“Hello, my Gudinna. It’s me again. How do you feel?”
Sick and tired of this question from all of you, that’s how I feel. Sick and tired of screaming the same answer: I want to get out of the abyss, out of this sinister darkness! Get me out of here! Again and again. But none of you bothers to answer me. Nobody listens to my pleas about getting out. Nobody answers as to whether I’m in the world of the dead or joined another life form in another universe. So why bother asking me the question thousands of times – each time any or all of you come in here. In my room. Martine St Germain, Phillip Dumas, Fabian Ziegler. The same old question. What room is it anyway? Talk to me instead, please. Tell me things I need to know, where I am and why, not just: You have a visitor, madame… I’m the cleaning lady, just getting your room tidied up, so don’t let the noise upset you, madame…
So now answer me: Who is Gudinna – me? Is that my name? And weren’t you here before? Whiny, just like now, before you all left?
The second voice she’d heard in the room told her, “Just came back from Lo. She’d like…” Erik’s voice constricted and he turned to look at Phillip with dachshund eyes, but she couldn’t see that from her abyss in the vast valley. Eyes back at her, he felt as if he had a white furry tongue and bad breath.
“Yes,” Phillip leaned in and murmured to Erik’s, “she probably hears you. At least at some level. The brain waves are more active now.”
Erik turned clouded eyes to bleeping machines that the doctor indicated. Blurred visions of bluish green and red numerals and freaky charts bopping at their ends like sinuous threads of pecking worms.
“Keep talking and interacting with her calmly and clearly. Hold her hand, caress her face. It all helps the natural healing process of her brain.”
What are you murmuring about? Or am I getting deaf as well? Who is Lo?
“She’d like to talk to you, my soul. Lo, I mean.”
“But, Christ, you know how hopeless I am without you.”
“I can’t let her see you like this… can’t let any of them, really… and so I thought I’d let you know how much they’re all longing for Mamma… Norska is also flying in from Gothenburg today. Without farfar… he’s so mad at me he said he’s… ashamed to be my father…”
Talking in riddles by the blood of the ancients. And weeping. Your father is ashamed of you? I’m sorry you’re so sad but I’m not sure you’re talking to me or to someone else. Who’s Lo? Who’re they – those ones longing for Mamma? Who’s Norska and farfar? Are they my children or your soul’s children? But if… Great ancestors! Am I your soul? Your Gudinna? Please, tell me! I’m trying to remember so much… so many things but they keep slipping away. You… sound and sort of… smell familiar. Who are you? Please…
“Gudinna, I’m a perfectly hopeless father and I’ve been a monstrous husband to you…”
He saw her closed eyes twitch again. At least he thought he did. For a fraction of a second. Could she really hear him? Did she know he was here holding her hand? Stroking her still-life face?
“I can’t tell you how so very sorry I am that you’re here like this and that I did this to you, my soul… I mean, it wasn’t… Thor och Odin…”
Zigzag answers. Such a tortured voice. Thor och Odin… that’s… like Herregud… Swedish… Am I married? Are you my husband? Do we have children? Is that why you sound and smell familiar?
The wet patch on the duvet covering her, where he was leaning in as he talked to her, was getting larger and soppier from his tears and snot. He wanted to talk to her, to explain how devastated he was about what he’d done to her. To their children and the whole family. To explain to her that he’d not lashed out at her but at his own buried demons. His mania about complete trust. That his faculty had spun out of control in those mad seconds when he’d hit her, but it hadn’t been her he was attacking. He wanted to tell her about his Monday evening with Thor-Sol-Bert and how their we-boys rambling on about navy boats and sailing had lifted his spirits at least for a couple of hours. To tell her about the twins’ fear yet again last night that their mother would die and end up in a box buried forever. He wanted to explain to her that their daughter was suffering because of what happened between the three of them: mother, daughter and father. But he didn’t know how.
He wanted to tell her that he was going to talk to Dr Hoffman so the therapist could be in a better position – perhaps – to help Loyana out of her emotional and psychological trauma trap. He even wanted to talk to her about the Lindqvist Group, that Bill Armstrong, the MD, was now acting chairman and holding the fort for them – after all, she was Group Vice Chairman – and Annabelle Cartwright, the old girl who’d been his right hand ever since when, was seeing to it that things ran smoothly right around the globe.
But everything stuck in his throat.
A hand fell on his shoulder.
“Erik? Are you really all right? Need a break? Something to drink?”
“Wouldn’t want to be all right, Phillip. And I don’t need a break, for God’s sake. She does. Look at her. I’m not even sure she knows I’m here. Or hears me…” The lump raided his throat again.
Erik. Don’t be sad, if it’s about me. I’m fine, only I can’t make sense of your words. Yes, I know you’re here and I hear you. Do you hear me? You sound nearer to me than the last time you were here. In my room. Listen, try and…
“Don’t despair, she does hear you, Erik.”
…answer my questions. I’m here and it’s a vast darkness and I want out!
There was an erratic bleep that sent Phillip to the electrical devices while Erik turned an intense gaze at Khira. The slight twitches of her eyes. Wet lids.
Christ almighty. “Gudinna! No, my soul, please! Phillip!”
“She’s a little excited, which is a good sign, Erik. No panic, okay?”
Ancestors, I mustn’t panic. I need to know what’s going on. My memory…
But Erik was panicking.
“My soul, it wasn’t you, believe me. I didn’t hit you!”
He held her hand with both of his as he rocked in his chair back and forth over her. “It wasn’t you I attacked, it was me, the demented animal nursing injuries decades old. Me, the old codger you blessed with beatific flesh and blood new Lindqvists. You prefer to call them Scando-Nilotes and I played with the word, saying they indeed had a scandalous father, remember? You helped me create a unique new human group. Bonded north and south irreversibly.”
He spoke fast, faster, agitated now by the quivering of her eyelids, willing her back to the here and now. Talk, talk, talk. Wake her up.
“My Gudinna. My pure little white dove… My very first ever precious soul… Remember I told you about Claudette and Husseini? Remember the spring of my barbarism with women? Where and why this barbarism all started…?”
The bleeps changed to a dramatic tempo. The duty nurse had dropped her magazine and was on her feet fiddling with Khira’s IV drips. Dr Martine St Germain walked in, as always crisp and birdlike, every fifty-one years of her.
“Erik,” she said. “Let’s have a look at her. You better step back, or step out if you like. She’s all right, just excited to hear you, I’m sure.”
Erik wanted to believe her with all he was.
“Perhaps she needs a little respite?” Phillip patted Erik’s shoulder again.
“She’s…” Erik croaked and started again. “She’s crying…”
Tears indeed clung on her trembling long sickle-blade eyelashes.
“All I ever do is hurt her, Phillip. I shouldn’t ever come anywhere near her. She can’t even say how much pain she’s having.”
He swiped a sleeve across his nose, getting up.
No, Erik, I’m not in pain. Just so sad for your sadness. What binds us…?
“Perhaps a little distress. Her heart rate is a bit increased.” Martine St Germain said. She didn’t sound convincing to Erik. “Apart from that, she’s…”
“No worse than the worst case she’d ever had to be? Herregud!”
Herregud? Yes, it’s that Erik again. The one who’d left the room…
“We’ll give her something to steady her again, Erik. Okay?”
Sure, Phillip. Brilliant. A little steadying here, a little pacifying over there.
“I think I’ll get back to my daughter. Not much I can do here but harm.”
His head was a buoy signalling a storm. He took off his hospital gown. The nurse took it from him. Both doctors, St Germain and Dumas, were concentrating on their patient. They seemed not to have heard him.
But his wife had.
No, Erik! Please don’t go! What barbarism with women? I don’t remember! Is your daughter my daughter? Is that what binds us? I’m trying so hard to, but I can’t remember a thing! Please answer me! Don’t go before you tell me!
“I’ll be back as soon as I can, my precious soul. These two will take care of you till then, hm? I worship you, now more than ever before.”
Thank the ancient bones, you heard me. I’ll wait till you’re back. I feel… completely… devoid of… just can’t… remember…