Gritting teeth, I roll the lock. Riveted steel swings towards me. A musty corridor of numbered doors, blank walls and caged lights, stretches away from us. Kristine clings to my arm, disclosing a need for support I’m powerless to offer.
It’s a bit dark in there, but I won’t be lighting her way. Weak sunlight pushes through rectangular observation slots. High set windows inside each cell illuminates contents enough for her purposes. There are sights she’ll wish were further drowned in murk.
Kristine tugs me forward. I stand flat-footed and shake my head, refusing to forsake my post. That of respectfully aloof funeral director ushering in the viewer.
I refuse to cross this threshold on a promise made to dead children.
She unpeels fingers that dig into bone and enters alone. Without boots to boost her, tip-toes are employed to peer into the first cell. A brief look back ensures I remain in place before she moves to another to stare within for a long time. Here her focus will be a rumpled husk, pressed to a corner. With a quiet tread, as though afraid to wake sleeping beasts, she proceeds to the next and the next.
It’s too much.
She thrusts herself away from the glass and throws up wretchedly, holding a wall for support. I remain rooted to the spot, watching her run blindly towards me, leaving the confinement area, weighted by sorrowful tales told in dried blood and contorted limbs. She passes by without seeking comfort and streaks through the Surfateria. Bare feet slap echoes from hard walls.
I swing the door shut with a hollow boom. There’s much ceremony involved with the retying of bootlaces and adjusting boards to perfect a display.
Kristine needs this time alone to direct her cyclone blown boats to a safe harbour.
An hour mostly goes by before I venture to the garden’s afternoon shade. I know she’ll bathe in its non-judgemental, restorative powers. They even soothe my unworthy troubles.
Sitting cross-legged on a far off table, head bowed, she glows in the sun. I hang back, watching her distress and fright evaporate. Eventually she looks up and waves.
“It’s so sad,” she says softly when I sit close beside her. “They suffered terribly.”
There’s nothing that can be said or done to lessen their suffering.
“We should bury them. Out here.”
Understanding her reasoning is no reason to afflict our one protected place with such wretchedness.
“We aren’t doing that. This is not a graveyard. They belong in there.”
I jerk my head back towards the cellblock.
“We can pity them but they’re dead and gone.”
She straightens indignantly; ready to argue, then slumps.
“You probably don't know why, but you’re right anyway. I felt a presence in there. I know what you’re thinking, Sam. What a bunch of crap, right? There’s hate and terror in those cells. I don't know what can release them. I’m not sure I have the strength.”
“I don’t think that at all. I can see you’re a bright light Kristine. If anyone could convince me of an afterlife it would be you.”
I’ll not demean her gifts by scoffing to rid my spine of a chill.
Standing is a sign she wants to leave. I take her hand to assist a step from the bench. She lets go my fingers to trail behind, the excitement of exploring crushed.
My key jams for a moment in a door. The sticky lock reminds me of the Oxy/acetylene sets I’ve hidden in each sector. I point out a hidey hole for one and explain my reasoning.
“I had a nasty thought one day. What would I do if one of these door locks broke, or I lost my keys?”
Kristine looks dubiously at the heavy bottles I roll out. She screws hoses to fittings at my direction. A metal shelf crashes over in a jumble of loose objects and I ignite the tip to cut the thin steel. Aggressive talk persuades her to don gloves and goggles. She stubbornly refuses to light the torch. I rise up in anger and hit her where it hurts most. Her heart.
“You wanna end up like those kids in there? Starving to death within metres of food and not able to get at it? All because you’re a useless, limp-wristed, little girl who wants to be looked after!”
This disgraceful tactic shocks her. Determination to prove me wrong replaces the irrational fear of being burned. I’m impressed when she manages to light the acetylene without squealing or throwing the hand piece away as it pops alight. I laugh and she complains but finally she shows an understanding of its operation. I pack up the set and hide it away salving her hurt with respect.
“I don't really think you’re useless. You just needed a prod, that’s all.”
“You could use understanding instead of hostility to encourage a person.”
“My way’s quicker.”
“I agree it’s something I need to know how to do, so I’ll forgive you for those things you said. Your foresight is really amazing at times. It's a shame you don't put it to use on those other problems of yours. At least it proves your brain hasn’t completely lost touch.”
My brain can’t take the credit. Paranoia is an expert at compiling lists of things that can go wrong.