Lottie laughed at his joke and he was startled. He had thought often about this strange girl and how he might get her attention. His moment of surprised pleasure was short lived as he watched her laughter turn hysterical and then to tears of pure grief.
He stood and looked at her, unsure whether to move into her space to comfort her. Then he found a courage that he’d lacked for most of his life. He said,
‘Lottie, don’t be frightened, I am here. I will protect you.’
She glanced up at him, as her shoulders heaved. At first she could not understand. Then, she realised. She was not alone, and she held out her hand,
‘Thank you, so much,’ she said, in her mother tongue. He had learnt some words, in anticipation of such a moment with her.
He wondered what he should do next. He’d have to busk it, he didn’t have a road map,
‘May I hold you?’ he said, as he recalled his studies. ‘Make you feel safe?’
She nodded, and a hank of her heavy, blond hair fell across her face. It caught the evening sunlight that penetrated the curtains at her window. The bars behind the drapes made a laddered pattern.
He stepped across and reached for her. She hesitated, then nestled into him. Her smell overpowered him, the sweetness of the pine forest combined with the stale sweat of the detained. He realised that he must smell of the clinic too, he had been here for nigh on twenty years and this was the first time he had touched someone of his own volition. It was unlikely that his body had traces of the forest, or any place beyond. Whatever, she did not draw back but settled into his embrace.
The clatter of the medicine trolley in the concrete corridor outside the small reading room roused them both. Their eyes locked in defiance and each understood. He tested the strength of the metal frames at the end of the top book shelf. She slipped her sturdy bra from underneath her shapeless sack dress and handed it to him. He lifted it to his face. For a second he thought he might pass out from the intensity of the musk that clung to the underarm panels. He pulled out his rope belt from his trousers and she took it and pressed it to her lips. They’d learnt to tie knots in the asylum workshop. Together, they secured their release.
The hefty orderly came in with the drugs, followed by an officer. They found the mad girl and the mad man dangling from ligature points close together. They were holding hands, locked together as rigor mortis set in. The sun’s rays played on their peaceful faces, sanctified in this moment.
The heart-hardened staff sank to their knees and genuflected; they didn’t know why. It was not in their training manual, they were ill-prepared and acted on instinct alone.
Ceinwen E. Cariad Haydon lives in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and writes short stories and poetry. She has been published on internet sites and in print. She has recently completed her MA in Creative Writing (Newcastle University). She believes everyone’s voice counts.