Chapter 8 A Final Farewell
On the night before she left, Sarah and Sherlock treated us to a violin concert at her going away party in Sherlock’s flat, us being Mary and myself, Mrs. Hudson, Molly, and Detective Inspector Lestrade. That night I also saw a new side of Sherlock. He played frequently when I shared the flat with him, and he played at my wedding reception the song he had composed for Mary and me, but only rarely did he play when others were present. But on this particular evening he pulled out his second violin for Sarah to use and they alternated playing several songs, he playing classical music and she playing what she called mountain fiddle tunes. Even I, with very little music training, recognized that the songs grew progressively harder and more complicated with each number. It was clear that the two of them were in a friendly competition. After Sarah’s first song, I insisted that she sit down for the others. I did not want her undoing the great strides she had made so far in her recovery.
But their last one left us all in tears because we were laughing so hard. I remember just after Sarah had been shot and we were waiting for the ambulance and Sherlock was talking to her, trying to keep her conscious, he told her something about how he had been practicing playing fiddle music. So, on this evening of musical entertainment, after they had each played several songs in their respective styles, he started one that had the definite sound of what Sarah had been playing—something I would call Appalachian or Ozark Mountain music. I could not tell you the name of the song. And it was not bad, but it was not quite the quality that Sarah had just played for us.
When Sherlock had finished the short selection, Sarah looked surprised at his choice of music. “Not bad, Cowboy, but let me give you a few pointers.” She stood up. I had not even noticed before, but she was wearing black jeans that were topped with one of Sherlock’s white shirts and a black vest and one of his ties. She positioned her violin—well, I guess, in her case, it was a fiddle. “You have to think about it in word pictures,” she told him. “First, you get this long drawn-out train whistle and then you follow that up with the train chuggin’ down the tracks.” As she spoke she drew her bow across the strings to imitate the sounds. “And now you’re racin’ along the ridge tops and down into the valley and back up on the ridge and then you take off and you’re soarin’ with the eagles.” She stopped. “Now you try it.”
Sherlock replicated her technique as she called out, “There’s the whistle and now you’re chuggin’ along, and now head for the ridgetops and down and up and now you’re soarin’! OK! That was good. So now, what you do is take those same basic sounds and change them around. Like this. Listen and then you copy.” Sarah played a few bars and then Sherlock played them back to her.
She played again. This time it was a little different and again he repeated it. I wish I knew more about music at this point to give you, the reader, a better idea of what it sounded like, although even my untrained ear could pick out the train whistle and the ridge running strains. But after this is when it really started to get funny. But it is probably one of those situations where you just had to be there to appreciate how much fun it was watching the two of them. I wish one of us would have recorded it. And I do not know to this day if they had rehearsed this bit or if they were just responding to each other.
She played again, and again Sherlock was able to copy it. But after that it turned into a “no holds barred” competition. Each time she would play faster and wilder and Sherlock really began to struggle to keep up. And that was what was so amazing about this whole thing. Sherlock was always, always so cold and aloof when he was in public. And even here in his own home, whenever we had people over, it was if he had this particular image of himself that was so important for him to maintain. But on this night he laughed and he growled and he made horrible faces whenever his fingers would not move fast enough or in the correct sequence. For a few, brief minutes, he let down his guard, his façade cracked. Sarah stepped closer to him on each round until finally he actually dropped to his knees and she stood over him in triumph. “You win!” he cried and he sat back on the rug, exhausted and laughing.
As I said, everyone was laughing so hard at that point that I don’t think anyone but me noticed the wince of pain that crossed Sarah’s face like a shadow. I hoped she had not over exerted herself.
Lestrade, still laughing, stood and offered Sherlock a hand to help him up. The Detective Inspector slapped him on the back as he stood, and said, “Sherlock, you always make a production out of everything you do, but this time it was actually good.”
The slap and the remark brought Sherlock back to the moment and I literally saw that façade, that mask, wipe over his body. ‘When I glanced again his face had resumed that red-Indian composure which had made so many regard him as a machine rather than a man.’3 He had become Sherlock once more. And the laughter stopped.
As Sherlock and Sarah returned their instruments to the cases on the desk, Sarah was still short of breath. “Thank you, Cowboy,” she whispered. “You are very good.”
“I think I will stick to violin music.” He kept his voice low. “Are you all right? That wasn’t too much for you?”
“I’m fine. Just still sore.”
After everyone had left, Sherlock was at his desk, working on a laptop when he heard a sharp cry and a crash in the kitchen. Sarah was standing in front of the sink, but was doubled over in pain. The glass of water she had dropped was scattered in pieces on the floor at her feet. “Sarah!” He rushed to her side, but she waved him off.
“I’m all right,” she said through clenched teeth. “It’s just a pain. I think I must have pulled something, playing that hard.”
“You might have reopened one of your internal wounds. I’d better call John. He can’t have gotten far.”
Sarah shook her head. “No, don’t call John.” She straightened up part way. “See, it was just a momentary thing—caught me off guard, that’s all. It’s nothing.”
“It’s not nothing, Sarah.” Sherlock picked up the open medicine vial on the counter. It contained her pain pills. “Did you take one of these already?”
“Yes. Sorry about the glass. I’ll clean it up.” She tried to bend down but Sherlock caught her by her arm and waist and held her up.”
“I’ll get that later,” said Sherlock. “You need to lie down. I know you’ve just been taking one of these pills at a time, but it says you can take two. Perhaps you should.”
“I don’t want to get addicted to them. I’ve taken them for too many days already and I don’t like the way they make me feel.”
“But you’re still in pain. I think tonight calls for two. And you’ll be asleep in a few minutes, so it won’t matter how you feel.”
Sarah’s head was bowed and she had a tight grip on the edge of the counter. “OK. Just for tonight.” She let Sherlock fill a clean glass with water and fish out a pill. He made sure she swallowed it.
“Stay here. Let me put these in the bedroom for later,” he said, indicating the water glass and medicine bottle he was holding. “Then I’ll help you into there.”
“Stay here,” he ordered again. It took only a few seconds to put them on the small bedside table and fold back the covers on the bed. He returned and slowly escorted her to the bedroom, she holding onto his arm for support.
Sarah sat down on the edge of the bed. “I’ve been putting myself to bed for a long time, Cowboy. I think I can take it from here.” She still wore the clothes she had borrowed from him earlier in the evening. “Or not.” She laid her head against the pillow, but her feet were still on the floor. “I don’t know what’s in those pills, but they work pretty darn fast.” Her speech was already slowing and slurry.
Sherlock got the rest of her onto the bed then sat on the edge.
“We made them laugh tonight, didn’t we?” she said, quietly
“Yes, we did,” he answered. “Is that important to you?”
“Of course it is.”
“Why?” He unbuttoned the cuffs of the shirt that she wore.
“Because…it’s creates an echo in time.” Her voice was so soft; he had to lean in to listen. “Even years from now, should the memory of what we did tonight come to mind, it will still bring a smile with it…and the person remembering will feel a little better, if only for a moment. And that’s a good thing.”
“Like the way you feel when you remember George Harrison looking up and smiling at you fifty years ago?”
Sarah’s eyes were closed but a smile spread across her face. “Yeah. Just like that.”
Sherlock loosened the necktie she had on and pulled it over her head. He unbuttoned the top two buttons of her shirt.
“Are you undressing me, sir?” she asked groggily.
“Of course not,” Sherlock answered, defensively. “I’m just making you more comfortable.”
“Oh, good. Cause if John came in and caught you, he’d be…perplexed.”
“I’m afraid where I am concerned,” said Sherlock, “John is perpetually perplexed.”
“Perpetually perplexed,” repeated Sarah.
“Oh too late,” said Sherlock. “I hear him on the stairs.”
“Did you call him?” Sarah asked, accusingly.
“Sherlock!” I called out as I opened the door to the flat. “It’s only me. Mary forgot her purse. I’ll just get it and pop out”
Sherlock stood up from the bed and walked to the bedroom door. “Would you come in here, please, John?”
“What’s the matter?” I asked as I entered the bedroom.
“Sarah’s experiencing some rather intense pain tonight. I think you should take a look at her.”
Sarah had been on her right side but she rolled onto her back as I sat down on the bed. “It’s better, now,” she said. “Still hurts, but not stabbing like a few minutes ago. I think it was just from playing tonight.”
I gently palpated different areas of her abdomen, watching for her reaction. “I shouldn’t have let you play at all.”
“I don’t think you could have stopped me. Owww!”
“Have you taken any medication tonight?” I hoped she would answer in the affirmative since that would explain her slurred speech and slowed reaction time. I probed carefully the area where she hurt the most.
“Sherlock made me take two.”
“Sometimes he gets things right,” I said. “Why do you have your shoes on in bed?”
“He was undressing me. I don’t think he got that far. It’s a good thing you came in, John. I think he was going to take advantage of me.”
“What? Jesus, Sherlock!” I turned and looked in disgust at Sherlock who still stood by the bedroom door.
“She’s kidding, John,” he said.
I turned my attention back to Sarah, who said, “I’m kidding, John. Don’t be perplexed.”
I took off her shoes and set them on the floor by the bed. “Maybe you should postpone going home tomorrow. Wait a few more days.”
“No, I need to get home,” she said slowly. “I’m all right.”
I leaned in close and whispered to her. “You’re not all right, Sarah. And you know it. You need to admit that to yourself.” I straightened up then stood and looked at Sherlock. “I don’t think there’s any internal hemorrhaging. But if the pain worsens or if her temperature elevates, get her to hospital immediately.” I leaned over and took Sarah’s hand. “Goodnight, Sarah. That was a good show the two of you put on tonight, even if you shouldn’t have played.”
“We made you laugh, didn’t we?”
“Of course you did,” I said.
“Remember,” she said quietly.
I went back into the living room and picked up Mary’s purse where she had left it by the couch. I reached the door when Sherlock grabbed my arm. “What’s wrong with her, John?”
I could feel the anger I’d been holding in for days, rising from my gut and exploding into my head. “You’re what’s wrong with her, Sherlock! You and you’re bloody disregard for your own life and the lives of others. Her suffering and…and her pain are because of you. You put her in that situation without any thought of what the consequences might be. Every time she cries out in pain, you can take satisfaction in knowing that you are the one who caused it. It’s all on your head, Sherlock. So put that in your sociopathic pipe and smoke it.” I pulled free of his grasp and slammed the door behind me.
I stood on the landing, my breath coming in short gasps. I fully expected him to come through that door and knock me down the stairs. Instead I heard some thuds and imagined him sweeping his arms across the desk, knocking books and newspapers and possibly even a laptop or two across the room. A crash and the sound of breaking glass meant he had thrown something against the wall. I clenched my fists and exhaled, then put my hand on the doorknob. I waited during a few moments of silence before I deemed it safe to open the door. Sherlock stood rigid by his desk, his back to me. Just as I had envisioned, papers and books lay strewn over the floor. “Redecorating?” I asked.
“Leave me alone, John.” His voice was hoarse.
“Sherlock, I…uh…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I said.”
“Go home, John. Mary’s waiting in the car.”
“Yeah. Right. Well, I’ll be round in the morning to see Sarah to the airport, if she’s able. Goodnight, mate.”
A few minutes after I had left, Sherlock returned to Sarah’s bedside to check on her and found her still awake. “Those meds should have kicked in by now. You should be asleep.” Sarah’s eyes were open and Sherlock thought she looked more alert now than she had been when he put her to bed.
“I heard voices and…sounds. Were you and John fighting?”
He ignored the question and sat down on the bed. “Is the pain keeping you awake?”
“No, it’s about the same as usual.”
“Then why aren’t you asleep?”
“I can’t. I…I don’t know. I haven’t felt like this before. I can’t close my eyes. My heart is racing. I…I’m afraid that if I go to sleep tonight, I won’t wake up.”
Sherlock took one of Sarah’s hands in his. He could feel her trembling. “Nothing’s going to happen to you, Sarah. Why are you so scared tonight?”
“Something John said when he was in here.”
Sherlock turned his face away from her. “John’s a fool.”
“Don’t say that. He’s your friend, your best friend. And he’s right about what he said to me.”
He looked back at her and squeezed her hand. “John is an excellent doctor. He knows medicine and surgery and all sorts of medical stuff, but he doesn’t know you, Sarah. He doesn’t know that you’re a fighter, that you’re a survivor. He doesn’t know how strong you are. He doesn’t know that when bad times come and all the other salamanders are giving in and growing up and becoming air breathers, that my Sarah sees adversity as just another adventure.”
“Just before you came back in, I tried to tell myself that. I tried to convince myself that it didn’t matter if I did die tonight. Death is really the greatest adventure of all, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but you’re not going to die tonight.”
“How can you know that? Because you’re Sherlock Holmes?”
“No, because you’re Sarah Dunkirk. Now, I want you to close your eyes and sleep. Here.” He dug the worry stone out of his pocket and closed it in her left hand. “Keep this in your left hand and I will hold your right hand and I will stay right here beside you all night if you want me to.”
“You don’t have to do that.” Her breathing had slowed and her voice had calmed. “But would you stay until I’m asleep?’
“And maybe since I took a double dose tonight, I’ll make it all night without having to take more.”
Sherlock continued to hold her hand and waited until she was asleep before drawing the covers over her. He switched off the lamp beside the bed and retreated to the couch in the living room where he had been sleeping every night since she had moved in to his bedroom. He unbuttoned the top button of his shirt but remained in the clothes he had worn all evening. He stretched out on the couch but sleep eluded him as he replayed John’s harsh words in his mind. He must have finally drifted off because he awoke to the sound of Sarah crying out.
It had been the same for the past eleven nights. During the day she seemed to manage the pain, but at night it would intensify. The medication wore off by about three o’clock every morning. Evidently taking a double dose had not helped and the evening’s exertion had made it worse tonight. Careful to not step on the broken glass, he filled a glass of water in the kitchen and went in to her and set the glass down on the bedside table next to the glass that was half-full and the medicine bottle.
Sarah was on her right side in a fetal position, whimpering. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I tried not to wake you.”
He felt her forehead; there was no fever. “Did you take your pills?”
“Yes, a few minutes ago.
“Are you sure? Two of them?”
“Yes, they just haven’t taken effect yet. Go back to bed. I’ll be all right.”
But he did not return to the couch until she fell asleep. He sat on the bed beside her and gently rested a hand on her head, occasionally stroking her hair.
The next morning, Mrs. Hudson fixed a big breakfast for Sherlock and Sarah and joined them to eat it. I arrived just as Mrs. Hudson was heading back downstairs afterwards. The mess from Sherlock’s temper tantrum had been cleared away and Sarah had returned to the bedroom to finish packing. When she came out to the living room, Sherlock was standing by the window and I was sitting in my favorite chair.
“I left the suitcase and my bag on the bed since I’m not supposed to lift over five pounds,” Sarah said. The previous night’s pain episode had apparently passed and she appeared fit enough to travel.
“I’ll take it down for you,” I said, “when your ride gets here. “Sherlock said Mycroft was sending a car. You don’t mind if I come see you off?”
“Oh, not at all,” said Sarah.
Sherlock turned away from the window and clicked something on the laptop on his desk. He looked at Sarah who was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. “Do you think you’re well enough to dance one more time with me before you leave?”
“When will we have another chance?”
“Well, make it a slow one. I don’t think I should have played quite so…exuberantly...last night.”
The sound of The Byrds singing My Back Pages filled the room.
“Oh, I think I will get your bags and head on downstairs,” I said, making a hasty exit. I do not think either of them even heard me.
“Another ‘60’s song?” asked Sarah, taking Sherlock’s hand in hers.
He put his hand on the small of her back and drew her closer than he had when they had danced at her house. “It’s the music you grew up with.”
“It’s the music before you were born.”
“It’s still good music.”
“It’s not really slow enough, though.”
“Don’t move your feet,” Sherlock said. “Just…just move.”
Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now***
“May I ask you a question?” asked Sarah as they swayed gently to the music.
“I’d rather you wouldn’t.”
“But I’d like to know.” She raised her head and looked in his eyes. “Why did you wait until the last day to come to see me in the hospital?”
Sherlock turned his head away from her gaze. He did not answer immediately, but finally said, “Because I was angry. I was so very angry.”
“With you. With me. With…the world.”
“That’s a lot of anger.”
“That bullet had my name on it.”
“No, I don’t think so,” said Sarah. “I never actually saw it, but I’m pretty sure that bullet was not inscribed with your name or my name or anyone’s name. I shoved you because you didn’t see the guy and then I didn’t get out of the way in time. It’s as simple as that.”
“And how could I tell my father that the very person who saved his life died because of me?”
“But I didn’t die. Sherlock, look at me.” She turned his face back toward her. “It wasn’t your fault. And I didn’t die. I’m right here.”
“But you will carry the scars forever.”
“Scars are a testament to our lives. Their very presence means that we survived.”
“But the damage that bullet did…you will have to live with that for the rest of your life.”
“I’m alive, Sherlock. And I’m going home. I will still be able to work on my music project. I can still write my books. I can still go for long walks in the woods with Scout. I can sit in front of the fire on a cold, winter’s night and remember… What’s a little discomfort and… inconvenience… against all that?”
“But who will be there for you in the night when you cry because the pain is so bad?”
The song continued to play and the two of them continued to move together. Finally Sarah spoke. “Did I tell you there were angels there when I got shot?”
“Angels?” His tone was more than slightly derisive.
“They were all around and they were…scary. I think I could hear you talking, but I was watching them. They had swords of fire and then the swords morphed into machine guns and they were all wearing those bandoliers, you know, those sashes with bullets in them. In the Bible whenever angels appear, the first thing they always say is, “Fear not.” I know why they say that now because they were…frightful, terrifying beings.”
“Your brain was getting very little oxygen at that point.”
“You’re saying I didn’t really see them. But maybe they were there so you wouldn’t have to tell your father I died.”
Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.***
The last notes of the song faded away but Sherlock still held her close, and they still moved. From down below, Mrs. Hudson called up, saying there was a limo parked outside.
“Sherlock,” Sarah said softly. “The music stopped.”
“I have to go. I have a plane to catch.”
You’re the only passenger. I doubt it will leave without you.”
She stopped moving and stepped back from him. “Thank you for…for everything.”
Sherlock picked up a small package on the desk. “Here. This is for you. I found it in the antique shop down the street.”
“Wait. I’ve been here all this time and you didn’t think to mention that there was an antique shop just down the street? How could you have been in my house and not know that I like antiques?”
“I do know that you like antiques. But now we have some place to go when you return to London for a visit. And remember, we didn’t get a chance to explore my highlights of the city either. Go ahead. Open it.”
Sarah took the lid off the box and smiled. A figurine about five inches long lay nestled in some silk. “It’s a salamander,” she said, smiling.
“Larger than life, of course,” said Sherlock as Sarah removed it from the box and examined it. “It’s carved from an antler, from a Roe deer I believe.”
“And you can tell what kind of deer this came from just by looking at it. How many people can do that?”
“I’m Sherlock Holmes. It’s my job,” he said with a wink. “I thought it resembled one of your Grotto Salamanders. But it must be an adult one. No gills. And no eyes.”
“I don’t care,” said Sarah. “I love it. Thank you.” She replaced it in the box.
“Maybe you should keep it on your mantel as a reminder.”
“Of what happens if you ever decide to become an air breather.” He reached for something else on the desk. “Oh, and my brother Mycroft sent this over for you.” He handed Sarah a large manila envelope.
She opened the flap and peered inside. “It’s money…cash,” she said. “Bills. Big Bills. American. There’s a lot of money in here, Sherlock.”
“I don’t know why cash. Probably because it’s harder to trace. But he thought you might not feel like writing for a while. And since you’ll be back in America, there will probably be some extra medical expenses you weren’t counting on.”
“I can’t take this.”
“Oh, take it,” said Sherlock.
“But you’re the one who’s been out of pocket all this time, taking care of me. You’ve haven’t been able to work on a proper case. Here, you take it.” She shoved the envelope in his hands, but he refused it.
“It’s yours,” he said.
“But he’s already paid for everything and…and has flown me here and back in a private jet. Why would he give me all this?”
“He probably thinks he has a debt to pay. He’s peculiar that way.”
“I’m glad to know that peculiar doesn’t run in the family.”
“Not at all,” said Sherlock, smiling. “You’d think Mrs. Hudson would get tired of yelling after a while.”
The landlady had called their names several times from the bottom of the stairs.
“I’d better go. Oh, and…” She reached into her pocket and pulled out the worry stone. “You left this in my bed last night. You might need it.” Sherlock took it and slipped it into his pocket.
“Good-bye, Cowboy.” Sarah stretched to kiss him on the cheek.
“Good-bye, Auntie Sarah.” And he returned the kiss on her cheek where the second bullet had creased it.
“You sure you don’t want to come to the airport to see me off?”
Sherlock shook his head no. “John will keep you company. But you will return?”
“I don’t know. I keep thinking about what Linda Ronstadt sings in that Stone Poneys song: We'll both live a lot longer if you live without me.”**
“Oh, but where’s the adventure in that?”
“Good-bye, Sherlock. I hope you never become an air breather.”
And, as far as I know, that was the last time that Sherlock Holmes and Sarah Dunkirk saw each other. Their timelines had crossed three times. Once thirty-six years ago, before Sherlock was even born, and a second time just over two months ago, and the third time just now. On the way to the airport and the plane that Mycroft had provided for her, she confessed that she had a theory about the events that had transpired to bring the two of them together. She had not shared it with Sherlock and she was hesitant to tell me because she thought it sounded too mystical, but I persuaded her.
“You know what I think?” she said. “I think…I believe…that our souls—Sherlock’s and mine— knew each other before…in the past. Maybe we’ve known each other many times in the past. But this time around, we were…incarnated out of sync…different time, different generations, thousands of miles apart. But somehow deep inside of us, I believe our souls still recognize each other. And maybe that’s why our lives have crossed, beginning with his father in Iran. The universe kept trying to bring us together, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Too many variables this time.”
“So why didn’t you tell him that?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t think Sherlock would go for the whole soul thing.”
“But I heard him tell you that first night when you arrived in London. He said there were no coincidences.”
She smiled and leaned her head back against the upholstered seat of the limo. “Dr. Watson, how long do you think I’ll live with…whatever is wrong inside me?”
I had seen the surgical reports, the scans, all of the tests results. I was the one who had told her the prognosis while she was still in hospital. Patient confidentiality had prevented me from telling Sherlock and I don’t know if she had discussed it with him either, although it was obvious he had deduced something was seriously wrong. I had to look away and clear my throat several times before I could answer. “I don’t know. How long do you want to live?”
“Forever. And then…start all over.”
* Words by Paul Simon, 1969. Copyright: Paul Simon Music
** Words by Mike Nesmith, 1965. Copyright: Screen Gems-emi Music, Inc.
*** Words by Bob Dylan, 1964. Copyright: Special Rider Music
Quotes of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1 The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
2The Adventure of the Speckled Band
3 The Crooked Man
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