#NaNoWriMo – ‘The Whispering of Walls’ Extract 2

So, it’s week two of NaNoWriMo and at this point I am still ahead of the game with 28,418 words written. Although I have to say I have slowed down this week and found it altogether tougher. Anyway, here is the second extract of my book. This comes at the start of Chapter Three, not that it makes much difference without the rest of the book… I hope you enjoy it and, as ever, any thoughts or comments are most welcome…

When there is a mountain shadow cast across a lake at sunset it can be as if an impossible giant is looming over the water. The last of the light is pushed back and the remaining golden threads shimmering on every ripple scurry back towards the far shore. The stout pines on the far bank seem to lean and stretch anticipating the coming gloom; reaching perhaps in the hope of starlight to come. The egg shaped hint of moon is ghostly, almost transparent, against the last fading strip of blue in the sky, dark peaks and escarpments pointing up into its dying glow. To the south the orange tint of village street lamps peaking from down in the valley, without which human habitation might seem unlikely to the casual viewer. A few dots of white high beyond the tree line; sheep grazing between rocks on scrubby grass, their blobby outlines picked out by the last rays. Almost impossible to Laura’s eyes that such clumsy creatures could scale such rocky slopes.
Such an imperious view from the back garden of his house. Windmore’s house. Laura stood on the lawn, glass of wine in hand, looking across the field beyond towards the lake. She found it difficult to judge distance from this perspective, the shadow of the giants that surrounded the valley seeming close and yet slowly engulfing the whole scene. A shiver of cold ran through her. The location was superb, she couldn’t deny that, one of the perks of being the director of such a remote hospital, but the house itself wasn’t quite what she had excepted.
It was a square fifties build, with crumbling pebble-dash and eaves filled with long vacant swallow’s nests, the dribble of dried up bird faeces leaving long stains beneath each nest. She noted the peeling paint work and wondered why he didn’t do the house up a bit. He must have been able to afford it.
He called her out of the cold.
Inside the house seemed even more unkempt to her city eyes. Books lining most walls and wallpaper that had long since seen better days. Walking past the kitchen she breathed the cabbage steam; Windmore’s wife pottering over the Aga. Laura realised she was hungry.
Windmore invited her to sit in the dining room. The table laid with white cotton and silver cutlery, it’s cleanliness at odds with the dusty skirting and faded curtains.
“The view is spectacular don’t you think?” he said,
“Yes…well it certainly makes a change from London,” she said,
“You’ll have to forgive the humbleness of our surroundings, my wife isn’t much of a housekeeper I’m afraid, though I can assure you her cooking skills are second to none. I often feel that I am neglecting the place, I spend more time than I would like at the hospital these days,”
“Well funding is always an issue,” she said, “the health service isn’t what it once was,”
“Yes…” he had a vacant look for a moment, “perhaps I will retire soon…the pressure…”
There was a pregnant pause where they both fingered their wine glasses, she staring at the photos on the sideboard and he staring at the table cloth. She sensed him drifting and grasped for something to say.
“Well…” she said, “it was kind of you to invite me Dr Windmore,”
He looked up, almost startled, and grabbed the wine bottle.
“Yes…yes,” he said, “it’s a pleasure, we don’t get many visitors. And please…call me Terrence, more wine?” He attempted to top up her glass but she put her hand over it.
“I shouldn’t. I’m driving,” she said,
“Well one more won’t hurt will it? And besides you could always stay the night here, we can make up the spare room?”
“That’s very kind but I’d prefer not to,”
“Yes…I suppose not. Well just help yourself to more wine if you change your mind,” he put the bottle down in front of her, “there aren’t exactly many policeman patrolling these country roads,”
“I hope you don’t mind me asking,” she said, trying to change the subject, “but your wife? She didn’t seem so pleased to see me, she was very quiet when she opened the door. I do hope I’m not intruding,”
“Ah…yes,” he said, “I should explain. Margaret is what they used to call an ‘elective mute’, nowadays they might call it ‘selective mutism’. I don’t personally like either term but I guess you would say that she is a social phobic, so you are greatly honoured that she agreed to cook for you,”
“She never speaks?”
“Rarely. Of course she is physically capable, but chooses not to. Some practitioners would have described her condition as a failure to speak. But over the years I have come to the realisation that she chooses not to speak, well mostly anyway…”
“Some kind of trauma? From childhood?”
“Now you have your physician’s hat on Laura,” he said, “let’s just say her upbringing wasn’t quite as rosy as it should have been, but, as they say, that…is history,”
“How did you two get together?”
“Ah…I suppose that’s the obvious question, and yes she was a patient of mine, some forty odd years ago. Unorthodox I know, and positively frowned upon these days. Sackable offence one might say. But it was a different age, I was young and inexperienced in distancing myself from those in my care. Naive perhaps. But when one spends so much time caring from people in close proximity, delving into their innermost thoughts and feelings, it becomes inevitable that one invests ones feelings in them don’t you think?”
“Yes I suppose…you can’t help but care for them, it’s part and parcel of the job, but that care comes with a duty; a duty to remain professional, detached,”
“Forgive me but you sound like a textbook, or one of Farrow’s lectures. I think you will find Laura that there will come a time when it becomes impossible for you to be ‘detached’ however hard you try…” he paused as if struggling for words, “…forgive my frankness. I sometimes wonder if I always fit with today’s ideas. I can assure you didn’t abuse my position, though some at the time thought I did. The reality is that we deal in human relationships you and I. It is our business, and, at the end of the day, we are humans too, with feelings and emotions and desires…just like our patients. I suppose the simple fact is that I fell in love with her. Or I should say we fell in love with each other, it was Margaret who asked me to marry her. But it’s all academic now. All history. We will have been happily married thirty six years in September. Thirty six years…I can scarcely believe it,”
“Does she ever speak to you?”
“Sometimes, but mostly we communicate through knowing each other so well. She knows my moods and I know hers. A kind of empathy I suppose…”
Margaret shuffled into the room, balancing three full plates as if she were a waitress. Laura had the distinct feeling that she had heard every word of their conversation. Margaret’s steely blue eyes seemed to linger and hold her gaze as the plates were laid delicately on flowered placemats.
“I do love lamb,” said Windmore, “and there is a lot of it about in these parts,” he laughed at his own joke and Laura found herself forcing a smile.
The meal seemed to last too long, Laura lost forcing herself to eat slowly, as the gaps in the conversation grew larger. Margaret seemed to chew each mouthful for an eternity, slow masticating with her head held perfectly still, blank eyes facing front. Windmore didn’t eat much quicker and the silences between small talk only punctuated but the ticking of a clock in the hall.
Time seemed to slow and Laura began to wish she had never agreed to his invitation. She felt uneasy with his old fashioned views; the casual sexist way he referred to Margaret as some kind of unsatisfactory ‘housekeeper’ and how he had obviously managed to hide his unprofessional tendencies and still rise to the position he had. He had even suggested she drive drunk for god’s sake. Why did a distinguished psychiatrist like Farrow trust him?
When the meal was finally over she tried to make her excuses and leave but he insisted they take coffee in the sitting room. Only her English sense of propriety stopped her from refusing.
Once they were sat in the cracked leather armchairs with Margaret back in the kitchen Windmore seemed to relax, as if an ordeal was over. He poured himself a whisky chaser and she, of course, refused.
“So, Laura, what are your thoughts about Martha?” he said,
“Well, so far I think that most of the previous diagnoses have been pretty much on the button. She seems intelligent and resourceful, but perhaps bordering on the schizophrenic. I would have to do more interviews to confirm how I feel about that…she definitely suffers from some kind of trauma from childhood. Have you seen the video from the rest of this afternoon’s interview?”
“I read the transcript…interesting stuff,”
“Well, on first inspection it seems to point to some kind of childhood abuse. Perhaps a suppressed memory of some sort sexual abuse, maybe the absent father assaulting her mother that she witnessed, or worse perhaps abuse of her as a child. Has she told you of that incident before?”
“No…not that particular incident. She has always been pretty cagey about her childhood to me. You have done well to uncover it so early in your interviews,”
“Perhaps that’s a gender thing. Maybe she doesn’t trust men,”
“You will have to forgive Dr Windmore,” she said leaning forward,
“Terrance, call me Terrance,” he said,
“…but you seem pretty cagey yourself about all this. I see there is no record or transcriptions of interviews you have had with her? Why is that?”
“Sometimes I prefer to take a less formal approach, I find it puts the patient at ease, perhaps you should try it,”
“There is a time and a place for the ‘less formal’,” she said leaning back in the chair, “but I have to say I don’t feel this is it. If I am honest I feel that Martha Coughlan shouldn’t be in hospital at all, let alone having a cozy time of it of her own choosing,”
It was Windmore’s turn to lean forward.
“Trust me Laura, there is much more to this than meets the eye, give it time,”
“What do you mean?” she said,
“Well…to be brutally honest, I don’t think she is schizophrenic, though I haven’t told her that. Yes I think she has suffered traumas, but not in the way you think,”
“What exactly do you think is wrong with her?”
“I was rather hoping you would be able to tell me…but I will say this. I don’t think she has suppressed memories either,”
“What makes you say that?”
“Do more interviews, talk with her more. She has many experiences to share, many of them quite disturbing. Experiences that have happened throughout her life, some quite recent. I would explore some of these if I were you, and maybe you will come to similar conclusions to me,”
“I must say I don’t really like how obtuse you are being…” she found herself unable to hold back her frankness,
“Obtuse? Well you must forgive a middle aged man and his foibles,”
Three knocks came from another room. Wooden knocks on the wall.
“Ah, that’s Margaret calling me from the kitchen, our little code, you must excuse me,”
Alone in the room she drained the now cold coffee and stood. She would leave when he returned. Instead Margaret entered and stood looking at her.
“That was a lovely meal Mrs Windmore,” said Laura, “thank you so much, but it’s getting late and I had better be getting back,”
Margaret smiled and stood stock still, she was blocking the door.
“If I could just come past?” said Laura.
Margaret didn’t budge, the steel in her eyes simply staring into her. Laura looked down at the rug, embarrassed. She wondered if Margaret might be hard of hearing too.
“I really must be going,” she said, but she remained rooted to the spot, unable to squeeze past. Where was Windmore?
Margaret reached out and took her hand. Delicate warm fingers holding her hand so softly; a limp hold like someone who had never learned to do a firm handshake. With her other hand she stroked Laura’s fingers, a tender touch. Laura looked into her smiling face, there was no harm to be seen in that face. Gently Margaret led her to the brick fireplace and they stood together hand in hand. Laura sensed that she should feel uncomfortable holding hands with a woman she barely knew but oddly she felt at ease. Was this innocent woman reaching out to her?
They stood peacefully, like two moments caught between the ticks of the hall clock. Margaret lifted Laura’s hand to her own face so that her palm was cupping a rosy cheek. She in turn gently cupped Laura’s face. Slowly she pulled Laura’s other hand and pressed its palm flat against the flat brick of the fireplace. The moment hovered in the air; expectant. Laura was holding her breath.
Then Margaret spoke.
“The walls…” she whispered…

© 2013 Simon Poore


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