Neither of them spoke. Fiona was emotionally drained and Sharon simply had no words to express her distress and shock. She did the only thing that she could think of for the moment and sat holding the other woman in a loose embrace.
The light outside had faded and she rose stiffly and turned on the table lamps. “Do you want a drink or anything Fi?”
“Yeah, why not. I’m sorry Sharon, I can see that I’ve upset you. I should have kept it to myself, I feel mean now.”
“Do you feel any better, you know sharing and all that?”
“Honestly?” Sharon nodded just once.
“No, I used to think that I would, you know a trouble shared and all that but it hasn’t changed much has it, nothing really is any different.”
“Can I ask you some stuff though?”
“Of course, I guess I owe you that.”
“Well how come you came back. You know what did you do I still don’t understand about now, the rose at your house what is that about?”
Fiona settled herself into the cushions. “Tell you what, let’s have a glass of something eh while I tell you the rest.”
“Red wine okay? I have got some whisky if you’d rather.”
“No that’s fine, great. Are you sure you want to hear the rest. It’s not nice, not nice at all.” A great tear leaked from her eye and trickled across her cheek as she reached out to take the glass of ruby wine. “I knew that I couldn’t let them find out, the authorities. I was shaking and terrified and shocked. You really can’t imagine it’s not something that you can even begin to understand I see that now.
“Anyway, I took off the torn stuff you know my clothes, made myself respectable, huh that’s a laugh, respectable what a stupid word to use. I dragged him onto the trolley and covered him with the sheet. I cleaned up. I suppose I was lucky,” another ironic sound escaped her, not a laugh but a loud gasp full of sadness and misery. “Because it was what it was, you know a treatment room all the stuff was there to clean up with and get rid of the knife and such. I stayed there with the door locked for ages, just me and the body and the misery. I was so very, very scared and horrified by what had happened but something that puzzled me then and still does is that I didn’t feel panicked. Not in the way that you would have thought. I was shaky and so on but sort of outside myself looking in and I just did what I had to.
The cleaning up, lifting him onto the trolley, I mean how did I manage that on my own? When things quietened down in the ward, after visiting and so on, I think I had been in there with him for about three hours can you imagine.” She shook her head as if trying to lose the memory and toss it away. “I pushed the trolley out and through the back corridors. Oh God.” She started to shake again. The red wine sploshed unheeded onto the carpet and it seemed as though at last she would be unable to continue. Sharon took the glass from her hand and perching on the coffee table she simply grasped both of her hands and waited in silence for the moment to pass.
Fiona raised her head and looking her friend directly in the eye she spoke baldly and at first with little emotion. “I took him to the furnace building,” She took up the glass, gulped some of the wine, her trembling fingers spilt it onto her jeans where it soaked in unheeded. “There’s only minimum staff at night, one guy. I waited until he went for his break.” She was staring ahead now, eyes unseeing focused on a place that was so dark that Sharon did not want to follow but found herself dragged along, a party to the horror of it all. “The incinerator ticks over all the time you know, just like the ones here. The heat when I opened the door nearly knocked me over. I singed my face. It took ages for my eyebrows to grow back.” She laughed now a ghastly croak, I told people I had an accident at a barbecue, Oh God a barbecue.” Suddenly she was unable to continue and her body was convulsed by a violent attack of nausea. She ran to the toilet where Sharon heard her emptying the contents of her stomach until in the end she was dry heaving and sobbing. When the vomiting stopped Sharon crept into the room and bent to where Fiona crouched quivering in the corner. Drying her streaming eyes she gently coaxed her upright.
“Come on love, come on. You have spent so long with these horrible images in your mind. Finish it now.” Fiona simply nodded and followed like a sick child back to her seat on the sofa.
“I had to drag the trolley right up to the door. I started to push him off still wrapped in the sheet but of course I hadn’t thought it through had I and it caught fire almost immediately. I had to jump back out of the way. I grabbed a great shovel and used that. I shovelled him into the flames. I could smell him burning, his hair and the clothes. His skin blistered and popped as I tried to push him further in and the shovel went into his flesh and stuck I had to drag it back out. I could see his face, his face and oh no, I can’t go on, don’t make me go on.”
Sharon wrapped her arms tightly around her friend and rocked her, soothing her, gentling her trying to comfort her as their tears flowed and their sobbing filled the night. I locked the door, the trolley was ruined all the covering was burnt and so I had to go and dump that. You have no idea, I can’t even say it was like a nightmare because even my worst nightmares are nothing compared to that.
I have to hold them back those thoughts all the time, if I let them in then I know I’ll go mad. All these months they have been there lurking but I shut them out, I don’t look at them, I can’t.” Now, she was totally overcome, lowering her head onto the two pair of hands clasped together she cried as if her heart was broken. “The organisation and running of things over there, well it’s not always as strictly controlled as it is here and so, well it just worked.” She shrugged again and lifting the glass drained the wine in one gulp.
Sharon covered her mouth with her hands. The horror of what she had heard left her shaking and sickened, for long moments she was unable to find words to fill the silence until in the end compassion loosed her tongue. “Fiona, how have you kept this to yourself all this time? How have you carried on as if everything was normal and fine?”
“I have found that if you tell yourself often enough and strongly enough that something is or isn’t a certain way then you can convince yourself that it’s true. He attacked me, he raped me. I don’t say that he deserved what happened but I still truly, truly believe that he would have killed me and so I did what I had to do. I am worn out with it you know. I have tried to carry on as normal hoping that if I did that then it would all go away and when the years had passed then it would fade. It hasn’t, not at all. I am aware of it all the time, I know what I did and I can’t wipe it out. When I’m alone it tries to come back and I have to fight it and still it’s there like a great shadow. Sometimes it is all too much you know and I think I won’t be able to carry on. It’s so unfair, I’ve worked so very, very hard to get what I have and it’s all been spoiled, really right from the start you know. When I resigned they were a bit surprised but it’s a transient life and so it all just went through. Coming back here and buying the house, getting a job back in the hospital with you. I thought I could just pretend it hadn’t happened but it hasn’t worked out that way and sometimes it’s all too much.
“The rose, well I just don’t know, it freaks me out it really does but I don’t understand it. I thought it was my imagination, you know that I was finally losing it but I can pick them up, the flowers and then they crumple and disintegrate. They are real, they are there and I just don’t understand it.”