A Question of Identity

Page 9

'Take it from me.'

'He maybe likes only to be with himself.'


Matt was on his hands and knees working on the wiring for a double power point. The room was full of light from the sun reflected off the snow but it was very cold.

Nick made a gesture with his foot towards Matt's backside. If he hadn't been so bloody keen to get back to work they could have had another day off. At least.

'There's a minimum temperature you're allowed to work.'

'For offices,' Matt said, not looking up.

'Course it's not only for offices. Why would it be only for offices?'

'Otherwise it would be for farmers ploughing fields and men on trawlers and roofers and scaffolders and gardeners and –'

'All right, all right. It's still fuckin' freezing.'

'Work harder then.'

Piotr was a tall, broad-shouldered man but it took all his strength to separate them. By the time he had, Nick had a bloody nose and a cut above his eye. Matt had tripped and fallen, got up again and charged back into the fight like a bull.

'You stop this, stupid bastards, quit. You quit, OK?'

Piotr looked Matt full in the face. Matt stared him out, angry, dangerous, fists still clenched.

Nick was trying to stop his nose bleeding by pressing it on his overall sleeve. Piotr handed him a paint rag but the blood went on dripping.

'Go get snow and push it onto your nose, it will work, like an ice pack. Maybe you also, Matt.'

Matt's cheekbone was flaring dark red. He shook his head and turned away, went back to the power point. He said nothing. He didn't need to – the set of his back was enough. Piotr got Nick to the door, and rolled some snow into a small heap in his palm. Splashes of blood stained the snow on the ground but the cold pack worked after a moment.

'He's fuckin' dangerous, he'd have bloody killed me, half a chance.'

'No. But maybe you better not kick him again in the arse, OK?'


'OK, now, back in, back to work. Better we all just work.'

They were meant to go on until four when the light began to fade but it was so cold that they left just after three. Matt walked out by himself. Nick and Piotr went in Nick's van. It was below freezing again but with the snow thawing all day, the roads were easier.


'Cup of tea. Too soon for drink.'

'Get on.'

But Nick parked on a patch of waste ground near the Cypriot cafe.

'Face OK?'

'I could have him for this,' Nick said, feeling his nose.

'Stupid, you started it, you kicked him in the arse.'

'I hate him.'

'Yes, you say so over and over again. OK, you hate him. Still stupid to kick him in the arse.'

'He got a wife?'

'How do I know that? He never talks.'

'Won't have. He'd never get it together.'

'He looks OK, he's big strong man. Has to have.'

'Says his dad might have one of the bungalows.'

'Well, OK.' Piotr's mouth was stuffed full of doughnut. He washed it down with the last of his tea and went to get two more mugs.

Nick fingered his face, knowing he'd been stupid, knowing he'd have a great bruise the next morning, knowing what she'd say, knowing his own temper. Stupid. There were men to walk away from and Matt was one of them. He hadn't been able to stop himself.

'Cheer up.' Piotr banged down his mug of tea. 'Maybe he finish the electrics tomorrow so we won't work with him any more days. Nice though.'


'Those places. If his dad get one, good luck. Nice places if you're old.'

Some days, I wake up laughing. I even wake in the middle of the night laughing, but then I always did.

I wake up laughing because I think where I am and then I think where I might have been. And I was there for seven months, so I know what it's like, and I fully expected to be back there for a whole lot longer.

So I wake up where I am and I start laughing. Just laughing. With my life. How it is now. How it's turned out.


SHE WAS COMING up from very deep down, where it had been lightless and sunless and soundless. She had been there for a long time. Years? Yes, it must have been years. Then strange sounds began, faint pulsing, watery and regular, like the sound of a baby's heartbeat in the womb heard through the fetal monitor. There was still no light but the intense blackness had begun to shrivel to grey at the edges, curling inwards and sucking in the dark. She had been lying heavy and inert at the bottom of the black soundlessness for those years. Now, she was being pulled slowly up and her body felt lighter. The greyness was solid, then opaque, then misty.

Someone pulled the plugs out of her ears, abruptly releasing her, and she surfaced.

'Molly.' The back of her left hand felt something warm covering it and the warmth moved.

She had opened her eyes, but when she did so, what she saw was so terrifying she tried to will herself back down into the blackness and soundlessness again. She saw a white sheet on a bed, the end of a bed rail, a white wall, and a figure out of focus, standing at the bottom of the bed. Something at the top of the figure was shining and she knew that it was a bald head, the bald head of a man, the man who had tried to kill her in the room with the white-covered bed. She had no recollection of him, his name or why he wanted her to die, but she knew that if she opened her eyes again he would be there but that she would see him more clearly and when she saw him he would look at her directly and she would know his name.

'Molly . . .'

The warmth moved slightly against her hand and there was a little pressure. She liked the voice. The voice made her feel safe.

'Molly, can you hear me? I thought I saw you open your eyes. Can you do that again?'

The hand smoothed the back of her own hand. She knew the voice and that it was not a man's voice, and a name belonging to the voice was floating about just ahead of her, bobbing like a balloon on a string, but just too far away for her to touch it and pull it in so that she would know the name.

'I'll keep talking to you. I can stay a bit longer. I came to see you this morning and I told you this so perhaps you did hear. If you can't open your eyes, just squeeze my hand. If you can remember what happened to you, squeeze my hand. Can you squeeze my hand now? You needn't try and squeeze hard. Just hold mine a bit more tightly.'

She knew that she could, but the trouble was if she squeezed this person's hand to show that she had heard her and understood her, what might happen then? Who else might touch her? The man with the shining head might press his hand on hers, might . . .

Molly heard her own voice, crying out but not saying words. Just crying out.

'It's all right. You're in hospital and I'm here with you, Molly. You're fine.'

Without knowing that she was going to do it, Molly opened her eyes and at once they focused not on the man with the shining head, not on her own hand, not on the white covers, but on a face she knew.

'Cat . . .' she said.

'She's going to be all right. No brain damage, her lungs are clear. Once they come round and there's no organ failure, then it's very fast forward.'

Cat knew the tone of voice and every nuance of expression because she used them herself. Confidence, an almost casual assumption that there would be full recovery, not even the caveat that 'providing this or that does not occur'. Molly was still young enough to go from death's door to fit and well within a short space of time.

'Physically, anyway.' The registrar waved his hand as he turned away and went off down the corridor.

Molly's father, mother and brother had arrived. For the first time in many hours, Cat was free.

In the League of Friends café she bought a cheese and tomato baguette, crisps, a bar of chocolate, tea, suddenly ravenous with the hunger that accompanies relief.

Physically, he had said. That was his area. He left the rest to other medics. Molly was seeing a counsellor but Cat was doubtful if it was helping her enough – or why would she have overdosed to the extent she nearly died? She was almost a qualified doctor. She knew what she was doing. Clearly she needed more intensive psychiatric help and Cat would try and make sure she got it. Molly was not merely a lodger, she had become part of the Deerbon family. They loved her. Cat owed it to her to do more than get her good professional care. The trauma she had suffered at the hands of Leo Fison would live in her head forever and certainly she would not be able to return and take her medical finals until she had her reactions more under control. But even if she passed her exams, would she ever be able to cope as a doctor? Cat finished her tea. She was angry at a man who could so disregard his fellow human beings and their feelings. He would have killed Molly, she had no doubt, but he had vanished. No one had seen him, he had left no tracks.

'You'll get him,' Cat had said confidently to her brother.


'But he's a dangerous man.'

'There are plenty of dangerous men on the Wanted records of every police force in the world and lots of them are never caught.'

'Don't let Molly hear you say that. She has to feel she's safe.'

'I know.' Simon did know but he doubted if Fison would risk showing his face within a hundred miles of Lafferton again. He just could not give Molly a cast-iron assurance about it.

At Imogen House, Jocelyn Forbes was in a coma, with the breathing tube in place again. Cat looked at her charts. Perhaps she would slip peacefully from sleep into death with the ease they always tried to ensure for patients. She looked calm.

'Good, you're here.' Cathy Loughran, the Staff Nurse, came in, looking agitated. 'I'm going to blow a gasket if that daughter of hers doesn't get her act together and come in while there's breath left in her mother's body.'

'Perhaps she's in court, she's a barrister –'

'I know what she is. I've spoken to her . . . she's not well, she's had a breakdown, she's trying to come to terms with her mother's illness, she's . . .'

Cat led her gently outside into the corridor, though it was unlikely that Jocelyn could hear them.

'I'll phone her.'

'Good luck then. Maybe you'll have more patience.'

'Come on, Cathy, you're one of the most patient women I know.'

'Not with the likes of Penny Forbes I'm not.'

The phone rang seven times before it was answered by a machine. Cat left a brief message, waited ten minutes and then rang again. The answerphone. She left no message, merely redialled, and redialled, until, at the fifth attempt, she got Jocelyn's daughter, by which time she was as annoyed as Cathy but, also like Cathy, well able to conceal the fact.

'I'm sorry, I have a major case to prepare. I'm back at work tomorrow and in court for the rest of the week.' She sounded crisp and professional. And hard. But Cat knew a front when one was put up before her.

'I understand. I know Sister Loughran rang you but I thought I should do so as well as I'm the medical officer for the hospice and I've been looking after your mother for some time. I was her GP, as I think you know.'


'She's is in the final stages and I'm concerned that if you don't see her you may regret it very much.'

'I will come and see her.'


'Look, I don't think you understand what it's like and I certainly don't think you know what an ordeal I went through with her on that terrible journey to the clinic . . .'

Cat took a deep breath. 'I do know, I promise you. It was horrible for you both and I can guess what a toll it took on you as the one who had to be responsible for everything. It was a very loyal and loving thing to do. I'm not surprised you've had such a reaction. Is there anything I can do to help you? If you feel it would help to come and talk to me I'm more than happy . . .'

'My own doctor hasn't been very supportive, to be honest. I have sleep problems, I have flashbacks, I have panic attacks.'

'Your GP should be able to refer you to a counsellor.'

'I don't think I could face that, going over and over it and then delving back into my childhood, stirring up all sorts of memories. I just need something to calm me down. I have to be in control when I'm in court, I can't look ragged with lack of sleep. Is there anything you can prescribe for me?'

'I'm afraid not, but . . . would you feel able to talk to me? I can make sure I'm free when you come to see your mother.'

Penny Forbes sighed deeply. 'I don't know if I can face that yet.'

'Talking to me?' No, she thought, of course that isn't what you mean, you selfish, self-regarding, self-absorbed cow.

'No. I meant my mother.' There was a catch in her voice.

'You really don't have much time.'

It's winter. I had to wait, wait, wait. Bloody cold, day and night, and it's night I like. Once the clocks go forward you've lost a big bit of the night. I've been thinking back. Spring was best. It was warm. I used to love that. Wait for it. Warm nights, walking back home. Big moon. Huge moon.

I love the moon. Moon nights are best.

Big moons.


'I CAN'T GET over it, I just can't. I knew it would be nice but I didn't think it would be like this. Look . . . look at the fridge!'

Harry laughed. 'It's only a fridge like your old fridge.'

'No, it's not, it's got a much bigger freezer box.'

Rosemary opened a cupboard door, then another. Went to the sink.

'What's this?'

'Waste disposal.'

'What does it do?'

'Munches up your potato peelings and all that. Turns them into a slurry.'

'Looks as if it could turn your fingers into a slurry as well.'

'It could. You be careful.'

'Let's go back into the sitting room.'

There was a pair of double doors onto the patio, which faced west. There was a raised step for pots. A small shed. A gate to the bin area.

'I'll get a bird table. One with a seed feeder. And a bird bath.'

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