Chapter 7 One Week Later
A week later I climbed the stairs to the flat I had once shared with Sherlock before my marriage. I found myself counting the steps again. Seventeen. The door to the living room was open and I walked in. Sherlock was in the kitchen, squatting down by the table and peering intently at some beakers filled with colored liquid on the table.
“John,” he said, without looking up, “do these two on the end look the same color to you?”
I walked over for a closer look at the clear blue substance in the two glasses he indicated. “No, the one on the left seems a bit lighter.”
He switched the two beakers. “How about now?”
“Well, the one that’s now on the left seems lighter now. It must be the way the light hits in here, don’t you think?”
“No, I don’t think that at all. Hhhmm.” Sherlock stood and scribbled something on a notepad.
“Sherlock. It’s been a week. She asks about you every day. I’m tired of making excuses for you, saying you’re busy.”
“I am busy.”
“With what? Playing with glasses of… Gatorade?”
“It’s not Gatorade. It’s not even water, so I wouldn’t advise drinking it.”
“Sherlock, go to hospital and see her.”
“Why?” He switched the positions of two other glasses.
“Because she took a bullet for you and almost died.”
“She did a foolish thing and it almost cost her her life.”
“No, you did a foolish thing by dragging her into that situation that almost cost her her life.”
“But it didn’t. You’ve told me every day for the past four days that she is out of immediate danger and recovering. So how would my going to hospital to see her change that?”
I was so angry with him for refusing to see Sarah all week, especially when she was in intensive care and we weren’t even sure if she would survive. But I chose my next words carefully and spoke slowly. “As a doctor, I believe that it would definitely help in her recovery if you would pay her a visit.”
“That’s not you as a doctor speaking. That’s you who has all these…funny little emotions that are always close to your surface.”
“When we were at her house, when I came to get you, I watched the way the two of you…interacted. The way you spoke to each other, the way you looked at each other. For God’s sake, you danced with her. And when she got shot, Sherlock, you held her in your arms and…and you kept her alive and you told her that…that story….that fairytale. And now you won’t even go see her! What’s wrong with you?”
Sherlock picked up one of the beakers and walked over to the microwave and put it in. After punching in the time, he spoke without turning around. “There’s nothing wrong with me, John.”
“I could name a whole lot of people that would argue that point. Anyway, what I came here to say is that Sarah’s leaving St. Barts tomorrow afternoon. They’re transferring her to Chiswick Nursing Centre since she can’t go home because she shouldn’t fly for a while yet and she does have some convalescing to do. She needs…um…care. She’s still very weak. She could stay with Mary and me, but with the baby we don’t have as much room and she probably wouldn’t get the rest that she needs. I just thought you’d like to know.”
He neither replied nor turned around.
“Well, I just dropped by to tell you that. I’ll be leaving now. Good luck with…whatever you’re working on here.” I left him standing there.
I found out that the next morning Sherlock did finally visit Sarah at St. Barts. As with the first part of this story when I was not present for the actual events, I have pieced together in a narrative the things that were spoken from what I later learned and, maybe, with just a few embellishments from what I imagined.
When Sherlock walked through the open door of Sarah’s hospital room, he found her in bed. The head portion was raised and she was reading on an electronic tablet. She was not attached to any tubes or wires such as John had described from his earlier visits to her.
She looked up and smiled. “Hi, Cowboy. Thought you had forgotten me.”
“Never.” It was a private room and he stood just inside the doorway. “I’m glad I didn’t bring you any flowers. You seem to have an abundance.”
The room was full of flowers, all kinds and colors. “Oh, yeah. Those on the table there on the right are from John and Mary—I think they’re about ready to be tossed. The rest are from your brother Mycroft. I get…like two vases every day from him. Plus he sent me this tablet, pre-loaded with hundreds of books. And this private room. I’ve yet to meet him, but this and all these flowers and a private jet, I think I like him.”
“Oh, he’s a peach.”
“But I don’t know why he’s doing all this. I get the idea from John that we kind of messed up the sting operation and he had something to do with that.”
“Well things didn’t go quite as they had planned, but that wasn’t our fault. And it was successful.”
“So, we got all the Saudis?”
“Oh, no. There are still probably 29 million of them.”
“Not the whole country, Sherlock, just the ones who were trying to kill you and me.”
“Oh, yes. The members of that little group are either dead or under restraint. You no longer need to fear any sort of reprisal for your actions of long ago.”
“That’s somewhat reassuring, I guess. But why is your brother being so generous?” As soon as the words were out, she made the connection. “Oh, wait. Same father.”
“And mother. Although if you ever do meet him, you wouldn’t believe it for a second. He was a young boy when you saved our father.”
“Oh.” Sarah was quiet for a moment. “Oh, and I forgot, those flowers nearest to you on the table, they’re from Molly. You called me Molly a couple of times at my house before you got your memory back. She’s been to see me. Told me a little about her work in the morgue here at the hospital. Sounds like a gruesome job.”
“Oh, not at all. And she has a nice laboratory that she lets me use.”
“Wait,” said Sarah. “It seems like you already told me that. Or maybe I read it on John’s blog. I think my memory’s a little messed up now. John said my brain probably wasn’t getting enough oxygen in the minutes after I got shot. And now parts of it are still all fuzzy. I think I know now what you were going through after you started remembering and you said you had to sort things out.”
“It’s probably good that you don’t remember everything in those critical moments after …after... John is very good and he did what he could but it was a long time before medical help arrived.”
Sarah moved slightly and her face grimaced in pain. “Oh, they took away my morphine drip yesterday. I really miss it. It’s funny, but John and Molly both said that if you knew I had morphine in the room that you would be sure to come visit. What did they mean by that?”
“Oh,” Sherlock snorted derisively. “Everyone thinks I’m an addict.”
“I…have a few addictions, but not the kind that they think.”
“The dragons within you. Was that something you told me?”
Sherlock stepped over to the bed and put one hand on the left side of Sarah’s neck.
“What are you doing?” She slapped his hand away.
“Checking for gills,” he said, smiling.”
“I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean.”
“Sarah, do you think I’m a salamander?” He asked it quite seriously.
Sarah leaned forward laughing, but immediately regretted it. “Oh, God, it hurts to laugh. Why on Earth would I think you’re a salamander?”
“Something your oxygen-starved brain told me while we were waiting for an ambulance.”
“I was bleeding to death and I was talking about salamanders?”
“No, we were talking about…it was just a story…about people who approach life in a childlike way, everything’s an adventure, and they refuse to become an adult. And you said maybe they were salamanders.”
“Oh, I know,” Sarah said. “Grotto Salamanders. I read about them for one of my books about caves.”
“I researched them this past week. Actually, there’s not much written about them. But I learned that some postpone metamorphoses and retain their gills and their eyes far longer than the rest.”
“And,” said Sarah, “it’s never been documented, but I like to think that some never change, never grow up, never become adults. So far, from the studies I’ve read, and as you said, there’s not been much research on them, no one knows why some delay metamorphosis. But, personally, I think it has to do with adversity. When their environment becomes less than ideal, when bad things happen, that’s when they have to stop being larvae, swimming around in the water, no cares, and become air breathers and…spend the rest of their lives in total darkness.”
“But you have suffered adversity in your life and it didn’t affect you like that. I think that’s why I did not realize your true age when I was blind. You didn’t act…”
“Old? Well, let me tell you, Cowboy. The adventure is wearing pretty thin. Right now I feel ancient. I can even hardly walk down the hallway here and I have to use a walker to do that. And this afternoon, they’re moving me to Chiswick, to a nursing home. To a nursing home! I’ve become an air breather and I’m afraid there’s no going back.”
No, not you” said Sherlock. “You still have gills… but I don’t think you’ll have them much longer if you go to Chiswick. You will grow old there. That’s why you’re coming home with me. I’ve already made arrangements.”
“What? I don’t think so.”
“Just until you’re well enough to fly and take care of yourself. And then you can go home, go back to Scout and your house on the lake and live happily ever after.”
“I can’t, Sherlock. I have to go to this Chiswick nursing place. For one thing, you have too many stairs. “
“We just have to get you up to the flat. You can have my bedroom. It’s right off the bathroom and the kitchen. Mrs. Hudson is always there. And John and Mary are there all the time. Please, Auntie Sarah, let me do this.”
“I just don’t…I just wouldn’t feel comfortable. I’m not very strong yet and I can’t do some things on my own…and you’re not a licensed caregiver.”
“But I’m Sherlock Holmes.”
Sarah leaned forward, laughing again, and grabbed her stomach in pain. “See? That’s why I can’t. I laugh too much when I’m with you and it hurts.”
“But it’s good for you.”
“Sherlock, you don’t owe me anything.”
“Of course I don’t. Please. Say you’ll come.”
Sarah hesitated. She turned her head away from him and looked out the window and then turned back. “OK.”
Sherlock smiled. “But I need to go back to the flat and tidy up first. The hospital is sending one of those official government inspector persons of some kind to make sure it’s suitable for you for convalescence. I’m afraid they might find it’s not even suitable for me and condemn the whole place.”
“John told me you sometimes keep body parts in your refrigerator.”
“Yeah, probably should shift those before the inspection. Good-bye, Sarah. I’ve got lots to do. I’ll see you this afternoon. Oh, let me have your tablet before I leave.” He took the tablet and after a few swipes and punches handed it back to her. “I downloaded a song for you. It’s not ‘60’s but pretty close. And there’s no message. I just like it.”
“Sherlock, may I ask you something?”
“No. See you in a few hours.” He backed out the door.
After he left, Sarah opened the music player. What Is Life by George Harrison began to play.
Sarah stayed at Sherlock’s flat for just over a week, before both her surgeon and I certified that she was well enough to return home to the states and take care of herself. The bullet had done some vascular damage and had penetrated her liver and nicked her spleen and the small intestine. There was always the risk of infection, even days or weeks after such an injury and I continued to carefully monitor her recovery which progressed remarkably well. Unfortunately, there was some damage which could not be repaired. I had had a long talk with her the day before she left the hospital about what her future would hold. When I was finished she politely thanked me and said, “We’ll see.”
At Sherlock’s her strength returned and, in just a few days, she no longer needed a walker. I made her go up and down the steps a few times each day after that to build back her strength. Her spirits were good. She continued to have a great deal of pain, though, but I almost had to force her to take any medication for it.
Despite all that we have been through in the past few years, I still do not know Sherlock, nor, I fear, will I ever understand him. When he told me that Sarah was going to convalesce at his place instead of the nursing centre, I did not know what to make of it. I had this fear that he simply might go off on some case and forget she was even there, so Mary or I were at his flat a lot during the day. But there is no denying that staying at Sherlock’s flat was good for her. And for him. I don’t know what kind of bond the two of them shared, but there was a definite link between them. Whenever they were in the same room, he was… I know no other way to say it. He was human, more human than I ever knew him to be, except, perhaps, during the weeks leading up to my wedding. But during the eleven days that Sarah stayed with him, he was attentive, caring, considerate, and more solicitous toward her than I have ever witnessed him behave toward another human being. And she continually teased him about everything and seemed genuinely interested in his “experiments” which cluttered the kitchen.
Mrs. Hudson and Mary and I had all joined in helping him straighten up the flat before the health inspector arrived. It was the first time since he had moved in that the kitchen counters and table were actually clear, and they stayed that way for all of two days before the clutter of beakers and scales and microscopes and whatever gradually reappeared. In the living room, the piles of books and newspapers and general clutter grew again, also, as the days progressed.
Of course, his newfound compassionate nature did not extend to me. I still found myself on the receiving end of barbs and criticism and put-downs. I had often heard him refer to himself as a “high functioning sociopath” and, over the course of our years together, he certainly has displayed most of the traits that define that disorder, but I was heartened to observe that, at least for a week and a half, he was able to maintain a normal relationship with someone. There was nothing smarmy in his attitude toward Sarah, such as I had witnessed when he was pretending to be in love with Janine. Sarah managed to draw out from somewhere in his depths a kinder, gentler Sherlock that was real and genuine.
On the tenth day of her stay at Sherlock’s, Sarah was standing by the window in the living room while Sherlock was seated in his favorite chair with three books opened on his lap and another four clustered around his feet. “Are you expecting someone, Sherlock?”
By this time, she had become used to (as I had long ago grown accustomed) Sherlock’s habit of not responding to direct questions. He often feigned indifference to conversation going on around him, although I am quite certain that part of his brain was actively recording and storing everything that happened every single minute in his presence and that he was able to draw on that enormous reserve of information. It was what made him so extraordinary in his work. But it was extremely frustrating to anyone trying to talk to him.
“It’s an older couple,” Sarah continued, as she shifted to get a clearer view of the sidewalk below. “They just got out of a cab and are heading this way. The cab’s not leaving. I think they told him to wait.” She glanced at Sherlock, still reading his multiple books, then turned her attention back to the street below, craning her neck as the pair drew closer to the door. “Aww, he’s holding her arm. I think they’re going to ring the bell…or knock.”
Just then the bell rang and Sherlock closed his books and sprang from the chair like a jack-in-the-box. “Oh! Right on time. They’re not usually so punctual.”
“Who are they?”
“My parents. They’re flying out of Heathrow this morning and I asked them to drop by here first. Thought maybe they’d like to meet you.”
“You could have told me.”
“Didn’t I? I told someone. Maybe the cat.” Sherlock opened the living room door. Mrs. Hudson had let the couple in and was leading them up the stairs.
“You don’t have a cat.”
“Been thinking about getting one after you leave. Couldn’t have one while you were here since you’re allergic.”
“How do you know I’m allergic to cats?”
“Sherlock,” called Mrs. Hudson from a few steps below when she saw him at the door. “It’s your parents. What a nice surprise this morning.” Mrs. Hudson stepped out of the way as Sherlock ushered them in and then closed the door before she could go through, also.
“Mum. Dad. I would like you to meet Sarah Dunkirk.”
Sarah had known Sherlock long enough now to not be surprised by his lack of affectionate display toward his parents. In fact, she only briefly noted it as she stared at his father and tried to find in the lined face and the white hair the younger man she had seen over thirty-five years ago. She still stood across the room by the window and was backlit in the morning light.
“Come away from the window, so I can see you better,” said the elder Mr. Holmes.
Sarah stepped closer to them.
“My God, you’ve hardly changed at all. I would know you anywhere,” Mr. Holmes declared.
Sherlock’s mother spoke and her voice betrayed some emotion. “When Sherlock told us that the woman who had saved his life in the snow was here in London, we, of course, wanted to meet her. But then he added that she was also the woman who had saved his life in Iran all those years ago.” She squeezed her husband’s arm and patted him on the cheek. “He had never told me about that until now.”
Mr. Holmes patted her hand. “We weren’t supposed to talk about it. And I wouldn’t have if Sherlock, here, had not started asking me questions a few weeks ago. Interrogating me is more like it.” The elder Holmes held out his arms toward Sarah. “But if not for this lady right here before me, Sherlock would not even be here.”
“I was just window dressing, Mr. Holmes,” Sarah said quietly. “You actually owe your life to a very brave man named Gamel.”
“I don’t know Mr. Gamel, but I remember you on that long plane ride home. How you took the time to sit with each of us, me and those three other blokes you rescued, and how you visited with us, asking about our work and our families. Just small talk, but it calmed our fears and made us feel like maybe we were really safe and free from place. I know it helped me. I was so scared and I was shaking so badly that I think I was literally rocking that plane. I was afraid any minute that we would be shot out of the sky or forced to turn around and face all of that again.” His hands began to tremble and his eyes filled with tears. Mrs. Holmes took his hands in hers.
“I’m…uh…glad you made it home safely.” Sarah really was not sure what to say.
“I have something for you.” Mr. Holmes voice cracked with emotion. “I promised myself that if I ever saw you again, I would return it to you.” He reached a hand into a pocket of his trousers. “You gave it to me on the plane. Do you remember?”
Sarah did not want to confess that she had no memory of giving him anything so she stayed silent.
The elder Holmes held out his hand. A small smooth pebble lay in his open palm.
Sarah still did not remember giving it to him, but she recognized what it was. “A worry stone,” she said.
“You told me to rub it to help my anxiety, to keep it in my pocket, and that’s where it’s been ever since.”
“And been through the wash many times,” added Mrs. Holmes.
Sherlock picked the green and yellow-flecked stone from his father’s hand. “I remember this from when I was a child. You told us boys an angel gave it to you.”
“And so she did,” said Mr. Holmes.
Sherlock handed it to Sarah who put it back in Mr. Homes’ hand. “I think you should keep it. If it weren’t there after all these years, you’d still always be reaching into your pocket and finding it empty.”
“If you insist,” said the old gentleman, his eyes still glistening with tears.
“We really must be going,” said Mrs. Holmes. “The taxi is waiting and the meter’s running.”
Although Sherlock had not demonstrated any affection toward his parents, Sarah stepped forward to hug both of them before they left. Mrs. Holmes gave her a brisk hug then passed her off to her husband who was a little more enthusiastic and hugged her tight. Sarah emitted a little yelp of pain and he quickly released her. “Are you all right?” he asked, alarmed.
Sarah glanced over his shoulder at Sherlock who shook his head no. He had evidently not told his parents of his most recent adventure in the warehouse with the Saudi terrorist cell. “Oh, it’s nothing,” Sarah said to the elder Holmes. “Just a little accident I had not long ago. It’s on the mend.” She took one of his hands in both of hers. “Good-bye, Mr. Holmes. I’m really glad I got to see again and… and to meet your son.”
“Good-bye, my dear.” Mr. Holmes kissed her on the cheek. “I owe you my life and the life of my boy, here. There’s no way I can ever repay that.”
“You just did, Mr. Holmes. Safe journey to the both of you on your next adventure.”
Mrs. Holmes took her husband’s arm and pushed him toward the door. “We’re off to the American Southwest. Ghost town tour. And a little shopping, I hope.”
Sherlock closed the door behind them and stood with his back to it. Sarah smiled at him and shook her head.
“What?” he asked.
“They just weren’t what I expected for your parents. I take it they just think I’m here visiting.”
“I rarely discuss my cases with them, but Mum reads John’s blog religiously, so she knew that I was missing back in January and how you rescued me. I’ve asked him not to publish anything on the Saudi cell for a while.”
“I’m glad I got to meet them. You’re very lucky to still have them both.”
“You looked as if you had no recollection of giving him that stone 36 years ago.”
“I don’t remember giving it to him. But that night at my house, before you got your memory back, you seemed to think there was something familiar about the one I gave you. You even asked if it were green…”
“With flecks of gold that sparkle in the firelight. That’s how I remembered his from when I was a little. Did you know I was his son when you gave it to me?”
“No, of course not. I didn’t know until you told me when I got here two weeks ago.”
“Hmmm,” said Sherlock. “‘Curiouser and curiouser’.”
“'Cried Alice',” Sarah said, completing the quote from Lewis Carroll.