Confession by Chris Kaye

Out of PrintThere are advantages to maturity.  You can, if you are clever enough, get the jobs where you spend your days in charge of others:  You have to keep your wits about you, of course.  Sloppy checking of work would soon ruin a position of authority.  People are less likely to question you about your past, as well.  Age brings with it a sense of inbuilt privacy that few would dare to breech.

You could hear her singing from two-thirds of the way down the long corridor.  Sturdy, mostly soundproofed, doors decorated the walls on either side.  Each was equipped with it’s own hatch, and spy-hole.  From certain angles at each end, it created a strong optical illusion:  like stacked dominoes.  The temptation was often to stand there, half close your eyes, imagine just nudging the nearest one, and watch them all come tumbling down.

Maybe I’ve been working here too long.  I don’t think the patients are getting to me but … well:  I wouldn’t be the first.  I must watch my thoughts more carefully:  we’re supposed to refer to them as our ‘clients’, rather than patients.  It won’t be for much longer anyway.  In many ways I’ll be sad to leave, but another week or so and I’ll have worked out my notice:  time to move on.

Where was I?  The sound:  of course.  It would have been pleasant if the voice hadn’t been coloured with an almost overwhelming ‘tint’ of despair.  It was Rose, again:  the clear words seeming to burrow into the brain.  You couldn’t merely ignore them.

“Down comes the rainfall:  down comes the rain.  Cleanse the sin:  wash the blood.  Sweep them up within the flood.”

Over and over she sang the same thing.  It was, apart from her name, the only intelligent sequence of noises that ever escaped her lips.  She stopped after about three minutes, which for her was a ‘good’ bout.  I remember when the new specialist, Dr Patterson, had first visited Rose.  I had been standing behind him.  Something, on that occasion, must have set off whatever it was inside her fragmented mind.  We moved her into one of the ‘quieter’ rooms after five minutes, and she somehow continued her litany for another twenty, until the tranquillisers eventually took effect, and she had drifted into a silent sleep.

“Hey:  Marjoram … how’s it going?  I have a steaming Latte here with your name on it.”

I’m certain he only used that awful nickname to wind me up.  I flipped the toggle on my belt radio, without even looking, and assured Ted that I wouldn’t be much longer.  My rounds were almost finished, and the coffee would, indeed be appreciated.

He must have been watching on the monitor screens:  the metal gate clicked itself open whilst I was still a few steps away from it.  Okay:  that was technically a breach of procedure:  he should have waited until he could actually see me before releasing the lock.  I decided I’d let him off, this time.

Ted was laughing with a couple of the younger nurses as I came up to his spiders-web of a security console.  He’d probably been telling them one of those dreadful shaggy-dog-story jokes that he was so fond of.  I reached for the Latte, and took a quick sip of the scalding hot liquid before casting an eye over the ‘girls’.  Karen’s gaze flickered, momentarily, to my name badge.  “Margaret Parrish … Senior Staff Nurse”.

For some reason she always did that:  I couldn’t work out if it was some kind of insecurity, or merely her normal abominable lack of attention span.  She’d started here several months ago, so by now she didn’t exactly need any reminder of who I was.

The coffee had finished sliding its comforting way down my throat about a couple of hours ago.  I was relaxing in my small office, and must have been dozing.  I could faintly hear screaming, and the insistent call of the radio:  the double buzz, buzz … buzz, buzz that indicated an emergency of some kind.

“Staff?  I’m on my way to C-wing now.  Camera is out in an empty room, number twenty-one … there’s something wrong.”

I moved quickly.  Ted would not be so official unless something had spooked him.  Fair enough, his uniform may have been a bit too ‘snug’, due to his pizza consumption, but he was an efficient enough man for all that.

There was blood:  a considerable amount of it … enough for a stream of the thick red stuff to have spread down the corridor, and under the door of room nineteen.  Carol was in there, doing her best to wear out her lungs.  I radioed back to the dispensary.  One of my subordinates would bring over a sedative.  My passkey opened the neighbouring door easily, and we found Karen.

Ted didn’t even turn pale at the gory scene.  He seemed more concerned with my reaction:  which was, zero.  With my experience, it would take more than this sight to upset my stomach.  The nurse’s previously white uniform showed little of that colour remaining.  Her red hands still clutched a brace of scalpels, and it looked like she had, in some manic frenzy, stabbed herself repeatedly in arms, chest, and face … Oh the face … it wasn’t pretty anymore.  What was left was hardly recognizable at all.

My leaving party, which should have been that Friday, was cancelled under the circumstances.  The verdict of the Coroner’s report, received a few days later, didn’t really surprise me.  “Cause of death:  suicide:  self inflicted injuries sustained during a period of substance abuse.”

I don’t know how I missed it, when we had been examining the room.  Ted had found the almost empty syringe under the mattress, shortly after I’d already checked there.  The lab had found it contained an obnoxious cocktail of painkillers and psychotropic substances, that would have driven most people more than slightly nutsy-cuckoo.

I was honest enough in my own report on Karen’s state of mind, prior to the incident.  No:  I hadn’t been impressed with her lackadaisical manner, and daydreaming, however she had seemed a pleasant enough young woman.  There had been no indication of depression, or any sign that she had been intending to raid the drugs cupboard.

Everything was packed away from what had been my office.  Two cardboard boxes in the boot contained the few mementos of my time there.  Ted handed me a large thermos of coffee for the journey, as I left, and I promised that I would drop in and say hello, if I was ever back this way.  It was, needless to say, a promise I had no intention of keeping.

The irritating Karen had been nothing more than a taster, to whet my appetite for the real game I so much loved to play.

I would investigate carefully, of course.  Surely in the next State, I would find someone else, unknown, on her way to a new job in a nursing home.  Like the one who had previously owned the name, Margaret Parrish, she would scream and struggle.  I looked forward with anticipation to the way she would weep as I buried her in a box.  For several weeks I would enjoy her tears, her pleading, as I whispered down the air tube that would be her only contact with the world.  Eventually she would crack, and the brain would register only twenty words, and a dim knowledge of where she had lain.  I would probably get bored at that point:  dig them up and leave them wandering mindlessly, to be discovered by some passing do-gooder … or, to merely lie down and die:  I didn’t care either way.

I wonder if I could find, in some out of the way place, a field of wild lilies?  Lily is such a nice name.

The clouds were busy dumping their loads of moisture, and it was a chilly night for travelling.  I drove carefully:  turned the radio off, and sang my favourite song, softly, in time to the windscreen wipers.

“Down comes the rainfall:  down comes the rain.  Cleanse the sin:  wash the blood.  Sweep them up within the flood.”

(Local news:  several hundred miles away, and about three months later.)

Domino Richards, of Parklands Nursing Home, has issued a statement regarding the anonymous woman found dishevelled and half-starved, last week.  In a brief press meeting, the Home’s newest Chief Administrator has assured this reporter that ‘Lily’ will receive the best possible care and attention, paid for by state emergency funding.  With the help of professional psychiatric staff, there is every hope that she may one day recover her memory and be able to utter more than her name, or the strange rhyme she keeps repeating.  We have been promised that, should there be any further developments in this case, we will be informed

Ms Richards’ tenure has been marred in the last eight days, by the unrelated and unexpected suicide of one of the cleaning ladies, however authorities have praised her for her prompt action in helping the police to investigate the matter, and her willingness to make staff records available to them.  They were also impressed with her confirmation that the incident would in no way affect the normal exemplary standards of Parklands.

Author: Chris Kaye

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