I hide myself, surviving on stashes of junk food and sniffing out previous picnics with a junkie’s nose. Medications I’ve left behind in offices and board rooms sustain a kaleidoscope of confusion.
Awareness of days passing is by tracing the shadows that edge across the ground. Morning light fades into encroaching night twice.
Hunger for a better selection of food and drugs forces a return to the staff wing.
The place is a mess. Kristine’s prized porcelain figurines and crystal bowls have met an untimely end against chipped walls.
Cleaning up erases the objectionable reminder that her pain equals mine. It depresses already low spirits.
My pills are untouched. She’s missed her chance to hurt me deeply by dumping them in the sink. Afraid for their safety I deposit the conglomeration into my floor safe. I look around my room but can’t tell whether it has been trashed or if it’s normally this bad.
Plates of half-eaten food are left on the table and kitchen counter. Kristine has overcome her OCD.
I pile rubbish outside the door, a warning that I am here. I know she’ll return sooner or later. Feeding her pet, that disagreeable presence, will not be forgotten.
It is many hours before Kristine eases in. She’s a shambling wreck. Eye contact is cursory. I’m an ugly piece of furniture, observed only when navigating around its jagged edges.
Waiting sheepishly in the background is embarrassing; silently pleading for an amnesty is ignored. Just as silently, forgiveness is withheld, and I’m excluded from the food she prepares.
The cost of being brushed off is paid for by reckless drug combinations. Crossing turbulent waters to the tranquil harbour beyond on boats of Diazepam, Vicodin and OxyContin. The wash of warm beer churns the stomach’s cocktail. The sustainable level I reach retains too much realism. Crossing that boundary is a flight into the abyss.
Estranged by unhealthy coping devices, our days pass in alternate universes.
Kristine’s hard shell cracks when she finds me unconscious and dying.
I can only imagine her initial hesitation. Did she weigh her options before feeding me salt water? Did she pace the floor when I stopped breathing before pressing her lips against my spew-coated ones for the second time since we’d met? Maybe she considers keeping me alive is the harsher punishment.
The moments spent in calm space are pure bliss, incomparable to the finest times of this life. Reawakening into sickness is captured as a low point by a scorched short term memory. I reach for the escape capsules again and say goodbye to Kristine.
“Living forever is overrated, Babe.”
Kristine has other plans for me. Her hand is gently dissuading.
“Don't go, Sam.”
She says no more than this. No more is required. Looking into her eyes at this moment, I’d crawl through broken glass with my zipper down if she asked me to.
The pressure of tending two hopeless bodies tells on Kristine’s crystalline nerves. I see her difficulty and regain my feet the next day.
We’re not talkative, though Kristine’s wall is lowered.
My recent close call has no far-reaching consequences. The episode is unremarkable given our other problem, downstairs.
Neither of us divert from our respective viewpoint. Sometimes we argue in short de-energised fits and bursts, going around in circles. I slip back into bad habits.
A week later, Kristine is weakened by a stomach upset. I see my opportunity and volunteer to feed Shanna. She agrees reluctantly. Weary from lack of sleep, running on nervous energy, she forgets to renew a binding promise not to hurt Shanna.
I find a box of scalpels in the medical kit. Breaking one into pieces to put in Shanna’s food is the best disguise short notice allows. Dying from an internal haemorrhage will be unpleasant but no-one will be wiser and life could resume.
Shanna has deteriorated in the last week. Her body is noticeably lighter, heading towards anorexia. Her previously taut skin has formed tiny wrinkles.
She comes to the slot in the cell door and stares at me for many seconds. I swallow uncomfortably and step away as she accepts the food. She scoops handfuls hungrily for a moment. I press close to the observation window. She stops chewing.
Food falls from her mouth with strings of blood dripping after it. The plan hasn’t worked. Her mouth is deeply cut. She extends her tongue and delicately plucks a sharp fragment from it, showing no pain.
Calmly putting the tray aside she examines the tiny piece of metal. Her eyes rise slowly to where I stand behind the mirror. She holds the offending object up so I can see and steps towards the glass. I am spellbound and deathly afraid. Deliberately she extends a wrist, slashing across it deeply. A red spay hits the mirror, running in think rivulets.
She drops the blade and holds the incision open. Blood spurts and spatters for a few lazy heartbeats then slows. A thin grey liquid thickens the blood, clogging the cut with a congealing mess. Blood dribbles from her fingers.
Shanna returns to her bed and picks up the tray. She spreads out the food, putting aside other pieces of shiny metal, then resumes eating.
Shaken by the lesson learned, I leave.
Kristine insists on taking the next meal. There was no way to clean up the blood in the cell so I wait apprehensively for her to reappear. She doesn’t keep me waiting long. The way she bursts into the lounge room at a run, white with anger, pistol in hand, I know I’m in trouble.
She grabs my throat, shouting in my face.
“There’s blood all over the cell! Her wrist is cut!”
“She cut herself.”
I figure I can ride this out.
“Where did she get the blade from? Did you give it to her?”
Her spit gets in my eye. I blink it out.
“Yeah, I gave it to her. Then she slashed herself, right in front of me.”
“You wanted her to swallow it. She told me.”
“She talked to you?”
That’s disturbingly odd.
“No, you moron, she showed me, and these were on her tray.”
Kristine’s holds pieces of the shattered blade. When she mimes chewing them and saws above her wrist, it is an exact imitation of Shanna’s actions.
“Wow, fuck, really? They can communicate. Look, calm down and think about this. It’s deliberately playing me off against you. That’s scary smart. We need to be extra careful what we say around it.”
Kristine leans close, nose to nose with me. Her pistol nuzzles my jaw. Her eyes are mad, and I mean crazy mad. She speaks in a suddenly quietened voice, between tight clenched teeth, deaf to my explanation.
“Did you try to kill her?”