find that I’m thinking about you more than I want to. Every day you’ve been in my mind a little more, intruding yourself. Today I realise that I’ve been thinking about you nearly as much as about Sebastian and Paul. And that horrifies me. When all I want is to be rid of you.

George … I call you George although I know that you’re more likely to be a Wayne or a Darren. But somehow I see a plump elderly woman, an old-fashioned mother who wanted to call the son of her old age for her own father—so you are George. I don’t know where that old woman came from. For all I know you were the child of some sad teenager, but I see in my mind this doting woman, her hair going grey, with a baby in her arms.

I don’t know why I even gave you a name. Or a mother. Or a life. Perhaps I imagined that if I fleshed you out I’d get closer to the answer to the question that haunts me. Why did you do it, George? That is the question of questions I want to ask you, the question that keeps you in my mind, pushing out my beloved little Sebastian, my darling husband. If you could only tell me why, or if someone could explain, perhaps then I could be free of you.

Did you lash out randomly, for the meagre pickings of a purse? Could you have as easily struck down some old woman on her way home from the shops, or some schoolgirl dawdling—could it have been anyone, so long as they were weak and alone? Was it a random attempt to rob, even though you took nothing? Was it that? Nothing ambitious, no Great Train Robber, you, for surely you would have known that a young mother would be unlikely to have much in her tote bag. But perhaps you were so desperate for the next hit that you took a passing chance of grabbing a few pounds, a negotiable mobile phone? Perhaps you were desperate enough to risk murder.

Though I think, perhaps, that you didn’t intend murder, in spite of coming so close to it. I like to think, George, that you didn’t intend me such harm, and that it was fear, not some kind of crazy fury, that I saw in your eyes. Or was it not random at all? Did you choose me, George, watch me and wait for me? Did you single me out? And if you did, why, why, why? I had done you no harm …

I did see you, just before … but I only looked at your car because it was one of those which had a colour which changed in the light: blue to purple to a kind of red. I’d never seen one like that before. That was the only reason I looked. Maybe if I hadn’t … But I did look, and I saw you look at me …

Was it evil that drove you? Did you intrude yourself into my innocent life just to show that you could? Are you truly evil, George? I do believe in evil, you know … I’m not so modern that I explain everything as sickness. Did you, perhaps, detect my happiness as I walked, pushing my little Sebastian in his buggy? Did you sense my sheer joy in life, and simply want to destroy what you couldn’t have, like some schoolyard bully smashing the precious china doll of a pampered child? Was that it? Did you choose me because you could see that my life was good? Were you disgusted to see such joy as mine in a miserable world? Did you think it had no right to exist, especially near to your own unhappiness, but separate from you, unattainable? Did my joy inadvertently mock your own misery? I shall have to be very careful, or I shall find myself pitying you, and it is I who deserve any pity that is around as I lie and wait for a hopeful flicker of feeling at some place below the level of your slash in my neck.

The wound on the surface has healed well. I’m young and strong, the tissues and skin have knitted as easily as a child’s. Or most of them have. The doctors hope for nerve regeneration. They keep asking me if I feel anything—they prick me with pins and they ask, and they look at me hopefully and so far I have had to disappoint them. I saw you when you stabbed me. I saw you clearly, my eyes and my memory sharpened by terror. The police praised me for the description I gave them. Even on the first day, before I could as much as speak, I managed to communicate, with nods and blinks. They praised me for my persistence. I made a supreme effort. No one could quite know how deathly tired I was, how I kept longing to give up. The tiredness almost overcame my need to have you found and to know that you were in some place where you could hurt no one else. But that need gave me strength, and the thought of you free, with your mad eyes and your knife.

Every day, you know, is just a little different, Every time I wake the world has changed, just a fraction, in some tiny things. Every day … Some days, just for a moment, when I first wake, I forget. This happens when I emerge from dreams where I walk, and feel, and move. Then, within seconds, reality comes over me, like a layer of dead cement, and then I can be consumed with anger and hatred. When I hear the nurse’s cheerful “good morning”, I always manage to smile, and it’s only you, George, who know what I really feel. Of course people pity me, lying here, with my little mirror to view the world. And when they pity me, I often think they forget Paul. And you know, George, he deserves pity, too. You have hurt him just as mortally as you have hurt me.

Mortally, because the person I was is dead. Do you understand that? Don’t let anyone tell you that a person who is paralysed is the same person they were before. They are not. Any more than a person who is dead. Don’t let anyone tell you … And the family we were is dead. The hopes we had are dead. You have hurt us all mortally. My little Sebastian doesn’t understand why I can’t reach out my arms to hold him. He’s still too young to understand what he has lost, but I know. I want to weep for his loss. Do you know, he still reaches out his arms when Paul brings him in? He still has a look of innocent expectation. Then his little face changes—he looks surprised, uncertain. I can see him thinking: is Mummy playing a game? Is she pretending? And then: No, she’s not going to pick me up. Even at his age he tries to hide disappointment. He turns away from me, towards Paul, as if that’s what he’s been choosing to do all along. I can tell you, George, there are times when I’m jealous of my husband, who can still hold our son. I hate myself for my jealousy and I smile to cover it up, because Paul must never see it. You’re the only person I can tell it to.

So we’ve become a little family covering things up, hiding our feelings for fear of hurting someone. We’ve become a little family living with lies, George. I can hear you laugh and say “Lies, is that all?” Oh, I’m sure you’ve lived with lies, and maybe that’s why I can tell you—because I know you won’t be shocked. When they’re with me of course I think only of them. It’s when they’ve left and I’m alone again that you come to me. I was nearly going to say that you invade me, but I realise that I invite you into my thoughts. Don’t mistake me, I don’t want to think of you. I don’t want to keep seeing those eyes of yours, with the white showing all around the blue. I don’t want your thin stubbled face in front of my eyes. I want to blot you out of my memory—oh, if only I could. It’s not that I hate you, George. I simply don’t want to think of you. At all. But you won’t go away. You are there, horribly there, closer than the vein in my neck. A millimetre to the right, or was it the left, and you would have killed me.

Lucky—odd how people keep saying that. Lucky that your knife missed by that millimetre, lucky that my scream was heard and someone came before I bled to death, lucky that you ran and didn’t stay to finish … but no one says how unlucky I was to have been in your path, to have been noticed by you. How deeply unlucky. Those are thoughts which I cannot not allow myself. Not now.

Paul came every day at first, stayed hours with me. His firm has been good, compassionate, even, and in the first days, when it seemed that I might die, he had all the time in the world. But now … he has to work. He comes as often as he can, he smiles when he sees me, he bends down and kisses my lips, almost like he used to. But I can see behind that smile, behind the kiss, behind the roses he brings me … he never bought me roses so often—I can see what he’s feeling. The pain, the misery, the uncertainty, the fear. And then I hate you, George.

The nurse has been putting on my make-up. Sometimes I love the feel of the moisturiser on my face, and when I see myself in the mirror I even take small pleasure in the smoothness of my skin. But not today. The nurse’s fingers are rough. I refuse eye-shadow—I know she’ll put on more than is my taste. “Now, don’t we look the grand girl?” she says—a new nurse, from the agency, she hasn’t discovered that my brain is intact even if my body is not.

“And is hubby coming in?” she asks. I hate that silly word … and I hate you for subjecting me to this woman’s care. Hatred for you rises in my throat. Get out of my mind, George!

“Yes, my husband is coming.” The nurse raises my head to comb the back of my hair and I try to relish the small pleasure of it. The pleasure of an itchy place scratched by the comb. Small pleasures, George, are what I have. Small pleasures. Like the pleasure of letting myself hate—and today I just can’t help hating you. If you were in front of me I would spit at you for what you have done.

But I know that if I allow myself to hate you then in some way you will have won. So I must not allow myself that sweet luxury. And now, suddenly, it seems, two things have happened. The first is by far the more important. Today, for the first time, there’s been a tingling, like pins and needles, in my right hand. In my little finger, to be precise, that the Australian physiotherapist calls my pinkie. I like that word. The doctors are excited, and say that it’s a hopeful sign and they cluster around my bed, chattering, faces bright.And the second thing: today a policewoman brought me a photograph. A young man had been dragged from the Thames. They thought it might be you.

I look at the thin face, the dark hair falling across the forehead, the eyes half open, the clothes clinging to the body. I stare at it. I want it to be you, George. I have wished you dead … I couldn’t help it. But however much I want to be sure, I can’t. A dead face … looks so different. “It could be,” is all I can say. “But I’m not sure.”

The young policewoman’s face shows the kind of disappointment I got used to seeing on doctors’ faces before today. She turns to leave with her colleague. They go in pairs, like nuns used to. I call her back. At first I’m afraid that she hasn’t heard my voice—even now my voice is so soft that people must strain to hear me. I call again, an immense effort, and I suddenly realise that this is what my life will have to be from now on. Immense effort. Day after day.

Thank God, she turns, pulls her colleague by the arm. “Let me see it again,” I say, and again I’m looking into that face.

Different, of course, changed. A dead face is always different. But it is you, George, it is you. Poor George, I can say that now, and mean it. They tell me there was a note, that you were driven by voices … poor mad George, and that you ended your life rather than strike again. You were torn in two, I suppose, poor George. I’m glad that I know, and now I can let you go. May God be merciful to you. I can, at last, say that and let you go.

My life is ahead of me, my changed life in all its difficulty, with all the immense effort it will take. Today I allowed myself to get almost as excited as the doctors who clustered around me. I will recover. One day I will sit up, one day I will hold my child. I will. I will. The policewoman and her companion leave, stepping lightly. I have made them happy, like I made the doctors happy.

Only now that they’ve gone I realise, George, that I didn’t even ask them your name. But I know it doesn’t matter any more.