Authors: Priscilla Masters
Dr Megan Banesto has returned to her childhood home in
Llancloudy in the Welsh valleys. As the local GP, she feels she knows
her patients well. So when the body of paranoid schizophrenic Bianca
Rhys is dragged from a murky pool, Megan becomes suspicious. The
official verdict is suicide but whey would someone afraid of water go
near the pool?
Investigating officer PC Alun Williams happens to
be Megan’s old flame and, rather than take the young GP seriously, he
sees Megans’ interest in the case as simply a ruse to keep in contact
with him. But as Megan discovers more about Bianca she becomes intrigued
by the outlandish claims she used to make. What if Bianca was the only
one who knew what was really going on in Llancloudy?
Dedicated to all my friends in South Wales, my family and all my pals at S4C, especially Catrin and Pat. Also to my ultimate heroes - the Scarlets - especially Rupert. I did promise I’d put you in a book one day!
And for those of you that have trouble with the Welsh “ll”, simply put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and blow through the back of your teeth. Have fun!
of demarkation few
Saturday August 3rd 2002
“You foul, sick-minded HAG.”
She put her hands over her ears. But the voice seeped through her fingers.
“Your mind is sick, diseased. You think things, imagine events. But who will believe you? Everyone knows you are mad. Mad.”
She backed into the corner, whining softly, trying to blot out the words. But it was no use. They were inside her head.
“I know what happened … I have the …” She wanted to say a word but the voice interrupted her.
“You have nothing.” It was angry. “You know nothing.” The voice was taunting her - as it always did. “You don’t even know if I am real, do you?”
She was silent. So was the voice. Hoping it had stopped and not just paused she lowered her hands.
It was a mistake. The voice had been waiting to repeat the sneer. “Who do you think will ever believe anything you say?”
She wanted to protest - to say Esther was her friend. Esther believed her but she dared say nothing. To argue with the voice was to make it angry.
And as it was she was frightened. Very frightened.
The voice was merciless. He could always do this - concentrate on her worst fear. “Have you any idea what it must feel like to have water close over your head?”
“Not to be able to breathe, Bianca?”
“Leave me. Leave me.” She was screaming now.
But the voice continued, relentlessly. “To feel the water trickle inside your nose, inside your mouth. And from there to fill your lungs, slowly.”
“Please.” Terror was suffocating her.
“Please!” she begged again.
There was no pity. “Imagine, Bianca, what it must feel like to struggle to breathe.”
“Tell me. Are you very afraid of water?”
“Very.” Maybe if she agreed with the voice it would stop. If she took her hands away from her ears now she would hear - blessed silence.
Tentatively she moved her fingers down a millimetre. A centimetre … Two.
It found her. “What if all you could see above your head were dark, dark waters? And however hard you tried you could never reach the air again, never fill your lungs with anything but filthy, coal-soaked water. Yet that’s what you deserve, Bianca. And it is what will happen to you. Because you are quite mad.”
There was no point pleading with the voice. She had tried it before. Hundreds of times. He never never shut up but always stood on the edge of her mind, waiting to catch her with his cruel words.
She would do anything to make him stop - forever. She tried to beg again for mercy.
Knowing there would be none.
In a sudden flash of lucidity she knew there was only one way to silence the voice. If she was dead it would stop.
She moved. He moved.
And soon the voice was silent.
Monday August 5th. 10am.
Megan had stopped listening to her patient.
Part of Megan’s mind sifted through facts. Rheumatoid arthritis. Painful, common, virtually untreatable, incurable.
But her eyes drifted towards the window with the rest of her mind.
Even sliced by vertical blinds she knew that outside it was a perfect day. Blue sky, clouds as soft, white and fleecy as the wool on the back of a newly born lamb, birds singing. A yellow sun that shone. Not aggressively enough to burn the skin but sufficient to warm and illuminate the grass to a vivid, Disney green, swaying to a soft breeze. The colours outside were bright enough to make the rows of slate roofs gleam like polished steel and the coal tips behind a wonderful shade of purple. Illuminated by the sun, even Llancloudy displayed colour enough to satisfy the most demanding palette - the colours of Van Gogh, Gaugin, Klee. It was that sort of day. Perfect.
Until it became imperfect. Then the colours would revert to duller tints, sludge browns, slate grey, dark, dingy greens and plenty of black. Sombre, Dylan Thomas’s Bible Black. Or maybe they would simply appear to change. Maybe events affected her later perceptions of the changing colours
and the reds, blues, yellows and whites had been simply illusion.
As Gwendoline Owen’s voice droned on, Megan’s wandering attention was snatched by a foreign movement outside. Difficult to decipher through the narrow lines of stiffened linen. But once her attention had been grabbed it was held prisoner. Unlike Gwen Owen’s mind which was absorbed with detailed description of her ailment.
” There was more than a hint of accusation, of disgruntlement in both her tone and her words which Megan pushed to the back of her mind. She had rejected the wealthier practices of Cardiff and Swansea, choosing to return, as a native, to her home ground. Why, she sometimes asked herself? And the answer was always the same. Because here she was needed.
Even by Gwendoline Owen.
Megan focused on the movement outside.
They had built their surgery on the sunny side of the valley, the west side - sunny in the morning at least. Sometimes. Llancloudy was prone to mists - the church in the clouds. By afternoon the sun would have swung around to the West and the surgery would be thrown into shade. Megan was looking through the window at this opposite side of the road, at the dark side.
The purpose built surgery was by the side of the main road that led to nowhere - to the end of the valley and stopped, thwarted by the height of the mountains. Here, halfway down, outside the doctors’ surgery, the valley swelled enough to accommodate a small roundabout
ringed by a terrace of miners’ cottages and beyond that a flat grassy knoll used as a recreation area with a central hollow which formed a pool. It was an old pit pool, once marking a stop for the steam trains that chugged up and down the valley taking their precious cargo of black gold out into the wide world to win wars, fuel trains, power ships, turn engines. Over the years the waters had been polluted with coal dust which had settled on the bottom. The valleys might have been prettied up in recent years. The council might have named the pool Llancloudy Pool but the locals knew better. The old miners who coughed up forty years of accumulated coal dust peered into its sooty, watery depths and reflected. Then they had renamed it Slaggy Pool. And it was towards Slaggy Pool that a crowd of people was gathering.
Megan stood up, approached the window and sharply drew the blinds aside.
Gwendoline Owen continued, seemingly oblivious.
Megan was vaguely aware of a brief pause before Gwendoline rattled on again.
She left a short, pregnant silence before continuing.
At last she stopped. “Is everything all right, doctor?”
There were two people standing on the edge of the water, staring and pointing downwards. Three people now. More approaching. All staring, shouting, pointing. They’d found something in the Slaggy Pool. Afterwards Megan would ask herself the same question over and over again. Why had she assumed the discovery was of significance? It could have been anything. An old bicycle.
A fridge dumped. A pram. Anything. People often tipped things in there. More than once she had witnessed the Council JCB hauling some rusting object out of the pool. So why had she made that jump and assumed the discovery was of an object so unwelcome?
Rubbish. They didn’t exist. Not in her scientific, medical world. These were explanations manufactured for people who failed to understand reality. It was only later when she freeze-framed each individual shot and matched the sounds to the action that she began to understand how very sensitive human beings are to the abnormal. And she knew what she had instinctively picked up. There had been an excitement subtly mixed with revulsion in the way people were staring at the water’s surface. A shrinking back combined with curiosity. There had been one sharp scream. Quickly checked. Some sudden gesture of horror followed by a rejection, a turning away. And she had picked it up.
At last Gwendoline Owen stopped speaking, her sharp feretty eyes boring indignant holes into the doctor’s back. Only then when she failed to will the doctor to respond did she finally relinquish her few minutes of exclusive consultation time, rise stiffly to her feet and join Megan at the window. And now that the doctor had swept back the blinds completely, even with her typical invalid’s self absorption, Gwendoline registered that there was something very strange about this morning. She was already selecting her words ready to gossip at the Co-op on her way back home.
“The doctor wasn’t listening in the first instance. Staring out the window, she was. No doubt thinkin’ about …” And the gossips would sagely nod their comprehension. They knew exactly what the doctor would be thinking about. “And then halfway through when I was
explaining to her about my arthritis she just got up and pulled the blinds right back. All the way.”
And because it was now obvious - even to her - that Megan was oblivious to anything inside the surgery, Gwendoline Owen stood at her side and took her first real look out of the window.
The crowd was thickening around the pool and pressed so close together Megan could no longer see any glimpse of the surface of the water. There were so many people they spilled out onto the road, careless of the passing traffic which was slowing as it reached the border of the pool. A car swerved to avoid a child. The driver expressed his anger with a sharp blast on his horn. And still the people hurried along the road towards the pool. Twenty, thirty. Megan stood, riveted to the spot, her hands spread along the sill, her eyes glued to the backs of the people nearest the water. Someone must have summoned the emergency services. A police car slid into view, bossily proclaiming its status with a screaming siren and flashing blue light which shifted the pedestrians. As though it were a tableaux Megan carried on watching as two burly, uniformed policemen elbowed their way through the crowd, shoving people out of the way. And even though the window was only open an inch to allow the entry of the faintest whisper of summer breezes, Megan knew the people had finally hushed.
By her side Gwendoline Owen broke the silence.
“What on earth is going on out there then, doctor?”
“I don’t know.”
Her eyes flicked to the picture on her wall and back outside.
Gwendoline Owen’s sharp, small eyes burned with
inquisitiveness as she peered through the glass. “Don’t you think you should offer your services, doctor?”
But Megan could see no justification. She didn’t know what was happening.
“I don’t know, Mrs Owen. I don’t know.”
“Perhaps you should just see. Maybe someone’s been hurt.”
It was more than that. But even so Megan opened the window wide and called across the street. “Hello. Can I help?”
No one took any notice. Probably no one had heard. Their attention was all directed to the front.
One of the policemen had vanished into the crowd. The other was moving traffic on with brisk arm movements. Gwen Owen’s eyes were aflame with morbid fascination. “What do you think it is, doctor?”
Megan shrugged. “I don’t …”
“Well it looks to me as though …”
The crowd dropped back. Words drifted in through the open window.
“It’s a person.”
“Don’t be daft.”
“It’s a woman.”
“Looks like she fell in and drowned.”
Someone echoed the words. “Drowned, she did.”
Gwen turned away from the window for no more than a second. “Well,” she said with relish. “What do you think of that? Someone’s dropped themselves into the Slaggy Pool.” She twisted back to stare out of the window. “I’ve always said it was an accident waiting to happen. And now it has. A miracle that it wasn’t a child.” And with the Valley’s love
of just retribution falling on the heads of sinners she added righteously, “Someone drunk, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Megan could think of nothing to say.
And in a village sealed in by mountains and with only one road in - or out - Gwen Owen’s next sentence was predictable. “I wonder who it is.”
She shifted slightly towards the door, patently anxious to join the growing crowd of voyeurs and find out for herself. And again she prompted Megan, “Per’aps you should go over, doctor. Offer your services. Just in case …”
Megan closed her eyes briefly.
But habits die hard. She had a responsibility both towards the living and the dead of this place. Megan moved towards the door. She should show willing at least.
She opened the door and moved down the corridor towards the reception area, Gwen Owen stomping heavily behind her. Ten yards from the counter she realised they were coming for her anyway. One of the policemen was already talking to the receptionist. As she reached the counter he spoke to her. “Excuse me, doctor. Megan.”
Police Constable Alun Williams who years ago used to kiss her behind the bike sheds at the Comprehensive School when they’d both been sixth formers. Since then she’d slogged her way through medical school and a gruelling GP training scheme scanning the slums of Cardiff docks and he had remained here to become a Police Constable.
He was waiting for her reply. He always had been good looking. The best that the Welsh could possibly offer. A
forward lock on the school rugby pitch. A huge, strong frame that complemented the leggy seventeen-year-old she had been. He had been the hero of every single game, the only reason she had stood, shivering, at the touchline of countless school league rugby games. She, the swot, honoured by his attention.