20 juin 2015

Chapter 8

            I’ve barely had the time to calm down and think through what’s just happened when everyone marches back into the increasingly smaller room. Jeez, a few minutes alone, is that too much to ask? It’s already bad enough that some nurse is taking care of my corporal hygiene by using horrendous-smelling wipes and mangy towels, and I can’t even ask everybody to leave every time I need to pee through the catheter… I practically have no dignity left whatsoever. I need to have some me-time, somehow.

But first things first, I have a friend to console. It’s time.

And at the risk of sounding like a hypocritical opportunist, which I am, I really, really need her phone.

“Mom, dad, can I please speak with Ginny?... Alone?”

Ginny’s head pops up, and she looks like she’s just about to be thrown to the lions.

“Kid, you’re not telling us what happened with Alberic? Was he able to make the composite?” Erik inquires, exasperated.

            “Some of it, yes. Huge improvement. He’ll be back next week. Now can I speak with Ginny? Please?”

 Dad turns beet-purple at my tone, but I have no time or patience to humor his emotions or anyone else’s. He throws a glance at Oda and she follows him out. 

 Meanwhile, Ginny hasn’t moved an inch. She stands right across the room, leaning against the wall for support, and looking at me with barely contained wariness. I think I’ve tortured her enough. And for some reason – that I know all too well – I’m less bitter than I was this morning…

 “The wall won’t fall if you move, you know,” I say with tentative humor.

  She pauses, looking genuinely lost, then takes a couple of steps forward and stands at the foot of the bed.
  “You saw Him,” I blurt out, almost accusingly.

  “Yes…” Her voice sounds so off. “He was running away, so I didn’t see his face.” 

  “Tell me everything,” I demand dryly. 

  She remains standing, although she knows the story will take some time to tell.

  “As soon as I sent you the message asking you to come over, I felt like crap, especially when over an hour later, there was still no sign of you. Then I thought you might have forgotten the address, but there was almost no reception inside the studio, and I couldn’t step out and leave the set during the shoot…”

 “Please just skip to the facts,” I mutter, suddenly exasperated by her attempt at justifying herself instead of telling me what she actually saw. As far as I’m concerned, she can feel as crappy and apologetic as she wants, at least for a little longer.

 “Okay… After we wrapped it up, I stepped out with a couple of colleagues to smoke and call you, when suddenly we heard a male voice swearing, not too far away. Like a couple of blocks. The guys didn’t care, but I thought the man was being robbed or something, and I pushed them to go have a look. When we got there, we all saw the same thing: the back of a man running away, holding what looked like a purse, and some sort of…stick. White, I think.”

  “Yeah, he is.”

  “No, I meant the stick. White, with some red…” she shivers.

  I roll my eyes at her; it could have been Gandalf’s staff for all I know. The fact of the matter is, red was surely a more dominant color once he was done with me.

  Ginny swallows hard, and looks like she’s having trouble continuing.

  “And then Clément says, ‘Putain, y a quelqu’un par terre, une meuf!’[1] It took me less than a second to recognize you… Your hair… Fabien called the police and the medics, while I ran after the man, but Clément caught up with me, stopped me, called me crazy. I know the logical thing was to check on you, but I… couldn’t. I had a one-track mind at that point; I just wanted to catch him before he’s managed to disappear. And I wasn’t sure I would bear to see the extent of what he had done to you… What seemed like hours later, the pompiers[2] came. When they hoisted you inside the ambulance, I heard you scream… I haven’t slept since.”
Her voice falters on those last words and her whole posture slacks, as if the weight of the entire world was on her shoulders, and it had suddenly doubled.

[1] ‘Fuck, there’s someone on the ground, a woman!’
[2] i.e. the fire brigade. Firefighters in France are also trained for emergency medical services. 

“Jeez, Ginny, sit down, will you?” I say, sounding much less acidic than before. Has she even eaten today? …Or this week? This is the first time I’ve seen just how much this has been gnawing at her. She zombie-walks to the chair, then looks me straight in the eye and says, “Don’t you ever forgive me. I never want to let myself off the hook for this.”

Oh my God, Ginny…

“Tell me something…” I venture, “How many ‘what if’s’ can you come up with that don’t even involve you?... I have one: What if I hadn’t been dumb enough to forget my fucking keys?”

She glowers at me, not convinced in the least. But I decide to insist, because it is not her fault, no matter how much I might internally blame her for it.
“Ginny, all you did was ask me to come get the keys. Nothing more,” and guilt washes over me for not telling myself that before. “If you want to be mad, channel it into helping me get over this. Because I’m not sure I can do it alone… And my next best thing is Oda,” I wink.

She looks weirded out by the sound of her own abrupt laughter, but finally seems to relax a little, and her expression is one of relief. She smiles wistfully and says, “The Lily I know is back. Hi…”

I raise an eyebrow. “Did you really just… ‘hi’ me?! …Is this normal?!”

With an even more assertive laugh, she pauses, screws her eyes then lashes back with a good old dose of Ginny-quoting: “Normality is only relative... Although, it is universally acknowledged as BORING.”

I laugh lightheartedly then we both exhale, as if we’ve just gotten rid of a shared burden, or at least part of it. The silence that ensues is my queue. “Hey… can I borrow your phone for a minute?” Her hand reaches into her pocket before I’ve finished the sentence.

It takes me a moment to position the phone upright against the bandages of my left arm. It’s really hard to both hold it and type with one hand. Then I google “aaron u-turn lyrics” and scroll down to the second verse, with my heart thumping through my temples.

 Lili, you know there's still a place for people like us.
            The same blood runs in every hand.
            You see, it's not the wings that make the angel,
            Just have to move the bats out of your head .

“People like us”?... What could he possibly mean by that – if not that he’s been through the same thing? …I knew it! He’s been assaulted too!

“Miss Brandt?” Dr. Culbard peeps her head through the door. “Can we… talk?”

Ginny gently squeezes my arm, and tactfully steps out of the room, while the doctor checks my I.V., and takes note on her clipboard. Or at least she pretends to, for as soon as the door closes, her polite smile disappears and she sits, as if prepping for a serious discussion.
“Miss Brandt, I’m sure you’ve heard me go on and on about how intrigued we are by your cutaneous reaction to the… assault. And to the pepper spray…”

Aw man, is she going to ramble on about my skin now? Great…

“I’m not sure I was clear enough…” I’m about to interrupt her by pointing out that she’s been all too clear, when a strange gesture on her part catches my attention. She draws a pocket mirror out from between the pages of her clipboard, and it’s obvious she was hiding it there. But why?
She hands it to me and says, with the most insisting stare, “Tell me… What do you see?”
What’s her problem? Does her logic dictate that I’d be eager to see how disfigured I am? I’ve managed to avoid reflective surfaces so far, and this sort of feels like an ambush.  

And yet, there’s this morbid fascination pushing me to just have a quick peek…

The water balloon figure was accurate alright, especially for the creepy eyes and around the ugly sutured gash on my lower lip… Except that I couldn’t have imagined the color spectrum that comes with it. A general sickening, shiny red, with blotches going from yellow to outright black. Huh… I can almost see the shape of a shoe tip on my left cheek, in insolent purple.

Is this what Peter has been looking at for two days? No wonder he ran…

I almost toss the mirror down, but Dr. Culbard still insists on giving me grief.  “No, you don’t understand. Please… Look very closely. What do you see?”

I reluctantly bring the mirror back up to my face, and hear my own shivering voice saying, “I see disfigurement.”

“No, I mean… Nothing peculiar, skin-wise?....”

I really feel like throwing the mirror at her, ninja style. “My skin is already peculiar, Doctor Culbard,” I lash out. 

But the woman just won’t give up! With exasperating patience, she persists. “Miss Brandt… Lily… Just humor me for a second. Could you please describe yourself before the… incident?”

“You mean weird skin, ginger, and freckles?” I say in what I hope is obvious sarcasm. 

But to my befuddlement, she raises her eyebrows and nods, slowly, before lifting the mirror back up to my face, one last relentless time.

Weird skin, yes, and ginger hair… but not the smallest freckle in sight. 



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