A FEW DAYS LATER AT ELEVEN O’ CLOCK IN THE MORNING, Donna sat in a dimly lit office, opposite Doctor Reynolds the psychiatrist assigned to her. A woman with short grey hair, who appeared to be of small build, probably in her late fifties; she was studying a file, no doubt Donna’s case history, and every so often glanced up.
Donna waited for the doctor to speak and noticed how plain and unattractive the GP looked, obviously a spinster married to her job. But then saw a wedding ring on her finger, indicating someone must have thought her worthy.
The longer the silence continued the more uncomfortable Donna became, she began to shift uneasily in her seat and wondered what the doctor would say.
When she finally spoke, her voice was deep and soothing almost bordering on masculine for such a small woman.
‘So Donna, how are you feeling after your little ordeal?’ A faint smile came on her face.
‘I’m all right.’ Was the reply in a very off-hand way.
‘I see your wrists are starting to heal up nicely.’ She raised her eyebrows above the gold-rimmed spectacles she was wearing.
Donna looked at her wrists. The bandages were gone, and soon the scabs would begin to drop off. ‘Yes, thank you.’ She nervously touched the top of her head. Her hair was slowly growing back as well, although she still felt she looked a little like someone out of a sci-fi movie.
‘Glad your hair is getting back in shape too. Whatever made you decide to shave it all off, my dear?’
A giggle came from behind her hand, which she’d put in front of her mouth. ‘I don’t know - I just wanted to see how it would look.’
‘You sure that’s the only reason?’
‘Maybe, although I might have been trying to get at mum and dad. I got sick of them telling me how pretty I am. When they saw the new me, they weren’t amused.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with being told how attractive you are. Most people would love to be complimented like that.’
‘They wouldn’t if they heard it time and time again, non-stop. In the end it ceases to mean anything.’
‘Did you have a specific reason for cutting your wrists? Was it a cry for help or did you really intend killing yourself?’
‘How the hell should I know? They got on my nerves that much over me shaving my hair off, and then wouldn’t let me out of their sight. So when I got the chance I thought I’d show them exactly what I could do if I wanted.’
‘I see,’ the doctor said, sitting back in her chair, obviously pondering over what she had to deal with here. ‘I imagine this must be connected to when you were attacked and raped. Is that correct?’
Donna shrugged her shoulders, but found it difficult to look this woman in the eye. Colour began to rise on her cheeks.
‘I gather ever since then you’ve struggled to cope with life. I hear you broke up with your boyfriend and have had to give up your job as well.’
‘Been talking to mommy and daddy have you?’
‘Of course I have. They’re extremely worried over you, Donna.’
‘Only because of the money.’
‘The money they’d make out of me as a model. But I won’t do it, not now not ever. Did they tell you about the photo shoot they tried to force me into?’
‘No they didn’t.’
‘Well, they secretly arranged for us to bump into old friends of theirs, who just happen to be in the fashion business. They’d already set up this shoot with a top photographer behind my back. I couldn’t believe they’d do that.’
‘Well, we need to talk about how to rebuild your life, but I agree they should have asked you first. No one should be forced into doing something they don’t want to do.’
‘I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to go back to work or have a relationship with anyone – because the thought of someone touching me disgusts me. I wish I didn’t have to wake up in the morning, and I wish there was somewhere I could go to get rid of these horrible feelings.’ Tears trickled down her cheeks once more.
‘There is nowhere like that, my dear. But you have much to be grateful for, lots to look forward to, and the best years of your life are still ahead of you. How terribly sad it would be if you’d succeeded in ending it all.’
Donna thought the doctor seemed genuine, but she had no chance of making her feel better. She could pump her with more pills and give her as much counselling as she liked, but it wouldn’t make a heap of difference.
‘I don’t want to keep feeling like this. There’s no point in living. I feel worthless. I wish that man had killed me because this is just a slow living death.’ She sniffed back more tears.
‘You must stop behaving so negatively. I admit, it will be difficult, but I’m sure you have the strength of character to get over this. You need to be taught certain techniques, about positive thinking, and of having the correct perception of what people think of you. There are several one to one therapy sessions we can go through over the next few weeks.’
Donna shook her head, wringing her hands together, frightened of what this woman had planned for her.
‘No need to panic my dear, there’s no one behind you with a whip, ordering you about. But if you don’t make the effort to help yourself, you’ll never get any better.’
‘I wish I was someone else, leading an ordinary life.’
‘How can you say that? You should be grateful for what you’re blessed with. Try to imagine all the people in the world worse off than you, those horrible deformed bodies, people stricken with cancer and other terrible illnesses.’
‘There’s no denying that, but I’ve suffered as well. If I’d been ordinary or ugly that man would never have raped me. My mum and dad wouldn’t have tried to force me to be a model either, and I wouldn’t have been harassed by so many horrible men.’
‘Not only are you very pretty, but you’ve very intelligent with it. A first class honours degree in Mathematics is a fantastic achievement.’
‘Yes, but where has it got me?’
‘It can still get you anywhere you wish. That’s up to you, my dear.’
‘It’s up to me, is it? Try telling that to my parents. Well, I intend doing what I want in the future, without any interference from them.’
‘Perhaps they were only trying to help.’
Donna had had enough of this. She wouldn’t listen to this doctor who sounded just like her mother. Scraping the chair across the floor, she got up from her seat.
‘I want out of here. I’m not staying any longer.’
‘Donna, listen to me. We can’t let you out until you’re well again. You’re a danger to yourself in your present state of mind.’
Donna saw red. This was her life, she would do whatever she wished, and no one could stop her. The doctor remained in her chair, a dour expression on her face, and as Donna opened the door, she was confronted by two male nurses, who quickly restrained her by grabbing hold of her arms. She was at their mercy, as she had been with the rapist, unable to move. Terror swept over her.
‘Let me go!’ she screamed wriggling about with all the strength she could muster, but they were much too strong for her. ‘Bastards – all of you.’
‘Donna, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re to be taken to a different hospital, one that specialises in cases like yours. There you’ll get all the care and attention you need. Having tried to commit suicide once, we’d be failing in our duty of care, if we allowed you to leave, and you subsequently tried to kill yourself again and died. You’ll be under strict supervision at all times, but once you start to recover from your illness, you will of course be given more freedom.’
‘Call yourself a doctor – you can go to hell! I’m not a loony!’ Donna screamed at the top of her voice.
At this Doctor Reynolds actually winced as the two male nurses took her away. She wondered if her parents knew what was going on, or if they’d instigated this. There was no way of knowing. She felt like a criminal as they escorted her to the ambulance.
‘Come along now, love,’ one of the nurses said. ‘You’ll be much happier where you’re going. It’s like a holiday camp with all mod cons, so you can’t help but get well again. No need to worry – you’ll be out of there in no time at all.’
‘Oh sure I will,’ she replied ironically getting into the back of the ambulance, fearing once they got her into this hospital, she’d never come out.
A female nurse travelled with her; she constantly smiled and acted at being pleasant. But what good was that Donna thought, agonising over what was to come.
Fifteen minutes later, the ambulance stopped. The driver got out and walked round to open the back doors. It seemed they had arrived at their destination.
Peering outside, she was stunned to see a sign in front of the building ‘Grangemore Manor Hospital for the Mentally Ill’. Immediately she shuddered, as this seemed a place for people who were insane, and the idea of being classed as a ‘lunatic’ scared her to death.
She got out of the vehicle, and stepped onto the gravel driveway leading up to the front entrance to the hospital. A red-bricked building resembling an old Georgian country house, the type that had once belonged to titled gentry in a time long gone. This became more apparent when they walked over the large patterned tiled floor in the hallway.
She was taken down a long corridor to Room twenty-two. The nurse accompanying her opened the door and allowed her to go in.
‘All right Donna; this will be your home for the foreseeable future. As you can see, it’s very comfortable. You have a television, your own private bathroom, a DVD player, access to books, music CD’s and so on. There’s even a little fridge where you can keep certain foodstuffs. You’ll have use of all the facilities here at the hospital, including a swimming pool, gym, a TV room and a cafeteria.’
Donna shrugged her shoulders, feeling as if she was in a prison, and in all but name she was.
‘And there’s a large wardrobe for you. We’ll have some of your clothes brought over, although, all being well you shouldn’t need too many. Hopefully you’ll only be here for a short while.’
Donna didn’t really listen to what was said. She meekly went into her room with her meagre belongings. Put them on the bed, sat down and looked up at the nurse.
‘You will be under supervision twenty-four seven, and although you’ll have the run of the place, the main hospital entrance and exits are locked at night. That’s for your own safety and of course we wouldn’t want you running out on us, now would we? Now if there’s anything you need, ring the bell by the side of your bed and someone will attend to you. I’ll see you later.’ The nurse smiled.
Donna didn’t even acknowledge her – and after the door closed she was glad the woman had gone.
The room itself was plain but comfortable, but seeing the bars at the window, brought a tiny flutter to her stomach. Even more so when she noticed a small bulb like object in the corner of the ceiling peering down at her; perhaps again like the hospital she’d just come from, this was a camera, she couldn’t be sure. It came as a shock to her, but maybe it was to be expected after what she’d done.
She got up and walked across to the bathroom, which seemed the only place affording any privacy - although surprisingly there was no lock on the door. She shook her head and went back into the other room. Looking up at the camera or whatever it was, she thought it was moving, watching in case she... just what did they think she’d do? How on earth had her life come to this? She didn’t know.
This was unbelievable. She’d only been there a few minutes and already she felt they were spying on her. She was so mad, banged her fists down on the bed, lay down on her stomach, and cried in sheer frustration, wondering what was coming next. Could there be anything worse than this? If there was a way to end it all, she would have – but in this room and place, it seemed impossible.
She hated being penned in, it only added to the sensation of fear, which had always been with her since the attack.
‘Please God, let me out of here,’ she begged, but it appeared no one was listening to her pleas.
Eventually, she stopped crying, realising this wasn’t helping her predicament. She turned onto her side, closed her eyes and pulled an arm up to cover her face. If only this relentless anxiety would leave her. But it seemed this would never happen. All she could do was to lie there and let time pass, and perhaps go to sleep. However, sleep wouldn’t come.
Unaware of what time it was, although daylight remained, she jumped slightly at the sound of someone opening the door. A very serious looking Doctor Reynolds came in without knocking; she gave a slight hint of a smile in her patient’s direction. After closing the door she sat down on the bed, smoothing down her skirt.
‘Hallo Donna. How are you? Have you managed to rest?’
‘Yeah, I suppose.’ She spoke solemnly.
‘And how do you like it here? Think you’ll be able to settle in all right?’
‘Haven’t got much choice, have I?’ This patronising woman was beginning to irritate her, almost as much as her parents had.
‘Come on, I’ll take you out for an hour. Seeing as it’s after teatime, I imagine you must be hungry. We’ll go down to the canteen, and get you a decent meal, as good as anything in a restaurant - and for you it’s free. They’re doing Shepherd’s Pie followed by Apple Crumble, which I’m told you like as well.’
‘Oh really - well I’m not hungry,’ Donna retorted cutting her eyes at the doctor. If they thought she would make it easy for them then they could think again. She would protest any way she knew how and not eating seemed to fit the bill! After all it had worked in the past when she was a teenager and wanted to avoid posing as a beauty queen. But eventually she had given in to her cravings for food. Perhaps this time she was made of sterner stuff.
‘It’s no good being like that – starving yourself won’t help you get better. Be a shame to let good food go to waste after all the trouble we’ve gone to -’
‘Well, I never asked anyone to cook me anything.’
‘Come along.’ She beckoned with her arm. ‘Once you’ve got a good meal inside you, you’ll feel a much better.’
‘I don’t think so.’ Donna shook her head and pulled a face.
‘OK, it’s up to you. I’m hungry myself, so you’ll just have to watch me instead, won’t you? But you can always change your mind, any time you want.’
Donna stayed put while Doctor Reynolds got to her feet and stood there waiting for a response from her patient.
‘You know I could get one of nurses bring you down to the canteen with me, so I’d advise you to come quietly.’
‘This is like being in fucking Wormwood Scrubs,’ she complained getting up slowly. Doctor Reynolds opened the door, allowing Donna to strut out, head held high. The doctor struggled to keep up with her, which Donna guessed she didn’t like.
They walked down a corridor, past other rooms from where strange noises and cries could be heard. At the end of the corridor were double doors, which the doctor pushed open – obviously the dining room which contained about a dozen tables each with four chairs. It was completely empty, save for one lady wearing a white uniform at the counter waiting to serve the food.
She picked up a tray, and encouraged Donna to do the same, but she shook her head, mouthing – no! Ignoring this gesture, Doctor Reynolds went on to ask the kitchen assistant for a portion of chips, baked beans, a Shepherd’s Pie, and a cup of coffee.
‘Sure you won’t have anything?’ She said over her shoulder to Donna, sitting at a table a few feet away, sulking.
‘No, thank you.’ However, she found the mouth-watering aromas of the kitchen almost impossible to resist. Even more so when she came back to sit opposite her. Donna rivalled her nose up at the food, and glared at the poor doctor.
‘Sure you don’t want something to eat?’ Doctor Reynolds said chewing her food slowly before moving on to the next bit.
‘I already told you I’m not hungry. Why don’t you listen to me? Like I said before, you’re just like my mum and dad. No wonder I freaked out.’
‘I promise, I’ll always listen to you, that’s my job. It’s what I’m paid for. To hear every word you say because I need to understand your condition so I can help you get well again.’
Donna felt uncomfortable sitting there in front of this woman and wanted to go back to her room.
Doctor Reynolds finished her meal and drank her coffee before sitting back in her chair. ‘That was very nice. I think you’ll find the food here is really excellent.’
‘Oh sure it is. I’m not hungry – how many times do I have to repeat myself? And besides it doesn’t matter how good the food is, it won’t make me like it here – will it?’
The doctor dabbed her mouth with her serviette. ‘Look, if you want to take that attitude – fine. But you will have to accept you’ll be here until you convince us you won’t try to harm yourself again. You need to have a good hard look at yourself and think about how lucky you are compared with most other people. Ok, I realise you’ve been through a harrowing experience, but you can recover from it if you really want to. The choice is yours.’
‘Can I go back to my room now?’
‘If that’s what you want. It’s nice to get out though, isn’t it? Just think if you co-operate and get yourself well again, there may be lots more trips like these. In fact I might even extend them in time.’
Donna gave her a sickly smile as they left the canteen. Walking back down the corridor together, Donna realised she could have made a run for it, but quickly dismissed this notion - it was cold and she had nowhere to go once she was outside anyway.
‘We’re going to have lots of talks, you and I. I want to get to the root of your problems, and with your co-operation hopefully, I’ll get you out of here a lot sooner than you think. However, I can only guide you - in the end you must do this yourself.’
Donna didn’t care what happened. She just existed from hour to hour. What did it matter anymore? Her parents were behind this, she was sure of it; and had known it right from the start. This was a ploy to get her back into modelling, but it would never come off. The trouble now was her pangs of hunger were getting worse. Her willpower wouldn’t last much longer, but if she succumbed, Doctor Reynolds would consider it a small victory.
They arrived at Donna’s room. ‘Ah, well here we are again. Nice rooms, aren’t they? I said they were very comfortable, didn’t I?’ Doctor Reynolds said as she opened the door. ‘Oh by the way, I took the liberty of getting some sandwiches brought up for you, in case you get peckish in the night. You take care now.’
Donna pulled a face as the doctor closed the door and left her to it. The sandwiches, on a plate by her bed, looked very appetising. She closed her eyes, realising how hungry she was, and wished she could have thrown them on the floor, but instead grabbed them and ate them hungrily as if she hadn’t eaten for a week. Then went to the bathroom sink and drank water greedily by cupping her hands.
Later in bed she felt a failure and cried herself to sleep. Her instinct to survive had driven her to give in to her cravings for food.
The next morning, Donna pretended to be asleep, when the door to her room opened, and the doctor entered coughing loudly. She gently shook Donna by the arm and called her name. On opening her eyes, she noticed the smugness on the doctor’s face and guessed she must have seen the empty plate.
‘Glad you’ve finally seen sense.’
Donna said nothing, but instead stared up at the ceiling feeling ashamed of her lack of control.
‘This is the first step, you know.’
‘Oh yeah, tell me about it.’
‘The tablets and my therapy will only work if you take care of yourself. By this I mean you should eat well, exercise lots and take enough rest and sleep which will in turn lead to a healthier body and mind. Obviously, there are still be many obstacles to overcome, but once you begin to do as I’ve said, I’ll feel much more positive about your recovery.’
Donna felt so despondent and was powerless to do anything about it. And as if to rub salt in her wounds, the doctor looked so pleased with herself; so certain she could help in the recovery process, now that Donna had given in to living again. Maybe it was best to let the woman think that. But she need only to drop her guard for a minute, and Donna would set about doing something even more dramatic. And how would the good doctor feel then?