I decided to visit Kathleen in hospital. I hoped that beneath her icy exterior, there was something warmer. And the secretive situation around her injuries had made me think that she may be more vulnerable than she let on. I resolved not to ask her about the operation. If she wanted to confide in me then she could, but I wasn’t going to press her. I took a hamper of sushi and juice, which was probably against hospital regulations, but I didn’t care.
I was still feeling angry about Rupert, but I didn’t want to bother Kathleen with my problems. She was laid out on a bed, very still. “I’m on lots of drugs,” she said, “you bought me sushi, you’re an angel.” The room was full of flowers, I didn’t ask who they were from. I helped her sit up a bit and we ate the sushi sneakily while the nurses weren’t looking. The corridor was noisy with busy feet clicking across the tiles and a whiff of disinfectant on the air. “I feel bruised,” said Kathleen. I could tell she was itching to get out. The white cube of a room and over-chirpy nurses were driving her crazy. We finished the sushi just as a nurse bustled in to give her more meds.
Kathleen swallowed them, her face contorting with the bitter taste. “Have you come to tell me to break up with Byron?” she asked me,
“No, I don’t really know Byron. Does he make you happy?”
She rolled her eyes.
“This world is grim, Cara, people don’t really tell you about it, but it is,”
I wasn’t about to disagree.
“You grew up in the country…don’t you miss it?” she asked me,
“Every day,” I replied. It was true. Even in New York I gravitated towards any tiny patch of grass, a wild-looking dog poking out from a handbag, a pigeon walking along a sidewalk. But I knew if I lived in the country I would go mad with boredom. Long nights and no one to talk to.
I had a dim recollection that Kathleen’s folks had been country people.
“We used to have a ranch up in Canada,” she said, “near the mountains, I miss it. There were waterfalls and caves. Amazing really. Like a holiday brochure, but too remote for the tourists. We ended up in Manhattan because of my dad’s business.”
I was desperate to ask her about Byron. I was convinced that he had hurt her. Either accidentally or on purpose. Her face and arms were unbruised. So where was she hurt?
I let her talk, hoping that the stream of words might reveal something.
“My first week at school in New York I won a poetry competition. No one believes me when I tell them this. People think I’m a preppy-cow. I told Byron the poem and he found it hilarious,” she said,
“What was the poem?” I asked her, trying to sound sweet, and biting my urge to agree with Byron, nothing about Kathleen said ‘poet’.
She took a breath, straightened her back, and recited –
“I went into the cave looking for fairies.
I looked around.
There were none.
I didn’t realise that the fairy in the cave was me.”
Visiting hours were over. I was ushered out of the room by a nurse, and went to catch the Metro back to my apartment. As I waited, I half whistled a tune I remembered from childhood, silently, through clenched teeth.
A man in front of me turned round, “what’s that you’re whistling?” he asked. He had a strange piercing in each ear, a bar through the pinna and a metal ball the size of a marble resting just outside the auditory canal.
“Nothing,” I said, he could see me staring at the steel balls.
“They’re to protect my hearing,” he said, “I’m a DJ.”
This made sense. I’d heard that spending too much time in nightclubs will eventually make you deaf. All those years of amplified sound.
“Can you hear at all with those?” I asked, indicating the steel balls,
“Yeah, it’s different though, I can hear things around me, behind me, I think the ball reflects the sound,”
“Like an animal,” I murmured,
He looked at me like I was strange,
“Prey,” I said, “they can hear all around so they know if a carnivore is nearby.”
I think he was freaked out by me so I sat at the other end of the carriage when the train arrived. In the city it’s always hard to know how much you should talk to strangers. Do they want to be friends? Or will they just find you clingy and invasive? Everyone is busy. And everyone is going somewhere.
It wasn’t late when I arrived at my stop and I emerged back into the daylight. I was due to meet Katy that evening. I was apprehensive, but glad that she had agreed to meet. I saw it as some indication of normality. A hint that she may be getting her life back together.
My street was quiet and I walked quickly down it, alone.
I grew up in a small town with no crime rate. There had been a murder there in 1725, and I remember the vicar’s bike being stolen when I was about six. It was found two days later in a nearby ditch. My suspicion is that some drunk borrowed it on the way home from the old Horse & Pheasant pub which was next to the crossroads.
When I moved to NY I felt like I was in a war zone. Darting from one doorway to another without making eye contact. Clutching my bag close to my side, and not going out alone after dark.
I never know if I am paranoid or just careful. And is there really any difference?
Image: Blue Lenses, collage by Connie