The next day it rained. That, when I look back on it, could have been an omen, for it marked the beginning of something, a period in my life which I would prefer, now, to simply cut out and throw away. I can remember each day very clearly, every minute detail, standing out in my memory like Braille. I remember it rained. Every day, it rained.
That Thursday was showery but it remained warm. The grey clouds hung low, scraping the rooftops, pressing in so that no fresh air could get in, and no fresh air could get out. The town existed in a state of isolation, contained within the borders of these grey clouds like a coffin. A coffin lined with cushioned silk of a suffocating crimson.
I turned away from the window as Joseph hurried up. His hands were buried in his pockets, his bald dome gleaming like a boiled egg, an affable grin on his face. His teeth shone a pearly white against his olive skin, and I thought again how natural he was for a toothpaste advert. He could make an easy fortune that way.
“Well then.” He sauntered up to me and took my hand. “Come on. Let’s go.”
I followed him along the corridor, grateful for his company. Unlike Cassandra, his attitude towards me had not changed in the least since their betrayal of me to the nurse and my subsequent hostility and anger towards them both. In fact he seemed to either be unaware of the whole incident, or maybe he just tactfully ignored it. He never mentioned my visits to the psychiatrist, or my tales of vampires, both of which he must have known about through Cassandra. However, his silence about these events was tempered by a gentle concern and support, which I appreciated. In some ways I saw him as a much dearer friend than Cassandra. I loved his quiet but thoughtful company; which was why I had asked him to come with me to the nurse today. I needed moral support. The ordeal in front of me appeared terrible that day, I don’t know why. It was only the ceremonial removing of the dressing from my burned arm.
As we approached the sick room, Joseph ceased to whistle ‘Two Little Boys’ and nudged me gently. “Cassandra told me about your friend. Thomas, is it?” Absently he dodged a hippy, an acquaintance of James’, who was approaching at a gallop, beads swinging. The hippy shot past, disappearing finally around the corner of the corridor. “Apparently she met him the other day.”
“Yep, she did, “I said. I could just imagine Cassandra going into raptures over the incredibly beautiful and enigmatic Thomas. I smiled to myself, I suddenly wanted Joseph to meet him. “You should meet him,” I told my friend impetuously.
“I should like that very much.” We halted outside the door of the sick room and he knocked firmly. “According to Cassandra he sounds a… fascinating character.”
“What did she say?”
“Oh… just that he was… let’s see… an incredibly beautiful and enigmatic figure. She put him on the same level as Humphrey Bogart and Lord Byron.”
“Well, she’s right for once.”
From inside the sick room the nurse called “Come in!”
Joseph opened the door, glancing at me and raising his eyebrows inquisitively.
“I can’t think why you keep him hidden away then.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to say something like, ‘well, he has this problem concerning daylight, you see,’ but I kept my mouth shut, and followed Joseph into the antiseptic atmosphere of the sick room.
The nurse sat at her desk, her plump form swathed in white linen like a mummy. She saw me, beamed, and stood up.
“Well then, Alison! Time for the great unveiling! How is it feeling? All right? Good. On the bed, dear.” I perched on the end of the bed, holding my arm out obediently. The nurse bent over me, reaching into her apron pocket for her scissors. She glanced at Joseph, who was leaning against the door, watching. “You’re Joseph aren’t you? I remember you coming in with that sprained wrist. Basketball, wasn’t it?”
“I was only watching actually. I got hit by the ball.”
The nurse laughed raucously as she removed my bandage.
“I remember now. Dangerous, these sports.” She was silent as she cleaned my skin, which was bright red, like raw meat. “This is much better. Much better. Leave it to the air now.” She leaned towards me. I could see the streaks of white in her hair and the eternal spot near her eye. “He your boyfriend now?” she whispered, nodding towards Joseph.
I giggled, catching Joseph’s horrified expression which, luckily, the nurse couldn’t see...
“No, honest, he’s just offering me moral support,” I told her.
“What for? You’re surely not frightened of having a bandage removed?” The nurse shook her head, scandalised. “Honestly, students. No backbone. Whatever are you like when you’re in real pain?”
“Oh, I’m all right then,” I reassured her.
“Well, there you go then.” The nurse stood back, clearing away the old dressing. “It’ll be alright now. Off you go.”
As I followed Joseph through the door she caught my elbow in her pink, plump hand.
“Oh, Alison,” she said in a low, carefully casual tone. “I forgot to ask. How’s it going with the psychiatrist? You are going, aren’t you?”
“Not any more,” I said firmly. “There’s no point. I’m not going any more.” I smiled at the nurse’s frowning, worried countenance. “But I’m feeling much better now, don’t worry.”
The nurse withdrew her hand cheerfully and watched Joseph and I leave. I had surprised myself. I hadn’t realised that my mind was so firmly made up concerning my visits to Dr. Lloyd-Jones. But, now I thought of it, there did seem very little point in seeing him any more, particularly now he was getting so very curious regarding Thomas. I didn’t want to get my friendly vampire into any trouble… and surely continuing to see the doctor would be tempting fate in that direction.
As Joseph and I walked along the corridor a splatter of raindrops blew noisily against the window. I linked my arm in Joseph’s. It looked as if the grey clouds had begun, at last, to release their burden.
* * * *
That evening I was teaching Thomas how to make savoury pancakes when the phone rang. I stalked through into the front room and snatched up the receiver. I hated being interrupted in the middle of anything.
“Yes?” I barked crisply. I imagined that it would probably be my mother, dithering about some domestic triviality, or, worse still, my father, demanding that the house be looked after properly from now on. But it was neither. A cultured, smooth voice answered.
“Yes, yes, indeed! Hello there, Alison! And how are you, my dear?”
Recognising Dr. Lloyd-Jones’s happy tones immediately, I sank down in an armchair, shoving Bosworth grumpily aside.
“Alison, I hope you can come tomorrow. I’ve made an appointment for you. I’d like very much to see you.”
I gazed dully at Chatterton, laying in peaceful repose across that bed. The harsh electric light glanced off the glass, causing the painting to be partly concealed behind blocks of dazzling sheens. It was time to move that painting, I decided. It had hung on that wall long enough. I would move it upstairs, in the back room. It would cover up that damp patch above the bed.
“Dr. Lloyd-Jones,” I said flatly, “I’m afraid I won’t be coming any longer.”
The doctor’s tone was indignant.
“But, Alison! May I ask why?”
I searched in my mind for an answer.
“I don’t want to. I don’t see any point.”
“You don’t see any point!”
The bubbling, tinkling laughter trickled down the phone like a stream. “But that’s ridiculous. You need these sessions, Alison.”
“Oh, but you do! You do! You need to talk. I can feel we’re getting there.”
“I don’t think I need… ”
“But are you a Doctor? How can your judgement be trusted?” There was a pause, in which I guessed the Doctor was popping a barley-sugar in his mouth. “We’re getting there. One more meeting. Tomorrow, at five-thirty?”
The phone went dead and I stared at it, hostile. Suddenly I didn’t trust Dr. Lloyd-Jones any farther than I could have thrown him. His hysterical laughter grated on my nerves and caused me to shudder inside. His probing questions cornered me until I felt like screaming. Rape! Yes, that’s what it was. A gross invasion of my privacy.
Thomas walked in, then, wiping his white hands on a tea-towel. He had hung up his cloak for the time and rolled up his shirt sleeves. He looked at my figure slumped in the armchair, the dead receiver still in my hand. He cleared his throat.
“Now, I’ve mixed in the egg… what do I do next?” Sensing my misery, he came over to me, gently loosening my grip on the telephone receiver and placing it back on the hook. “Alison, what’s the matter? Who was it?”
I smiled wearily.
“I have to go back to see Dr. Lloyd-Jones tomorrow.”
Thomas squatted down by the armchair, his dark eyes searching my face. “You just told me you weren’t going any more. There’s no reason to go back, is there?”
“Not really. But he says it’s the last time.”
“And after that?”
I stared over Thomas’s shoulder without seeing. He had been right. Never, ever trust a psychiatrist! Not wishing to alarm my friendly vampire unduly, I had not told him the complete content of my conversation with the wily doctor… suffice it to say that I had told him I simply was not going back. But, one last time… and after that…
”after that I shall never ever go within three thousand miles of a psychiatric clinic again. In fact, I shall run away. To Romania. With you. And we’ll live in sin for ever and ever.”
I stood up, picking Bosworth up and re-establishing him in his usurped seat. I took Thomas’s hand and led him back into the kitchen.“Then,” I told him, “Then, you add the milk a little at a time.” Thomas followed me, silently. “Then you beat it.”
Now go to Chapter Ten...