Chapter 40: Isla
Isla opened her eyes and a digital clock on the wall came into focus. 16:02 it proclaimed. It took her a moment to realise or remember where she was but the clinical smell of the hospital brought her crashing to reality.
She hurt. She really, really hurt. Everywhere. With effort, she was able to sit up and she gingerly peeled back hospital sheets and gowns to reveal bruises blooming across her arms, legs and chest. In places she was bandaged but as she moved each limb in turn she was relieved to note that whilst she had clearly been badly beaten, she appeared not to have sustained any broken bones. Her head pounded and as she lifted a hand to her temple she felt the soft, thick padding of a bandage above her right eye.
What had happened? Her last memory was of leaving the train station with Dee, far later than usual and with a sleeping Milly in her arms. She breathed slowly and groggily turned over what she remembered in her mind. This had happened before, these moments of memory loss following a head injury or traumatic beating and she now knew that the key to retrieving the series of events leading up to the memory loss was to remain calm and to focus on the small details she could remember. Remembering smells or sounds often seemed to evoke more memories for her than anything else and so she closed her eyes and, as calmly as possible, retraced her steps from last night in her mind.
She was carrying Milly who was heavy and who smelt deliciously of strawberries, the lovely scent of the shampoo that Isla had used on her long locks the previous evening before bed. Milly had nestled into her, breathing deeply, soundly asleep as she had been through most of Dee’s incredibly sad story. Isla’s heart had broken for Dee, the one person in the world she might consider a friend just now, and instantly she had begun to wonder how she might help her.
If things were different, if her home were a safer more stable place… if it weren’t for Simon… then she would surely invite her friend to stay with her whilst she tried to get herself back on her feet. Dee seemed ready to try to get her life back on track after years of floating, but it felt unlikely she could do so alone, especially with no home.
Isla had been preoccupied with these thoughts all the way home. She recalled the weight of Milly growing in her arms as she got closer to home. The evening was cold and she could remember the fresh cold feeling of inhaling the night air. A fresh and beautiful smell and feeling that to Isla seemed very clean and promising – full of hope somehow and not tainted by the smell and feel of the city. She’d felt as if the cold night time air had cleansed this day and was preparing a blank slate for tomorrow. “You can start again..” it seemed to call.
Her mind had been so preoccupied as she approached the house that she was completely shocked when the front door came crashing open and the clean night air was suddenly filled with the smell of whisky and rage and, within moments, her head was filled with ringing as she took blow after blow after blow, falling to the ground to form a human shield over her daughter. She did not care if she died but her daughter must go unharmed.
Milly screamed. Isla screamed too, hoping to alert a neighbour. She hurt too much and was too crazed to think straight but she knew she needed sirens. She knew they needed help. She knew something needed to happen before it was too late. With every ounce of her being she held Milly tight and she screamed and she screamed and she screamed as fists and feet rained down on her.
And then she awoke in a hospital bed at 16:02.
Last night’s screams echoed in her head and reverberated through her pain ridden body as panic suddenly coursed through her and a new scream left her, unbidden as she half called, half cried,
Chapter 41: Dee
The longer she waited, the more unnerved she felt. Isla and Milly were never this late for the train, they were not the type of people who left things to the last minute and found themselves running desperately for the train before the doors closed. There were plenty of commuters who Dee saw every day who did do that, who managed every day to almost miss the train, but not Isla and Milly. They usually arrived with more than ten minutes to spare. But not today. Today they were later than usual. Dee had been here for some time, waiting, and now there were less than five minutes until the train was due and there was still no sign of the pair. Where were reliable Isla and adorable Milly?
As the minutes ticked by, Isla started to play out a range of different scenarios in her mind. Each more grizzly than the last, though the scenario she kept on returning to was the one where Isla had decided that she simply didn’t want Dee in her life. The one where, following their conversation yesterday, she had walked away forever, determined not to return, perhaps feeling a little sorry for Dee but sure that she should not, perhaps could not, help.
Dee desperately wanted that not to be true. As they had held each other in a final embrace before they went their separate ways in the dark last night, Dee had had a sense that the two of them had really connected, that they were on the same side, that Isla wanted to help Dee and might even allow herself to helped by Dee.
But here she was. Alone.
All the other possibilities of what might have happened to Isla were far too awful for Dee to contemplate. Her thoughts turned repeatedly to the bruises Isla had shown her and she shivered.
She sat and she waited and waited and waited. The train came and went and still Dee waited. And she worried. She was almost certain that Dee would be here if she could, so what was keeping her away?
Chapter 42: Isla
Isla had felt the scream stirring inside her and before she knew it, the scream was outside of her, filling the echoey room she was placed in.
Bouncing off the clinically stark white, bare walls and cascading all around her. She screamed and she screamed and she screamed until she felt limp and broken.
After what felt like minutes but was probably merely moments, staff came running in to see what was happening and why Isla was screaming.
“Milly!” She screamed “Where’s Milly?” Two nurses and an on-call doctor exchanged worried glances. One nurse went to put a hand on Isla’s arm but Isla shook her off. “Don’t be nice to me, I don’t’ deserve your sympathy, just tell me where my daughter is. Is she alive? Oh Milly! Milly! Milly!” she sobbed.
The nurse reached for Isla’s arm again, this time Isla allowed her to place a hand on her shaking arm.
“Mrs Jenkins, your daughter’s condition in critical, but she is alive. Would you like to see her?”
Isla had never felt so relieved in her life. She was terrified of what she’d find when taken to her daughter – what did ‘critical’ mean? – but she was alive. Alive. That was the most important thing right now. For a moment, Isla had fallen down the rabbit hole and imagined she had lost everything, but now, with the news that Isla was alive, she found the strength to take another breath.
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Thank you for feeding back each day. I’m building in your edits and suggestions to the version held on my local machine so the initial raw version will remain here. When I’ve got questions, I’m going to ask them each day – don’t feel obliged to answer them, but if you’re happy to they’ll help me as I try to craft the story. If you have questions or observations I’d be keen to hear them too.