by Katie Lumsden
I am silent around her because she terrifies me. And perhaps she is afraid of me as well. Today when I bring her water and fruit for breakfast she asks me, “Why are you doing this?” and for the first time I think she might be scared of me. Perhaps she thinks I will never let her leave, that I am crazy, because people never understood me even before I renounced people, and my brother, my brother, only he ever spoke to me. I wince, I struggle. I will answer her, I think. I, terrified of her, of everything, do not want her to be afraid of me.
“I thought,” I say, in a low voice, “that if I did not then people would come and look for you.”
She nods slowly, and I cannot read her face. Maybe she is relieved; maybe she is disappointed that it is not out of mere kindness. She cannot be surprised. But then, I do not understand her; I do not know.
“That makes sense,” she says slowly. And then, after another mouthful of fruit, “how long have I been here?”
“Eight days.” I wish I did not know. I wish I could answer that I do not know.
She hesitates. She looks at me. I do not like that. “They still might come,” she says. “Eight days is a while to be missing.”
“Do you live in the village?”
“No, but I’m staying there. The lady who runs the bed and breakfast probably doesn’t care a thing for me but I haven’t paid my bill yet.”
I stare. It is odd, hearing about bills, about money. My brother loved money. I hate it. I shudder. But she is right, of course, because people may come, may come to find her and find me and I do not want people to find me. The thought is terrifying.
“You think someone might come to look for you?”
She shrugs her shoulders, slowly. I suppose her wounds stop the movement being more forceful. “They might,” she says. This worries me. I can feel my body start to shake. It is one thing to have this strange girl here; it would be a great deal worse for anyone else to come. My peace has been disturbed enough. I consider this, and I frown. I shovel food into my mouth until my plate is finished and then I leave her.
And yet, I’m not unhappy, that’s the strangest thing. If I am going mad it’s a sort of mad contentment. I’m scared, in a way, of course, because Lord Hugh Blackmore, who seems like a ghost though he isn’t one, is frightening. Sometimes, though, from the way he shakes, I’d say he’s much more scared than I am – either that, or he’s ill. I wish I could walk. This tent hospital isn’t necessarily the right sort for me. I hate being confined within these canvas walls.
Every morning he asks me, “Can you walk yet?” and every morning I say, “No.” It’s not even improving. I don’t know how long I’ll have to stay here. I’m tired.
Today when he brings me fruit and water for breakfast he asks me his usual question and I give my usual answer. He looks as though he’s about to leave and he’s even turning when I say, “I haven’t left this tent for over a week.”
He turns back gradually, and looks at me for a moment, but says nothing.
“I’d like to leave,” I say.
“Then get better.”
“I can’t help it.” I hesitate, and he is on the verge of moving again. “If you helped me,” I say, “I could get outside. Not far, I mean, but just to sit outside the tent. I get… claustrophobic.”
He stares at me even harder. “How can you be claustrophobic here?”
“Because I haven’t left this tent for nine days. Besides, if you helped me out into the open I could, maybe, help you.”
His eyes narrow. He repeats, in a low voice, “Help me?”
“I mean with whatever you do. You must have to work hard to live like this.”
He seems to think of this for a long time, to weigh up this fact in his mind. After a while he asks, “Can you use a knife? I sharpen sticks for catching fish. Could you do that? … And I suppose if you will be here a while you had better try and carve yourself a plate.”
I hardly know how good I am at carving, but this tent isn’t enough for me, and so I nod. He pauses.
“I suppose I could… help you to get outside.”
The process of helping me get outside is almost as awkward and as tricky as persuading him to help me. I stand, on my right foot, and keep my left away from the ground, and I feel his arm around my waist, as I put mine around his shoulders to lean on him. We move together. He helps me struggle out of the orange yellow tent, into the bright sunshine beyond it. I almost stop when I’m confronted with the cathedral again, like the first time I saw it, incredible, its empty windows and absent roof letting in the light, ivy growing up the inside walls, the pews burnt. It’s awful that it got destroyed. It’s awful to think just how beautiful it would’ve been, once, before the fire. There’s barely time to take in it before he moves me on and somehow I end up sitting on hard stone that lies in between the grassy floor, my foot outstretched, and he gets away from me with a sharp movement as soon as he can. He wipes his hands on his worn jeans.
When I look round again he is gone, back inside the tent, and I sigh. It’s good to be back outside, to feel sun on my face, to feel real air, to feel cool. I feel better at once.
There’s an odd beauty about this ruinous place.
He’s back, and he hands me, not looking at me, a piece of wood and a penknife that looks ancient.
“This is covered in rust,” I say.
He ignores me, and holds up a bit of wood already moulded to show me what I should do. When I try to cut the wood it barely moves. “It’s blunt too,” I say.
Again he pays no attention, but watches me struggle for a moment and then goes back into the tent. He returns, a minute on, while I’m still attempting to make the first cut, with a folded blanket. Without a word he lifts my wounded foot, places the blanket underneath it, and stands up again. He watches me. It’s hard enough to do this without odd ghostly eyes staring down.
“Don’t cut yourself,” he says. “You have enough wounds already.”
That’s true, at least. I sigh, and am about to say something else when he begins to walk away.
“I will be back later.”
“Where are you going?” I ask.
“Why do you care?”
He’s gone. I sit beneath a roof of sky and work slowly. A strange peace flows over me, like water.
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