A ROMANTIC SUSPENSE
She wakes up to a life she doesn't recognize...
And to a husband she can't imagine loving.
The clinical smell of detergent penetrates my senses and my eyes flutter open. I find myself staring at a whitetiled commercial ceiling, questioning if I am awake or asleep – though it does seem like a rather strange dream to have. I blink. The ceiling remains. My senses give my brain a nudge and it fires up but provides no answers. Brows wrinkling in confusion, I begin trying to determine what is going on.
One thing I am certain of, is that my body is sore and stiff. Muscles aching, I remain as I am, twisting my head to the right. The sun glares through a wide, steel window. From the sun’s height in the sky, I estimate it has been there some time.
A feeling of guilt settles over me. It appears sleeping in isn’t something I indulge in.
To my right, between the bed and window, is a small white cupboard and a plastic-coated armchair. Sunflowers sit in a vase on the bedside cupboard. I like sunflowers. Though at this moment, I fail to recall why.
An irritating beep-beep sound comes from my left, and I swing my eyes in that direction, lifting my head slightly. Wires litter my body and a pink cellular hospital blanket co- vers me. The beeping begins to make sense, along with the plastic-coated chair and wires. I am in a hospital.
A sigh escapes my lips as I resist the urge to panic. In- stead, I acknowledge my dislike of hospitals. Then again, name a patient or visitor who likes them. There is that clinical smell that lingers long after you have left, and they are full of sick people. At present, I am reluctant to place myself in the ‘sick people’ category, even if my brain is screaming at me, tell- ing me I wouldn’t be here if I was fit and well.
Tentatively, I sniff the air. This hospital does smell nicer than the ones I have stayed in and visited before. At present, I am unable to remember ever spending time in or visiting a hospital, though I’m sure I have done so.
My eyes widen and adrenalin is released into my blood- stream. Hands shaking, my breathing quickens. Panic grips me. Why can’t I remember anything? My eyes fly round the room, unseeing. What has happened to me?
If I am in a hospital, I am safe and cared for. Quantifying this fact allows reason to be heard. Though my heart still ham- mers, its beat is more regular than it was. My memories are in there, somewhere, I just need to find them. It’s probably the drugs they have given me, clouding and confusing my brain.
Closing my eyes, I demand that my brain starts its cogni- tive processing. My demand falls into a black hole of nothing- ness. Not giving up, I decide to think about the sunflowers, as they’d triggered a feeling of happiness. Unfortunately, this simple request is met with vacuity, and a hollow feeling takes up residence in the pit of my stomach. The only mental input I receive is that sunflowers are bright, cheery plants.
My eyes fly open and I face the frightening fact that my life is a blank.
This notion sends my pulse hammering and a nauseous feeling erupts inside me. Cold sweat lines my skin and my hands begin to tremble. Reason’s voice tells me there is nothing I can do about my loss of memory. It is temporary, caused by whatever event resulted in my being in the hospital. Scaring myself isn’t going to help. I force my body to relax, taking deep, even breaths.
Time drifts as I concentrate on my breathing. When I feel in control of my emotions, I start to wonder about myself. What do I look like? What colour are my eyes? Age? This line of self-questioning is easier to rectify than trying to remember my whole life story.
Lifting my hands in front of my eyes, I stare at them for answers.
I am not a child, or a teenager, or even a young woman. Thirty-something, perhaps. There is a sense that this age fits. I tick off the question surrounding my age. My hands also tell me the colour of my skin, which is a rich, light brown. Not a tan. This is my natural skin tone.
I go through what I have learnt about myself so far. I am around thirty, and of non-white descent. Once again, I wonder about the colour of my eyes. A tiny buzz of excitement zips through me. I need a mirror. My fingers drum with impatience as I look around my clinical environment. There is no mirror within reach.
As it is hard to view eye colour lying in bed, I move my legs to the edge of the mattress. There is a heaviness in my limbs that I hadn’t noticed before. Like wading through quicksand rather than bedlinen.
Something touches my skin and I stop moving, eyebrows
raising in question as I wonder what it could be. My requirement for a mirror is side-tracked by the discovery that there is something between my legs that doesn’t belong. Lifting the sheets, I look down into the semi darkness. The shadows allow for little visibility. My arms are heavy and start shaking as I try to push myself into a sitting position. Sweat coats my skin again and I feel like I have run a marathon. Argh! My arms give out and I flop onto the pillows.
Staring at the ceiling tiles, I notice a small stain from an old water leak. The shape comes in and out of focus as I work out my next move. One thing I become conscious of is that finding out what I look like has moved to the top of my most- important-things-to-do-today list.
Fingers drumming on the cotton blanket, I work at find- ing a solution to my current problem.
Ping! It comes to me. Hospital beds have switches to raise the patient to a sitting position. My fingers move, seeking out the control box. It takes a while, as some thoughtful person has hung it on the frame above my head. That I hadn’t noticed it before amazes me. My mind has been busy, and my eyes with it. I reach for the controls. It takes me some time to work out what button does what, but once I do, I click down, and the bed moves. Impatience crawls at my skin at the slow mechanical motion. Once in position, I raise the cotton blanket. A pale-pink tube coils between my legs. I follow it as it disappears to my right. Stunned, I take another look. The tube remains. What on earth is a tube doing there?
I see this as a minor setback on my journey to self-discovery, but one that needs investigating further. The tube comes out from beneath the blankets, down the right side of the bed, where a bag of urine sits. My head falls back onto the pillows and, as my angle has now changed, I find myself staring at a dark-pink door rather than the stain on the ceiling.
It is clear that I have been here for some time, otherwise there would be no need for a catheter. There also appears to be no expectation I am going to bounce out of bed soon. Just what happened to me?
A dull throb pounds in my head and I lift my right hand, massaging my temple. A needle sticks out of my left hand, and my headache amplifies. Soreness tugs beneath the skin of my hand.
There are two things I find upsetting. One – when I compare my right hand to my left, I notice that my left hand is twice the size of my right. I am positive I was not born with this deformity. I link the increase in size to the needle stuck in it. Two – a bandage is wrapped around my head.
Again, I question what happened to me.
This thought rattles round my brain for some time. Given my present predicament, there is nothing I can do but wait for someone to check on me. My brain isn’t complying to my requests for clarity and the door to my memory is still sealed shut.
To pass the time and to stop myself from getting frustrated, I look about the room from my sitting position. The colour scheme is pink, from light to dark. Besides the door in front of the bed, there is one on my left. I make the assumption that one leads to the bathroom, the other to freedom. While the room meets my basic needs, it lacks any personal touches, other than a picture of a patch of grass with daisies. From my lack of appreciation for the painting, it is clear I am not into art.
Being in a room on my own, there is nothing to steer my attention from my current predicament. Though, as hospitals go, this is a nice place. I must have money.
Though my head hurts and my left hand is sore, I can find no reason why I would be in a room on my own. My injuries aren’t life-threatening.
The door to the room opens and a nurse walks in. She makes her way to the foot of the bed. Her attention is taken up by the metal clipboard, and she doesn’t notice I am awake.
“Do you have a mirror?”
The nurse jumps and I try to hide my smile.
Her pink hair sits on top of her head in a skewwhiff top-knot. Some of the pins have loosened their grip and are hanging on to stray wisps of hair. From the lines around her eyes and the darkening patches under them, she is probably enter- ing the last few hours of her shift. Her pale-blue dress falls above her knees, hugging her stomach and hips a little too tightly.
I present her with a tight-lipped smile, wondering if my request for a mirror has fallen on deaf ears.
“I’ll go get the doctor.”
And with that, she is gone, and I am alone again, without a mirror.
My fingers beat against the blanket as my annoyance builds. While I understand the nurse’s primary concern is my health, she didn’t assist me in uncovering the truth about myself. There’s a part of me that acknowledges I am being one of those awful patients nurses often speak about. I refuse to accept full responsibility.
I am unable to coax my mind away from obsessing over a mirror. I am haunted by the need to look at my reflection and to have the door to my memories open. To see recognition, or not. That is the scary part. How am I going to feel if the person in the mirror is nothing but a stranger? I refuse to allow myself to give in to these thoughts. I turn my mind to another problem. My left hand.
Laying both my right and left together, I re-examine the difference in size. With gentle fingers, I touch the surface of my left hand. Pain explodes and I quickly remove my fingers from the sensitive spot.
My impatience with the nurse grows as my problems mount. Time is going by at a torturous rate, and I wonder if the nurse has boarded a plane due to the lack of doctors in England.
How do I know I’m in England? I glance at the rain now beating against the window. That alone is a clear indicator. It always rains in England.
As I seem to like making lists, I comprise a mental inventory of all the things that are bothering me at present.
Lack of mirror.
The size of my left hand.
Where has the nurse gone...?
The door opens, preventing me from adding anything fur- ther. A man in a white coat walks in, followed by the wayward nurse. His lips are turned up and his expression is one of delight. His patient is awake, and that has to be good news for us all. His warm, brown eyes sweep over me as he makes a quick visual assessment before approaching the bed and looking at the chart on the metal clipboard.
There are no lines pulling at the corners of his eyes, and he radiates pleasantness and energy. His face is clean shaven, and I make the assumption he is just starting his shift. He reminds me of George Clooney. It is strange, the things I can remember. Whilst George Clooney is as gorgeous today as he was back in his ER days, I would prefer to remember more about me, not him.
The doctor’s black trousers sit at half-mast. Given his age, I doubt they’re too short because he’s outgrown them. Maybe he washed them on a hot cycle in error. I have had my fair share of laundry disasters. Whoa... Hang on... Memory flash...
And that’s it. Not helpful.
Perhaps my earlier assumption of being rich is wishful thinking. If I have money, I wouldn’t have to do my own washing. Unless I have just inherited it.
The doctor towers over the nurse by a good foot. The fact that she’s on the short side only makes him look taller, and he dwarfs her already-small frame.
“It’s good to see you awake, Mrs. Thornton.” His voice is deep, his words nicely pronounced, and I am surprised to find his deep twang appealing.
Mrs. Thornton? The name doesn’t sound familiar, but – as there is only one patient in the room – the likelihood that he’sreferring to someone else is limited. My headache is getting worse due to the constant questions rattling round it. I latch on to my previous request for a mirror, if only to give my brain something else to focus on.
“Do you have a mirror?”
The doctor’s eyebrows shoot up. My question has surprised him. He recovers fast and turns to the nurse. “Would you get Mrs. Thornton a mirror, please?”
She gives the doctor an adoring look before walking out the door.
“I’m Dr. Jonas. I’ve been looking after you since you arrived two days ago.”
We do not shake hands.
“Two days!” I gasp.
The fact that I have been unconscious for two days is unsettling, and my heart responds in kind, its beat picking up. Shock washes over me and the muscles in my jaw pulsate. Fingers entwining around the cotton blanket, I am mindful of my rising nervousness. With deep intakes of breath, I try to calm the fear which has nibbled away at my mind since I woke up.
The lack of a wedding band on my left hand explains why it never occurred to me that I am married. Of course, there is the possibility that I am divorced, or even widowed, which would explain the ‘Mrs.’ without the ring.
While my brain whirs away, Dr. Jonas is busy checking my vitals. He’s nodding, which I take as a good sign. The nurse’s continued absence makes me wonder if she is back on the same plane she boarded to get the doctor. It seems to be taking her an abnormal amount of time to locate a mirror, and I am in need of the distraction.
The door opens and I sigh in relief.
Dr. Jonas has finished giving me the once-over, and as soon as I have the mirror, I will ask him if he can arrange for the catheter bag to be removed as well as the needle from my hand. My lack of energy is not going to stop me from using a toilet.
I look past the doctor, my hands outstretched, ready to receive the mirror, only it’s not the nurse entering the room. A man in a well-cut dark-grey suit strides purposefully over to my bed. I watch his steps hesitate as he sees I am awake. A strange expression crosses his face. It makes me uneasy. He
becomes aware that I am watching him. A smile forms and his eyes widen in surprise. I think the emotion he is trying for is ‘joy’. His eyes fail to fill with pretend warmth, and my unease turns to suspicion.
Like a fruit bat spying a grape, he races over to me.
Incapable of any quick action, I hope the metal bed can take the force of him hitting it. Though he isn’t a large man, and I would be hard-pressed to find any muscle beneath the expensive suit, his growing speed alone gives him mass.
Had I been able to, I would have leaped off the bed and shut myself in the bathroom. Or, better still, run out the door to freedom. As it is, I have no alternative but to brace myself for impact. Given that there is a doctor present I feel, perhaps mistakenly, I will be OK.
As the stranger pins me to his chest, he catches the needle in my left hand. I cry out as pain explodes. This doesn’t alter the man’s grip on me, and I worry that I am going to be suffocated by Armani. My hope that I’ll die uneventfully in my sleep from old age, is slipping away from me. I press my right hand against his chest to push him off.
“Mr. Thornton! Mr. Thornton!” Dr. Jonas is yelling, and I am acutely aware I share the same surname as the strange man.
Dear lord, please don’t say this is my husband.
The doctor places a hand on Mr. Thornton’s arm, moving him off of me. Not far enough for my liking, but at least I can breathe.
The small distance allows me a better view of the man I’m hoping isn’t my husband. ‘Thornton’ isn’t an uncommon sur- name.
The stranger is clean shaven. His features chiselled, giv- ing him a hawk-like appearance, and his eyes are shifty. At just under six foot, the man is of average height. No flame of remembrance ignites, and I don’t feel a spark of attraction to- wards him. It is impossible for me to think I would marry this man.
“Sorry.” His apology lacks conviction.
Mr. Thornton is well spoken, and his voice suggests that he is a well-educated man. He is a man used to getting his own way. I find myself disliking him without a reason. But instinct is all I have right now, and it’s telling me this man istrouble, and not the enjoyable kind.
If we are married, are we getting a divorce? Perhaps I married him while inebriated, before the alcohol had a chance to wear off. It would make sense. I try and imagine myself so drunk I would marry the man in the posh suit. Nope, not happening.
My head hits the pillow and I stare at the pink door in front of me. Mr. Thornton continues to hover at my side. I can feel his displeasure. My silence isn’t helping the situation.
Avoiding the stranger, I raise my left hand. “My hand hurts, and it’s all swollen.”
Both Dr. Jonas and Mr. Thornton look down at my hand. I raise my right one so they can see the size difference.
“Doctor?” It is strange how some people can make one word sound like a scolding. Mr. Thornton possesses the knack.
Dr. Jonas reacts to the clipped demand of the well- dressed stranger and begins removing the needle.
Mr. Thornton is a man of means. He smells of money, and lots of it. He oozes the stuff, right down to the stitching on his expensive suit, and the glint of his Sky-Dweller oyster and 18ct Everose gold Rolex watch. I remain unimpressed. At least I’m not shallow.
“Do you think you could arrange for the catheter bag to be removed as well?”
The nurse walks in, a small mirror clasped in her right hand. In one quick glance, she seems to take in the awkwardness of the situation, and the person causing it.
Dr. Jonas smiles over at the nurse. “Would you mind taking Mr. Thornton to the waiting area while we get Mrs. Thornton settled?”
The nurse nods. Extending her left arm, she guides him out of the room before he can voice his protests.
I point a finger at the closing door. “Why don’t I remember him?”
The doctor looks at me, his features pinched. “What do you remember?”
“Not to worry. It’s probably transient global amnesia, due to the head injury you sustained. The amnesia is only a temporary episode. Symptoms last for around twenty-four hours. I’ll order a CT.”
The nurse walks back into the room and the doctor steps back as she draws the curtain and pulls back the bedlinen, exposing the catheter tube. Within seconds, the catheter is removed, and the curtain is whipped open.
The hand mirror sits on the bed, and my fingers trace the handle as Mr. Thornton walks back into the room. I get the distinct feeling he doesn’t want to leave me alone with the doctor.
The pounding in my head gets worse. “Do you think I could have something for my headache?”
“Your medication will be here shortly. The nurses are just doing their rounds. Try to get some rest. Mr. Thornton.” The doctor turns, nods at the stranger, and walks out of the room, nurse in tow.
I stare at the man as he takes a step closer to the bed. “I can’t remember anything. I don’t even know you.”
His footsteps falter, and there is a sparkle in his eyes that wasn’t there before. I get the impression my lack of memory makes him happy. It cements my earlier feelings that perhaps we are in the midst of a divorce and this momentary blip allows him to gain better control of the situation and me.
“Do you remember anything? The accident, me, our home?”
Despite the need to ask if he was listening to me, I shake my head. “The doctor says it’s temporary, but he’s ordering a CT scan to be on the safe side.”
“You suffered a head injury, so what the doctor says makes sense.”
The stranger appears more relaxed as he perches on the edge of my bed, taking my hand in his. His fingers are cool. What should be a comforting act agitates me.
The mirror is like a beacon. It’s laughing at me for some reason. I try to relax and not pull my hand from Mr. Thornton’s. I ignore the mirror’s sniggers, waiting until I am alone to use it. Desperation is creeping in and I start wondering how quick I can get rid of him without appearing rude. Surely, he has a meeting to go to.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”
His smile doesn’t reach his eyes. “My name is Liam.” “Right. I take it we’re married.”
The smile becomes tighter. “Yes.”
“I’m sorry. This feels really strange.”
“Don’t worry. I am sure, like the doctor said, it’s temporary, and you will soon be able to remember me and our life together.”
His words and body language are at odds, and my anxiety deepens.
“Can you tell me how I ended up here?”
Liam looks uncertain, as though calculating the risk. I am convinced the risk he calculates has nothing to do with my health. Perhaps I am being unkind. I can’t remember the person in front of me, I am only surmising.
He takes a breath, expelling it slowly. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt. You were mugged at the carpark on Piccadilly. According to the CCTV, as the man grabbed your bag, he pushed you down the concrete stairs, where you hit your head.”
“Wow.” Shock replaces my earlier unease. “I can see why I would want to forget.”
“You were lucky, Kate. Your injuries could have been a lot worse.”
Silence fills the small gap between us. “Is that my name? Kate?”
The name sounds familiar. My mind’s reaction tells me I have a connection to it, though distant, not current. It could be that I am projecting this emotion.
Giving credence to the name would mean Liam is my husband, and I am not ready to accept him as such.
“Yes, that’s your name.” This time, his smile is genuine.
The door opens and a nurse walks in. There must have been a shift change as this one looks perky. Her hair is in a neat bun and her makeup is fresh.
“Hello. I’ve brought your medication.”
I turn to Liam. “Do you mind if I rest for a while? I’m so tired.”
He doesn’t look impressed by my request, but he nods. “I will come again tonight. Jenny is desperate to see you. I will bring her with me, unless you feel it will be too much.” “Who’s Jenny?”
“Jenny is my sister, though she seems to be more your sis- ter than mine. You’re close.”
I nod. “Right. This is crazy. My life is a blank canvas. I feel everyone knows more about me than I do.”
“It’s not forever, Kate. You will need to be patient.”
“You’re right. Let Jenny come with you. It might help clear some of the fog.”
As Liam gets up to leave, he leans over and drops a light kiss on my forehead. I try not to shrink away from him. Without my memory, he is nothing more than a stranger. One, it would appear, I am still married to and not divorcing.
The door closes behind him and my shoulders lose some of their tension.
The nurse remains standing by the bed, waiting for me to take the medication. Reaching over, I take the proffered pills, swilling them down with some water.
She smiles and walks out the door.
And, once again, I am left alone with my thoughts.
The mirror has stopped laughing at me. A feeling of control replaces some of my uncertainty. I make the decision to look at my reflection, at the person sitting in this bed, no one else. Fear is a funny thing and, although I am desperate to look at myself, I wait. Part of me recognises that my memory may still be lost to me, and the person in the mirror might remain as much of a stranger as Liam Thornton. I may not even, on seeing myself, know who I am. A shiver runs down my spine, and I let my gaze fall on the window. The rain has stopped and a rainbow streams across the blue sky.
I allow the medication to take effect before picking up the mirror. My heart beats rapidly and my hands shake. It started out as a good idea, threaded with impatience, but now I want to procrastinate further. In the past ten minutes, I have scolded myself several times. It’s a stupid mirror! Get a grip, Kate! (The name, though familiar, still doesn’t seem to fit me.) Come on, you can do this!
I raise the mirror and look at the white plastic casing. All I have to do now is turn it round. It takes another five minutes before I get the nerve to do it. My eyes snap shut as the mirror spins, and I have to force my eyelids apart.
My mouth drops open and I look at the woman staring back at me. She is breathtakingly beautiful. Chastising myself for my vanity, I take a closer look at my face.
The caramel skin, oval face, high cheekbones, silky black hair, and slightly slanted almond eyes emphasise my Asian heritage. My eyes are green, demonstrating my mixed race, though it is clear from my other features that my Asian heritage is stronger.
Lifting the bedlinen, I take note of my small but muscular frame. I must exercise on a regular basis. Running, perhaps –running feels right.
After a prolonged moment of twisting my head this way and that and admiring myself in the mirror (I am conscious of being vain) I have made no progress in kickstarting my memory. My mind is as blank as when I woke. The notion is depressing.
Placing the mirror on the cupboard by the bed, I turn to the pink door. It provides no enlightenment, though my continued stare makes my eyes heavy. Pressing down on the button, the bed lowers. Sleep soon claims me, and my dreams are as blank and dark as my life appears to be.