By Lucy Chesser
The man wakes.
It’s dark. He cannot move. He’s jammed up, hard edges, pressing all around him. He shudders. Thinks at first it’s prison and the crap’s been bashed from him. Waking a pulverised mess in his cell.
Clearly wrong. Every bone in his face feels like it’s shattered. The pain is immense. Blinding. Like a concrete wall in front of thought. He is hyperventilating. Whimpering. Smells blood and vomit. This is no cell. More like a car wreck.
He must be trapped. He’s lying on his side. Can’t move. A big man, his knees are bent. Everything is squeezed. His head is forced downward. Something rigid is behind it, his chin jammed unnaturally tight to his chest.
The car has concertinaed around him and he is trapped. It’s hard to breathe. The air is fetid. How long has he been here?
He tries to call for help, His noises are stifled. His mouth as he tries to move it is an agony, he’s suddenly terrified at how it might have been smashed to pieces. He imagines torn lips, crushed, splintered teeth. It feels like something is in there; has he bitten off his own tongue?
He wants to know. Both hands are trapped at unnatural angles, behind his back. He’s terrified to move them, fearing breaks or a horrific dislocation. So the first movements are by fractions of inches, testing.
Now he’s puzzled. They are stuck. Not pinned. Held together. He feels the bite of something at both wrists as he tries to separate them.
He groans as the pieces click into place. He was driving, in control. Hard with the anticipation.
And now he is here and this is no car wreck. The rage boils up in him so suddenly. His head knocks against metal. Bang. Bang. Bang. That sound is unmistakable. He cannot believe this is happening to him. His whole body shakes and writhes and strains against the trap, all his strength, all his breath channelling into his efforts to bust out and… The details aren’t there, but this is blind, murderous, futile, fury. This can’t be happening to him.
He almost suffocates before he realises it and all his energy floods to panic then. He is panting. He cannot flex his lungs wide enough to take the air he needs to survive. He’s so cramped in here. Panic sets in; he can barely expand his lungs. And the air he does get is stale. Almost worthless. The juices already sucked out of it. He’s dying.
For minutes he feels sure of it.
Then the survival instincts take over and focus him. His consciousness narrows. Everything is given to calming himself, blocking it all out until he can get the oxygen on board.
And when it is and he can think straight again, it is misery that takes over. Because he knows what has happened. And how stupid he has been. There is no good outcome for him here. He is frightened and utterly helpless. Trapped. And nothing for it but to wait out every miserable minute until his end. It’s been scripted for him; he’s an idiot. He can’t believe it.
And the time slips by, it could be minutes, hours, days – he cannot tell in this darkness.
What is this place? Am I a prisoner? Am I waiting here to be tormented and mocked and finally murdered?
Or is it a coffin? Have I already been left to die?
Someone is holding her wrist. There’s the pinch of skin against bone. An irritation that grabs at her attention. She fights it, but it’s already too late. Her consciousness swells.
The pinching fingers loosen, but only to take a different grip. The wrist jerks upward, the arm following. Then the whole assembly hangs as a dead weight.
Rubbing begins. Her whole body sways with its rhythm. There’s a fleeting image, a scouring pad and a child’s soft skin and ink from a typewriter ribbon used without permission. Behind her eyelids she basks in pink light. There is a muttering of voices. Strange accents, odd words. They are speaking English, but what they say doesn’t seem to make any sense. They are arguing.
A man’s voice – “The wing, the wing. I’m telling you that’s where the problem is -”
There is a Pppff sound of contemptuous air escaping and then “Bullshit.” The voice is female, but low in tone and gravelly.
The man goes on, insistent. “I’m telling you the real damage was done on the wing.”
His is the closer voice. They are his fingers around her wrist. She doesn’t like it and goes to pull away but the arm just hangs there, jerking in time to that rubbing motion. He adjusts his grip, tilting the arm one way, then the other. Then the rubbing continues down along her forearm, past her elbow, nearly to the shoulder. What is he doing? It is a test, she decides. To see if she is listening. She tries to make the word “Arm” – she knows it isn’t a wing. There’s another image for her then, of feathers, a bird standing amidst the husks and debris on the cage floor, its wing broken and extended, its head twitching, eyes fearful.
“What was that?” The man’s voice again.
The rubbing stops. She feels breath close to her face, the odour of vinegar.
“I thought I heard something.”
A pause. He holds his breath, waiting. Then he exhales and says “No. Don’t think so.”
“Mess isn’t she?”
“What kind of animal – ”
“I mean it! Be quiet!”
There is a rustling noise. Cloth tickles her skin as it is lifted away. Cool air settles on her chest. It disturbs her. She feels dragged into consciousness by degree. The rubbing begins again. A hand slides around and grazes her breast – this isn’t right… Get off me! Her mind spills into panic, but the touch doesn’t linger there and her agitation washes away. The rubbing becomes a rocking motion. It moves down her body towards her belly. She begins to drift…
There is pain in her groin. A flashing sharp pain. Somebody is interfering with her. She opens her mouth to cry out but feels only the slightest rush of air pass across her lips. Then one eyelid peels back just slightly and she is blinded by white light. That’s me doing that, she realises.
“Nearly done, nearly done.” A man again. This one with an English accent. Then there is a pause followed by a final painful bite.
Then there is rustling and more busyness. Hands on her legs moving them, straightening them, then they are covered, warm again. There is a clanging noise of metal on metal, a scraping vibrating sound. Her mind is swimming. Soon there is someone beside her. She takes in the odour of perfume. It’s her grandmother leaning across her, dabbing cold water on her forehead. The sweet smell of her and her soft voice prattling away about the chickens and the snails and her vegie patch… Pneu – mo – ni – a. Pneu – mo – ni – a. She is sounding out the syllables, concentrating. Pneumonia! I have got it! Proud and excited all at once. “Good girl!” cheers her grandmother, clapping and bouncing her wide bottom on the bed. “Gracious you’re a clever one – just like your mother.”
It is a woman’s voice. There’s movement across the bland whiteness. Her eyes are open, she realises. A face appears in front of her. It’s slim. There’s black hair. She looks Chinese, but the accent doesn’t seem right.
“Can you hear me?”
Dull heaviness weights her whole body, even the muscles in her face. She tries to speak but there is just a sound like a “guh”. It frightens her.
“Don’t worry Kate,” the woman says. “You’re safe – in the hospital.”
She stares back at her. The brain she is using is just barely functioning.
Somehow, though, instinct identifies her secrets.
Like an animal she squirrels them away.
Whoever she is, she isn’t Kate.
Whatever has happened is unspeakable. And it isn’t over yet.