The next morning, the light of the oncoming day wakes me. It is cloudy, and the color reminds me of my eyes. Though I cannot see the light of the Sun, I can feel its presence, as though it promises to come soon. Birds chirp loudly, or maybe everything else is so quiet that I never heard it drown out all other sounds. The hustle and bustle of the people in the city below is wholly absent at this time of day. And the wind, the breeze that welcomed me here when I first woke up the day before, is almost overpowering the birds in volume.
It whistles and blows my hair to my back, over my shoulder, or straight into my face. Wild and brash towards me. I revel in it. I can be like the wind. I can be wild and brash.
It smells humid, almost it like it has water and energy in it.
I desperately wish to see everything through the windows, but I need Edite to push me there. If I ring the loud object, will she hear me? Will she even come? I certainly was straightforward with her yesterday.
Instead, I listen for an indiscernible amount of time, waiting for anything to happen. I trace the smoothness of my gloves, unconsciously smoothing over the deformities all along the skin. Memories flood like an open wound back to the Blood Room. In an early memory, back when I was strong, the Dolor cut open a part of my skin. I can’t recall the place of the injury, but I still see the little insects that flew to eat at the blood. I don’t believe that torture was intentional on the Dolor’s part, because he swatted away the swarm when he discovered it hours upon hours later.
I suddenly feel the biting on my leg. Little pricks of annoyance turn to never ceasing agony. I scrub at my calves but the softness of my gloves prevents any relief. I tear the fabric off of my hand and scratch at the irritation with a crazed ferocity.
Edite finds me like this however longer it is later. I look up at her as frightened as she is, but I must look insane in her opinion. She screams and runs straight out of the room immediately. I stop scratching at my leg at the sound of her shriek, but the pain is still there. I scream myself, to relieve some of the tension and soon, a crowd of people rush through the door, Edite trailing Frigidianus.
He looks weary, tired and just a little shocked.
"Amalia, what is going on?"
I cradle my bloody leg and sob, "It won't stop! Make....make it stop!"
An older man inspecting me frowns, "I don't see anything provoking her, Senator. Her wound is self inflicted."
"Amalia, why would you do this?" Frigidianus pleads as the official ordered men and women about. He climbs onto the bed with me and supports my head with one arm and the other wraps around my waist. He cradles me against him, reminding me of Rescuer Donato when he carried my weak body out of the prison. "What's going on?"
"The bugs...they're eating me. Get them away," I shout. I thrash, trying to satisfy the need to scratch.
"Amalia, calm. Hey...listen," he gently orders. "Look outside."
"Why?" I question frantically. There are no bugs, anywhere. I keep telling myself that, but I feel them. They are there. In my mind.
"Just trust me." I shake my head; I don't trust him. That's the problem.
"Amalia, I've had nightmares too. And I always feel better hearing a person speak to me. Just, let me try to help."
I look up at him, with full realization that my hands are in display for anyone to see if I move them from their hiding place under the covers. But I ignore the worry of my hands and try to read his face. His eyebrows are furrowed closely together, creating little wrinkles around them, and his brown eyes watch me, perhaps trying to read me as well.
"Help me then," I resolve.
"I want you to look out of the window to the sky. Can you see it?"
"Yes, it looks like the clouds are covering it. Where is the blue?"
"The blue will come back. But it has to rain first."
"Rain?" I watch the clouds as they gather and darken with rapidity.
"Yes, rain. It is water when it falls from the sky."
"Are you making up stories?" I scowl at him and look with defiance from the window to my leg. The older man with hair the color of the sky is wrapping a cloth around the blood, even though the redness seeps into the pureness of it.
"No, do you hear it? If it is quiet we can hear the rainfall. It sounds like tapping above us. Listen ."
I hear it. Quietly at first, but the howling of the wind makes it thud in waves. Would it be gentle and passive without the wind? I wish that I could see it, be out in it as it pounds onto my hair. What does it feel like?
"Yes." I whisper. "Yes, I hear it."
"Good. Just focus on that."
So I listen. All the while, Frigidianus is humming a tune that repeats over and over again. His hands, corded with veins, somehow make me warmer than ever before as one moves across my waist and stomach and the other fingers through my hair, smoothing through the tangles of bedhead. Before I know what is happening though, my eyes droop shut, against my will, and I lose the difference of the humming and the rain falling and the wind howling.
I wake, stiff and uncomfortable, despite the plush bedding. But I am extremely warm...a body next to mine. What...? I turn my head and muffle my scream with a hand. But I am quickly relieved when it is the nonthreatening face of Frigidianus. I nearly laugh at the thought of him being forceful or domineering. How could he be, when I still feel his coarse, weathered palms on me, coaxing me out of a living nightmare and into sleep so hypnotically?
He smiles, just a little sleepily at me, and separates from me. I suddenly feel heat in my face as he climbs out of the bed and sits next to it on a wooden chair. I move toward the edge of the bed and gasp at feeling rawness at my lower leg. It is covered in soiled cloth.
Then, see the gloves next to me, turn my back on him and nimbly pull them on.
"Are you feeling better?" He inquires. "You put the whole household in an uproar all morning, and you haven't even stepped outside this room yet!"
I feel heat in my face and neck, but because of an entirely different emotion. At seeing my indignant , contorted expression, he jumps to explain himself. "You need not worry, Amalia. There is no blame on your shoulders because it is not your fault. The servants were only frightened."
"I was frightened."
"I understand that now. Edite thought you had lost your mind."
"Who says that I haven't?" Frigidianus watches me pitifully now, a look so frequent on his face that I have stopped becoming irritated. "And if I haven't, it's really only a matter of time, Frigidianus."
"Amalia... Prisoner 164, whoever you have become," I widen my eyes; it is the first time he has addressed me, keeping in mind that I am not Amalia. He breathes heavily and continues, as if he is finally comprehending the atrocities she...and I went through, "I truly believe that you, who has gone through enough torture to kill someone, whose spirit could have been broken beyond repair, is strong enough to keep a clear mind. If there are any more memory attacks, it is not because you are insane. You are the victim of a monster, and anyone who says otherwise shall be sent out immediately from this house."
"Frigidianus, I am not all sure what a republic is, but I doubt you have the authority to order everyone here to agree with you, especially your superiors."
He looks at me humorously and starts to laugh, "Quite right, Amalia. But whoever thinks badly of you... I shall have to persuade them to agree or persuade them to leave."
I lower my head to hide an almost smile, hair covering my face. I can't stop the words from coming out..."I can understand why she would have liked you."
His face lights up happily, childlike and innocent, and for a moment, I am glad he is pleased. Pleased that I accept him.
I snap out of the dreamlike state I keep putting myself in. Frigidianus wants me to be Amalia, not the...whoever I am. He doesn't want me to be a victim. He'd rather I forget that whole ordeal and in turn, remember my past.
Do I even want that? Do I wish to remember, now that I am out of the Blood Room and away from the face of the Dolor, who always seemed to silently mock me when he held a piece of information over my forgetful head?
This palatial world, with rooms that could have been hers, holds Amalia's past life. I only have a slight idea of who she was, but in the future, could I choose between the victim I am today, or the dead woman?
"Well then," he smiles. "I really must apologize for my behavior yesterday. I didn't seem to be very empathetic towards your situation. Only until this morning...when I saw you screaming about some unseen force, I realized how much you were affected. How much was different about you."
I nod and remain silent, perhaps that is the reason he acted so incomprehensive to my situation over the meal we shared yesterday.
"Is it," he pauses and seems to think of what to say next, "Is it very terrible?"
I gape and turn my head away. Of course it's horrible! What does he assume happened there? Did he not see the Dolor's notes and reports? Or did Donato tell him anything?
"Is there anything you would like to share?" I glare at him again. I thought he said he understood what was going on inside me? What person would want to talk about what happened to me in there?
"There is no reason to be short with me," he defended himself. "I am only trying to help."
I'm beyond help. "Nothing is going to help me, Frigidianus. Talking about it will only force me to remember everything that happened. I'd rather keep it to myself."
"Could you ease my thoughts? What did you see attacking you this morning?"
I sigh, and look at him for a long moment, deciding what he will think about the prison if I tell him the story. "Insects."
"Flies...or gnats-they started to bite away at my blood, and this morning...I felt like it was happening all over again. I was thinking about it, but then I started to feel it for real." Even now, I feel like little legs are crawling inside my bandage, trying to get to my wound. He looks at my calf with more pity. It makes me feel like I have to explain even more.
“It wasn’t a torture method the Dolor used. He left me alone and it was hot and muggy-they were abundant and swarmed…..” I drift off, forgetting my purpose in talking. The irritation worsens, starts to bother me more, and I’m afraid. More afraid that my screaming will make them think ill of me. Who ‘them’ are exactly; I’m not entirely sure. My expression turns to one of pain and anxiety.
Thankfully, he notices and stands, “I was planning on giving you a tour of the house, as well as answer other questions you may have, but seeing what happened today, perhaps it is better that you rest more. We need you to gain your strength.”
“Why?” Perhaps such a vague question, but I can’t choke out the rest. Why does he want me to regain my strength? Why doesn’t he want me to die? If he’s been years without me, wouldn’t it be easier to accept that I’m part of the past? That Amalia has passed? Life isn’t promising me anything yet, couldn’t I just leave before I hurt other people, before I hurt more? Before I hurt myself?
But he doesn’t understand; can anyone understand? He responds, “The building is huge and I don’t want to wear you out when you should clearly be resting.”
“Frigidianus, if I have to stay here more than is required I will have nothing to do. I have to have something to do.” Now, he nods in comprehension and makes his way to the door.
“I will send for Edite to dress you. I’ll come back in half an hour.”
I roll my eyes; yes, the dresses are beautiful and fancy….but isn’t there something more comfortable and modest? More lightweight and faster? My long hair is already impossible to deal with itself. Why add layers upon layers of clothing? The annoyance comes from the back of my mind, and it strikes me as wrong somehow, that I’m wearing such dresses. Do they differ from my beliefs and opinions? In another life, did trivialities bother me?
It’s agonizing as Edite changes me into the kirtle, chemise and dress, then ties on the sleeves. She takes little strands of my hair and weaves them together quickly and quietly. I wonder if the “frightened servants” really was just poor Edite.
She leaves the rest of my hair down to wave and curl on its own in the wind,and then hands me new gloves that are white. They are the only white thing I’m wearing:my dress being a deep purple and blue. Her smile widens a little as she encloses something around my neck. I gasp and grab it. Why would Edite want to kill me? I pull on the metal and try to tear it off. It is loose now, but if I wait for her to tighten it, I could lose all my breath. Edite steps back, just a little shocked at my reaction. “What’s wrong, senhora? What can I do?”
Is she mocking me? The Dolor used to do that, teasing me as I struggled and gasped for air until he finally freed my throat. “Get...it...off!” I exclaim, tears of frustration escaping me.
“Why? Is it too tight?” Her hand touches the skin at my neck and I jump.
“Stop! Let me alone. GO!” I scream irrationally. Edite gives me a frightened, confused glance over her shoulder as she runs out of the room once again this morning.
“Amalia, what’s wrong? Why did you scream at Edite?” Frigidianus comes sprinting in later. My hands are red as they grip the metal.
“She’s trying to choke-kill me! Get it off! I’ll stop breathing!” I pant and grip his wrist. I grip the ever-tightening metal object even more and he watches me worriedly.
“Amalia. Edite was putting this on because it is supposed to look beautiful. They are called necklaces.” I look at the sparkly stone in the center for the first time, but the feeling of someone squeezing my neck marrs the beauty of it.
“It’s beautiful,” I agree stiffly, “but for now, I would prefer it if no one touched my neck with any chain or necklace.”
“Of course. Is there an explanation to go with that?” I glare at him for his ignorance and stupidity. “It’s for...for,” he sputters at catching his mistake, “Edite. A message to explain to her.” At least he thinks fast.
“Fine, tell her that the man who tortured me had a habit of choking when he ran out of ideas to hurt me. Is that good enough explanation for her?” His whole face turns a shade whiter. In my head, I clap to myself in satisfaction.
He quickly unlatches the ‘necklace’ and sets it on the table in front of me. I breathe quickly as he walks out of the room, trying to tell myself that I’m here, not where the Dolor can come and grip my neck with unexpected strength. Don’t panic.
I sit, wide-eyed and deep breaths coming in and out for minutes and minutes, or is it hours? I can’t tell the difference yet. Frigidianus returns and kneels next to the wheelchair, “Amalia, are you going to be up to the tour? We can still wait for you to recover.”
“There is no recovering for me, Frigidianus. It will always be like this for me. But yes, I am eager to see the house.” He opens his mouth to protest against my wry comment, but snaps it shut, perhaps thinking better of it.
“Then lets start! We don’t want to lose daylight!”