John reads his broadsheet newspaper impatiently, yet with precision that only time will allow it has been flatly and neatly spread out on the desk. Leaning over it, he reads it with an ease of pose that only familiarity can bring; fingers interlinked and his forearms lying flat on the desk, his arms only moving from their position to allow his back to straighten as he sneers at the content. His scorn reaches its peak, and he stops reading, reclining fully in his seat with a snort and a shake of the head, which seems almost premeditated, so he can justify looking at the clock on the wall, again. Dissatisfied with its reading he checks his watch before recalibrating the paper to show the sports section. He reads something that makes him grimace. He checks his watch, this time impatiently, and then looks up at the clock on the wall, and then at his watch again, before sighing and returning his disdain to the paper. A few moments later there is a knock on the door, which, with a reflex of startled relief, propels him onto his feet.
Dr Carter, spectacled, greying at the temples, but with a physique that belies his age, opens the door, raises his hand to say hello, but does not speak or enter the office, choosing instead to linger at the entrance.
While John, portly, a sign he has succumbed to the comforting reality that middle age inevitably will succeed in assuaging any trace of vanity, stands up and takes his suit jacket off the back of the chair and puts it on. Dr Carter, still lingering outside, looks with puzzlement at the unused coat rack sitting in the only corner of John’s office he can see from his station. John briskly walks up to Dr Carter and shakes his hand. Dr Carter nods reluctantly.
‘Right, shall we get to it?’
‘That’s why I’m here.’
John walks just in front of Dr Carter, leading him down a corridor festooned with posters carrying pious and earnest insignia and slogans of self-congratulatory initiatives that have been perverted by politicisation.
‘Thanks again for coming. I know it’s a lot to ask given what happened yesterday.’
‘No problem. Still no name?’
‘‘fraid not. We’re on it, she’s probably been a homeless for quite a while. Well…you saw the state of her yourself.’
‘This would be easier if I had some kind of history to work from.’
As they reach a door, painted an unnecessarily austere foreboding shade of dark grey, John stops Dr Carter suddenly by placing his arm in front of Dr Carter, tapping him lightly, but condescendingly, on the chest while talking.
‘All I want you to do is to get her talking, that’s a start. If she gives you her name, even better, then I can do my job and get her dealt with.’
‘Pressure from upstairs?’ Dr Carter quips in playful retaliation.
John rolls his eyes in confirmation, as he opens the door, leading to a small room which is adjacent to an interview room. The interview room is small but brightly lit, with a woman sitting passively in front of a table situated in the middle of it. Her hair is damp, her skin carrying the sheen of recent bathing and she is wearing a grey tracksuit, the inappropriately large size of which, clearly indicates it does not belong to her. John and Dr Carter view her through the one-way glass. An officer is already positioned in the corner of the interview room, while another is sitting watching the woman from behind a desk positioned in front of the one-way glass.
‘I reckon she’s schizo, or off her tits on god knows what.’
Dr Carter turns his head slightly and looks at John but offers no form of disapproving response. John doesn’t notice it as he’s watching the woman through the one way glass with his lips pursed.
‘Right, you know the drill?’ Says John, turning to face Dr carter.
‘Yes. But it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these.’
‘Yeah well…as you know Amanda will be in there at all times – protocol. Dean here will be just outside, if she starts acting up, walk straight to the door. Okay?’
Dr Carter nods. Johns looks at him intently for signs that he is likely to obey his instructions.
‘Let Amanda and Dean deal with it, okay?’ John repeats, this time in a passive aggressive tone.
Dr Carter nods again, his face holding the same blank veneer of excessive restraint he worked so hard to perfect over the years.
John signals with an irritated almost dismissive flail of his right arm at Dean to stand where he should. John then sits in the seat Dean’s just vacated, he leans back in the chair, and sighs as he studiously aligns some documents sitting in front him as he would level the pictures hanging on a wall or neatly folding the newspaper on his office desk. Dr Carter enters the interview room, the woman notices that it’s him and immediately stands and stares at him attentively.
‘Hello, my name’s Dr Carter.’
‘Yes, I know.’
Dr Carter walks at a considered slowish pace to the table, draws the chair and sits down facing the woman, who is still standing staring, wide-eyed.
‘Please, sit down.’
Dr Carter maintains eye contact, as he sits down. She waits to sit down after he has.
‘How are you feeling?’
‘Why did you come?’
Dr Carter momentarily shows a level of surprise at her question, by pausing and considering his response.
‘You requested it.’
‘That’s why I did it. I knew you would.’
‘How did you know?’
‘You have an inquisitive mind, just like your son.’
Dr Carter ponders this as he rubs the forefinger of his right hand gently and slowly between his closed lips.
Would you like to tell me your name?
‘It’s not relevant.’
‘Officially we don’t have names…we’re not supposed too. We don’t exist…we aren’t citizens.’ The woman’s face looks solemn and condemned upon touching the subject, yet her tone is defiant.
‘Who do you mean by ‘we’?’
‘Me…my parents…the others like me, like us.
Dr Carter waits for her to continue.
‘Those of us who were descended from escaped government slaves.’
‘What are your parent’s names?’
‘My dad’s name is Mickals, after the leader of the second failed rebellion, mum’s name is Annja.’
‘And your name?’
The woman offers no response. She slumps back in her seat and starts biting the nail on her left pinkie finger with a crude disregard for its constitution. John watches on wearing a vexed look that perfectly fits the structure of his face, dismayed at the stagnancy of the conversation so far.
‘Oh this is bollocks, what kind of names are these?’
John continues to deliberate whether he has spelt the names correctly in silence for a few moments, before reluctantly handing the names to Dean, who leaves to get them checked. John returns his attention to the conversation.
‘Your colleague won’t find them in any database.’ She says mechanically before explicitly looking in the direction of the one way glass.
‘Because they don’t exist yet.’
‘They will, in over three hundred years.’ She sits back in her seat, clearly satisfied that her words have made the desired impact, even though she notices that Dr Carter has yet offered no visible reaction.
‘I want to discuss your parents. You seemed distressed when you spoke about them. Tell me about them.’
‘I know what you’re doing, it’s not relevant.’
‘What is relevant?’
‘Why is my son relevant?’
‘He’s why I’m here.’
‘Why are you here?’ To emphasise his question Dr Carter, seeing that he’s holding her attention, deliberately looks up and around at the totalitarian paucity of their surroundings with an exaggeration that borders on being a provocative implication.
‘To save humanity.’
‘Its own greed, combined with your son’s genius. You can see the start of it happening, right now, today, the increasing disparity of wealth. Overpopulation. Mass industrial pollution. How cowed the masses are, afraid to challenge authority and order.’
‘My son’s only ten years old. He’s no harm to you or anyone.’
‘He will be-‘
‘In what way?’ Dr Carter responds sharply, almost interrupting but maintaining his usual a calm tone.
‘He won’t mean to, it wasn’t his fault.’ The woman replies, defensively.
She looks up at Dr Carter, who moves his hand upward from where it had been resting on his cheek and gestures to her to continue.
‘Forty years from now he will create a sustainable energy source. This will be his life’s work. But…but its implementation was resisted by corporations and governments. Alfie…your son, he, I’m sure he intended it… he intended it to be used to end poverty and pollution, but the rich and powerful annexed it to sustain their position.’
The woman stops to catch her breath, her gaze remaining fixated on the centre of the table. She steadies herself, and with more composure continues.
‘Please, take your time.’
‘Eventually the people rose up against the bought armies of the world’s nations demanding that this energy be used to benefit them. They…we, lost, most of us were enslaved, our rights completely stripped away as punishment. They were made to work to rebuild the damage they supposedly caused by revolting. Some of them escaped and joined the few that were free, and started pockets of resistance. The rebellion. The first rebellion. It wasn’t successful. It was uncoordinated. Most of us were wiped out.’
She stops and nervously looks up at Dr Carter, who offers no reaction.
‘All the people who weren’t citizens were genetically neutered. They claimed that this was to ensure population control, that…that it was required to replenish the planet, to let it recover, after the destruction caused by the wars. But we in the third rebellion knew it was a lie, a lie, they brainwashed them, they wanted to create a genetic elite that would rule the planet…with the highest standard of living…the rest were placed into ghettos, they were used for experiments.’
‘So your parents were involved in this resistance?’
‘Yes, the third.’
‘What are they like?’
‘Dad was very brave, he was our leader.’
‘Was?’ She takes a moment to compose her response, but her lip continues to quiver slightly.
‘How did your father die?’
She pauses, again. Her eyes welling up.
‘He died in the effort to send me back…He lead an operation to acquire energy from one of the government power cells…sorry…they, they got caught.’
She composes herself after a few seconds and then speaks with a determined anger.
‘There was a traitor among the group, Frintl, they offered him citizenship in return. Father must have suspected, as he told us to move the transmogrifier to another post before the mission without anyone else in our group knowing.’
‘What about your mum?’
‘I don’t know…she was still alive when I entered the porthole…but the Biotechs were closing in-‘
‘No, no, I meant, what is she like?’ Dr Carter interrupts with uncharacteristic urgency.
‘Kind, protective…just as you are of Alfie.’
‘It must have been hard to leave her behind, not knowing if she’ll be alright?’
‘Yes…it was…but we all knew what had to be done…we all made sacrifices. I can’t go back.’
‘Would you like to be able to go back?’
She looks like she’s about to answer then sits back in her seat. Dr Carter, now animated by her visible concession, seizes the silence and without pausing continues his line of enquiry.
‘Do you feel like you abandoned her?’
She quickly sits forward to answer, but then hesitates.
‘Yes…but I had to.’
‘But why did it have to be you?’
‘Who travelled back?’
Dr Carter nods in confirmation.
‘I was the youngest, the healthiest of our group. I had the best chance of surviving the journey. I volunteered.’
She looks at Dr Carter who nods again, encouraging her to continue.
‘The intention was for me to arrive ten years from now, but because father was foiled Rami said we only had enough saved power left…the wormhole’s exit time was more variable than intended.’
‘How long ago did you arrive?’
‘Four years, two hundred and eighty-nine days ago.’
‘Your objective, as I understand it, was to influence the future, your present, so why wait until now to make contact?’
‘I wanted him to be an impressionable age…an age where his cognitive abilities were fully formed.’
‘I see. What had you planned to say to him?’
‘I would tell him the truth, of the future, his future, and his place in influencing it, so that he would understand, be conscious of his actions.’
‘What if that didn’t work, what if he didn’t listen…what if you couldn’t reach him?’
‘There was another alternative.’
She hesitates for a split second before deciding to answer.
‘To kill him.’
Dr Carter removes his index finger from his lips and visibly clenches his teeth with his mouth closed, subtly rippling the skin of his jawline. The woman, clearly ashamed by the admission, doesn’t notice this, as she is now refusing to make eye contact with Dr Carter.
‘Is that what you were planning to do when you broke in?’
‘No, no, no…that option was a last resort. I just…I wanted to try and…’
‘It’s okay…please, take your time.’
‘I wanted to explain it all to him, as I have to you…to all of you, that he should be careful about who he trusts in the future. I probably should’ve waited longer, but I couldn’t take it anymore.’
‘Living like this, living with this burden, of being the only hope.’
‘To save your mother and father?’
She glances at Dr Carter in frustration, sensing he’s trying to entrap her, she hesitates to answer.
‘I know…I know you don’t believe me, you can’t, your training won’t allow you. You think I’m insane, that’s why I was hesitant, hesitant…’
‘I’m here to help you.’
‘Then warn him for me…guide him and…It will be more effective if it comes from his father.’
‘But what if someone else develops the technology?’
She rubs her hands over her face. With a dejected look she slumps back in her seat. After staring at the abyss of the ceiling for what seemed much longer the minute it actually was, she suddenly places an expectant look at the one-way glass window, then dwelling on Dr Carter’s face for a moment, staring intently at him. Just as Dr Carter glances at the glass and turns back to face her, she suddenly leans forward menacingly.
‘It’s just a shame that your wife’s pregnancy…if that complication she had…well…none of this would be necessary.’
Dr Carter rearranges himself in his seat.
‘How do you know that?’
‘No, the question is, what don’t I know about you and your family?’
Dr Carter tucks his chair in to the table and rests his forearms on the desk, locking the fingers on both hands together as John would, before looking at her until she relents and acknowledges his concern.
‘Why not just transport back to before my son was born?’
‘It would be better if your son developed the technology, it’ll soon be needed to save the planet’s ecology.’
‘But you said you were prepared to kill him, if necessary?’
‘Yes, as a last resort.’
‘And what would that last resort be?’
‘That he would reject me, after what I would tell him.’
‘But how can you hope to convince him?’
‘I know things that only he and you would know.’
‘I knew about the problems your wife had during her pregnancy.’
‘What was the specific complication?’
‘That’s a relatively common problem.’
She leans back in her seat with contemplative deference, sitting quietly for a few seconds, before leaning forward again.
‘I know about your affair.’
‘I’ve never cheated on my wife.’
‘That’s true, not since you’ve been married.’
Dr Carter withdraws his arms from the table. He stares at the woman intently, waiting for her to speak. She stares at the one-way glass while rubbing the ends of her hair between her thumb and index fingers with a smooth serenity that borders on being self-congratulatory. A few moments pass, Dr Carter waits intently holding a relaxed pose, sensing she is considering and or concocting another approach.
‘Please…lean forward, towards me, closer…I want to tell you something in private.’
Dr Carter looks at Amanda who is standing in the corner over the woman’s shoulder. Amanda is shaking her head lightly in an attempt to discourage him. Dr Carter hesitates for a moment before leaning forward. John watches as the woman whispers something in Dr Carter’s ear. His attention is interrupted as Dean arrives to give him some paperwork. He scans it quickly, then stands up and opens the door to the interview room. Dr Carter leans back in his seat, his expression unaltered by what he’s heard, before turning to face John.
‘Brian, a word please.’
Dr Carter stands up, still staring at the woman before turning to head to the doorway. John closes the door behind Dr Carter as he enters the adjacent room.
‘There you go.’
Dr Carter scans the paperwork. Meanwhile John continues to stare at the woman through the one-way glass.
‘Melinda Patterson. Twenty-one years old, junkie, what a waste eh?’
‘Her parents, Michael and Anna, died on January the twenty-second 2010.’
John watches Dr Carter as he reads the rest of the intel, stopping and dwelling on one piece of information in particular.
‘Yep. Thought that part might grab you.’
Dr Carter continues to study the information on Melinda, while John stands waiting, getting increasingly irritated by his relative inertia.
‘So what did she say to you?’
‘Sorry?’ Dr Carter replies sluggishly, side swiped by the timing of the question.
‘When she asked you to lean over, just now?’
‘Nothing. Nothing relevant to this.’ Dr Carter confirms raising the document level with his head before tucking it under his arm.
John openly gives Dr Carter a suspicious look, contrived in a way to make Dr Carter notice, convinced he’s hiding something, in the hope Dr Carter will relent and satiate his intrigue.
‘Is it true then?’
‘About you, you know, about you and Helen…when she said…you know, before-‘
‘No…look, I can go back in if you want?’
‘No, no, no, don’t bother.’ John replies hastily, which reveals his disapproval at the possibility of having to endure further boredom.
‘I think I can help, now that I know for certain.’
‘It makes little difference now. It’s up to you mate.’
Dr Carter nods and opens the door.
John retakes his seat as Dr Carter goes back through the door to the interview room. He is still holding the file given to him by John under his arm. He places it on the desk, as he sits down. The woman focuses an inquisitive stare at the closed file for a few seconds. Dr Carters watches and waits for her to speak. The woman’s gaze is interrupted as Dean enters the interview room quietly, he walks over to Amanda, says something to her and Dr Carter watches as she leaves just as unobtrusively as he arrived. After Amanda leaves the room the woman returns her focus to the file sitting on the table.
‘What does it say?’
Dr Carter’s attention is returned to her. The woman nods her head once slowly and deliberately in the direction of the file.
‘Quite a lot.’
‘So how will you proceed?’
‘May I call you Melinda?’
‘You can if you like.’ She replies glibly.
‘You don’t want me to?’
‘Look, I don’t care. I already know everything that’s in there.’
‘What it doesn’t say is what happened after you arrived.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Where were you, while you waited for my son to become of age?’
‘I stayed hidden…I waited.’
‘Mainly I squatted.’
‘This is wasting time, I’m not her.’
‘But you have been here, for over four years, in her body, Yes?’
‘That doesn’t matter.’
‘Doesn’t it harm your credibility, and the credibility of your story, if you aren’t prepared to reveal-‘
‘Fine. I worked the streets; is that what you want to hear?’ She interrupts, with an indignant sneer.
‘No I want to hear the truth, better yet, I want you to hear the truth.’
The woman sits back reluctantly and starts twirling the ends of her hair with the fingers of her right hand again, this time more vigorously, clearly irritated into agitation.
‘What was it like?’
‘What was what like? She responds reluctantly.
‘Being on your own?’
‘I can imagine, in a different, a foreign time, that-‘
She interrupts Dr Carter by leaning forward quickly and pointing a finger on the table, turning it white with duress.
‘I knew what to expect. Extensive research was done.’
‘But even so, being separated from your mother, not knowing if she was okay. That would weigh heavily on anyone.’
‘Look, what happens to me, or has happened to them isn’t important now. Completing my mission is the only thing that matters.’ The woman replies, raising her voice while still keeping her finger pressed down on the table throughout.
Dean takes a half step forwards, but Dr Carter looks him back, the woman looks over her shoulder slightly, and then suddenly withdraws her threatening demeanour, by sitting back calmly in her seat.
‘You’ve been through a great trauma Melinda. Your parents were killed in a car crash.’
‘Her parents.’ She responds, sharply.
Dr Carters opens the file slightly, taking a few moments to read over a specific page, before pausing, closing the file and resuming eye contact with the woman.
‘So when it was all over…and you’d convinced Alfie of his need to be careful, aware of his actions…’
‘What would you do?’
‘I don’t know what you mean?’
‘What will you do with the rest of your life? You said you can’t go back, so…’
‘I’d watch over him, check on him, from a distance.’
‘But what about the time you wouldn’t be watching him?’
‘What difference does it make?’
Dr Carter opens the file on his desk again. The woman leans forward to try to look at what Dr Carter is reading, convinced it’s a ruse or a contrived mechanism to unsettle her.
‘It says here that you’ve been missing since the accident-‘
‘No, that would be her.’ She interrupts.
‘Even so, it’s the same amount of time since you arrived, so will you continue to live as you have been?’
The woman offers no response, while Dr Carter looks at the file again.
‘You went missing after your parents’ bodies were formally identified.’
‘That’s when I entered into her. I was…in a car park…outside the hospital.’
‘Where did you go next?’
‘I don’t remember.’
But you remember being in a car park, yet you don’t remember what happened next, even though you’d just successfully transported from the future, which you hinted was physically demanding.
‘Yes, that why I don’t remember.’ She replies, raising her voice considerably.
‘I think you do, and you’re ashamed to say.’
‘I think we should talk about what you’re doing to Melinda.’
‘I haven’t done anything to you.’
‘Well…you’re denying me access to Alfie.’
‘You feel I’m the cause of all this?’
‘You are responsible for what happens to her, and now, what’s to happen to me. But you can’t blame yourself. That would be illogical, wouldn’t it?’
‘We all do illogical things, emotions are illogical – they can have illogical effects, for instance-‘
‘You think I’m an illogical effect?’ She interrupts, sounding almost insulted.
‘No. I think, given the circumstances, what’s happened to you is perfectly logical.’
Dr Carter teases the file on the edge of the desk so only he can see it.
‘But what isn’t logical is…’
‘Why select her?’
‘I wasn’t in charge of that decision.’
‘Father, Jerul…I’m not sure who else, mainly dad. He was the leader of our group.’
‘Did he tell you why Melinda was chosen?’
‘Do you have any idea why they might?’
‘No, I have no idea whatsoever.’
‘Do you think it might have something to do with the similarities of your situations? The death of her parents, and that you’d never see your parents again? That coming from the future, they knew I would treat her, due to your actions as you were her. So from that point of view I can understand the logic in your father choosing Melinda-‘
‘Yes, you’re probably right. Dad was very logical.’ She replies excitedly.
‘But there’s something else that I don’t understand. That I find illogical.’
‘Why didn’t he choose to have you transport into my son’s body after he’d created the technology?’
‘We didn’t have enough energy, I told you.’
‘Yes. I know. The time you would arrive was variable, but you also implied that transporting into Melinda’s body wasn’t the only option, and you also implied that this decision was taken before your father’s attempts to acquire the extra energy.’
‘You’re lying, I said father decided for me. Don’t put words into my mouth.’
‘I haven’t. But if Melinda was the only choice, and you volunteered to travel, what other decision could there be? What was this decision you alluded to?’
‘I didn’t say that. I didn’t say decision.’
‘This is being recorded. I could go and check the playback if you like. And you said that it wasn’t only your father who made this decision. He also consulted Jerul. Correct?’
‘Why are you doing this?’
‘So was Melinda the only choice, or not?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘So a life-changing decision, a decision which would irrevocably alter the prosperity of mankind, a mission you said you did extensive research for, didn’t involve you knowing if there were other alternatives to transport into. How am I, or more to the point, my son for that matter, supposed to believe this?’
The woman stands up suddenly, propelling the chair backward, startling Dean into a brisk march towards her.
‘You fucking liar!’ She roars, her outburst followed by several smashes of her closed fist on the table. Dean finally restrains her but Dr Carter holds his hand up to signal to Dean to stop there.
‘Melinda, I want you to calm down, right now. Okay?’
The woman stands for a moment, her fair features frozen anger, the energy still swirling in her body stifled by Dean’s grappling, is instead re-routed into another release: gritting her teeth. Dr Carter still has his hand raised to stop Dean from taking any further action. The woman stares at Dr Carter.
Dr Carter drops his hand and nods quickly at Dean to release his grip of her shoulders, which he does, before retreating slowly backwards to his set position. Now freed Dr Carter waits a few moments for the woman to fully simmer down. She turns and collects the chair staring at Dean throughout the journey, who struggles not to stare back, before she repatriates the chair to its position, and sits down.
‘Say Melinda wasn’t the only choice?’
‘She might’ve been.’ She replies, with a reluctance that verges on defeated.
‘So you admit that she might not be?’
‘Does it matter?’
‘It does to your mission, does it not? Part of your mission, now, is to convince me, to get to Alfie.’
‘So again, I ask, if your father was as logical as you say he was, why not just have you transport into my son’s body?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t…I just don’t…he didn’t…he wouldn’t tell me.’
‘You didn’t ask why Melinda was chosen?’
‘No, no. I didn’t.’
‘So why didn’t you question your father’s clearly faulty logic?’
‘But it wasn’t faulty. You said why, it made sense for Melinda to be chosen.’
‘In the abstract, yes. But your actions have ensured you have no chance of seeing my son.’
‘But I don’t have to be.’
‘But you are.’
‘I’m here to help you, here to help you get better so you can move past this.’
‘There’s nothing for me to move past.’
‘But there is, if you want to see Alfie’
Dr Carter looks at the woman, who now looks puzzled by his last response, and then down at the file again, he flicks through a couple of pages before the woman interrupts him.
‘You aren’t guilty about what will happen, to mankind?’
Dr Carter hesitates to answer.
‘Naturally…I am. I see what it’s doing to you.’
‘Then don’t let it happen, help me.’
‘I’m trying to.’
‘Just tell your son everything and let him decide. That’s how you can help me, and help her.’
The woman sits back and looks visibly relieved by Dr Carter’s concession, with an ease which surprises him. She slumps in her seat and rests the back of her head on the top of the chair’s back and looks again at the ceiling. Meanwhile the woman doesn’t notice Dr Carter taking two photographs from the file and placing them on the desk.
‘Can you look at me please. There’s something I’d like you to look at.’
The woman’s head snaps up suddenly, facing Dr Carter. She sees the photos and squints as they are still upside down. Dr Carter turns them the right way up.
‘This is your dad.’
The woman looks at the photograph intently as Dr Carter slides it closer to her, but she offers no reaction.
‘And this is your mum.’
After looking at the photograph she turns her head to face the one-way glass. John is jolted out his disinterest life by the intensity of her glare, and with a waved finger that exudes a clam urgency signals to Amanda to move towards the door.
‘They both died in a car accident, over four years ago.’
‘Yes, they did.’
‘How do you feel about it?’
‘I don’t. How do you?’
‘Feel about it?’
The woman nods languidly.
‘It’s terrible that it happened, I think it’s worse for you though, you’re in shock. It’s highly likely that you’ve been suffering from a form of psychogenic amnesia, and it’s interfering with your ability to process the distress of losing your parents so suddenly.’
The woman offers no reaction but to rub her hands slowly and forcibly over her face several times, before migrating over her forehead, eventually running her fingers through her hair.
The Woman looks at him solemnly and then closes her eyes and drops her head and rests it on the desk. Dr Carter looks at the one-way glass while her head is resting on the desk before looking back in her direction.
‘What?’ Her timid reply is stunted further by her forehead still resting on the desk, which starts to roll side to side slightly, similar to the shaking motion of a beleaguered animal, that’s steadily morphing into derangement from being in captivity for too long.
‘When you came out of the hospital, where did you go next?’
Dr Carter’s question is met by a period of silence, with the width of Dr Carter’s eyes being his only facet to convey his increasing disappointment the longer it goes on. Eventually the woman raises her head slightly off the desk to answer him.
‘I went to a house.’
‘I don’t know. I needed…’
‘Money, I needed money.’
‘Smack. Heroin. But you already knew that, didn’t you?’
‘Where did you go next?’
‘Where do you think, it’s obvious.’
‘I want you to tell me. I want you to say it.’
‘I knew I would need it before I arrived. She was an addict, I was in her body.’
‘What was it like, feeling that sensation, the symptoms of the withdrawal?’
‘Horrible. I felt like I would be ready for it, but…’
‘Was it a similar feeling to losing your parents, knowing you’ll never see them again?’
The woman looks at Dr Carter but refuses to respond.
‘Did the sensation remind you of what you had lost?’
The woman turns her attention towards the wall and looks up at the dismal pallid light emanating from one of the small rectangular windows near the ceiling.
Despite Dr Carter’s now pleading tone her attention remains on the window.
Dr Carter waits for ten seconds, then reluctantly closes the file on the desk and stands up, just as he turns to head to the door the woman returns her attention to him suddenly.
‘Where are you going?’
‘I’m going to talk to someone.’
‘Are you coming back?’
‘No, I don’t think so.’
‘Will you really tell Alfie about me, about what I said?’
‘I’ll explain the reason behind your actions…yes. I imagine he’ll ask me anyway.’
Dr Carter turns and heads for the door but is stopped when the woman responds.
‘Remember what I said.’
Dr Carter does a half turn.
‘What I whispered in your ear, don’t forget.’
‘I won’t. Goodbye Melinda.’
Dr Carter reaches the door and it is opened for him. Dr Carter conscientiously lets Amanda pass by him into the interview room before he enters the viewing room. John is sitting with both elbows on the desk with his chin resting on his thumbs with his fingers locked. Through the one-way glass he watches Amanda and Dean escort the woman gently through the door on the far wall, upon their exit, John eventually puts his hands down flat on the desk and faces Dr Carter with a sarcastic look.
‘That went well.’
Dr Carter stymies his glibness by offering no physical or verbal response.
‘Why did you stop there?’
‘She got what she wanted. It would be unhealthy for her if I kept feeding the narrative, vindicating it, as I’m the one it’s designed for.’
John nods with his bottom lip protruding agreeably.
‘It would be better if someone else treated her from this point onwards.’
‘Of course. Right…anyway thinks for your help Brian.’
‘Sure thing, if there’s anything else.’
‘No, no, you’ve gone out of your way here.’ John interrupts, attempting to mask his customary impatience with a complementary method of thanks.
‘It was no problem. Look, I’ll write a few notes if you’d like.’
‘You don’t have to mate, seriously.’
‘Just to help whoever carries on her treatment…and Melinda of course.’
‘Right, sure, excellent.’
John stands up and offers his hand and Dr Carter shakes it.
‘Thanks again…can I walk you out?’
‘Right then, excellent.’
They move through the corridors swiftly, John once again leading Dr Carter, even though he knows Dr Carter knows the way. They walk with a contemplative silence that only drained men assume.
‘So what will you tell the kid then?’
‘Nothing. We’ve already explained it…he understands.’
‘Wish mine would bloody listen to me.’ John blurts, shaking his head to imbue his lamentation.
Dr Carter gives a stifled respectful laugh. They walk for another ten seconds until they reach the entrance. John offers his hand again and they shake.
‘No problem. I’ll see you later.’
Dr Carter waves back at John as he exits the building before taking out his mobile – and checks it while walking to his car. He gets into the car and immediately falls back languidly, letting the seat envelop him, and gives a relieved puff of the cheeks. His relaxation is disturbed by his mobile phone ringing. Dr Carter takes out the phone, his usual stoic, diplomatic facade is fractured by the identity of the caller. He switches his phone off, childishly flipping it with disdain onto the passenger seat, and starts the engine.
‘What a twat he is.’
‘He’s nothing new.’
‘But he’s certainly borrowed the Thatcherite blue.’
‘Very good Helen, bravo.’
They both laugh in-between sips of wine as the absurdity of modern television’s news reportage drones on.
‘People’s need to naval-gaze, or seek out sources of it, is unimpeachable. That’s all this is.’ Says Brian emphatically, holding his wine glass in the direction of the TV.
‘Yeah why are we watching this crap?’ Blurts Helen, hooking her legs up under her on the settee in a demonstrative fashion.
Dr Carter turns and leans in Helen’s direction, ensuring that she notices him offering the most conspicuous of raised eyebrows, in an aim to contextualise his previous musing.
‘Oh fuck off Brian…good god, they’re going on about him again, that’s two segments in a fucking row.’
‘I plead clemency, you’ve got the remote.’
‘What do people see in him, he’s like that dodgy teacher you find in every school, the one you wouldn’t want to be caught alone with.’
‘Well, most parents liked Jimmy Saville too.’
‘Oh Brian, ewww.’ Helen looks repulsed, playfully chiding him with a swipe of a cushion.
‘The reason people are daft enough to vote for him is simple, it’s an abdication of responsibility, for everything. That it’s not our fault we’re now a culture obsessed with greed and property, that we want 0% mortgages, something for nothing, that we deserve these things, this has obscured what’s important and allowed many people to be screwed over. Nobody wants to take responsibility for that, and that’s what Farage has recognised. That’s essentially what Thatcherism is, that’s its core essence. We like to pretend we’re not like this, not like her, but if we’re honest about it, Thatcherism has always existed, she just emboldened it, and now Farage is doing the same. Instead of blaming trade unions, he’s blaming a different set of soft target – immigrants or those in poverty. He’s attempting to take away the rights of the few so he can repeal the rights of the many. He can do this as there are people who can’t defend themselves, because we’ve allowed them to treated that way, because it suits us that they’re beneath us.’
Helen remains quiet at Brian’s musing, looking at him with a dispirited glare.
‘Fucking hell that’s dismal.’
‘Yes it is.’
The following contemplative silence is broken by a flash emanating from the television.
‘Oh Look, breaking news.’ Says Helen sarcastically.
Brian’s face lights up, as sensing he’s killed the mood with portentousness, he sees the opportunity to lighten it again.
‘Perhaps it’s about Farage again. ’ He says, smirking.
‘Yeah maybe the plane’s finally crash landed properly.’
They both laugh over the start of the report, but it quickly dies down when its subject matter is recognised.
‘…the earthquake struck shortly after 5:30 am local time, along the Longmenshan fault, in the Sichuan province in China. The Earthquake read 9.8 on the Richter Scale, making it the largest recorded earthquake in over 100 years. Early estimates suggests that the number of dead is likely to upwards of 100,000. With the details we go now to our Chinese correspondent in Beijing…’
The joy drains from Brian’s face as the details register and reinvigorate a memory from months previous, he replays his private discussion with Melinda. He sees her leaning forward and he recalls her exact words;
‘There will be an Earthquake in China on April the 21st 2015. It will register 9.8 on the Richter scale. 292, 842 people will die as a result. Remember I told you this. Remember.’
He is repatriated to the present, and his trance is broken by Helen.
‘Look at that. Brian. Brian.’
‘What?’ Replies Brian with a bemused callousness, delivered with a tone which he would otherwise be incapable of producing intentionally.
‘Look.’ Says Helen forcefully, undeterred by his apparent disinterest.
‘I think that estimate is going to look very conservative.’
‘The number of dead.’
‘They’re usually pretty good at predicting that sort of thing.’
Dr Carter quickly gets up and walks to the door, and exits heading down the corridor.
‘If you’re going to kitchen get the bottle of white that’s in the fridge door’ Shouts Helen.
‘Okay’ Confirms Brian with a passive softness that likely wasn’t heard by the intended recipient.
Brian lingers outside Alfie’s room, he opens the door narrowly, his son, as per usual, sitting at his computer, the outside world placed in his obviousness, so he can be locked in full concentration at whatever prose he is concocting. Brian stares at him working, until Alfie reaches what appears to be a break or an impasse, and turns to face him.
‘What is it?’
‘Did mum send you. I’ll go to bed soon, there’s no need to-‘
‘I know. Did you have any of that jelly mum made.’
‘No, I’m not in the mood, I prefer Orange anyway.’
‘Okay, see you in the morning, night.’
‘Yeah, see ya.’
Brian closes the door and heads for the kitchen, reaching the sink he braces his weight in anguished exhaustion by placing an arm on either side of the sink. He takes a moment to compose himself and rather robotically remembers to retrieve the wine from the fridge. Just as he closes the fridge door, Helen arrives in the kitchen looking slightly miffed at his tardiness in fetching the wine.
‘There you are.’
Brian turns to face Helen, not realising that he’s forgotten to reinstate his now habitual emotionless guise to suppress the anguish his expression currently conveys.
‘Darling, what’s wrong?’
© Niall Cullen (2014)