Monday he felt fine. There was bacon and eggs for breakfast, and for once the eggs weren’t fried too hard. He finished his breakfast with a sense of well being, looked out the barred window to the sunny morning beyond, gave his pecker a pat to make sure it was still there.
And then SHE came.
Brushing back long dark hair from her cunning, pretty face, wearing a cheap, low cut top, so he could see the swell of those tiny breasts he’d run his hand over so often, to her gasps and sighs. Long sun tanned legs.
“How is she?”
“She’s staying with nanna and pop.”
“What?” He couldn’t believe his ears. “You GAVE my child to those people?”
She smiled, what she no doubt thought was a placating, soothing smile. It felt like ground glass in his coffee.
“While I came down here to see you, Neville. She’s perfectly happy there. They love her, you know that – and they love you too. Your dad sends his love to you, by the way, he hopes you -”
“He hopes I’ll die. He hopes I’ll just fade away in here, out of sight, out of mind, he’ll be able to forget he ever had such a defective son. I know what he hopes. Just tell him I hate him. I hate him as much as he’s always hated me, I hate him more than you’ll ever understand, you bitch, you idiot….”
As he talked, his face reddening with anger, he watched her eyes downcast, her arms across her body. She didn’t fool him. She was hiding something. She got up to go, reaching out to touch him goodbye. He shrank from her furiously.
Tuesday was not so good. He was consumed with nightmares. What would happen to the child? His child, with those people, who had tortured him throughout his own childhood, thought he was worthless, and now had his precious, hard won daughter in their steely grip. Oh they said they loved her, they loved everyone. Nobody knew what they were like – but HE knew. He was so angry he almost forgot to eat his dinner, but it was roast lamb and mint jelly, his favourite, and he had to keep his strength up.
Wednesday he remembered the knife he’d hidden under the mattress. He’d persuaded Paul to bring it in, saying they wouldn’t even let him cut his own meat here, he was starving. Paul was his friend. Paul knew he wasn’t supposed to be here. SHE had put him here. Paul knew there was nothing wrong with him, he was just a little nervous. Highly strung.
She would visit again on Friday. Mouthing all those meaningless words. You’re sick, Neville. Your parents love you. If only you weren’t so angry, you could see…. Have you talked to the psychologist? What does HE say?
He felt under the mattress. There it was. He felt a surge of heroic power. So must Beowulf have felt, and Cuchulain. There comes a time when a man must stand up for what he believes. A man must have courage. SHE thought he was weak, defeated. She thought they could take his child and raise it in the ways that had destroyed him. That fat, smirking bitch his mother, with her veined legs and her innocent snow white hair, and the father, brilliant, academic, feted – and with not half the genius of the ‘mad’ son he put away for life in this…hellhole. Though, at least he had his own tv, that was something.
On Friday, he would be smooth and unctious. He would confess his misunderstandings, look deep into her eyes, tell her the psychologist had done wonders. She would look back at him with those long-lashed deceiving windows, reach out to hold his hand, perhaps sigh a little in relief – and then he would strike. No qualms, none. Saving his only daughter from a life with such a mother, such grandparents. Death, yes – she thoroughly deserved it, he would feel nothing, only pride.
He felt the point of the knife. It was sharp, pricked his finger a little so the blood ran. He went to sleep on Thursday night thinking of her screams, her body awash with red, himself standing over her like an avenging angel, then, then…
The next morning, he could not wait for her footsteps on the lino. His heart beat faster than a baby’s, his face and body hot, then cold. He went to the bathroom, again, and again. His nerves seemed a mass of cut wires, jangling and fizzing.
She came. He smiled, sane. Her eyes widened in pleasure. She sat on the bed beside him. He smelled her perfume, jasmine – it reminded him of freedom. And his daughter, the only one who would really understand the gift he was about to give her.
He felt beneath the bed. A present, he said, for you. Something I made in craft. Something to make up for it all, all this trouble I’ve put you through, and them too.
It wasn’t there. He sank back, in despair. They must have taken it, while he was in the bathroom, voiding his bowels and guts in anticipation of the last, heroic stand against insanity. He groaned, suddenly, and turned his face to the wall.
She exchanged glances with the nurse, waiting at the door.
“What’s wrong? Is he on different pills this morning?”
“He thinks he’s lost something,” said the nurse, kindly. “He’s been checking under his mattress all week. At first we thought he’d hidden something to eat under there – they often do, you know – but we checked and there was nothing. I spoke to the psych about it, it’s just a side effect apparently.”
She’s lying, thought Neville, lying in a dark haze, hearing the hated voices as from a distance. She took it. If I sleep, she’ll cut me with it and say I did it to myself, it’s suicide. I won’t sleep, though, I won’t. That night, as he drifted off despite himself, he wondered briefly, but what if there was no knife?
Then what am I? Just one angry man, helpless against the world. And he slept.