starfish chapter 12

 

Susie spent several days keeping a careful eye on TV reports from the Vatican, hoping to see Father O’ Leary in them. Her hopes were dashed when she saw the white smoke emanating from the Vatican chimney. It meant a new Pope had been elected. She knew that Father O’leary would return soon and things would go back to how they had been. She didn’t want to live a routine life any longer.

Victor had come to church the night they’ d had the mushrooms and had been awe struck by the effect being in a church had created. Each movement the priest made  left  a  trail  of light  and  every gesture  seemed  steeped  in  significance.  He watched the mass with glowing admiration. It went smoothly and when it was over Victor felt tempted to take communion with every one else. Susie had given him a lot to think about. She wanted him to agree to go to church with her on a regular basis, and she didn’t want to sleep with him unless they were man and wife. He had never considered matrimony before and it conjured up many images. He finally decided to speak with Father O’leary about it, and about converting to Catholicism. He knew it would please Susie. Susie for her part was taking to devotions with ever increasing zeal. She stopped hearing the choir the day she saw the white smoke come out the chimney and knew it had been a very special experience for her alone. She left the clinic shortly after O’Leary’s return and went to live in Victor`s spare room. They agreed not to sleep together until the question had been resolved. Susie made an appointment to see Dr. O’leary and took Victor along with her. He looked rosy and ethereal, but had not changed his bed side manner. He was as blunt as ever.

“So,  Susie, you and Victor are thinking of marriage. That’s a very important step,” he said.

“We are,” said Victor, “and Susie wants me to become a Catholic.”

“But  Susie,”  said  O’leary, “you  aren’t  really  a  Catholic  yourself.  There  are formalities you must complete. Your first communion should be a special occasion. You must be blessed by a priest and you must agree to follow all the rules, including not living in sin. Only then can you claim to be a Catholic.”

“I know all that, Doctor,” she said. “I’m  prepared to do anything necessary. And I’d like you to perform the marriage service. Victor has agreed, and there’s no one else who could do it better.” The Doctor smiled and clasped his hands together on the desk as if in prayer.

“Of  course I’d be delighted to, but you must wait for some time before getting married. Your life should be in order first. You have many unresolved issues still to deal with.”  Victor laughed and stood up. O’leary eyed him but said nothing. He walked around the room and went to the window. It was a warm sunny afternoon. High clouds marked the sky.

“I’ve been thinking about that Doctor, and I’m prepared to undergo any ordeal to satisfy Susie,” he said.

“That’s as it should be, but how will you support her?” said O’leary.

“I’ve got payment for my part in the band and it’s a sizable cheque that’s yet to be banked. And we’re  modern, she can work if she wants to. I’ve got some murky areas to work out but nothing’s going to stop me from making her happy. I love her very much.”

“Enough to spend the rest of your lives together?” said O’leary.

“Enough  for that and more. She inspires me to write songs and they’re  happy little melodies. I’ve left the band and I won’t be playing with anyone again for a long time. I can perform my own songs on my own. It’ s not going to be a luxurious life but it won’t be on the poverty line either.”

“I’m  perfectly content to survive no matter what our income is,” said Susie and held Victor’s hand.

“We’re  sure we want to do it, now, and all we need is for you to tell us what conditions we need to satisfy before you can marry us. We’d like the service to be in the chapel here, said Victor. O’leary nodded his head and stared at his desk.

“I’m  sure I won’t hear voices again,” said Susie. “My faith has been ignited and your going to Rome helped. It was fascinating to think you were there when the new Holy Father was elected.”

“It was a sombre occasion, Susie, but one in which everyone felt God’s presence. I was fortunate to be allowed to go,” said O’leary.

“Well, what do you suggest we do first?” said Susie.

“I  suggest you both attend confession first. Learn what you must do to have a contrite heart. Attend mass whenever you can. Come to me for counselling and we’ll sort it out. You could be man and wife in six months if you stick with it.”  Susie stood up and shook the Doctor’s hand. She and Victor left his office and went to the car park. Susie was chain smoking again, and lit one as soon as she could. Victor got in the car and started the engine. When they were both settled they drove out onto the road. It was a busy day, cars were coming and going.

“We’re  not sinners anymore,” said Susie.

“That’s for sure,” said Victor.

“And  we’re  going to get our own house and live in the country forever,”  she went on.

“And have babies,” Victor said.

Six months later Victor and Susie were married at the hospital chapel. Father O’leary performed the ceremony and wished the couple every success. They went to France for their honeymoon and three months later Susie was pregnant.

 

finis


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starfish chapter 11

 

 

Father O’Leary had a hectic schedule. He packed a bag and went to the residence of the Archbishop Henry Lees to get the final details of his forth coming trip. He was to fly to Rome with the Archbishop and attend him at the Vatican. He thought he could use the opportunity to collect some research data from the Vatican library and noted what he needed. They had two days to get there and the flight left first thing in the morning. The two men when they met read through a list of possible candidates for the position of Holy See. O’ Leary had his own opinions about certain of the men but the Archbishop was firm in his choice. He knew who he wished to see fill the vacancy. The next day the two men caught the early flight from Hilton airport and were on their way.

Susie  had  seen  Victor  goodbye  the  day  before  after  lunch  and  was  deeply impressed  that Father O’ Leary was to  attend  the conclave. She knew he had no voting power, but the fact he was going to Rome was enough. She pictured him in his important role and tried to imagine what the place would be like. There was no one at the head of the church for these few weeks and she wondered who would give mass for the conclave. She pondered it all day and forgot that she had arranged to go out with Victor on the weekend. Saturday morning arrived and so did Victor, but she wasn’t ready. He came to her room and found her at a desk writing. She had half filled  a note book with her thoughts. She wanted  O’Leary to see them when he returned.

“ Susie,” said Victor, “you didn’t forget our date, did you?”

“Victor?  Yes I did, I’m sorry. I’m rather busy.”

“But  this was our big day out. Come on, here’ s your clothes. Put them on and we’ll go out for the day.” She agreed, and put on the clothes he had brought. There was a sweater, a pair of jeans and shoes and socks. She felt good being in street clothes and cheered up. They left the building and she signed herself out. A nun wished her a happy outing.

Once outside the grounds she relaxed a little and became almost nonchalant. Victor had brought some cigarettes for her and she smoked them continuously. She chattered about the warm weather, the clear blue sky, the brightness of the sun and avoided mentioning what really had captured her imagination, the papal conclave. Victor was driving to the hills but away from Stirling, more towards the southern end of the ranges. It was hilly country with lots of pine forests. The traffic was at a minimum and in an hour they were far away. Victor turned off the main road onto a dirt throughway and told Susie where they were going. He had packed a picnic lunch for them and had selected a spot next to a reservoir. It was out of the way, very pleasant and very pretty. Susie liked the idea and waited in anticipation. When they reached  the area, Victor parked  the car and  they proceeded  on foot for several hundred yards to the water’ s edge. It was a large lake and around its shore lay thick pine groves that smelt luxurious. Susie enjoyed breathing in the air. She took off her shoes  and  paddled  in  the  water  then  returned  to  eat  lunch.  Victor  had  brought chicken and bread and some green salad. It looked tasty and Susie ate with relish. He also brought a bottle of wine, and Susie reluctantly shared it with him. When it was empty he produced another and they quickly drank it. Susie was beginning to feel tipsy and merry. She joked with Victor and he relaxed, too. They lay down on a blanket and dozed off. Slowly the afternoon changed to sunset, and by the time they woke again it was already getting dark.

“We’d better be going,” said Susie packing the picnic basket.

“That was a good sleep I had. I feel great,” said Victor.
“I’ll be lucky if I get back in time for dinner.”

“Don’t worry, if you’re late we can buy something along the way.”

“I don’t want to be late,” she said. “Tonight’s mass means a lot to me.”

“How many times have you been to mass lately?” asked Victor.

“I’ve been going two times a day. It’s a very holy thing that’ s going on, Victor, and it’s very rare.”

“The  election, you mean?”

“The  conclave. It’s historic and holy. The culmination of a tradition that goes back to the beginning of our age.”

“The  beginning of time as we know it?”

“That’s right. The year zero.”

“Are  you ready, then?”

“Yes,  Victor, I’m  ready. Will you carry this?”  Victor grabbed the two empty bottles and put them under his arm. Susie didn’t want to litter. They walked back towards the car but on the way stopped and sat down. Victor had noticed something off the path and had gone to investigate. A few moments later he came back carrying two handfuls of mushrooms.

“What  a surprise,” he said, “I’ve found some magic mushrooms.”

“What are they?” said Susie.

“They’re  hallucinogenic mushrooms, Susie. You eat them and go off your face for a few hours.”

“I haven’t heard of them,” she said.

“I’ve had them once or twice, they’re  good. You don’t need many. I’ve got enough for both of us.”

“I  don’t think I’ll have any thank you very much.”

“You  want a religious experience Susie? Then eat them. They’re  the real thing. The difference between talking about religion and experiencing the reality behind it. They used to call them the flesh of the Gods.”

“They’re  poisonous aren’t they?” she said.

“Not  these. These are harmless and non toxic. You can have ten or twenty and nothing  happens.  I’m  going  to  try  them.”  He  cleaned  the  dirt  off  a  few  and swallowed them whole. He gave a grimace and ate some more. Pretty soon he only had one handful left.

“Come  on Susie, they don’ t taste too bad either. Like normal mushrooms.”

“And what happens to you?” she said.

“They’re  mind manifesting. They give your mind a chance to experience more fully. You’ ll like it, I promise,” he said. Susie warily picked a mushroom from his hand and wiped the dirt away. Then she popped it in her mouth and chewed. She gaged and then swallowed hard.

“They taste awful,” she said.

“You’ll get used to it. They’re raw, that’s all.” She took another, cleaned it and put it in her mouth. The taste was very strong but she swallowed it whole.
     
“That was better,” she said. “They don’t go down too badly. A bit dry, though.”
Victor handed her the remaining mushrooms and watched her eat them individually until there were none left. They got up and started back towards the car. It was past sunset.

“They  take about an hour to get into your system,”  said Victor, “and  then they come on real slow. You’ll hardly notice anything for the first couple of hours.”
     
“Do  they keep you awake?” she said.

“No,  they don’t speed you up. You can sleep with them without difficulty. It’s like a very strong smoke of grass.”

“Do  you see things?”

“Kind  of  yes.  It’s  subtle.  There  are  whole  religions  based  on  eating  them. They’ve been using them for thousands of years.”

“Should I go back to the clinic?”

“That’s maybe not such a good idea. You want to be in a supportive atmosphere, not a cold antiseptic one. We can go to my place and relax there. I’ll take you back whenever you want.”

“I have to be back for midnight mass, Victor, I promised sister I’d be there”

“That gives you five or six hours. You’ll be down by then and walking with your feet on the ground.”  They drove along the freeway with its orange overhead lights and fifty minutes later were approaching the Stirling turn off. Susie was gazing out the side window at the flashing signs. She was very quiet. Victor was feeling the first  intimations  of  the  drug  in  his  body  and  slowed  down.  The  lights  looked fascinating and life like, the shadows beyond his headlights sinister and oppressive. He made the turn off and the road suddenly became much narrower. He slowed down even further and  put on  his high beams.  They fingered  their way into  the darkness. The road looked like a band of grey sweeping before them. Finally they reached Victor’ s drive and went in. The house was friendly and inviting. They got out of the car without saying a word and went inside, turning on every light. Victor fetched wood for a fire and Susie turned on an electric heater. Despite the sunny day it was a chilly evening.

“How are you feeling, Susie?” said Victor from the hall.

“I’m  good. The colours look intense,” she said from the lounge.

“Anything strange going on yet?” he said.

“Nothing  much. My arms and legs feel very warm, though. The air in here is freezing. It’s so quiet. Can we have some music please?”

“Sure,”  he said coming into the room with an arm load of wood, “just turn on the record player. Pick something out.” Susie went to the sideboard and switched on the turntable. It began to revolve and she stared at it until it had gathered speed. It seemed to amuse her for she stayed in that position for several minutes. The room remained silent. Victor had piled some wood into the grate and was lighting it when Susie put on a record. The sound submerged the room in a swimming blue light.

“ Ooo, that’s nice. It looks like you’re  under water,” she said. The fire flickered and caught a hold. Victor backed away and sat on the nearest sofa. He was feeling the full effects of the mushrooms now. The room was made up of pools of light and dark. The light was warm and familiar, the darkness was frightening and eerie. Susie stumbled to the sofa and crashed down into it. She was giggling and pointing to the mantle piece. Victor looked up and saw what she was alluding to. It was a framed photo of herself. She didn’t know where he’ d gotten it.

“That’s you,” said Victor.

“But I look so old,” she said.

“You don’t look too bad. How do you feel?”

“Weird.  I feel weird. Like the room is closing in on me. And I don’t like the music. It’s too mechanical and lifeless. It depresses me.”

“Well get up and change it then.”

“I can’t. I’m stuck to the sofa.”
“Do  you want me to change it?”

“It’s gone now. I’m speeding up a lot. My thoughts are going really fast. From one thing to the next without stopping. And there’s some light shining through. I don’ t know where it’s coming from.”

“Is it inside or outside?” he said.

“It’s inside. Like a silver blue candle flame in the distance, and there are two more just like it only they’re green and red. They’re beautiful.” She closed her eyes and seemed to doze off. Victor watched the fire grow and felt the warmth spreading through his body. He was sure he felt hungry, but figured out that he’d only eaten an hour earlier. The mushrooms had been quite filling. He looked about the room. The shadows were deeper than before. He felt suspicious about it and tried to see into the darkness  but  his  eye  sight  failed.  Then  from out  the  corner  of  his  eye  he  saw something moving along a wall. It startled him a lot. He turned his head to get a better view and saw that it was a spider. It revolted him physically. It’ s legs seemed enormously long and the way it moved on eight of these seemed totally absurd. Too much effort was needed to be mobile for such a tiny creature. He got up and quickly struck the wall with a book. The spider instantly being crushed to death. Then he went back to the sofa. Susie had her eyes open again.

“This place is crawling with bugs,” he said.

“It’s not very clean is it?” she said.

“They come in from outside. I hate spiders and you get some big ones here. They scare me. I don’t know why.”

“They’re  alien,” she said. Victor smiled and nodded his head.

“I’m  feeling very unusual at this time,” he said.
“It’s a nice feeling,” she said.

“It’s like there’s a film of oil on the surface of everything and it’s reflecting light as rainbows. Swirls of rainbows that move about and change to primary colours.”
     
“Yes,  it’s strange,” she said. “Can  you imagine what it’d be like to be in Rome right now? I mean at the centre of this world wide web? With everyone praying for you and history plodding along behind you? Father O’ Leary must be enjoying his trip.”

“Rome would be nice,” agreed Victor.

“You can almost imagine it. A huge old hall and there’d be all these men sitting in order wearing colourful robes. And they’d be talking across the distance and not worrying about how long it takes. And they’d be doing it so that in the end everyone in the world will know about it.”

“The conclave you mean?” said Victor.

“Yes, of course. I’d love to go there to see it for myself. It must be great. All that history and tradition to observe.”

“But is it a religious experience?” said Victor.

“This  is  a  religious  experience,”  said  Susie.      “It’s  like  a  dream.  I  can  hear something in the distance. It sounds like choir or organ music.”
“Think about the voices you hear.”

“I  don’t want to. I couldn’t imagine hearing them now. But can half imagine, hear, something like a symphony, way off in the distance. Like in the mountains, and it’ s coming from another mist enshrouded peak. Do these mushrooms change your hearing threshold?”

“I  don’t know, Susie,”  said Victor. “But  your imagination gets more profound. Anything you can think of instantly takes on a tangible form. Things ought to slow down soon and then it’ll get really crazy.”

“I  can almost picture the Vatican in my mind. It’s like this huge TV network only they don’t use TV, and it’s running along as if it didn’t have anything to do. Like the path of least resistance. And every time it turns into some place that needs more energy to go through it creates a disturbance in the flow and all kinds of things appear. Like little eddies in the stream. But it feels very organic. And the dream ends when they send out the white smoke. That’s when the holiness of the occasion stops and everything goes back to routine and being normal and usual. It’s the process I’m watching, not the contents of the energy in the process. Without a Holy Father living it takes you back to the year zero.”

“But  it’s not the Holy Land, Susie, it’s Rome. The Roman Empire. A longer history than Christianity.”

“I  see  that,  and  it  doesn’t  make  any  difference.  The  belief  system  starts  to develop from there and it grows and grows without impediments, taking the path of least resistance. There’s a logic to it that’ s beautiful.”

“There was a logic to what Michael did, too,” said Victor.

“Oh, Victor, don’t remind me. Michael is nuts. He’ s pretending to be a priest but his ritual is sick, it’ s literal and has no scope for growth. It’ s also evil. I felt that very strongly. There was a power that had no refinement to it, nothing to balance it. Just raw energy. I didn’t like it one bit.”

“That’ s what I meant. It’ s harmless really. Nothing actually comes of it. And it doesn’ t give pleasure either. There’ s nothing to think about it. It’ s a dead end. I don’ t know why I put up with it in the first place. He tricked me, that’ s it.”

“And  you tricked me,” said Susie.

“Sorry,  Susie, I don’t know what got into me.”

“It was the devil,” said Susie. “You wanted power over me.”

“I didn’t. I didn’t think, that’ s all. I didn’t have anywhere else to go, any one else to turn to.”

“That’s the whole point, Victor, you couldn’t turn to me.”

“I suppose so.”

“How does this compare?”

“What the mushrooms? It’s good. One of the best experiences I’ve had.”

“No,  the whole thing. This day in the midst of eternity. The conclave in St. Peters and me in the St. Peters clinic. And O’ Leary going to the Vatican. It all fits together. One thing leads to another through the process. It puts me in the middle of the process.”

“And do you like being there?”

“I  won’ t hear voices again, if that’ s what you mean. That all changed. It flipped from a negative to a positive. That’s why I’m hearing choirs now.”
      “Do you want to go for a walk?”

“It could be fun, but it’s dark outside. I don’t know…”

“There’s a moon out.”

“Sounds  romantic.”

“OK,  lets go.”  They stood up and went to the front door. It was cold in the hallway, and outside it was frosty. The stars were twinkling and the moon hung low over the horizon. There were no clouds to obscure the view. A breeze played over the trees and washed against their faces. Victor held Susie’s hand and it felt cold and clammy. She seemed to be grinning from ear to ear as they walked. Victor got cold very quickly.

“I’m  shivering,” he said.

“It’s a bit like that, isn’t it?” said Susie.

“There’s nothing to see out here really,” he said.

“The stars look good. The moon looks too bright, too white, too distinct.”

“Yeah,  it’s overwhelming. But if you look carefully you can see trails of light near each star. And one near the moon, too.”

“I  can’t see that. All I can see is the breeze blowing high up in the sky. It looks three dimensional for a change.”

“They could be clouds.”

“They could be angels flying too fast to see.”

“And  elves are hiding in the bushes.”

“It’ s funny, isn’t it? Everything seems lifeless, I don’t know where they get those ideas from.”

“It  looks ancient, you mean.”

“Like it’s been there since the dawn of time. For billions of years.”

“The trees? Yeah, they look alien, too.” Susie tightened her grip on Victor’ s hand and  pulled  him back towards the house. Their feet made a noise on the gravel walkway. They ran the last few feet back to the door. The light from inside looked warm. Susie went in first. Victor stayed a few seconds to look at the moon some more. Wisps of cloud covered its face.

“Victor?  It’s boiling in here,” she called.

“I’m  coming. I’m freezing,” he said. He went indoors and the heat hit him like a wall. He seemed to be sweating.

“It’s hot in here, isn’t it?” he said.

“Take off your jumper.” He did what he was told and felt better immediately. His eyeballs felt dry and itchy.

“ Susie? What are you doing?” he said.

“I’m  having a drink of water. It tastes good.” Victor went to her and put his arms around her shoulders. She felt warm and soft. Susie finished her water and put the glass down. Victor felt big and fluffy to her. She turned around and looked into his steel blue eyes. Then she kissed him gently. He responded eagerly. He felt his lips merge with hers and sparks shot off in his brain.

“Lets go to bed,” he said impatiently.

“But Victor, I can’t, it’s immoral,” she said.

“It won’t be the first time,” he said.

“I  know, but I don’ t want to do anything Father O’ Leary would disapprove of. What’s the time anyway?”

“It’s only 8:30,” he said.

“Is that all? I thought hours had gone. I have to be back at midnight.”

“Lets go to bed,” he said again.

“I suppose it can’t hurt,” she said. They went to the bedroom and crept under the covers fully clothed. The bed was cold and creaked. They hugged each other and kissed again.

“Lets take our clothes off,” said Victor.

“All right,” said Susie and took off her sweater. She reached down and pulled off her socks. Her feet felt cold against the sheet. Then she took off her jeans and lay naked. Victor, meanwhile, had disrobed and was about to hug her. At his touch she felt an indescribable wave of sensation pass through her body. It was something she’d never experienced before. She began to cry and hug Victor to herself.

“What’s the matter, Susie?” said Victor rubbing her back.

“It feels so nice,” she said, “I want to so much.”
“Beds are good places to be close,” said Victor.

“I’m  sure I love you, Victor,” she said, “but what’ll happen when the drug wears off?” Victor shrugged his shoulders.

“You’ll think it was a dream, a nice dream, and you’ll still love me and that’ s all that counts.”

“It’ll be chaos really,” she said.

“You’ll forget everything. You have to do it often to remember what it’s really like.”

“You feel so soft and warm, Victor, I don’ t want to forget that.”

“We  can do it again. We know where they grow now.”

“But it’s more than the mushrooms, isn’t it? You do love me don’t you?”

“Yes, I love you.”

“Then why can’t you accept that I’ve changed?”

“It  is a special time, Susie, and there’s a lot of energy being vented, but I can’t get myself to convert just like that.”

“You  don’ t have to. Come to church with me. Come and talk to Father O’ Leary with me. I’ll never hear voices again, so I can leave anytime. But I’m  not coming back if we go on from where we were. You have to trust me, Victor, I’m  a new person and it feels good and wholesome.”

“You want me to confess?”

“Yes,  it’ll help you.”

“And  go to church every Sunday?”
“If I do,” she said.

“I’ll do anything for you, Susie, don’t worry. Come on lets make love.” Victor tickled her with his fingers and felt the tiny hairs on her back stand on end. She was tingling from head to foot. He rolled on top of her and entered into her. They made love and fell asleep for an hour. Then Susie woke and nudged Victor.

“Take me to church,” she said and Victor got ready to leave.

 


starfish chapter 10

 

 

A few weeks later Susie was having an unusual dream. She was in the midst of a vast choir that was singing religious music. It seemed to buffet her upwards. She floated above the choir and flew towards the horizon, but the further she went the more people in the choir there were. She woke up hearing organ music and people singing a lofty song. She shook her head but the singing continued. She opened her eyes and blinked, but she could still hear the glorious music. She got up out of bed and went to the window. Outside the trees stood starkly against a full moon. The choir was less loud now, but clearly audible. She tried to understand the words but couldn’t; it was some language she’d never heard before. Then the room seemed to breathe and wave upon wave of movement rippled through it. She paused and stared at the walls. They seemed to be moving ever so slightly in and out. Next she went back to her bed and lay down, thinking she was losing her mind, but no sooner had he done that than the voices changed into a soundless harmony and faded away.
The room was suffused with an ethereal light which pulsated slowly. She watched
the light and then came an abrupt halt. Everything reverted to how it had always been. She noticed a trail of light in the room that seemed to become a rainbow and then disappear. Next she was laying on the bed with her eyes shut, trying to learn whether the hallucinations could be recalled at will. Nothing happened and she went
back to sleep. She found the warmth of the bed, the touch of the cotton sheets, pleasurable beyond all degrees.

In the morning she woke up and went to mass as usual, but in the chapel saw that something new had been added. The officiating priest had placed a picture of the Holy Father on the altar and candles were lit in front of it. She wondered about it, but took the sacraments nevertheless. Then she went to have breakfast.
      Dr. O’Leary was in the cafeteria room drinking a cup of coffee. She got her food and sat down with him. He seemed distant and preoccupied.
      “Good morning, Doctor,” she said.

“Hello, Susie,” he replied.

“I  had a moving dream last night.”
“Really?  Did you hear yet?”
“Hear what?” she said.

“The Holy Father died last night.”

“Was  there any singing in the chapel last night?”

“There  was a special mass. It’s such a surprise. A man of his age hasn’t got the best health in the world, but it was so sudden. There were no indications of illness.”
     
“When did you hear this?” she said.

“Oh, I was awoken at 1 am. I’ve been praying all night. You can watch the news reports, they’re coming in all the time.”

“And  what happens next?” she said.

“All the bells of all of the churches are rung and all the hierarchy goes to Rome to elect a new Holy Father,” he said.

“My dream referred to something like that,” said Susie. “I  was in the middle of a vast choir and they were singing beautiful songs, and then I was flying through the air but the choir was endless. I woke up and it was still audible. I thought I was hearing things again.”

“It’s a very special time, Susie,” he said. “It  doesn’t happen very often. You’re very fortunate to have had a genuine vision. I hope it was revelatory.”
      “Yes, Doctor, it was. It boosted my spirits. I’m feeling good within myself now. But is there anything I can do?”

“You  can pray for the new Holy Father,” he said and finished his coffee. Susie ate her meal in silence and then they both got up and went their separate ways. Susie went back to her room and wrote a letter to Victor. She didn’t finish, though. She couldn’t sit still. She put on her robe and went for a walk to the TV lounge. Half a dozen patients were sitting watching the morning news. There was a live coverage of the Vatican in Rome. It showed the people in mourning and covered the life of the Holy Father. Where he grew up, where he went to school. His seminary. His first appointment as a priest, a paper he wrote. A look at his influence on the church in his later days. Susie watched it all without concern. She was far away in her dream. She felt happy and energetic. She was thinking about how long she’d been in the clinic and what progress had been made. She felt well, but she’d felt like it before. There were no guarantees to say her condition would not relapse in the future. She wanted to leave the clinic, but couldn’t imagine where she could go. Her life was in a state of limbo and she knew she had work to do on it yet.

At lunch a prayer was said for the Holy Father and Dr O’Leary again appeared in the cafeteria. He ate in silence while Susie sat with Steven and Lyn. The day seemed to be passing slowly. Susie had often thought that perhaps it would be better for her if she simply took drugs to control her illness, at least she wouldn’t be confined in a hospital ward. She knew the drugs would convince the medical men that she was well enough to go home. And that would mean no endless days of idleness. The clinic’s attitude towards drugs was negative, she knew, but she was feeling that her progress was slow and limited. She sat, eating, musing over the whole scenario she’d found herself in. She didn’t know what she should do.

After lunch she went outside and sat in the garden. It was a warm day but Winter was definitely in the air. There was a profound stillness she couldn’t understand. Everything was quiet and calm. She hadn’t smoked a cigarette in weeks and had wanted to virtually every day. There was nowhere she could get any from and her clothes prevented her from leaving the hospital grounds. She felt nervous without them but reflected  that she was probably better off without them from a health standpoint. While she was musing she noticed a car moving to the parking lot next to the main building. It was a Honda Civic the same colour as Victor’s. She watched the driver get out and walk about, and then she saw that it was Victor. She was glad to see him but at the same time felt uncontrollable panic set in. She got up and ran back indoors.

Victor had not visited her before because the hospital staff had told him that Susie wasn’t well enough to see anyone. But he had decided that enough time had lapsed and Susie was drifting away from him. He had to do something before he lost her forever.

He went to the main building and was told where to go. He didn’t like the idea of it being a Catholic hospital and had serious doubts about what they were doing to Susie. He found her ward and went to her room. She was sitting in a chair reading. She was trying to ignore him but he came in anyway.

“Hello, Susie,” he said coolly.

“Hello Victor,” she said.

“I thought I’d just drop in to see you. How are you?”

“I’m  good,” she said and dropped her book to the floor.

“I’m  better myself,” he went on.

“I was thinking about you earlier,” she said.

“Really?  Something good I hope.”

“You  were part of a large problem I can’t seem to deal with. I suppose you’re still living at Stirling?”

“Yeah,  I haven’t moved out. I’ve been taking things easy.”
“Why have you come to see me? I told you it was over.”

“I  was worried about you. What are you doing in a Catholic institution anyway?”

“You’ve got no right to. I’m my own person and I control my own life. I make my own decisions.”

“I know that, but why come to this place?”

“It’s got a good reputation and I like it here. The sisters are very nice and the doctors treat you

like a real person. What difference does it make to you?”
“ Susie, you know I love you. Nothing’s changed.”

“Well  things have sure changed with me.”

“Then why have you been sending me letters?”

“I don’t know, Victor. I got a little lonely at night, that’s all. There’s not a lot to do here.”

“I read them all. You seemed to be saying you loved me.”

“I can’t remember what I said. I didn’t invite you here. So why have you come? You never telephoned.”

“I  thought it was time we sorted everything out. You’ve had enough time on your own to think things through, and your letters sounded encouraging. So, why not come? You’re a friend of mine. It’s the least I can do.”

“Look, Victor, I’m not getting any better worrying about you. I have to get over everything and then I’ll be able to start my life again from scratch.”
     
“You  don’t have to do that, Susie. You can come back and live with me. You were happy and you can be happy again. What happened was just a stupid thing.”
     
“Did  you hear?”

“What?”

“The Holy Father died last night.”

“You mean the Pope? Died? No, I didn’t know that.”

“It’ s a very special time we’re in. It makes things special.”

“Big deal. They’ll just hold another election and get a new one. It won’t change anything.”

“But that’s not the point. It’ s a very special period we’re in right now. They held a mass for him this morning.”

“Mass?  You didn’t go did you?”

“As a matter of fact I did. I’ve been to a lot of them. I quite like it.”

“You’re  becoming a Catholic. Is that what they’re doing to you? Converting you into a damn Catholic?”

“No Victor, that’s not what they’re doing. They’re not doing anything to me. I’m doing it all on my own. And what’s wrong with getting some religion in my life?”
     
“Nothing, but Catholicism is a pretty heavy place to start.”

“I’m  not finding it that way. It’s quite comforting to take communion.”

“You’re  taking communion? How long did it take them to get you going on that number?”

“Look,  Victor,  I’m  not  converting  to  Catholicism.  I’ve  been  going  to  mass because there’s nothing else to do here. And it does help get me through the day. I like the whole idea of communion and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Only  that you have to attend mass. What’ s got into you Susie? You haven’t been hearing voices, have you? Do they give you the right drugs?”
      “They don’t give me any drugs at all, Victor. They don’t believe in them. They
don’t force anything on me. And no, I haven’t been hearing voices again. I’ve been really well for weeks. I don’t have any pressure on me here, and I’ve been grooving
along really cool.”

“Where  are your clothes? I suppose they make you wear those white gowns?”
     
“That’s nothing. It’s just procedural. My clothes are at the front desk and I can  leave any time I like. This isn’t a prison, you know. I’m not being tortured.”
     
“But this place is a mental hospital, right?”

“Yes,  but they don’t force people to do anything against their will. That’s the basic, fundamental premise. And they don’ t like drugs because they’re too external. You have to deal with your problems in a practical manner.”

“How often do you see a doctor?”

“Every  couple of days. Mine is a priest, too. His name is Father O’Leary. He’s very understanding, actually. He’s been up all night because of the Holy Father’s death.”

“What’s with you? Holy Father? He’s the goddamned Pope that’s all.”

“I  haven’t asked you this, and I’ve been meaning to for a long time. Victor, do you believe in Jesus Christ?”

“What?  What’s it got to do with you being here?”

“I thought you were a Christian. I assumed you had it in your background.”

 “And?”

“Well, do you?”

“ Susie, this is no time for a theological discussion.”

“Why not? It’s as good a time as any.”
“All right then. I don’t. Satisfied?”

“What?  You don’t have it in your background, or you don’t believe?”

“I have it in my background and I don’t believe. Happy now?”

“I  can’t believe you’re  serious Victor. This is very important to me. I wasn’t living in the ashram for nothing.”

“ Susie,  everyone has  it in  their background,  but I’ve  never thought  about it seriously. It’s never come up. You know that.”

“That’s the trouble with you, Victor. You don’t take anything seriously except your music, and look what it got you. You were almost killed.”
      “Yeah,  and by a Christian.”

“No Christian would do that, take a life.”
“No?  Then why do they go to war?”

“That’s too complicated for me, Victor. They just do. But what’s important is how we get along and we can’t unless we have some common understanding.”
     
“Is  that what your shrink told you?”

“Kind  of.”

“Have you been talking about us?”
“Sometimes  it crops up.”

“And  he gives you advice?”
“Sometimes.”

“Why  doesn’t he give you a pill? That’d settle you down quick smart. You’d have been out of here weeks ago.”

“I know all that, Victor, but I don’t want to take any drugs either. They turn you into a zombie.”

“Rubbish.  They make you well. They’re the modern form of communion.”

“What?  You can’t be serious.”

“That’ s what it was leading up to. Pills and medicine are a gift from God and man. Without them we’d all be dead.”

“Victor?  How would you like to meet Father O’Leary?”

“Why? He can’t convince me. Religion is old fashioned. It doesn’t have anything to offer.”

“Because  he can help you understand that life is special, and you have to live it the way you can best.”

“And  I suppose that means converting to Catholicism?”

“He’s very understanding.”

“All  right then, I’ll meet him, but I can’ t say I’ll enjoy it.” Victor and Susie left the bedroom and walked along the corridor until they came to a glassed in door marked: O’Leary. Susie knocked and the Father’s voice called from inside.

“Come in,” it said.

“Hello,  Father O’Leary. It’s me. I’ve just brought a friend with me. Is that all right?”

“Certainly.  You must be Victor.”
“That’s right, Doctor. I’m Victor.”

“And  how have you found Susie? Is she well?”

“She’s a little confused. Do I call you “father”  or “doctor”?”

“Either  will do. But you say confused. In what way?”

“About this Catholicism. You’ve made an impression on her and I’m not sure it`s a good thing. Why don’t you just give her some drugs?”

“Victor,  we’re  not here to  hurt our patients, we’re  here to help  them. Their problems can’t be solved by taking a tablet. Drugs make people more manageable but they don’t cure anything. We don’t agree that the public good is served by drugging people. Our outlook is slightly old fashioned in that sense. We believe in the church and in Jesus Christ.”

“But you can’t treat people as potential converts. That won’t help their illnesses.”
     
“Of course not. Mental illness is a very real thing, but there are lots of ways we individually  contribute  to  creating  it.  Acts  of  unkindness,  being  immoral, drunkenness, not following the ten commandments. All these add up and break the spirit.”

“But  she’s hearing voices, not having a religious dilemma.”

“ Susie, you’re being very quiet. What do you think? Are we converting you?”
     
“Not  really, Father. I’ve found a lot of calmness here and I don’t want to get  drugged. I have found myself interested in your way of life, but you haven’t coerced me at all. It’s a natural process really. Victor’s not sure about it, but if only he could see things from my point of view everything would be marvellous.”
     
“Victor?  You see? Susie’s life is in turmoil and she has found strength. You
shouldn’t tempt her to reject that which she has found.”
      “So,  when can she leave?”

“That’s up to her. She has to organize her life a little, get somewhere to live, find a job, take care of the day to day things, and then she’ll be fine. Won’t you, Susie?”
     
“I hope so, Doctor,” she said.

“And what about me? She can’t just walk out and leave me. I love her.”

“That  may be so, Victor, but is it a selfish love? Is it carnal love? Are you prepared to marry her? To endure through the trials of life till the end?” said Doctor O’Leary.

“That’s none of your business, Doctor. What’s between Susie and me is our business, not yours. We don’t need your petty morality.”

“That’s where you’re  wrong, Victor. Without morality society can’t function. Without heeding God’s word we live in sin and darkness. That’ s not the sort of life you want to lead. Life must have its foundations, and without them it crumbles like a building in an earthquake. When trials come, as they surely will, we need strength and where do we get it? From God and from within.”

“Then why does your church need so many external rituals?” said Victor.

“The  church needs to harmonize the inner with the outer, Victor, and church ritual is a means of doing it. When your life is devoted to God, so that every day you feel his presence, then outer ritual is seen as an expression of faith and a duty. It strengthens the church and gives expression to its yearnings.”

“But  what’s it got to do with Susie? She needs medical not spiritual help,” said Victor. A telephone on Doctor O’Leary’s desk rang and he picked it up, excusing himself. He spoke several times and listened intently, then hung it up.

“You’ll have to excuse me, Susie, Victor, but I’ve been called away on urgent business.  The  Archbishop  wants  me  to  accompany  him  to  the  Vatican  for  the conclave, I must go straight away.”

“Will that mean you’ll be away for long?” said Susie.

“Several weeks, I’m afraid, but you can see Doctor Wilson in my absence. He’s not a priest, Victor. Will that please you?”

“It  won’ t make the slightest difference if you don’t give her some drugs,”  said Victor. Father O’leary stood and ushered Victor and Susie out the door, he had to get moving rapidly. Susie and Victor ambled along the hallway to the TV lounge. There were news reports from Rome about the Vatican. About the funeral arrangements for the Holy Father and about the conclave being called. It showed the Swiss guard marching and gave another historical account of the life of the dead Pope. Victor didn’t want to watch it, and Susie was troubled. She didn’t know how Victor would ever understand her. He seemed so arrogant and self assured, but she couldn’t agree with him. They went outside into the garden and sat on lounge chairs. A wind was puffing leaves about and rippled the flowers. It was a peaceful sunny day.

“You will leave here soon, won’t you?” said Victor.

“I’ll think about it,” said Susie.

“You can come and live with me, I’ll take care of you.”

“But that’s the point. I can’t just live with you. We’d be living in sin,” she said.
“You don’t want the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil?”
“Victor,  what do you mean? Of course not. I want to live a normal life and do  normal things. I even

want children. Have you thought of that?”
“That’s not for a long time yet, you’re still young. Anyway, people live together all their lives and it

makes no difference.”

“I’m  not so sure it doesn’t make a difference, Victor. Marriage is instituted by God and is a sacrament. It’s not like living with someone. You have to understand you can’t always get what you want.”

“And what do you want, Susie? A little house and three kids running around the yard?”

“That could be nice,” she said.

“You  want security, Susie, and someone to love. I can give it to you. Just trust me. Trust me and trust your feelings.”

“And live in isolation? Surrounded by your crazy friends. They upset me, Victor, and they aren’t helping you either.”

“I told you, I promise never to see Michael again. I’m not interested in his scene. The only thing I want to do is play music. Our single is on the top forty charts and the album is doing good, too. By the end of the year we should be making another record and I want to be there. My hand is getting better and I feel stronger now than ever. I’ve got ideas bubbling up in me all the time.”

“I don’t know if I can live that way, Victor. Your music isn’t right. It’ll sell, but how much of that came just because you got shot? You’ve got to find something solid to stand on. You can’t just let every undercurrent drag you this way and that. You either want me, or you don’t.”

“You know I do, Susie. You’re everything I ever wanted in a woman. My music can take second place for a while, until you’re better. We can live off the money I’ve made, we don’t have to see anyone we don’t want to. Please, just don’ t leave me.” Susie stood up and walked behind Victor’s chair. She reached down to his face and bent to kiss him. She believed he was being sincere.

“Want to come to mass with me?” she said.

“If it’ll please you, I’ll do it,” he replied and they walked off towards the chapel.
It was a small building painted white. It held a bell tower and a clock. Inside it was carpeted blue and gold. The air seemed warm and hushed. Susie went to the seat nearest the door and sat down, with Victor in tow. The priest was incensing the altar. Several nuns were kneeling at the front of the hall. Victor liked the smell of the incense, it reminded him of his grandmother’s funeral. She had died when he was six years old and all he could remember of her was when she died. She had been an old woman and had a heart attack. He listened as the priest finished the service.
”…the body of Christ.”

 

starfish chapter 9

 

The next day Susie moved out of Victor’s house. She had spent the morning telephoning various people until she’d found what she was looking for. Then she packed her bags and told Victor that she was going.

“I can’t stay here,” she said flatly.

“But where will you go?” said Victor.

“I’ve got that all arranged, I’m moving into a clinic.”

“But why? I told you I’ll never see Michael again, if that’s what you want.”

“It’s too late for that,” she said.

“But Susie,” he said, “we’ve been getting along so well. And I’m getting better. Why throw it all away on a whim?”

“Whim? You call it a whim? You want me to participate in some devil worship and you call it a whim?”

“I told you, it was meaningless. We’ve been happy together haven’t we?”

“I was all right until I moved up here, Victor,” she said “and I don’t want to get sick again. You can do what you want but I’ve got to think of myself.”

“But where will you go?” he said.

“That’s all taken care of,” she said.

“Won’t you even tell me where you’re going?” he said. She picked up her bags and went to the front door. She was being difficult but felt justified. She went outside without telling him goodbye, got into her car and drove away. Victor was flabbergasted. He was angry and annoyed and lost. Susie drove into the city and went to a large building. She went inside and found the office she was looking for. Inside was a nun dressed in her uniform.

“I rang this morning,” said Susie.

“You must be Susie Walton,” said the nun.

“Yes, I am. I have to get admitted today if possible. I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

“Well, let’s see. You’ve been hearing voices? And you’ve been to a hospital for this before? You wish to stay for at least month. Is that right?” said the nun.

“Yes. A month should see me right,” said Susie.

“You understand that we don’t rely on drug treatments here. We believe in natural healing. The spirit must be allowed to heal and harmonize the mind, itself. ”  

“I quite agree,” said Susie.

“Are you a Catholic?” asked the nun.

“No, I’m not. But I’m a Christian,” said Susie.

“Normally we require that all patients be members of a congregation of the church, preferably Roman Catholic, but last week that rule was changed. We’re taking anyone these days. But it is important that you have some faith in your life, otherwise you’ d be wasting your time and ours. And our valuable resources.”

“I believe in God,” said Susie emphatically.

“Well, that’s a start I expect,” said the nun and shuffled some papers on her desk. “You’d like to be admitted this afternoon?”

“Yes, if it’s possible,” said Susie.

“If you’ll just sign these papers we can get you going. There on the bottom line.”
Susie signed the papers and was given a carbon copy for herself. The nun stood up and directed Susie to the door. Outside was another nun, much younger looking. The older nun spoke to her and she took Susie by the arm and led her down the hall.
Once at street level, Susie felt more cheerful. The nun was to accompany her to the clinic but because Susie had her own car there was a slight mix up. Eventually they agreed to go in separate cars. Susie drove like a maniac with the nun in hot pursuit. They went to the Eastern side of town to a quiet residential area.

The clinic was large and newly built. It stood next to a church surrounded by green gardens and lawns.

Susie parked her car on the street and waited for the nun to arrive. She took a few minutes and then parked behind Susie’s car.

“You were driving like a demon,” she said when she’d gotten out of it.

“I hate the traffic. It makes me nervous,” said Susie. “Is this it then?”

“This is it,” said the nun.

“St. Peters psychiatric clinic.”

“Do we go this way?” asked Susie, pointing to a big modern looking building. 

“No dear,” said the nun, “that’s the administration block. Reception is the other way, in that house.” She pointed towards an old house that stood in the grounds. A path led from the road to it. They walked along the path until they reached the front porch. Susie dumped her bags there and both women went inside. Susie was asked to sign some more papers and then given a wrist band to wear. She was also given a white hospital gown. Her bags were kept at the reception centre. A few minutes later Susie and the nun were going to her room in the St. Mary ward. It was a new building, low and sleek set behind the reception house. They remained silent and walked briskly. Finally, Susie was shown her room and shown the cafeteria.

“Meals are at six in the evening, and breakfast is served at seven. Lunch is at noon,” said the nun. “You’ll be expected to attend all meals. We have a prayer service in the morning and before each meal which you can attend if you wish. The bathrooms are not to be used before noon and you can make outside phone calls between six and eight. The duty doctor will see you shortly. Any questions?” Susie
had none and went back to her room to wait for the doctor. She felt happy and slightly tired. She lay on the bed and stared out the window. There was a car park outside the window and she watched as people drove in and out. Half an hour later came a knock on her door. A priest dressed in black came in and introduced himself. 

“Hello, I’m father Tony O’leary,” he said. Susie got up off the bed and shook his hand. They sat on the lounge chairs in the room.

“You were admitted today?” asked the father.

“Yes, a short time ago. I’m waiting to see the doctor,” said Susie. “That’s me,” said the priest.

“But I thought you were a priest,” she said.

“I am, but I studied medicine as well. I’m a specialist psychiatrist. Now what’s the trouble?” he said.

“I’ve been hearing voices,” she said dryly.

“Oh? And how often do you hear them?” he said.

“Not very often,” she said, “but recently two or three times a day. A male voice behind my head.”

“Have you tried to kill yourself?”

“No.”

“Taken any drugs? Such as Heroin, LSD or Speed?”

“No, I don’t use them.”

“Do you drink?”

“Yes I have been fairly heavily recently.”

“Does that affect the voices?”

“I hadn’t noticed,” she said.

“How do you feel right now?”

“I’m a little sleepy, quite a good mood.”

“As you know, we don’t rely on drugs here, so if you’re taking any prescription medicines you’d better leave them with me. Our approach is less intrusive. We have therapy sessions four times a week, group meetings and we encourage our patients to explore their own feelings for the answers. Of course if you get extremely unwell I can give you something to help.”

“Thank you Doctor. I do have difficulty sleeping soundly. I’ve been having a lot of bad dreams lately. Nightmares.”

“Oh? Do they follow a pattern? Always the same imagery?”

“Yes and no,” she said. “Sometimes they’re the same, but mostly they change depending upon what I’ve been doing during the day. They scare me a lot.”

“Because they’re so true to life?”

“That, and because I don’ t want them to come true.”

“What about your appetite?”

“I’m eating enough. I enjoy food.”

“Well then, why don’t you take a little nap and we’ll see you at dinner? I must be off, I have some other patients to see.” The Doctor stood up, shook her hand and left the room. Susie lay back on the bed and listened to the noises coming through the window. There were a lot of cars coming and going, but hardly any birds called. She thought it odd. At ten to six Susie got up from bed and put her slippers on. She went to dinner and found the cafeteria easily enough. It was full of patients dressed in white hospital robes. There were several girls her own age, several older men, some middle aged women, and some younger boys. They all looked depressed and downhearted. They shuffled past the kitchen window holding their trays. A nun put their food on a plate and passed it through. They walked away slowly and found a table. Susie had come last and when her meal had been given to her she walked
around the room looking for somewhere to sit. It was crowded and no one paid her any mind.

“You can sit here,” said a small mousy woman. Susie sat next to her and picked up her fork, took a mouthful of food and swallowed.

“My name’s Susie,” she said.

“I’m Lyn,” replied the woman.

“Glad to know you,” said Susie and took another mouthful of food. “You been here long?”

“About six months,” said Lyn.

“That’s a long time. What’ s wrong with you?” “I’m a manic depressive,” she said. 

“Feeling any better?”

“Pretty much so. I’ll be going home on weekend leave soon. I’ve gotten over the hump, it’s down hill from here on in.”

“You like the nuns?” asked Susie.

“They’re very good to be with, and Doctor is terrific.”

“Yes, I met him this afternoon. I just got here. It seemed like a nice enough place. Do you go to group therapy?”

“No, I go to mass every morning. Then I usually have a session with the Doctor. He’s very good. He puts things into perspective.”

“I suppose it’s a slow process,” said Susie.

“You have to use your own inner strengths,” said Lyn. “The Doctor is there just to guide you along.”

“You’re religious, then?” said Susie.

“I am, really. It gives me a lot of support and my husband thinks I’m getting much better.”

“You’re married? Got any kids?”

“Yes, I have two boys and a little girl. Their daddy is taking care of them. I’ll be fine when I get out and go home. It was such a chore looking after them, I don’ t know why but I cracked up. I couldn’t help myself.”

“Will you be cured?”

“Oh, the Doctor says there isn’t a cure. You just learn to live with it, like a disability. I can control my moods better than ever now. I don’ t lose control anymore. No more tears, or tantrums. I’m pretty steady.”

“Will your husband come and get you when you go?”

“Of course he will. I love him very much. I’ll go home for the weekend to be with my family. They’ll get to know me again and we’ll see how things are. We haven’t had a real family for years, I’ve been going crazy on and off. I’ve neglected them and they’ve distanced themselves. But the Doctor thinks I’m almost ready to start again.”

“That’s good,” said Susie and finished her meal. The two women talked until the dinner room was closed and then went into a lounge and continued to discuss the details of their cases. Lyn was very talkative and aggressive. Susie was withdrawn and secretive.

At eight they both retired back to their rooms. Susie had a shower and felt fresh and clean. She began to miss Victor and started writing him a letter but the words wouldn’t come. Every time she tried to tell him that she still loved him, she would get angry and frustrated with the thought of him a Michael’s. She started crying and didn’t stop until she fell asleep hours later.

Two weeks later Susie had met some other patients. There was Joe, a middle aged father of three who hadn’t worked in ten years. He was withdrawn and quiet. He heard voices, too, telling him to invent some new machine he’d never heard of. Then there was Steven a younger musician. He’ d started seeing visions and had gone on a spree of sexual adventure that resulted in his getting a case of gonorrhoea. He had admitted himself on the insistence of his girlfriend. And there was Philipa, a grey haired mother of two who believed she was the Devil. She had improved much, but had been a resident for nearly a year. Her progress was slow and retarded. Her husband had taken to drink and didn’t want her back home until she was her old self again. Susie would attend the therapy sessions with Father O’ leary every few days and they would talk about life, about her past about her future and about her history.
He told her he was very encouraged at her prognosis. He expected her to recover completely within a few months. She hadn’t heard any voices and signs were that they would not return. Susie, however, felt that she was hiding her true feelings from the Doctor. She felt she was telling him little white lies all the time. She wanted to leave the clinic and didn’t want to go through her therapy. She would send Victor letters that told him how much she loved him and would wish him well. Sometimes she would call him in the evenings and he would beg her to let him visit, but she would insist it was too early. Several times she thought she heard the voice again but didn’t tell Doctor O’ leary about it for fear that he would discount her progress. She talked about everything except what was really troubling her, and the Doctor didn’t seem to notice. He was a fastidious man who always looked immaculate in his black suit and white collar. His hair was silver around the edges and was short. He was bald on top and had a loud laugh. He liked to tell patients little jokes and loved to see them laughing with him. He wore gold rimmed glasses and hardly ever discussed religious matters. Susie liked him but didn’t trust him completely. After each session she would go to her room and lay down dreaming of when she would be able to get out again. The Doctor had advised her she could leave anytime but had said that he thought two or three months wouldn’t be an unreasonable time to spend at the clinic. Susie began to consider whether or not the whole thing was working.

She thought that drugs could do a faster job and were more reliable, particularly whenever she thought the voices were coming back to haunt her. She found herself attending mass in the morning. At first she sat at the back of the small chapel and watched the ceremony but gradually she moved closer to the altar until she began taking communion and reciting the creed. She learned the Hail Mary and had prayer beads with her at all times. She got anointed with the oil of the sick and prayed before each meal. One day she went to see Doctor O’ leary feeling uplifted and high. He seemed sombre and preoccupied.

“Hello, Doctor,” she said casually.

“Good morning, Susie,” he said. “How are you today?”

“I’m feeling better than I have for a while. I’m happy and cheerful, full of enthusiasm. I have great expectations of you Doctor.” He smiled and took up a pencil.

“What have you been thinking? About Victor, I mean.”

“I’m missing him very much,” she said. “He’s the only one true love. But he’s so strange in many ways.”

“He loves you?”

“I’m sure he does, but he’ s too bound up with himself to ever allow anyone 100% of his time. And he has some strange things going on in his life. You heard he was shot?”

“You told me about it, Susie,” said the Doctor.

“Of course, I must have mentioned it. But did I tell you that he had to go to court to give evidence? He had to identify the man who shot him, and the defence lawyer asked him about his past. About Satanism and his song lyrics.”

“And what did he say?”

“He told the court he wasn’t a member of the band when they were interested in the occult. Which was true enough. But he never told me about his own preoccupation with Satanism until it was too late.”

“You mean he harboured a secret interest in the occult and never told you about it?”

“It went further than that, Doctor. He actually took me to meet a friend of his named Michael. And we went there and Michael did some kind of ritual to summon Satan and they all drank blood from a silver cup and carried on like it was something they all believed in.”

“And it surprised you? Shocked you?” said the Doctor.

“I had this strange feeling that the voices I was hearing had something to do with Satan, with the Devil. It scared me a lot. I really lost control and left him the next day. He said he’d never do it again, but that wasn’t the point. I had a very strong feeling that I was possessed by some evil power that could be contacted through the ritual they did.”

“Did you drink the blood?”

“No, it smelt awful and by that time I couldn’t believe what they were doing. They seemed so normal, nothing out of the ordinary to look at, but they were chanting and calling for the Devil to appear and it got to me. I thought I’d start hearing voices again. I actually believed the voice I heard was the Devil and he wanted me to hurt myself.”

“Yes? But you didn’t and that’ s the point. You were strong enough to resist the temptation. That’s a very important point to remember Susie. You have that strength and you mustn’t let yourself get carried away. Satanism and the occult present very real dangers to the innocent. It’s not just a game people play. I’ve seen some very serious cases involving the occult. The danger should not be under estimated. There is an evil power and God is the only other person who can over come it. God is the source of all good, Satan is the source of all temptation and evil in the world and you have to be strong to reject him.”

“I know that, Doctor, but it came as such a surprise. It really did. One minute we were sitting there in a normal living room and the next Michael was chanting something and everyone was taking part. I don’t know how long Victor’s been involved with all of this, but he must have lied in court when he said he had no involvement in Satanism. That’s one thing that troubled me, not to mention the fact he was almost killed because of it.”

“That’s not as surprising as you might think, Susie,” said the Doctor stretching back into his chair. “There have been many instances of Satanic possession recorded in history. God and the Saints have a way of dealing with those who become immersed in it. But I’m sure your case isn’t as extreme. He’ s a successful musician, after all.”

“That’s what worries me,” she said. “He could have been doing it for years. It all fits in place. He got his big break through me and then I started hearing the voices again. He didn’t seem to care about me when we were at Michael’ s. He’ s just too guarded and secretive. He never goes to church and I don’t even think he’s a Christian. He has no foundations that he’s told me about apart from his music. And his songs are so strange. They’re melancholy and mix up images in strange ways. He says he loves me but he doesn’t say anything about the future. I’m lost really. Sometimes I think I should never see him again. He frightens me, too.”

“You can’t deny your feelings, Susie. But it’ s dangerous to place too much importance on what you think when you’ve been under so much pressure. You are afraid of hearing voices and they don’t tell you very pleasant things. If you were hearing God’s voice or angels it would be a different matter. Perhaps nothing to be concerned about. No, you have to tread carefully here. You say you love him, but
you don’t know enough about him. That’s normal. Have you ever thought of what your life should be like? I mean you’ve started taking the sacraments here and will you continue doing so when you leave? Will the Church become an integral part of your life? These are the questions you must think about. Pray and ask God to forgive your sins and to guide you to your salvation. You have the strength, I know you do.”

“Sometimes I don’t know that I do. Sometimes I feel I’m falling apart. There’s something I haven’t told you about yet. In these last two weeks I’ve been sure that I’ve heard the voices again. Nothing very clear. But a nagging thought in the back of my head. Sometimes it’s just a thought, but I keep thinking the voices are going to come back and then what’ll I do? I can’t stop them.”

“But you can refuse to be influenced by them, can’t you? You’ve done it before and you can do it again. There are drugs I could give you to reduce the frequency of your episodes but I don’t want to drug you unless it’ s extremely urgent. You have to conquer this on your own and with God’ s help. Pray and I’ll pray for you.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” said Susie. “I appreciate it, I really do. And I believe you. I can overcome them, it’s just that the thought of them scares me. It’s good here. There are a lot of nice people and the sisters are wonderful. Everything is perfect, but I keep worrying that it can’t go on like that for much longer. Something has to happen to break it all down. And I don’ t want to see Victor while I’m like this. He’s just too confusing at the moment. I haven’t got the strength to help him any more than I do to help myself. I know he has to change too, but I can’t convince him how serious it is. He thinks it’s going to be fine when I get out of here. He thinks I’ll just come home to him and everything will be good.”

“You can’t be unchaste, you know. You will have to settle this one way or another. Will he marry you, for instance? Become a member of the church? Reject his past, confess his sins and be reborn? Those are the real issues here.”

___________________________________________________________________________________________

starfish chapter 8

 

 

The week of the trial arrived and Victor’s bandages were gone from his neck and chest. He had healed at the expected rate and was much stronger. His lung, however, was still sore and he couldn’t do very much strenuous activity. His wrist was wrapped in plaster and his fingers didn’t move as easily as they had done. He felt he would never be able to play again, but at least his voice was back in shape. He had to catch a flight to Stockwell in the afternoon of the day before his appearance as a witness for the prosecution. He didn’t look forward to it and dreaded seeing the accused man in the docks.

After his landing at the Stockwell airport Victor caught a taxi to a hotel down town and booked in. He was going to stay for two days and then go home. Susie had been well since her relapse and things at the house were going good. He had never been happier despite his afflictions.

The morning of the trial was bleak and windswept. He dressed warmly and caught a cab to the courthouse. There were several reporters covering the story and one or two photographers. He snarled when a flash gun went off in his face. The trial had attracted a lot of media attention. Once inside the austere building he found the court room and went inside. There was a packed audience and proceedings were about to begin. He took a seat at the back of the court room and waited to be called.

An hour later his name was announced by the bailiff and he strode to the witness box. He swore the oath of truthfulness and and took his seat. The questions started simply enough. His full name, his place of residence, his occupation. Then the prosecutor asked him to describe events of the night in question. Victor related how he had seen a man standing in an aisle two or three rows back from the stage, how he had seen him pull something from his jacket, and how he had then felt a sharp stinging pain in his left wrist followed by two more shots to the body. He described how he had fallen backwards and about the blood in his mouth. Then the prosecutor asked him to identify the man whom he’ d seen and he pointed to the accused. It had taken twenty minutes for his testimony and he was feeling tired. Next came the defence.

They began slowly enough with questions about the concert, what he’d seen and what he’d heard. Then they asked him if he had ever been interested in the occult.
“Not really,” said Victor.

“What about Satanism?”

“No, never,” he said, flinching.

“What about the previous incarnation of the band. Wasn’t it called The Possessed?”

“That’ s true, it was, but I didn’t play with them,” he said.

“And isn’t it also true that their song lyrics were about Satanism?”

“That could be true,” said Victor, “but like I said, I never played with them. I joined the band much later.”

“But why did you join the band if not because you were enamoured of Satanism and the occult?” asked the defence.

“That had nothing to do with it.” he replied, “It was a matter of pure chance that the band reformed with me in it. I’ d never heard about them prior to personally meeting them.” The defence changed tactics and went on asking about the band’s previous incarnations. It quoted song lyrics and asked whether they were Satanic. Victor parried the questions as best as he could and finally after fifty minutes was allowed to step down from the box. He was exhausted and each breath made him wheeze. He went back to his seat in the body of the court and listened to the final arguments. He was certain the accused man would be found guilty despite his defence pertaining to Satanism.

Victor went outside when the jury was charged to reach a verdict; it was mid afternoon and the sky was heavy and overcast. It fitted his mood exactly. Two hours later the jury returned to the courthouse and Victor went in again. The foreman read the result. The accused had been found guilty of attempted murder and was given ten to twenty years in prison. Victor sighed in relief and left the court building, fetched a taxi and went back to his hotel room. He knew his face would be on the front page of the newspaper the next day and looked to seeing what sort of story would accompany it. He went to sleep and didn’t wake until early the next day. After his breakfast he went to the airport and caught a plane back home.

When he got to Stirling Victor was feeling quite exhilarated because the news papers had printed a story about the band and himself that avoided any mention of their Satanic past. It was excellent publicity and pointed out that the band’ s new single was at number 25 on the charts and moving steadily up to the top position. Victor knew what that meant. It meant the money would be pouring in.

Back at the house Susie greeted him at the door and took his things inside. She kissed him tenderly.

“I had a terrible night, Victor,” she said. “I slept like a lamb,” he said.

“I kept waking up dreaming they wouldn’t find him guilty,” she said.

“No worries there,” he said. “They found him guilty as hell and put him away for a long, long time.”

“Yeah,” she said, “I saw it in the morning papers.”

“He won’t be bothering anyone for a long time,” he said. They went into the living room arm in arm and sat on a sofa. Susie pulled out a cigarette and lit it up. She was chain smoking now and seemed to enjoy it. They sat for a few minutes and then Victor got up to lay down as he was feeling tired. Susie remained where she was and smoked another cigarette. She was feeling nervous and jumpy because of her dreams.

When Victor reached the bedroom he had a sudden moment of inspiration and picked up the telephone. He dialled a number and spoke to the other end. After that he lay on the bed and closed his eyes. Outside a wind was blowing and leaves were being pelted against the window. He could hear them plainly. Susie continued to smoke and then poured herself a whisky and drank it in silence. She didn’t know what to do with the day and mused about shopping trips she could make. Since the shooting they had received a large cheque from Diana via the insurance company and money was no longer tight. They could buy anything they wanted.

Susie remained sitting on the sofa all afternoon and went through a packet of cigarettes. By nightfall she was feeling high and self assured again. Victor woke up and came back to the living room and talked to her. They discussed going out for dinner and then decided they could have something delivered. They phoned out their order and waited.

The pizza delivery van arrived, they paid the bill and had a hearty meal. Afterwards Victor poured himself a whisky and watched TV until ten. The evening news showed the courthouse and the accused man and then showed Victor and his injuries. Everyone agreed that the verdict was justified and sound.

Victor and Susie went to bed at eleven and made love until Victor fell asleep at one. The night was stormy and wet. The rain boomed down on the iron roof and echoed throughout the house. It felt warm and secure being in bed. In the early hours Susie awoke in a fit of fear from a bad dream. She went to the kitchen and made some warm milk for herself. Drank it and retired again. By morning the storm had cleared away and it was a sunny day again.

Victor slept until noon and woke up with a hangover complaining about the pain in his wrist. Susie brought him breakfast in bed and then went to the living room to smoke a little. She was always to be seen with a cigarette dangling from her mouth.

Victor joined her mid afternoon and they talked about the money that had been sent. Then, changing the subject, Victor told her that they would be going out later on.

“There’s someone I want you to meet,” he said.

“What’s his name?” she said.

“ Michael,” said Victor. “He lives nearby, actually, and I haven’t seen him for ages.”

“Is he a friend of yours?” she said.

“We met a few months ago and I’ve seen him once since then,” said Victor, “but I’ve got a feeling that I ought to see him again. He might be able to help me with my wrist.”

“What does he do?” she asked.

“He was a musician, but he gave it up for writing,” he said. They stopped talking and enjoyed watching the afternoon through the large windows set in the wall opposite. At sunset Victor and Susie drove the few miles to Michael’s house and parked their car. The moon hung low on the horizon and clouds covered the hills. It was chilly and Susie was drunk. They knocked on the door. Michael opened it and showed them in.

“I’ve been reading about your brush with death, Victor,” he said when they reached the living room.

“I was lucky,” said Victor, “I could have lost my voice not to mention my life.”

“How are you now?”

“I’m not 100% yet, and my wrist is hurting all the time. I haven’ t been able to play anything for weeks, it’s depressing. That’s why I called, actually.”

“Oh really? I was surprised to hear from you at this time.”

“This is Susie Walton, Michael,” said Victor.

“Pleased to meet you Susie,” said Michael and sat them in chairs near a blazing fireplace. There were two other people in the room sitting on a nearby sofa. They wore suits and ties and looked stiff and formal.

“ Michael? I need your help,” said Victor casually.

“I thought you might,” he replied. “You’ve been through some fascinating times recently.”

“The music was coming along fine until the shooting, but all that’s behind me now. I can’t get the mood right anymore. I just don’ t want to do anything, and I can’t really do much with this broken wrist.”

“They found the man guilty didn’t they?”

“Yes, I gave evidence in court. I actually had to identify him as the gunman. I’ll never forget his face. When they announced the verdict he went as white as a sheet. I thought he was going to faint. But they gave him ten to twenty years.”

“That’s a reasonable verdict given the circumstances,” said Michael. “I read that your band was questioned about its occult interests.”

“Yeah, they went into some depth in court, too. I was glad they phrased the questions the way they did because I didn’t have to lie. Really, I didn’t know anything about them before we met. And nothing about them made me aware of their past.”

“That’s how it should be,” said Michael. “You just go with the flow and take each day as it comes. Meet luck half way and it will meet you. You’ve been very lucky, Victor, and I’ll help you in any way I can.”

“ Susie’s had some problems as well.”

“What sort of problems?”

“She’s half crazy. She hears voices sometimes.”

“Half the people in the Bible heard voices, Victor. What do they say to her?”

“They tell her to hurt herself. Or that she’s a whore, or some such stuff. It’s got to be a memory circuit that’s doing it to her, but she can’t believe it. She thinks it’s something greater than her own mind. She’s on pills right now.”

“I’ve seen such cases before. Some are memory that’s become disturbed while others are genuinely tapping into supernatural realms. The voices can be quite helpful in some cases, and nothing to worry about at all. Is she a whore?”

“No, I don’t think so. She’ s mixed up and going mad. She doesn’t want to take pills for the rest of her life, but she doesn’t want to hear the voices. They terrify her and she gets weak and withdrawn.”

“Nothing positive in the experience at all?”

“No, nothing. She’s very capable most of the time, but when it comes to this she falls to pieces. She almost stabbed herself in the belly one day. She ended up in an emergency ward.”

“That’s not good. Not good at all. Does she know why she’s here?”

“No, I thought I’d just bring her and introduce you, and let her see what you do and bring it on before she has a chance to have second thoughts. By the time she knows what’ s going on it’ll be over.”

“Now Victor, you can’t do that.”

“But that’s what you did to me.”

“It may have seemed like it, but I knew I could trust you. I don’t know Susie and I don’t know if I can trust her. Plus her mental state might be tricky.”

“Don’t worry about trust, Michael. She’s living with me twenty four hours a day. She doesn’t see anyone and she trusts me implicitly. She won’t freak out, I assure you.”

“Yes that may be so, but you can’t tell how a person might react. She could have an attack here and it could send her over the edge.”

“She’s on pills, Michael. They calm her down. She hasn’t heard a voice for months. We had a few drinks earlier but really she’s very stable.” Susie was sitting in her chair warming her hands in front of the fire. The other two people were talking to each other in hushed whispers. Michael and Victor talked to one side. She felt warm and comfortable, almost sleepy. She was half drunk and her head spun gently. As she closed her eyes to reorient herself she grabbed Victor’s hand tightly.

“Victor,” she said, “I’m feeling dizzy. Can I have a cup of coffee or something to drink, please?”

“ Michael?” said Victor.

“Of course,” said Michael, “I’ll go and get you something. Do you want a head ache pill?”

“No thanks. I’m a little hung over that’ s all. I’ll be fine when I have a drink.”

“ Susie, are you sure you’re OK?” said Victor.

“It’s nothing. Just a slight feeling of being vague, of being sleepy. It came over me when I sat down. It must be the fire.”

“What do you think of Michael?”

“He seems nice enough. But who are those two? They look like accountants.”

“They must be friends of his. He holds meetings here. He’s very eccentric. Don’ t worry about it, he’ll introduce you later.” Michael came back into the room holding a glass of water and gave it to Susie.

“Sorry Susie the kettle is broken and it takes ages to heat up water. I thought this should do for the time being.” She took the glass and thanked him. It felt cool and wet against her lips. Her throat was very dry and the water went down quickly. She gulped it down and put the empty glass on a small table.

“I feel much better,” she said and put her fingers through Victor’s. He squeezed back and kissed her palm. Michael went to a table on the far side of the room and arranged utensils on it. He came back to the centre of the room and made a movement with his arms. Victor and the others stood up. Susie remained seated, looked at the others all standing, and rose to her feet. She had no idea what they were doing it for. Michael then began to chant some incomprehensible words while waving his hands about. Susie wanted to laugh but stopped herself. Victor was staring intently at Michael. He was trying to understand the chant but couldn’t focus his mind on the individual words. It sounded like gibberish to him. He began to feel like the room was slowly undulating around him, moving in waves of motion from left to right. Michael seemed to be taller and his voice louder. Victor held Susie’s hand tighter. She was watching Michael and wondering what on earth he was doing this for. It wasn’t entertaining and it wasn’t funny. It seemed very weird until she suddenly found herself thinking that it had something to do with the occult.

Michael moved to the small table and picked up a dagger and waved it in the air, still chanting softly. He then made defined movements through the air in the shape of a pentagram. Victor felt his ears popping and then noticed his throat was very dry and it was hard to swallow. He began to see things around Michael, floating on all sides. It excited him because he thought the ritual was working. He hadn’t seen this before and imagined that his perceptions had somehow been attuned to the purpose. Michael continued waving the silver dagger in the air and chanting, but his voice was faltering as if his throat were dry. He coughed a few times and began again.
Susie watched in growing understanding. She could see it was some sort of ritual but she couldn’t understand the words. Then Michael began speaking in slow English.

“Oh, Satan, Lord of Life we summon you here today…” Victor was taken aback by this and Susie was surprised. She realized it had something to do with Satanism and at the same time also realized that the voices she had been hearing were connected to it somehow. She fumbled for words but could find none. The voices she had heard had come to her from some dark supernatural realm and Michael was doing something to bring them back to life. A great feeling of peace engulfed her when she made this link, but she was helpless to stop the ritual. Michael continued waving the dagger until it seemed almost fruitless. He then picked up a silver chalice and sipped the red liquid it contained. He frowned and passed the cup to Victor who took it and raised it to his lips. It tasted like blood again and Victor felt his stomach rebel. He stopped himself from throwing up and handed the cup to Susie letting go of her hand.

In a robotic movement she took the cup and raised it to her lips but did not swallow. She could not bring herself to taste the liquid, but passed it along to the man standing three feet to her right. He sipped the contents and gave it to the man next to him who did the same, then the cup was returned to Michael. He put it back on the table and told everyone to sit down.

“Victor, what the hell is going on here?” said Susie furiously.

“Don’t worry about it, Susie,” he said, “it’s just a game.”

“I thought you said he was a writer? This is some kind of coven. You didn’t tell me about this.”

“It’s all right Susie, don’t get upset. It can’t hurt you.” Michael came to Victor’s side and bent down to his ear. He whispered a few words and Victor stood up and the two of them went to the other side of the room.

“Victor,” said Michael, “I couldn’t get it right tonight, sorry.”

“What do you mean?”

“The ritual didn’t work. Satan didn’t come, sorry.”

“He didn’t come?”

“Yeah, I noticed it wasn’t working. I must have done something wrong or forgot the chant. I don’t know what, it’s never happened before.”

“But we did everything the same as last time.”

“I know, I know, but Satan didn’t make his presence felt. It was empty. There’s nothing to be gained from it, tonight, but we could try again in a week or so if you wanted.” Victor was staggered. He had stretched his credulity to the limit in attending for the second time, but now he felt foolish.

“What do I tell Susie?” he said.

“Tell her what you like. It didn’t work, that’s all I know.”

“ Susie,” Victor yelled to her, “we’re going, come on.” She stood up and walked to the door. Victor shook Michael’s hand and went to her. They left through the door with Michael saying how sorry he was. Once outside Susie was fuming.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she said.

“I didn’t want to get your expectations up, that’ s all.”

“You were afraid to tell me, weren’t you?” she said. They got in the car and drove down the roadway. Susie sat in fatal silence while Victor whistled out loud. He felt humiliated and didn’t know what to say. He’ d never seen Susie so angry. They drove in complete silence back to their house and went inside without speaking to each other. Victor poured himself a drink and offered her one. She refused and went to the TV set, turned it on and sat down sulkily. A few minutes of tense silence passed before she ventured to say anything; Victor was sitting by her side on the sofa.

“Tell me you don’t believe that sort of ridiculous thing, Victor. Tell me,” she said.

“OK, I don’ t believe in it. It was just something I thought you might find interesting.”

“Drinking blood out of a silver cup? You thought I’d go along with that? How could you?”

“It wasn’t human blood. It’ s chicken blood, or lamb’s blood. It sounds disgusting but it’s just part of the ritual Michael performs. It’s harmless.”

“Harmless? He’s a psychopath. How could anyone go through with that?”

“Look, he does it for healing people, not for personal power or anything.”

“And that makes it all right does it?”

“His intentions are good, that’ s all.”

“He’s into some Satantic ritual and you wanted his help. Tell me, Victor, what sort of help did you need?”

“I thought he could fix up my wrist. It isn’t getting any better.”

“But that’s ridiculous,” she said searching for words. “He’s a witch or something. He’s probably crazier than me.”

“Nothing happened. He said he did something wrong in the ritual, so don’t worry, nothing can come of it.”

“Did something wrong? Victor, that sort of thing is just plain insane. It never works. It’s as fake as fake can be. How could you think I’d enjoy doing it?”

“Look Susie, can we drop it? It didn’t work and that’ s that. I promise I’ll never do it again. I won’t see Michael again if you don’t want me to. Can we just forget it, please?”

“No Victor, we can’t just forget it. You thought I would be interested in it, which means you just don’t know me at all.” Susie got up off the sofa and went to the bedroom leaving Victor to himself.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Starfish Chapter 7

 

 

On the first day of the third week Victor was well enough to be released from the Stockwell hospital. Susie picked him up in a rental car and drove him to the airport. His voice had improved but his throat was still heavily bandaged.

“It’s a nice day out, isn’t it Victor?” she said.

“Good for a change. I’m sick of being indoors,” Victor replied in a semi whisper.
“I’ve got it all arranged,” she continued. “We have a six month lease on a house
near Stirling and it’s beautiful. Big and spacious. You’ll get all the rest you need and lots of fresh air. I’ll do the cooking and we can live together in peace and harmony.”
“You’re moving in?” said Victor.

“I thought I might as well do it now. It’s convenient for both of us. It’ll save me rent money and we can see how we get on together.”

“You know I need you Susie,” he said, “but I’m not sure I want to commit yet. You’re a fine girl and we get along just fine but I don’t know how we’d go living together long term.”

“That’s just it, silly,” she said, “this will give us a chance to find out. You know I love you and I’ll do anything to help you get better.” Victor smiled, mumbled something about how he was in a weak position and then closed his eyes, drifting off to sleep. The airport was a small one and when they arrived their jet was being pulled out onto the runway. They checked through the ticket office, loaded their suitcases and went on board. Susie held his hand firmly and led him along like a small child. When they’d both got seated she called the attendant to get some more pillows and then arranged them behind Victor’s head. He was drowsy from the pain killers he was taking and soon fell asleep.

The plane journey lasted two hours. Landing was a bit bumpy but Susie was glad to be home at last. She woke Victor up and they walked off the plane together. Victor’s arm was in a sling and going down the steps was a little difficult because he felt dizzy and disorientated. When they got inside the terminal they heard a public address announcement paging them. They went to the desk indicated and saw that Diana was waiting there for them She looked radiant. With her was a press photographer and someone who looked like a bouncer.

“Hi Victor, Susie,” she said greeting them.

“Hi,” said Susie. Victor remained tight lipped.

“I’ve got a car for you outside, and the house is being cleaned up. We’ll just take a few shots for the papers and then we can be off. We’ll pick up your luggage, too.”
“That’s awfully nice of you Diana,” said Susie, “but we thought we’d take it easy
for a few days before doing anything. I’ve got a car on rental anyway.”
“Well, suit yourselves, I was only trying to help. But we can’t let you leave
without a few pictures. Gene? Can you set up over there?”

“ Diana, you know I hate photo sessions. Can’t you see I’m in pain?” said Victor annoyed.

“I know, I know,” said Diana, “but you have a public now that’s very interested in your welfare. It’ll be on the front page and that’s the sort of publicity you can’t buy.” The photographer meanwhile, had set up his camera nearby and was testing his lights. When that was done he motioned for the group to move into his field of view. Victor complied, Susie remained where she was.

“Can you look up a bit please?” said the photographer.
“This better?” asked Victor and looked at the ceiling.

“That’s right.” Click. “Now turn to your right.” Click. “Now can you turn to your left and show me your arm?” Click. Click.

“How is he?” asked Diana. “I mean really?”

“He’s weak and doped up. His spirits are low,” said Susie. “Will he be able to play again?” Diana asked.

“It doesn’t look good. His wrist was pretty mangled by the bullet and he can’t do
much with his fingers. They did microsurgery but he’s going to be in a sling for two
months.”

“That long? If he can’t play again, at least he’ll be able to sing won’t he?”

“His voice is much stronger but the bruising was severe, there’s no telling how long it’ll take for his voice to get back to normal. And then there’s the question of whether or not he wants to sing again. He seems quite depressed.”

“That’s to be expected,” said Diana confidentially. “He’s been through a lot, but the record is selling like hot cakes and went to number 25 on the top forty charts this week. If it goes any higher we’ll need to do some more TV and radio, and it would be good to get some more product out there in the market place.”

“And what about his health?” said Susie.

“I won’t allow anything to jeopardize his health, but everything is covered by insurance including the cancelled tour. When is the trial?”

“It’s been postponed until June 26th, he’ll have to appear as a witness. It should
take a day at most. He’s already identified the man from police photos. They’ve
charged him with attempted murder. Did you hear that his girlfriend killed herself?”

“Yes I did and I didn’t like it. They put it on the front page and tried to illicit as
much sympathy as they could. They’re saying the accused man had very good
reasons for doing it and they’ve dug up some dirt on James and Roland from when
they were called The Possessed.” Victor finished with the photographer and returned
to Susie’s side. They held hands again. Diana went to talk to the photographer and
then led them to where their baggage was. She picked up the suitcases and placed
them on a trolley. Wheeling them towards the front doors she watched Victor and
Susie walk ahead. Susie had placed her arm around his shoulders and his head was
resting on her shoulder. It looked a pathetic sight she thought.

Susie brought her car around to the pick up area and Victor got Diana to load their bags in the trunk and said goodbye. They headed off West towards the hills and fifty minutes later were driving along a four lane freeway. It was a mildly sunny day. There had been clouds in the morning but they’d been blown away by the breeze and now all was sparkling and fresh. It was cool and moist.

“Victor? Should we have a party when you’re feeling better?”

“And invite who? You know I hate those record company hangers on, they’re
blood suckers,” he replied. Susie drove along in silence. She had a lot to do with the
house. Their first night together would have to be special. She had planned to have
a candle lit dinner and some wine, and then they could go to bed early and enjoy
being together again. All of her stuff had been moved in the week before and
Victor’s equipment had come just the day earlier. There were clothes and guitars and amplifiers and tape players and books and shoes and boxes of notes and drawings.
Victor had been a messy person and had kept things he should have discarded years
ago.

At the house Victor soon discovered it to be a large comfortable place with
central heating and a spar bath. There were views all around of the bush and the hills
and it was very quiet and subdued. He immediately upon arriving went to lay down
leaving Susie to unpack the car. She didn’t mind, she expected things would be like
that for a few weeks at least. Victor was soon asleep and Susie covered him with a
blanket and then went to the kitchen. The cupboards were empty and the fridge
hadn’t been turned on. She switched it on and wrote out a list of things she’ d need.
Candles to begin with, and a couple bottles of wine. Some groceries and something
to eat for dinner. Coffee and tea. Milk and sugar. Candy. Snacks and soft drinks.

When she was ready she left the house and drove to the Stirling shopping centre
and proceeded to buy what she wanted. It took her half an hour to get most of the
things and then she had to go into a supermarket. She got a basket and started
walking down the aisles. Half way down one she suddenly stopped and turned
around. She thought she’d heard someone talking to her saying something in
whispers, but there was no one there. She continued on selecting purchases feeling
uncanny and on edge. When she’ d bought everything she took the parcels out to her
car and put them on the back seat. It was getting near to 5 and she didn’t want Victor
to wake up in an empty house alone. She raced back to the house and took her stuff
into the kitchen. There was an intercom system fitted to one wall with outlets into all
the rooms in the house. She found the button for the bedroom and pushed it.

“Victor? Are you awake?” she said. There was no reply. She went on packing
foods away until the job was complete. Then she went out to the dining room and
laid the table with a white cloth and silver cutlery. She brought out the candles she’d
bought and put them into holders on the table. It looked formal enough, she thought.
Then she went back into the kitchen and turned on the stove. She wanted to cook
some meat and after placing it on a roasting tray, put it inside the oven. While that
was cooking she prepared a green salad and washed the dishes she wanted to use.
Half an hour later everything was more or less under control and cooking. She
pressed the intercom button again and asked Victor if he was awake yet but no reply
came.

At seven Susie went into the bedroom and shook Victor until his eyes opened.
He looked better, calmer, and upon seeing her he took her onto the bed next to him
and kissed her passionately. She was surprised at his good mood but didn’t let him
distract her.

“Come on Victor, I’ve made a nice dinner and it’ s getting cold,” she said.

“All right, and afterwards we can go to bed.” She nodded her head in agreement
and they went out to the dining room. The candles were lit and the room darkened.
It looked picturesque and romantic. Victor was hungry and ate like a horse. Susie
drank several glasses of wine as did Victor. They began to get merry. When the meal
was concluded Susie cleared away the dishes and Victor helped as best as he could.  

She made coffee and they drank it in the study watching TV news. There was a
report about Victor saying he’ d been released from the hospital and was back in
town to recuperate. It made him feel important and he joked about it until Susie
produced a third bottle of wine. They polished it off and then went to the bedroom.
Susie had to help Victor undress and then came the problem of washing. She ran a
bath and Victor got in. She washed his back and face and when he was feeling
relaxed and clean, towelled him dry. He put on pyjamas and got into the bed. Susie
then bathed herself and washed her teeth. She fixed her hair in a bun behind her head
and put on a nightie and came back to the bedroom. Victor admired her and told her
to turn off the light. It was about nine and outside it was pitch black and windy.
They lay in bed together silently communing. Victor’s wrist was in plaster and he
had to stay on his back. But Susie came to him and they kissed and kissed again. She
snuggled up to him and went to sleep.

The next morning they woke early and went out to have breakfast. Victor was chirpy and gay, Susie was slightly moody and not talkative. They ate in silence and when that was finished went out onto the veranda for their morning tea. Victor read the newspaper and Susie stared out at the lush surroundings. Birds called here and there and a wind rustled through the trees. Large clouds had gathered overnight and everything was wet with a coating of dew.

While drinking her tea Susie had been startled when she thought she heard someone talking to her from inside the house. She got up and went to see who was there thinking it must be Diana or James or Roland, but after looking she couldn’t find anyone. It hadn’t been a very clear voice and she assumed she was imagining things. This made her apprehensive. She was afraid of hearing voices when there was no one around.

Later in the morning she was watching TV when it happened again, only this time the voice was much clearer and right behind her neck. She could almost understand what the voice had said. When she turned around to look, no one was there. She began to feel very nervous. Victor was sleeping in the bedroom and she didn’t want to wake him up but when it happened a third time she got really frightened and went to him.

“Victor wake up,” she said.

“All right,” he said, “what’s the matter?”
“I don’t feel very well,” she said.
“It’s only a hang over,” he said.
“No it’s worse than that,” she said.
“Do you need a doctor?” he asked.

“If it gets any worse I’ll need a doctor,” she said, “but at the moment it’s not too bad.”

“What is it? A pain or something?”

“No, it’s worse than that. It’s happened three times this morning, and I think it happened yesterday, too.”

“What?” he said.

“The voices are coming back,” she said. “You’re hearing voices again?”
“I think so,” she replied.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” he said.

“Just hold me for a while,” she said. They embraced and she lay down on the bed and closed her eyes. Everything was as it should be. She drifted into a half dream state and dreamt that she was being chased by a wild dog that wanted to attack her. Just at the moment when the dog’s teeth sank into her flesh she woke screaming. Victor opened his eyes, too.

“ Susie, wake up. You had a bad dream,” he said. “It was a nightmare,” she replied.

“Well, it’s over now. You know it was a dream don’ t you?”

“Of course I do,” she said, “but it was so life like I could feel the pain. A dog
was chasing me and then it bit me.” They resumed their position on the bed and lay
there with their eyes open listening to the wind outside. It was a quiet day, apart
from the wind and Victor was feeling very peaceful. Susie was feeling agitated and
couldn’t lay on the bed very long. She got up and began to pace the floor. Then she
went into the living room and looked at it. Everything appeared perfectly normal.
She then went into the kitchen and looked at the dishes in the sink. She put some
water in it and started washing them when she heard the voice again. This time it
was clearly audible right behind her, and was telling her to take a knife and stab
herself with it. She was so shocked she dropped a plate on the floor and started
weeping. Victor heard the commotion and got himself out of bed and went to the
kitchen where he found Susie sitting on the floor crying. He went to her and placed
his right arm around her.

“It’s all right,” he said to her. She continued to cry. “Come on Susie, it’s all right,” he said.

“It happened again,” she blubbered.
“It won’t last long,” he said.

“It told me to get a knife and stab myself,” she said.

“Just ignore it, can’t you?” said Victor.

“It’s getting clearer and closer. A gruff male voice,” she said.

“What can you do about it?” he said.

“I’ll have to go to hospital,” she said.

“Can you drive yourself or do you want an ambulance?” he said.

“I can drive, but I’m fairly shaky,” she said.

“Do you want to go straight away?” he said.

“I think I better before it comes back again. They’ll give me an injection and some pills,” she said. She stopped crying and stood up. She was frail on her legs but walked to the table and steadied herself.

“Do you have any cigarettes?” she said. “No, I don’t smoke,” said Victor.

“I’ll have to buy some, I’m dying for a smoke,” she said. With that she grabbed her handbag and headed down the passage to the front door, Victor followed. She went outside and started up the car. For a moment her memory failed her and she couldn’t remember where first gear was. She crunched the gears, got it into second and hopped off gathering speed. When she got to the end of the driveway she was wet with sweat. Her horror was growing. She turned onto the road and sped along it
until she came to the freeway turn off. Cruising at sixty she opened the window and
let her hair get blown by the wind. It was soothing and cooling.

The day was getting brighter and the clouds were all behind her around the hills.
When she reached the hospital she parked in the grounds, got out of the car and
stumbled to the emergency entrance. It was packed with injured people. Nurses were
here and there attending to the worst cases, while doctors lounged around. There was
an antiseptic smell in the air. She felt comforted and went to the reception desk.
Having given her details to the woman behind the counter she went into a cubicle
made of hanging cloths and sat next to a stainless steel bed. She could hear the
noises from the waiting room. Little children moaning in pain. People talking.
Someone shouting. She began to feel dizzy and climbed onto the bed. She closed her
eyes and watched the lights fade from her eyes in magical images. She was on the
verge of sleep when a young doctor poked his head through the curtains.

“Hello? You must be Susie Walton? What’s the problem?” he said coolly. “Oh, Doctor, I’m hearing voices,” she said.

“Oh really?” he said, “Have you heard them before?”

“Yes Doctor,” she said, “but not for a long time. It’s driving me mad, I can’t afford to crack up again.”

“Any thoughts of suicide?” he said.

“No, but the voice told me to stab myself with a kitchen knife.”

“You really ought to be in the psyche ward Susie, they can look after you,” he said.

“Doctor, I can’t afford the time. Can’t you give me a needle and some pills?” she said.

“I can give you an anti psychotic injection,” he said, “but not until the ward
psychiatrist OK’s it. Can you wait here for five minutes? I’ll get him on the phone.”
Susie nodded and lay her head on the pillow. She closed her eyes and dozed off. The
doctor went to a phone and spoke to someone in an urgent voice. A few minutes
later a large, older man wearing glasses and a white coat came down the lift and to
the foyer. The younger doctor caught his arm and walked him to where Susie lay.
She was fast asleep.

“That’s a good sign,” said the young doctor.

“What’s her problem?” asked the older man.

“She’s psychotic. Hearing voices,” said the younger man.

“Wake her up. We’ll see how she’ s doing,” said the older man.

“ Susie? Wake up,” said the young doctor. Susie stirred and opened her eyes. She couldn’t focus for a moment and rubbed her eyes.

“I’m awake,” she said and raised her head.

“This is Doctor Higby, the ward psychiatrist,” said the young doctor. Susie extended her hand and he shook it.

“Now then, young lady, what seems to be the trouble?” he said.

“I’ve been hearing voices,” she said. “It happened two or three times in the last day or so.”

“Are the voices clear?” he said.

“They weren’t to begin with, but the last time it was as clear as your voice. It was right behind my head.”

“Did you feel giddy?” he said.

“A little. More of a panic than anything,” she said.

“Do you want to admit yourself to the psyche ward?” he said.

“No Doctor,” she said, “I haven’t got the time. Can’t you give me some pills.”
“I can give you a shot now and that will calm you, and I can give you some
tablets to take with you, but you really ought to be seeing a doctor on a regular basis,” he said.

“Thank you Doctor. I know I need to but I can’t find the time. It only got worse
today. I’ve been fine until then,” she said. The Doctor pulled a glass ampoule from
his pocket and held it up to the light. Then he went to a sideboard and got a packet
injection. He fixed the needle to the plastic barrel and stuck the tip inside the
ampoule. He drew the liquid into the syringe and hit it with his finger nail. Then he
approached Susie telling her to raise her shirt sleeve to the elbow. She did as she was
told, and then the other doctor placed some rubber ribbon around her upper arm
while the older doctor put the needle tip into her arm. It stung and the liquid burned
inside her. A second later she felt it hit her brain. She instantly became alert and very
awake. She raised her eyebrows and looked around the room.

The stainless steel instruments looked frightening.

“That was some shot,” she said.

The younger doctor smiled and nodded his head. “How do you feel now?” said the older doctor.

“Very awake, Doctor,” she said and meant it.

“Any shaking in the hands?” he said.

“A little,” she replied and raised her arms to show him. Her hands and fingers shook a little.

“That will go away in a few minutes,” said the doctor, “but the injection will last
you ten or twelve hours. After that you should take one of these tablets every four
hours until you feel better. If you can come back in a week or so, we can see how
you are.”

“All right,” she said, “I can do that. Will the injection affect my driving?”

“It shouldn’t unless you mix some alcohol in with it. Don’ t take a drink. Drink and these drugs are a fatal combination.”

“I understand,” she said, and got up from the bed to leave.

Starfish Chapter 6

 

 

Stockwell is a small city fifty miles from the coast; Bob and Brindi arrived in it
slightly after dawn. They parked their beat up old car in a K-mart and watched the
sun rise over the distant hills. It was a cloudy crisp morning. Brindi had slept most
of the night and was famished. After watching the sun come up they headed for a McDonald’ s and ate breakfast, Bob drinking three cups of coffee with his egg muffin. Brindi was quiet, they’ d driven off into the night several times before and she knew what to expect.

At nine they found themselves a room in a small hotel on the fringe of town. The
Toyhorse it was called. The room didn’t have a toilet or bath, so they lay down on
the bed and dozed until noon. They didn’t speak and they didn’t turn on the radio.
Bob was unusually calm but couldn’t sleep. He was tired but alert and on edge.

At lunch time they went out to a nearby cafeteria and had some burgers and a coke, then went back to their room and lay on the bed. Brindi changed her clothes and went for a walk outside midafternoon, Bob stayed back in the hotel.

For dinner they went out to a Chinese restaurant and had a sit down meal. Bob
paid for Brindi but said he was running out of money fast. Brindi didn’t seem to
mind. Afterwards they drove over to the university and parked next to the river that
runs behind the campus. Bob had said he wanted to see The Starfish again, and the
concert started at 8 which meant they had an hour to kill. They got out the car and
walked onto the university grounds looking at the buildings and the students going
to and fro. There was a large crowd hanging around one building so they went there
and found out it was the auditorium where the concert would be staged. The crowd
seemed to be mainly first year students with a smattering of older students here and
there. They were brightly dressed and rugged up against the cold.

Bob and Brindi joined a line and stood their ground. Gradually the line snaked
its way towards a ticket window, and finally when they got there Bob bought two.
They were fifteen dollars each, and searching in his pocket for change he announced
to Brindi that he didn’t have any money left for petrol. She smiled and told him
she’d go to the bank to get some more. They had to pay for the room first and then
they had to get back home. Bob hadn’t said how long they’d be away, but Brindi
assumed they’d leave after the concert and drive all night again.

Finally the doors to the hall were opened and the audience was allowed in. Bob and Brindi scrambled to get as close to the stage as possible and grabbed seats in the third row. The stage was all lit up and the instruments were already there ready to go. A bank of speakers lined the back of the stage and spot lights glimmered on the drum kit and the centre stage microphone. There was a hum in the hall as it filled up and then the lights dimmed and the student union president walked onstage carrying a piece of paper. He told the crowd that The Starfish would appear momentarily and then walked off. The crowd started to clap and when that reached a crescendo the hall went pitch black and the band members walked on.

Victor picked up his guitar from the stand it had been resting on and turned it on, the amps clicked to life as he strummed the instrument and did some minor tuning. James took his seat behind the shining drum kit and Roland plucked his bass until he was sure it was still in tune. Then Victor counted them in and the concert began with a fast rocking tune. The audience went wild and screamed and clapped. Bob and Brindi sat stone faced amid the mayhem.

With the second number the audience quietened down a little to let Victor’ s vocals come through, and whenever he’d sing an interesting line everyone would clap and cheer. The stage was down to three spot lights by the time the third song began. It was a slower ballad with Victor barely speaking the words. The people were mesmerized.

Suddenly Bob rose to his feet and started yelling at Victor, telling him to repent.
When the song ended Victor saw a thin scraggy young man standing in an aisle
shouting at him, then he came closer to the stage and pulled something out of his
jacket. Victor couldn’t make out what it was, and then a second later he heard a loud
cracking noise and felt himself pushed backwards. He dropped the guitar to its strap
and looked down at his left hand. It was bloody and misshapen. Then he heard two
more cracks and felt himself fall backwards while around him came screams of
panic and fright. Someone was yelling at the man holding the gun and then two or
three people jumped on him and brought him to his knees. He dropped the gun and
with the weight of his attackers upon him fell to the floor. The house lights went on
and the place was eerily quiet. James had noticed the gun at the second shot and had
gotten up from his kit by the time Victor had fallen. When he reached Victor there
was already a lot of blood everywhere. Roland had also come to his aid, but because
of the blood he didn’t know what to do. He yelled for someone to get some help and
cradled Victor’ s head in his arms. He looked as if he’d been shot in the chest and his
eyes were glazed and half shut.

A few minutes later an ambulance siren was heard and then Victor was stretchered away. He had lost consciousness and hadn’t been able to speak. They’d got the guy who did it and the police had him under arrest. He’ d been led away through the crowd while everyone booed. It was a frantic scene.

At the hospital Roland was told that Victor was on the critical list. He’d been
shot in the wrist, the chest and the neck and had lost a lot of blood. An artery was
severed and his hand was badly damaged. James couldn’t believe it but answered
questions from a news reporter. She’ d been at the concert to do a review for her
paper and had gotten a picture of the comatose singer being taken away by the
ambulance officers. She said she’ d put it on the front page. It was totally out of
character for this type of thing to happen in their town and she’ d help to get to the
bottom of it.

Victor went into emergency surgery at nine and was on the table for four hours.
The bullet wound to the chest was causing most of the trouble. He couldn’t breath
because his lung had been punctured and the bleeding wouldn’t stop. They had to
remove the bullet and then plug up the hole; they also did some micro surgery on his
hand. His neck was a clean hit, going through the front and coming out the back,
nicking his wind pipe and voice box but nothing else. His wrist was broken in seven
places and they had to remove particles of bone before they could set it with pins.
By the time surgery was over he was on life support and teetering on the edge.

Back at police headquarters Bob was being questioned by a team of detectives.
He didn’t say much apart from stating that he thought Starfish was a satanic band
and he was glad he could rid the world of one more evil influence; he was charged with attempted murder by 3 am and put in the cells a little later. Brindi had watched
the whole thing and when Bob had shot at the stage she’ d screamed along with
everyone else. As soon as they had him in custody she’ d managed to sneak out of
the hall back to their car. She was sweating and in a panic. Finally she went to
headquarters to tell them that Bob had the car keys and she couldn’t get home
without them. She was questioned for two hours and then released without the keys.
On her way out a photographer snapped his flashgun in her face and got a picture of
her, saying it would be on the front page by morning. She reacted with horror. She’d
never been in trouble with the police before. She went back to the hotel and went to
bed but couldn’t sleep.

In the morning, as the reporter had promised, the story was on the front page of every newspaper. It was reported that Victor had been gunned down by an unknown out of town maniac who was still being held in custody. Background details were scant and so the story went into some lengthy discourse about the recent success of The Starfish with their new record deal. James read it back at the motel and told Roland about it over the phone. Diana called early to see whether it was true or not and when told the facts ordered them to stay where they were because she’ d come to them. James and Roland had drunk the early hours away with a bottle of whisky and fell asleep mid morning. The story was covered in the breakfast news shows on TV and then other midday programs. The Starfish were shown at recent concerts and their new single was played half a dozen times.

A vigil was held outside the hospital with student fans lighting candles and singing Starfish songs. Victor was gravely ill and the thought that he might die added a deeper dimension to his plight. Nothing like it had ever happened in Stockwell and the media was milking it for all it was worth.

In the afternoon the police chief held a press conference about the incident and
gave out details of the man they’ d charged with attempted murder. A charge that
could change should the victim not recover. They said he was a student from out of
town, had attended university for two years and was a member of a religious group
on the campus. They gave his name and age and showed pictures of him shortly
after the arrest. He looked like the crowd had got to him and beaten him up, his nose
was bloody and his hair dishevelled, his shirt was torn down the front and he had a
tooth missing. They went on to say that at the present time the accused man was
going to defend his actions and plead not guilty. He would face a court hearing the
next day.

Susie had been shocked when she’d seen the man approach the stage and start
firing a gun. She was standing in the wings watching Victor perform and then saw
him go down in a pool of blood. When she reached him he was coughing up blood
and bits of lung. They’d taken her in the ambulance to the hospital and she’d stayed
there all night until he’d been placed in a room. Then she’d fallen asleep in the
waiting room and had to be roused mid morning so she could get some sleep. She
went back to the motel room and cried her eyes out. Every few hours she’d call the
hospital to see how Victor was doing. Was he still on life support? When was the respirator going to be removed? Did they need blood? Did they think he’d recover?
Victor lay unconscious for nearly seven days and then one morning he opened
his eyes and saw Susie sitting by the bed. He had been taken off life support on the
third day and was making progress. Susie had visited him every day and simply sat
by his side holding his hand. When he opened his eyes she called a nurse, who
checked his pulse and gave him a going over. His eyes were still glazed but they
held some life.

He tried to speak but couldn’t form the words properly. His voice box had been
damaged and all he could do was croak words. It was very painful too. He stayed
conscious for twenty minutes and then lapsed back into unconsciousness. Susie was
pleased because it meant he’ d be getting better. Slowly but surely. The doctor had
told her that his hand and voice box were both damaged and that he might never sing
again, and most probably would never be able to play a guitar again. They had done
their best but the wounds had been too gross. Diana had arrived on the first day and
from then on had managed the media with daily press briefings from the hospital
and the police.

Bob was brought into court on the second day and formally charged with
attempted murder and carrying an unregistered pistol, bail was refused and a court
appointed attorney took on the brief. He was going to say that because Starfish had
been an occult band he had every right to stop them performing, since he was a true
Christian and had been one for many years. Brindi had stayed at the hotel not daring
to visit Bob in the police cells. She was terrified that she might be implicated and
didn’t know what to do for him. She talked to his lawyer and was told she’ d be
called as a witness at trial. She slept a lot and ate very little. On the fifth day she
went to the bank and drew out her savings. Had a good meal and bought some
Vodka. She went back to the hotel and drank it, washing it down with water. By the
time she’d finished the bottle she was deliriously drunk and began sobbing. Bob had
been her first real boy friend. They’d done many things together and she’d always
thought that one day they’d be man and wife. Now all that was finished. The lawyer
had told her that it was an open and shut case. There were dozens of witnesses and
the state could prove the gun belonged to him and that the bullets that hit Victor had
been fired from it. He’ d be lucky if he didn’t get ten or twenty years. She was
absolutely mortified by this news and couldn’t stop crying. Lying on the bed drunk
she suddenly found calmness within her and wiped the tears from her face. She
would be strong and do her best for Bob.

She left the room and went up a fire escape to the roof of the hotel. It was about
seven stories high. She locked the fire escape door behind her and went to the edge
of the roof. She spent a minute or two looking down at the road and then climbed
onto the railing that prevented people from falling. For an instant she tottered on the
brink and then with a screech she jumped over the edge and plummeted to the
pavement. She hit it feet first and then came down onto her head. She lay there for
a few seconds and then coughed up blood and passed out. Five minutes later she had
died.

When the press heard about her suicide they put a photo on the front page of her. She was leaving police headquarters on the morning of the first day, looking tired and unkempt. They described her as the assassin’s girl friend and went into intricate details of the relationship and the ride to Stockwell speculating on how intimate she and Bob had been. They didn’t inform Bob of her death for a couple of days and after he’d been told he didn’t react at all. He’d settled down to the routine of incarceration and didn’t feel anything, not even loss.

In two weeks Victor had regained consciousness and was taken off the critical
list. He was able to breathe on his own and eat normal food, but his voice remained
nothing but a grunting sound. Susie kept up her vigil, while the student fans outside
forgot about the whole thing by the second week once they were sure their wounded
hero was going to recover. The press started playing down the story by the fifth day
and two weeks later the most it could get was a column inch on page four. The trial
had been set for the next month and Victor would be required to attend to give
evidence. He understood it when Susie told him about it, but couldn’t see how he’d
be able to speak. The doctors had told him that his voice box was still badly bruised
and they didn’t know how much permanent damage had been done. He was able to
walk around by the end of two weeks but the chest wound caused him great pain.
The bullet had broken three ribs when it had entered into him.

Diana prepared to move Victor and Susie back home after the second week had
passed. James and Roland had left on day five and insurance claims had been made
on day nine. The tour had been cancelled, but record sales had picked up because of
the national publicity the shooting had got. Victor was on news bulletins from coast
to coast for a day or two and The Starfish had been seen by millions. Most stories
emphasized the band’s sudden success and Victor’s contribution to it with his song
writing. Clips of concerts would be shown and bits and pieces of various songs
would be played. Teenagers across the country had found a new hero and the band
quickly assumed the status of a cult group. Within three weeks record sales had
soared to fifteen thousand units a week sold, and Diana couldn’t have been happier.

The tour cancellation had cost her thousands but once the insurance claims had been made she felt better. Things were working out to her advantage. James and Roland, having nothing else to do had turned to drink in a big way and spent most other days plastered. The money began to roll in and their only concern was getting back together to play. They would sit around discussing how close to death they had all come. What if the gunman had aimed an inch to his left? Or a little higher? What if Victor had been hit in the head? What if…?