Updated on May 24, 2015
The Writer – Part Two
The Writer – Part Two
A silhouette burned against a wide sky behind Fraser’s eyelids when he closed them that night. He lay still on his bed and when he needed to turn over he did so very carefully, so as not to wake the night-watcher, Martin. There was a window grille with a cover in the door – this is what made the closed door gape when he kept his back to it for too long – and every night at lights out it filled with Martin’s reddened eyeball. He believed Martin did not need to blink and had subsequently nicknamed him The Shark. Every night in the middle of the corridor, The Shark slept on a worn armchair from the dayroom, his thick corded arms crossed over the vast rise and fall of his chest.
Fraser dug his fingers into the coarse blanket and opened his eyes to look up at the bare ceiling. He curled his toes as he remembered the warm anteroom into which he had been shown that morning. They had instructed him to change into a fresh white gown, and when they left him alone he had taken off his slippers to feel the carpet. Soft; he had not thought about that word for a long time. In fact the last time he had had anything other than linoleum beneath his feet was six months ago, not long after that night, when he spilled whisky which soaked into the rug and made his feet sticky.
A short nurse came into the anteroom and beckoned him to follow her; he stayed several paces behind. They were in the hospital’s central building, far from the ward, which was somewhere in the east wing. She held open a door for Fraser and he stepped through. His eyes were drawn straight up – he had not known that any of the rooms here were so big, or had such high ceilings. He stared at the far off rafters and started to raise his arms above his head, but the nurse patted him firmly on the back and shook her head.
The walls were wood-paneled, except for the wall opposite which was almost entirely made of glass. Through it he saw a grand driveway that he could not remember ever having seen before, and the farthest ends of the hospital’s two wings, reaching away from him towards hazy fields, like outstretched arms.
In the room a woman stood up. There were several people seated at tables with their backs to him, facing others in white gowns whom he had never seen before. Some of them looked at him. The nurse extended her arm towards the standing woman, who waved tentatively as he approached. She did not come out from behind the table and they sat down across from each other; the grey light from the windows highlighted her flyaway hair.
“They say you’re more lucid now,” she said.
Fraser looked at the empty chair next to her and gripped the table top.
“Is he still at the base?” he said.
“Going back to Berlin soon.”
“I thought they won.”
“It’s still a mess. But you’re looking better.”
“He just loves to help.”
“Fraser.” She took his hand.
“Mom.” He took it back. Her skin felt like paper.
“How have you been?” she asked.
“Someone tore one of my books today. War and Peace.”
“Oh dear, maybe he wasn’t taking his medication. Have you been taking your medication?”
“Naomi gave me that book.”
“I really think the medication helps,” she said, twisting the fabric of her dress between her fingers.
“She knew I love Tolstoy.”
His mother sighed and bit her lip. She opened her mouth to speak, closed it and opened it again.
“You must be careful if you want to get well,” she said. “Ever since … I know you’ve had a tendency to idealise her. The version of her in your head isn’t necessarily real. No matter how much you loved … no matter how much one person loves another, nobody’s perfect.”
“You’d know about that,” he said.
“I’m sorry, he should have been here. He’s just stubborn.”
“And I’m weak, remember?”
Fraser struck his hand on the table and it reminded him of the pale man stamping on his book, eyes filled with hate and insanity. He stood up so quickly that the chair fell over with a soft thud.
“You’re not sick, you’re a coward!” he said in somebody else’s voice. “War is man and man is war! Men fight!”
The hand was back on his elbow, a piercing grip, pulling him. He tried to brush the hand away and tell them that he was finished here, that he would come quietly, but they would not listen. As the door closed Fraser saw his mother’s silhouette behind the table, her hands to her mouth, with the fields stretching away behind her.
Read Part Three.