Greyness spoils the unambiguous red haze. Unsettled I sway, accidentally bumping the barrel hard against the glass panel. The dull clunk causes a guilty flurry of slamming doors inside my head. Kristine snaps awake in the other room, lifting bleary, searching eyes. Hurriedly the shotgun drops to a casual one-handed grip.
Sleep slips gradually from her face and my hulking attendance is noticed without pleasure.
Shanna receives a smile and something that I can’t hear is muttered. The favouritism picks at the open sore of jealousy. I’m gratified when Shanna flinches away from Kristine’s reassuring touch. The glass door rumbles open and Kristine moves in close to me. The urge to hug her crumbles under hard words.
“Look, no monster.”
The greeting ends with a wide open mouth. Her tongue is extended so I can see her back teeth. Her gums are a healthy pink.
“That’s not funny.”
“You sure looked for a long time. Need a torch?”
Her purposeful aggression has me feeling deservedly dumb.
“No, umm, sorry. I’ve been thinking.”
She crosses her arms and waits; foregoing the obvious, tension-breaking quip. Her set of keys clink brightly as they hit the table.
“Here. Have these back. Can we talk?”
“Talk or argue?”
“I’m not up to arguing. Take advantage. The mood you’re in...I guarantee it won’t last.”
“Are you letting me out for a toilet break? You going to take them away again?”
“No. Keep ‘em. I should never have taken them from you. Locking you in with that thing is...unforgivable.”
“I’ll decide what’s unforgivable. Like, what you might be planning to do with that gun. Nothing silly I hope, Sam?”
Her pistol is on the table, left from the night before. She doesn’t reach for it even when my eyes flick that way.
“Yeah. I mean no. Huh?”
“You need to sleep. I’ve got a clearer head after a bit of rest. Had too much to think about yesterday. I wasn’t making sense.”
I’m excited by hope she might be talked around.
“That’s right, you weren’t, neither was I. Come home, clean yourself up. We’ll have something to eat and talk properly. Fix this whole thing up.”
She sniffs under an armpit. Her nose wrinkles.
“OK. You first. And put the bloody safety on. You’re making me nervous.”
She sleeps beside a host yet I make her nervous.
That’s highly offensive.
I hold my tongue. If she thinks about it too much the pieces could fit together in her head. Even suspecting me of that uninspired attempt to blow a hole in Shanna could be disastrous.
“Don’t worry. I’m not staying here by myself.”
We go upstairs. I’m pushed into her bedroom and seated on the bed. The door slams and she strips immodestly. The sexual suggestiveness of her actions is not misread even by starved senses. She keeps me talking through a half shut door while showering. Being put on a leash would be less demeaning.
I fit in a second breakfast she lays out mechanically in the kitchen. Self-control wavers when I attempt to table Shanna’s disposal options.
“It would be a kindness to put her down.”
She hesitates then moves behind me. A pan of hot oil sizzles in her hand.
“For the last time. If you do anything to hurt her, I will kill you. Can I get any plainer than that?”
I feel the heat from the pan at the back of my neck. Oil pops and crackles, lettings me know the death she has in mind will be painful. I stop chewing and wait two heartbeats until she moves away, throwing the pan into the sink.
That’s not the girl I used to know.
Kristine flops in a seat opposite me and folds her arms, watching me pick at specks of reconstituted egg. After a few minutes we are able to discuss the impossible task.
Like opposing armies we strategize, looking for an acceptable solution to an intolerable situation, circling around each other’s objectives to reach a compromise. Kristine outlines her expectations and my overstretched brain races to fill in gaping details.
“It’s unhygienic keeping her tied down. She’ll get bedsores. I can’t clean her properly.”
“If we take her off the gurney, she has to go in a cell.”
“I’m not putting her with those dead kids. Don't even think about it. And I want to be able to see her, talk to her.”
I think harder.
“There’s a suicide cell down from the infirmary. Very secure. I can plumb it up, and there’s a food slot. These things can feed themselves. It might even be toilet trained.”
“I want to be with her.”
“There’s a connecting office with a big observation window. It’s got a speaker so you can talk to her all you want.”
Kristine mulls it over, looking for flaws, and then agrees to inspect the cell.
It is perfectly austere, designed for round-the-clock supervision and minimal harm to the occupant. A combination toilet/sink unit is attached to one corner. A concrete plinth with rounded corners is moulded to the wall for a sleeping surface.
The room is deemed suitable and soon prettied. The thin, stained mattress is tossed. A larger, more comfortable one, procured from our spare rooms is made up with fresh sheets and a doona. A bright throw rug and decorative pillows are arranged to soften the grey walls. I shake my head but wisely shut my mouth. When ordered to take down a small bedside table it is done without a word of protest. She fills with books and magazines. A range of clothing is laid out.
I leave the homemaking to crawl along maintenance corridors, fitting poly pipe together. After that task I insist on performing a dry run with a CPR dummy strapped to spare stretcher.
The next day everything is ready.
We move the host.