A SHORT TIME LATER, DONNA LOOKED UP TO SEE THE DOOR TO HER ROOM OPENING. A stout jolly looking black nurse came in first, all smiles, followed by her parents and her soon-to-be fiancé. She blinked nervously when she saw them, and her heart began to pound. She could hardly bear to look at them.
Her mum was a tall, thin, wiry woman with long bleached hair and pale complexion. Her face was heavily made up; eyes clear blue. She held Donna’s dad’s hand tightly. He was a couple of inches shorter but sturdy, bald, with a black moustache, and wore jeans and tee shirt. Several heart shaped tattoos covered his arms.
Behind him was Blake, tall and slim, with short black hair, he constantly displayed a shadow of a beard on his face. Tufts of his body hair peeked out of his opened necked white shirt. He was olive skinned and had dark brown eyes.
Donna closed her eyes, not wanting to speak to them.
She heard chairs scrapping along the floor as they were brought to the side of her bed.
The atmosphere was tense with emotion, and she sensed her family staring at her battered face.
Everyone was quiet, frightened to say anything, as tears trickled down her cheeks. She opened her eyes at last to the sound of her mother’s voice. ‘Oh my poor darling. Just look what that monster’s done to you!’
Donna cringed and wished she could hide her face. Instead she wept uncontrollably.
‘Don’t cry love.’ Her mum got up from the chair and held out her arms.
Donna started to shake and drew back from her mum, unable to stand any more of this right now.
‘They ought to string him up when they catch him,’ her dad growled.
Donna’s mum sat reluctantly back down in her chair. ‘No one’s safe out on their own these days. Makes you wonder what the world’s coming to.’
‘I’ll kill the bastard, if I ever catch hold of him,’ Blake said angrily.
‘Did you get a good look at him, love?’ Her mum asked.
Donna shook her head, her face creased up in pain.
She glimpsed Blake moving off his chair to sit on the bed. He attempted to put his arm around her, but the very thought of it made her recoil from his touch.
‘No, please don’t!’
Blake’s face dropped. Donna didn’t want to talk yet, let alone have any physical contact with him. She wanted him to understand, but wasn’t sure he would.
‘Sorry love,’ was all he said, before backing off to his seat.
‘Donna, don’t get upset, Blake didn’t mean anything.’
‘I don’t want to be touched, mum.’
Finally, she sank back down into her bed, and turned her face away from them.
‘Please don’t be like this,’ her dad said. ‘We only want to help, sweetheart.’
‘Did he take anything from you?’ Blake suddenly asked.
She started to sob again, her tears staining and wetting the pillow.
‘Talk to us Donna. Tell us what happened.’
Slowly, she moved her face towards her mum. ‘I can’t. I just want to forget about it, but every time I close my eyes, I keep seeing him hitting me.’ She tightened her fists and put them defensively in front of her face.
‘All right, let her be, love – now’s not the time,’ her dad said.
‘But she’s our daughter – have you seen what that scum’s done to our beautiful little girl? Her face - ’ She dabbed her own eyes with a tissue.
Blake looked forlorn. No one spoke for a while, then at last her dad said, ‘Perhaps we ought to go. We’ll come back tomorrow Donna, when you’re a little better, but ring us any time you like, if you need us.’
She didn’t react to his remarks, but felt their eyes glued on her.
‘You staying a little longer, Blake?’ Donna’s mum asked, while her dad beckoned his wife to hurry up.
Blake didn’t respond to this, but chose to remain in his seat. Perhaps he wasn’t sure what was expected of him.
‘You take care of yourself now,’ her dad said.
She didn’t say goodbye to her parents as they left; couldn’t even look at them or at Blake either, who sat there in silence, obviously wondering what he should do next.
After what seemed an eternity, he finally spoke, ‘You don’t mind if I stay, do you?’
She shrugged her shoulders.
‘When you didn’t turn up at the flat, I got really scared. I didn’t know what to think. I wondered if you’d changed your mind about me. You have no idea how beautiful you are, and how many other guys fancy you.’
Blake and his ridiculous insecurities again. She wasn’t listening. Why couldn’t he understand what she was going through?
When he took hold of her hand, straight away she pulled it away from him. He frowned.
‘You want to know what really happened, Blake? He... he didn’t just attack me... he... ’ and bit by bit it came out, about all the unspeakable things the foul man had done to her and how sickened she was by the vile actions. Blake listened, staring at her with shock, and obvious disbelief. His eyes widened, and his mouth tightened with anger.
When she’d finished, he looked down at the ground, shaking his head; then she watched him wring his hands tightly together. She waited for him to say something - but he was silent!
‘Maybe now you have some idea why I didn’t want you to touch me.’
With a glazed look in his eyes and through clenched teeth, he said, ‘You never ought to have stopped late. That Wallace bloke has got a lot to answer for. And why didn’t you phone me? I would have picked you up – and then this wouldn’t have happened.’
‘Because your bloody phone was switched off.’
What... ’ he began, looking puzzled, but she didn’t let him finish.
‘What’s the matter? Don’t you believe me?’
‘Of course I do. Look, I’m your boyfriend, for Christ’s sake. I love you and I want to help – so please don’t give me a hard time over this.’
‘He frightened the shit out of me.’ He might have killed me, she thought. Easy as snapping a twig.
Blake got up and moved towards her again, but she jumped back like a startled rabbit, and held out her hands to stop him.
A sad scowl appeared on his face. ‘But what he did hasn’t got anything to do with me.’
‘Maybe not. You still don’t understand, do you, Blake? Sorry, but I can’t bear you to touch me, right now.’
‘Donna - you’re not thinking straight.’
‘They made me take a pill - so I won’t be pregnant with that maniac’s child?’
His eyes widened again, showing up the creases in his forehead.
‘And look at my face. Not quite your beautiful girl any more, am I? Why did he single me out for God’s sake? What did I ever do to him?’
‘Nothing, I realise that. He probably did it because he couldn’t have you any other way. But I’ll tell you one thing, I’ll fucking strangle the bastard, if I catch hold of him.’ He balled up a fist and banged it into his other hand.
‘Well, how will you do that? I don’t even know what he looks like. I never saw his face. He wore a balaclava helmet so it’s impossible.’
‘No it isn’t, Donna. Something about him will have stuck in your memory, for sure. Like how tall he was, his build, if he was black or white. And if he spoke, you might even guess his age. And by his accent whether he was local or not. The police will be onto that and lots of other things… like matching his DNA for instance...’
But she wasn’t listening to what he was saying and was instead drawn back into that dreadful alley again. Why in God’s name did I have to work late?
‘Did you hear what I said? You have to be positive in this.’
She gave him a half-ironic smile.
‘So how long are they keeping you here?’
‘I don’t know. No one’s said. They’ve taken some X-rays and done other tests. They’ll probably come to a decision in the morning.’
‘The flat will be so empty without you. I’ll miss you like crazy.’
She put her hand over her eyes. You’ll miss me, Blake. Is that the only thing you can say? She needed something else from him, wasn’t sure what – comfort and silence, perhaps. Total silence. Couldn’t he give her that much?
‘I wish they’d let me stay here with you, Donna.’
She moaned quietly.
Blake sat there for a while longer, not saying much else. Neither did she. An unfamiliar atmosphere grew between them, an uncertainty, a cloud of confusion; as if they’d become estranged. Like two people on the edge of breaking up.
He rose, shrugged, made to touch her again, then let his arm fall to his side.
‘I’d better go now – it’s getting late. See you tomorrow - Ok.’
If he really loved her, he’d insist on being allowed to stay as long as possible. But maybe she didn’t want him to linger in this room with her any longer – she didn’t know.
He backed toward the door. ‘Night, love.’
She glanced at him for a second, but didn’t answer.
She was glad he’d gone, yet part of her wanted him to stay. Her mind was in turmoil and she hurt all over. Staring into space trying not to think of her predicament, she imagined herself being somebody else in another place, away from this room. She didn’t hear the door open nor did she see someone approach her bed.
‘Donna.’ It was a male voice, her doctor by the sound of it.
Her mouth opened, but no words came out.
‘Would you like something to help you sleep?’ he said.
She nodded faintly, which he obviously took to mean yes. He gave her a couple of tablets with a glass of water. She took them, then lay back on her bed. Slowly she felt herself slipping further down in the bed. Her eyes were heavy; her last images were of the concerned look on the doctor’s face.
Restless sleep followed. She dreamt of the man who’d raped her, that he’d come to the flat intent on finishing the job. But Blake had burst in on him. There’d been a terrible fight, and Blake ended up with a beating worse than her own. And Donna could do nothing to help him. She cried out in agony before waking with a jolt. For the first few seconds she was very disorientated, then came the realisation of where she was.
And as the early morning light seeped through the window blinds, it allowed her to see even more of her surroundings. The agony she was in was almost too much to stand - how did you live through this and come out the other side?
With great difficulty she got out of bed, and shuffled towards the door as the pain from her ribs was intense. She observed the hospital in full swing, nurses and doctors going about their business, tending the sick. The smell of disinfectant lingered in the atmosphere, and sensing the anxiety of those who waited fretfully for the outcome of operations’, she began to tremble with dread.
Suddenly came the urge to run away, to get out of this awful place, and she would have too, if she hadn’t felt so weak and tired. Instead, she had to go back to rest on top of her bed.
Lying there, she wondered if the swelling on her face had gone down. The night before she’d been shocked to see her puffed up eyes, one of which she still couldn’t see out of properly. Touching each of them gently, they felt just as bad. She must look ugly, and half wanted to remain this way, to retain a measure of anonymity. And become a plain Jane, who never got looked at twice, instead of an object for men to crave.
But it was Blake’s reaction that worried her the most. He seemed unable to deal with the situation. She needed him to be strong, but maybe something in him had changed too, because of what had happened. What if he didn’t care about her anymore?
Before the attack, he couldn’t keep his eyes or hands off her. Yet, now she feared he’d no longer want her, and dreaded life without him.
A little later, a nurse brought her a light breakfast, but she had difficulty in eating it due to her stitched lip. Afterwards, a doctor, a kind looking man with a warm smile, came over to see her.
‘How are you feeling this morning Donna?’
‘All right,’ she lied.
‘We’ve had the results of your blood tests. All negative, thankfully. But you have four broken ribs, which we’ve bandaged, so I suggest you take it easy for a while so the bones get a chance to knit together again. Your face is badly bruised, but I assure you that should heal within week or two without any scarring. It looks a lot worse than it really is... honestly – so don’t worry. Oh and by the way, I’ve written to your GP advising him to arrange for you to see a counsellor to help you come to terms with your ordeal. I imagine he’ll contact you, once you get out of here.’
‘When can I go home?’ she said.
‘Soon. But you’ll need several weeks rest before you even consider going back to work.’
Donna looked up at the doctor anxiously. ‘How will I ever get over this?’
‘That’s a difficult question to answer. It all depends on the individual, and whilst you’ll never forget what happened, I honestly think you can get through this in time. No one’s saying it’s going to be easy, but it’s amazing how resilient people are when they need to be. And if the police do manage to catch this man quickly, before he does any more damage, it’ll be a huge weight off your mind.’
‘I’ll never relax until they do.’
‘You will, I’m sure with your family’s support. This wasn’t your fault, Donna– it was a random attack – a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You’re lucky to be alive, very lucky indeed.’ He smiled warmly at her. ‘Now if there’s any other way I can help, you only have to ask. And remember there are lots of specially trained people and organisations out there, should you need them. Most times, you just need to pick up the phone. You take care now.’
She nodded, but didn’t think anyone could put this right.