Authors: A. L. Bird
‘I won’t believe you!’ I say. Even though now his Paul-ness is starting to flood back. His familiarity is explained. The draw towards him clear.
But I hate him. Why do I hate him? How have I not recognised him? What am I doing in this room? Why, how, what? Why, how, what?
I start to cry. And shake. I cry and I shake and I cry. He puts an arm round me to comfort me and I let him be there for a moment, then push him away. I retreat to the furthest end of the bed.
‘No,’ I say, shaking my head again. ‘No. It can’t be true. You’ve been drugging me, making me susceptible. It’s a trick. I’ve seen the films. You’re lying to me, taking advantage. Why wouldn’t you have told me before? Soon you’ll bring out photoshopped wedding pictures and claim they’re real.’ I try to inject some passion into my voice. But everything feels dull. Remote. Hunched at the end of the bed, I train the gun on him.
He is crying too. Not sobs. Just tears, leaking from the edges of his eyes.
‘Yes, I’ve been drugging you,’ he says.
The seesaw swings to confusing despair again.
‘I knew it, I knew it, I knew it,’ I say, pretending to myself to prepare to shoot.
‘I’ve been drugging you with venlafaxine and olanzapine. For depression and psychosis. From your old supplies, and online.’
Still I’m shaking my head. Now the rest of me shakes too. I don’t understand. I don’t understand.
‘After …’ he starts. Then he stops. ‘A few months ago, you got pretty unhappy. You had an episode. You stopped recognising me.’
I’m rocking, now, as well as the shaking. It feels true, what he says. And he looks like Paul. He feels in my heart like Paul. I know he is Paul. But how can I trust what I know? If it were true, it would mean …It would mean that every day I’ve been sitting here not knowing my husband. Thinking separately of Paul. That he is someone else. And that, for some reason, my husband has held me captive.
He is talking again.
‘I’m sorry, Suze. I’m sorry I had to do this. But, after what you’ve been through … And you’d made me promise never to let you go back there again.’
‘There?’ I ask.
‘When you were committed. Fifteen years ago. The worst experience of your life, you said … so far.’ His voice cracks.
This is unbelievable.
‘So … what? You’ve been “treating” me? You’ve kept me imprisoned in this place to stop me going insane?’
The question hangs there.
‘You’re not insane, Suze. Never say insane. You’ve had psychotic depression. But I’ve got you out of it, do you see? I’ve saved you!’
‘Why the hell wouldn’t you tell me who you were? If you are who you say you are? I don’t understand! Why do this for – what is it – days, weeks, months?’
‘Weeks. I didn’t want to make you worse, I wanted to win you back, make you accept your life. I wouldn’t have told you now, when you were so close, starting to recognise me, since I’d upped your medication. But, Suze, you tried to shoot me! I just reacted. I had to tell you. And I guess I’d got your dosage to the point where me telling you was the last piece of the jigsaw.’
He looks at me like his words should mean something that I can understand.
‘Suze, you’ve been at home, with me, this whole time. In the spare room.’
I just … This room, my own house … ?
What do you do? What do you say? Do I …? Well, what?
What, what, what, what?
I shut my eyes. I need to think.
‘Go,’ I say.
‘What?’ he asks.
‘Leave me. I need to … Just leave, OK?’ I open my eyes to look at him. Paul. Paul. Paul. I have an impulse to throw myself into his arms, to hug him, but I don’t. Something, everything, is holding me back.
He stands up. Then he sees I have the gun. He puts out a hand for it. I shake my head.
‘Suze, I’m not leaving you in here with a gun.’
Oh, I see. Suicide. That’s the implication.
‘I wouldn’t do that to Cara,’ I say.
He freezes for a moment.
‘Right,’ he says.
There’s something odd about how he says that.
And, before I know it, he’s out of the room. And he’s shut the door. Not locked. Just shut.
‘Wait!’ I cry. Because something isn’t right. Something else. Something other than me apparently not knowing that I’ve been locked in what is allegedly my own home by a man who says he’s my husband.
‘Paul, come back!’ I shout. ‘I want to see Cara!’
‘Paul! Paul!’ I call out. He isn’t coming back. I don’t understand. Why won’t he come back? And I’m panicking, and there are more tears pricking, and I’m standing and running to the door. Because deep down, there’s something, something horrible that’s starting to well within me. I must see Cara. I must see Cara.
I pull open the door to the corridor. And I see now that it is my corridor in my house. My home. The corridor in which I carefully hung pictures of our family. Of Cara playing the flute, Paul and me on holiday, Cara in one of her designs. Pictures that Paul has now obviously decided to take down. But there’s still the skirting board for which I chose the shade of white paint, still the carpet we bought on the cheap from Carpetright. Our own particular beige. I see it now. How could I not see it before? For a moment I’m transfixed.
But only a moment. Because the important thing about this corridor is that leads to Cara’s room. Paul is trying to take me in his arms, stop me running. But I push past him. I have to see. I have to go in there. I open the door to Cara’s room. Cara, please, Cara, Cara, Cara—
There’s no anything. There are no posters. No pictures. No pink hearts round photo frames. No sheet music. No customised clothes hanging neatly on the wardrobe.
And no Cara. There’s no Cara.
No. It’s not true. Cara is in here. She’s in here. I saw her!
‘What have you done with her?’ I scream to Paul. ‘What have you done with her?’
‘Suze, it’s OK. Come on, Suze, it’s fine.’
I’m vaguely aware of him continuing with these platitudes, of his arms trying to encircle me, him still holding the gun, and of my brain questioning why she would be writing to me if we haven’t in fact been kidnapped, but I push on.
‘But she’s here,’ I shout. ‘She’s been writing to me – she’s here!’ I yank the gun from Paul’s grasp so he can’t do anything to me – because how can I trust him now? – and I go over to where the grate must be. It’s behind a chest of drawers. Cara’s chest of drawers. She must have had to shift it every time. I push and pull the unit away from the grate. I almost can’t see for tears but I’ll still do it. I’ll still pull it away. And Paul hovering uselessly, uselessly in the background. Finally, I manage it, finally the grate is revealed, and I see …
Oh help me.
I see all my letters. In a pile. Unopened.
This can’t mean what it means. It can’t, it can’t, it can’t.
I sink down to the floor and I put my hands to the letters. And I see in one hand I have the gun, and it’s the only way now because this isn’t what I wanted, this isn’t the dream at all, this isn’t what I wanted. Where is Cara? What has he done with Cara? Tell me, brain. Tell me what is happening. Think, retrace, understand – letters, unopened, no Cara, how, why, what?
Paul, letters, Cara, no Cara; Cara, no Cara.
Oh, but no.
Stop it, brain! I take it back! I don’t want to know! Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Spiralling down through my mind, horrible, horrible recollections, realisations that she’s not here. Why she’s not here. Why she’s not anywhere. Go away, memories! Go away, truth! How do I stop this? How do I make the reality go away? I can’t bear it, I can’t bear it, I can’t BEAR IT! I raise the gun, to my head, into my mouth and I gag and I fumble and Paul, Paul he’s on me and he’s ripping the gun away from me and tearing out the bullets, throwing them onto the floor, and I’m sobbing and I’m sobbing and sobbing in his arms and I’m broken now. I’m broken and I’ll never be fixed.
Because she’s dead, isn’t she? My beautiful, lovely wonderful wonderful Cara is dead.
Suze lies prostrate against my arm. I think she’s asleep, exhausted from crying. Her eyes are closed. She may just be hiding from the world. I keep stroking her forehead, half willing her to open her eyes. What has it done to her, this shock of reality? What have I done to her? Will there be lasting damage? I’m an idiot. A meddling, idiot amateur. I should have sought help two months ago. Back when she started slipping away from me. The mood swings from exhaustion turning darker. The monosyllabic answers. The refusal to eat. The failure to sleep. The lies she began telling herself, and me, about Cara. About what I’d done.
And then, the worst time. The time she didn’t recognise me. When she got so scared and angry that I had to sedate her. When she looked at me with such hatred and asked why I’d kidnapped her. A fantasy. A complete fantasy to block out what happened. Then of course she ‘saw’ Cara.
I just wanted to help. I couldn’t send her back – she had such an awful experience the first time. I wasn’t there; it was before my time. But she told me everything. Not over the coffee after the supermarket with her and little Cara, to make up for the drink I’d spilt on Suze by clumsily bumping into their trolley. But at dinners after that. She told me everything she could about the institution. About the denial of her will. How she was made to question everything she wanted. How she was drugged so heavily she hardly knew if she was real. How she became heavy, lethargic, distanced. How the other patients – particularly the men – terrified her so much she refused to come out of her room. How every word she said was dismissed as a fantasy. How her mind was bent to destruction. How she thought she’d be in there for a week and came out three months later. How things were never quite the same with her and Craig after that, but that she had no one else, so she stayed with him – until he left her, after Cara was born, and the crying started again. How she went from being a teacher to being an outsider, ostracised, with nowhere to work, only a kitchen to bake in. And how she never ever wanted to go back to that place. And so I promised her that with me at her side she would never have to return there. That she and Cara would be safe with me. That was my mission statement, the manifesto pledge with which I proposed marriage. Never ever again would Suze be in an institution.
So we became our own medical experts. She took her medication religiously. Lied to the doctors if ever she felt sad, erratic, confused. Just said she was ‘stable, thank you’, and got repeat prescription after repeat prescription. For the depression only. She didn’t think she’d have to contend with psychosis again. Thought it was a one-off thing. A single episode, fifteen years ago.
If I’d known that was coming, perhaps I wouldn’t have tried to medicate with wine and foot massages. Perhaps when my wife didn’t recognise me, and I panicked, I should have panicked towards a doctor. Not drugs from the back of the cupboard and off the internet, God knows how dated and impure. But I’d made a vow, you see. And I couldn’t break it. They would have taken her away. I couldn’t lose her, too.
There was of course one other thing she’d told me. That it was Cara who had kept her going, when she came along. That despite the tears of exhaustion and hormones and whatever else, she loved Cara passionately. The mental health services team could see that and were happy. Cara was her one joy from Craig. Shared with me. And I …
What happened happened.
I was more to blame than she was. Of course. Although there was something, that when I think of it, makes me feel for her a fraction of the hate that she must have felt for me smouldering beneath the surface. When I first found out. Where she really was. What she was really doing that day, what she effectively made me do. I hated her then. I feel my hand tighten on the gun. To think that she … But no. Come on. That’s in the past. I relax my hand again. She’s been through so much. It’s she who has to forgive me. For all of this. If I was misguided. Which it’s looking like maybe I was.
Just as I’m wondering how I can face Suze and how she can ever recover from this, her eyes open.
There’s a slight flash of panic, as she wonders how it is she’s next to her captor. Then she remembers and I see her relax. But the next moment her face contorts again. Fear? Hate? Sorrow? I press her to me and we stay like that for a few minutes.
Then she finds her voice.
‘So I’ve been writing letters to myself?’ she asks. ‘Hallucinating them coming through the grate?’
She nods too. ‘And replying to them?’
I nod again.
‘And the knocking on the wall?’ she asks. ‘I was hearing things, sending goodnight kisses to myself?’
Again, I can only nod.
‘I guess, when she stopped writing, when she stopped knocking, when I started to remember you, get déjà vu about the house, that was the medicine kicking in?’
‘That sounds about right,’ I say.
‘But what about when I saw Cara, in her room? That flick of her hair?’
He shrugs. ‘I’ve thought I’ve seen her so many times in other people’s faces, in a trick of the light. The mind makes its own ghosts.’
She sits silently for a moment, her head in her hands.
‘How did I become this crazy?’ she asks.
I’m going to treat it as a rhetorical question. She’s not ready, I don’t think, for the full facts. I’m not ready. I just don’t know how she’ll react. To me.
But she asks again, more insistently. ‘Paul, please. I know … I know that Cara’s, that she’s … not here.’ She can’t use the real word, the d-word, and I don’t blame her, not for this. Even after her euphemism, she has to pause to stop the juddering breaths. She can’t stop them, so she continues anyway. ‘But I can’t … I can’t place everything. I’ve spent too long thinking she’s in this room. You need to take me back there. You need to fill in the blanks. All of them.’
Then she’s silent again for a moment. She’s looking at my hand round the gun. I look down too. I seem to have tightened my grip again.
‘And, Paul, you’ll hide the gun, won’t you? I’ll keep the bullets. You keep the gun. I just feel … they shouldn’t be together. Neither of us should have them both. OK?’