It was Thursday evening and Catherine’s troubles returned with a vengeance.
Tuesday night she’d slept alongside Nancy with no hint of a problem, and Wednesday afternoon had also been without incident... just for a brief moment alone in the private toilet adjoining her office, she’d suddenly felt a walked-over-my-grave shiver, and then it was gone.
She’d tested the air and there seemed the slightest fleeting whiff of him, “probably just a memory,” she’d mused, a memory and a paranoia; “…toilet spray,” she’d said aloud to herself “...shit smell,” and laughed.
Wednesday night she’d returned home alone and caught up on admin, then slept alone. She was relieved.
Thursday had been without incident.
Jacky was due home by six and Catherine had decided to surprise her with a three course meal and for once cooked it herself.
She’d stolen some hours from work and was home cooking by five o’clock when she heard Jacky.
“Hi Baby... you’re early,” she called, silently cursing the spoilt surprise.
No answer, so she called again.
Battling her worst fears she walked toward the entrance hall where a Roman Centurion was admiring his own image in the mirror.
She dropped the earthenware bowl she was holding and fled back to the kitchen.
A little before six, Jacky came through the door to find shards of pottery and liquid contents spread across the hallway. Her noisy entry prompted a fresh round of terrified sobs from the kitchen.
Catherine was a twitching mass of anguish, beyond tears, her face a swollen red tomato with two pig-eyes too terrified to open.
The doctor shot her up with a maximum dose of benzodiazepines, a potent sedative.
“That’ll take her through till morning,” he assured. “I’d like you to bring her in to the Santa Clara tomorrow, I’ll meet you at psychiatrics, floor 6, around eleven. I’ll need to keep her under observation for a few days I’m afraid.”
He scribbled the details onto a prescription leaflet to ensure that Jacky wouldn’t forget.
“This is important Jacky, she may resist, force her to come.”
Catherine woke at nine on Friday morning.
Both women looked like they’d been in the same scrap, their eyes were similarly puffed, their complexions similarly drawn.
“I don’t need observation Jacks. I’m not nuts! There’s something more than hallucination going on here. You’ve felt it too... Come on... you’ve even smelt him! Christ, I...”
Jacky was at the end of her tether, strung out and explosive; “Smelled WHO?” Jacky cut her off, her tone threatening. She knew something was up, she’d known for weeks, she could feel it.
Catherine startled; “Th... the smell that you’ve smelled... The person.” She hadn’t intended for her confession to be uncovered in this way, she wanted to break it boldly, building up to it with perspective, feeding Jacky information one fact at a time.
Bolts of furry were jagged sparks in Jacky’s eyes; “What-person?” she spat it. “You said him. Who is he? Who is this man?...!”
Catherine was weak, buckled, emotionally destroyed and woozy from the sedative. She was outgunned but she tried to slow and divert the pace of the deteriorating situation; “Jacky, please darling. Please come and sit down, I’ve got something to tell you.”
Catherine’s call for reason was the trigger, and Jacky exploded. Sleepless nights of her own and the sickening suspicions of what she assumed was to come detonated in the most primitive part of her brain.
The more Catherine struggled the deeper she sank into the quicksand of conflict. With every defense she offered, with every context she appealed for, the more devious and sly her position appeared.
When Ken’s name was mentioned into the conversation, Jacky snatched it up and ran; Catherine had slept with him... she’d been sleeping with him for months.
An hour later Catherine was no closer to defending her innocence. She’d admitted to everything that she had done, but Jacky was not interested; “It’s the weakest excuse I’ve ever been insulted with.”
Catherine would not admit to it. Would not admit to the month or more of working late to fuck the guy. Eventually she collapsed from the accusations into a blathering heap, sliding to the floor, crumpled against the skirting board with her will emotionally kicked out of her.
“You are a real stupid little bitch...” it came like a growl, Jacky’s voice as low as a panther in a dark wood. “You think I haven’t seen this all before? Hello…? Darling… I fly with pilots every day of my life... in a different port every night. You think I don’t know every story? That when I’m in the other port you... well...” She stood over Catherine and lashed her with her tongue; “His smell’s on your clothes, his stench in our bed! You’re being stalked! Bullshit! The cover’s blown, baby... he’s in and out of here... in and out of YOU... every time I turn my back!”
With every breakable ornament within reach already hurled across the bedroom, Jacky began throwing personal belongings back into her travel bag.
Catherine was beyond arguing. She lay facing the skirting board, her tear-soaked mat of hair piled over her face, but it was no protection from the merciless tongue that pulverized her;
“Oh yes, dear, there’s not much I don’t know!” Jacky latched the case, snapped the telescopic handle up and made for the door where she paused a moment. “And by the way, slut... a ‘Nancy’ called,” Jacky’s voice was suddenly honey and roses with sarcasm. She said, ‘Why aren’t you at work today, bad girl? And... thanks for dinner Tuesday’,” she laughed; a nasty, cruel and scornful laugh. “...oh, and, ‘you’ll be pleased to know,’ your Nancy said, ‘Ken will be back tomorrow’.”
The door slammed closed for the final time and a deathly silence seeped throughout the house.
The phone rang at ten thirty.
It rang again at eleven.
By eleven thirty Catherine had peeled herself off the floor. She was the living dead, her voice no more than a parched groan, “H... hello.”
The barely human croak triggered Nancy into panic. “Catherine! What’s the matter? Are you all right?”
Nancy careened along the highway, burrowing through traffic snarls and running streetlights; the trip a blur all the way from the office.
Catherine was on the front steps, outside of the house at high noon sitting in her nightgown.
“I’m not going in, Nance. He’s in there.” She was calm, dangerously calm, punch-drunk calm and dumbly accepting whatever fate threw next.
Nancy went through the house in a savage mood; “Show yourself, you bastard! Be anything like a man and show yourself!”
Her challenges bellowed with more than a voice; the sound of it a weapon, a projection of her spirit that bounced off of the cold stone pillars.
Only Ken’s smell remained as testimony to his presence. Nancy’s reconnaissance took her through the scenes of the earlier battle; the bedroom a shambles knee deep in remnants of once beautiful artworks.
Catherine’s bedside table was the only corner of the room not destroyed. It stood out as an island of neatness in an ocean of Bedlam. On it stood the two pill bottles where Nancy had seen them on Tuesday night. One of the bottles was weighing down a leaflet, it beckoned Nancy’s attention. She picked through the debris and discovered on its page the instructions that the doctor had left.
A few minutes later Nancy came triumphantly out the front door carrying a hastily assembled overnight bag, Catherine was still sitting on the steps, hugging her knees to her chest, gently rocking. “I’ve spoken to Doctor Johnson at the hospital, he’s waiting for us. Come on.”
“I don’t need psychiatric help,” Catherine’s protests were emphatic but trailed to nothing as Nancy took her firmly by the arm and lead her to the car.
With her cargo stowed and buckled in, Nancy returned to lock the house. Curiously it seemed fresh, the scent of spring blossoms on the air.
“You’ll never hurt her again, you bastard. Never!” She shouted into the emptiness of the structure as an oath.
Back in the car and pulling out of the driveway Nancy patted Catherine’s leg. “We’re meeting Leon there,” she reassured. “He knows these things better than anyone.”