by Katie Lumsden
She lies still in the bed that used to be mine, asleep. I watch her. It is so strange, looking at another human being. I do not like it. I am afraid, so dreadfully, dreadfully afraid. It has been six days now. They might come to look for her. I do not know what to do.
I do not want to be counting days. I do not want to be changing the dressing on the foot of a strange ghost intruder who is muddling my peace. When I took the bullet out of her skin I remembered why I hate human kind. I was sickened with memories and had to pause, to try and calm myself. I threw her gun into the river when I found it in her pocket. Her left leg is grazed all the way down to the foot, where the bullet, slowed by the walking boots, entered her foot. I had to cut off her shoe. It was horrible. I hate more that I am looking after her, sharing with her my food, my cutlery, giving her the bed that was mine and now has become hers. Perhaps I should have left her to die after all.
But I am safer like this, of course. She will be better soon. She will be better and then she will leave me.
I walk down to the river and swim, trying to give myself some normality, some comfort. I feel free. I feel happy. I know that it will not last long, because back in my tent sleeps a sick strange historian girl who I am somehow taking care of. I, who am not fit to take care of anybody, have become some sort of nurse. I do not like that.
When I wake again Lord Hugh Blackmore gives me cooked vegetables served on a wooden plate. He gives me a fork, wooden, as well. I can taste the smoke on the vegetables as I eat; I suppose he cooked them on an open fire. He sits, crouched on the floor beside me, eating the same food as me, but out of a bowl, and with his hands. I’m glad of the food, and of the water he brings me. It tastes strange. I’m starting to get a dreamy sense of how this odd isolated man lives here. He must grow vegetables and cook them on a fire; he must gather water from the river and boil it over the same woodpile. It’s strange. It’s a whole other world. I doubt the monks who once prayed here ever imagined this cathedral would house the canvas tent of a hermit Lord.
When I wake at night he is lying on the floor beside my bed, usually asleep, though not always. When he sleeps he lies on his front with his face buried in the ground, the blankets wrapped around him and almost covering his head, as though he is afraid. I wonder what he’s afraid of.
“It’s pretty horrible, isn’t it?” she says.
I stare at her. “I have seen worse.”
I leave the tent without answering her.
When the evening comes I go to the graveyard and set up my fire to cook. I caught a fish this morning and I slit it and serve it with vegetables, and she gets my plate and spoon, and I the bowl and fork. I normally eat by my fire and now I must change, must change everything for this nuisance. But it will be worth it, in the end, to protect myself. And after this she will certainly never come back. I am safe, safe. I must be safe here.
She eats hungrily. She always does. I have little appetite tonight.
“So why are you looking after me?” she asks, as we eat, her sitting up on the bed I made in my first year or so here, before I counted time as she has made me. I sit cross-legged on the floor.
I say nothing.
“I can tell you don’t want me here, so why look after me?”
Her questions irritate me. She irritates me.
I ask, “How is your foot today?”
“I still can’t walk.”
“Did you try?”
There is a pause. I look at her. I wonder if my brother would have thought she was beautiful. That was always his first thought about a woman. That irritated me. My bigger wonder about this strange being is whether she is happy, whether she feels happiness as I feel it. I always wonder that.
Once I wake when it is dark and my ghost is sitting up on his blankets crying, weeping, sobbing. His whole body is shaking. I hear him muttering vague words, and I can only catch some of them. “What if they come? When will they come? Oh what shall I do, what shall I do, what shall I do?”
I’m sleeping in the bed next to a madman.
I wonder how old he is. He must be younger than he seems, because the messy state of his looks would make anyone look older. He can’t be much more than ten years older than me. He’s rather a mystery, this ghost Lord of mine.
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Photograph: Katie Lumsden