Chapter Fifty-Three: Shrouded

“Alright! Let’s have a look, shall we?”

The nun’s chipper tone seemed forced even when coupled with her wretched smile. I searched her face for clues. What did it look like under there? The fake happiness was disconcerting. Solemnity would have seemed more apropos.

“Yes, fine,” I replied, hoping that I sounded braver than I felt.

I had not yet seen what was beneath the bandages. It had been two weeks since the infection had started and I had not been aware of my surroundings most of that time.

Candlelight flickered golden from the table, creating more shadows than it eliminated.

Slowly, the sheeting was wound around my hand, peeled off in bloody layers. The closer we came, the more it hurt. Nothing severe, but each tiny movement sent shock waves up my arm. The final layers stuck at some points, glued to the flesh with dried blood. I realized I was holding my breath as I braced myself for the searing pain that never came. This burning was nothing compared to what I had felt before in childbirth or from that arm in the haze of my unconsciousness.

The sister whispered, “So sorry…” and “Excuse me…” with each gentle tug.

And then, the last layers were off.

I felt dizzy.

It is one thing seeing gruesome wounds on others but another thing entirely when it is your own body that you are staring at. You can no longer disconnect yourself from the horror.

There was exposed flesh, pink and red, stretching across my palm. Necrotic tissue had been filleted, exposing muscles beneath. Some of it had been closed with sutures, two smaller areas had been left open to drain. Apparently, tendons or nerves had also been severed as I was unable to flex my thumb or index and middle fingers or my hand itself. The last two fingers had some movement but they were stiff and weak. There was wasting and atrophy of what muscles remained in the palm. Contractures had already started to contort my hand into an unnatural shape. A claw.

I was crippled.

In the open areas, granulation tissue had begun to form. No signs of infection remained.

“That should heal up nicely, Evelyn.”

I glared at her in disbelief, willing her tongue to rot. Look me in the eye when you say that!

Her attention was on my hand, readying the new bandages. I stared again at the unnatural thing that was now attached to my body.

Heal nicely?

“There was a man that came a few nights ago.” She was still not making eye contact. “He said he was a doctor.”

I sat up straight, the icy grip of panic clutching at my chest.

“Who?” I demanded.

But I knew. I had seen his shadow limp through the darkened doorway in the flash of lightening. I had thought it to be a dream. It had not been.

My Nathaniel.

“I forget his name. He was a patient, wounded at Sebastopol.”

“Wounded in the leg?” I asked.

“Yes.” The sister paused as she tied off the bandage. Shrouded in white, it was now my ghost hand. “He was leaving for Scutari.”

A sob caught in my throat. He was alive. But lost to me, again.

The sister patted me reassuringly on the shoulder then gathered her things into the basket in order to leave.

She leaned in close to me. “He said you were his guardian angel,” she whispered softly, as if to keep the Virgin ears on the wall from hearing. “Truth be told, he begged to be allowed to stay, to sit with you, but that would have been improper. In the end, he was stable enough for transfer, so away he was sent.”

“Thank you,” I whispered back, forgiving her for everything that had gone before.

She nodded an acknowledgment. Then was gone.

He knew.

He knew about my hand, what state it was in now. No wonder he had not fought the transfer to Scutari. I was a shadow, an imperfect, distorted reflection of the original.

Why had I not just died?

Chapter Fifty-Two: Perchance

I was in our garden. There was sun warming my skin, sending pleasant shivers down my spine. Birds were singing merrily. William was sitting with me, holding my hand. We were discussing the arrival of the baby. I could see love and excitement in his eyes. Had it all been a dream? Pain seared my consciousness. The baby! Only it was not labor pains. I looked down and instead of William’s hand there was a skinless boney set of fingers with exposed tendons gripping mine, so tight that the pain was unbearable. I tried to pull it away, but could not. I looked up. Instead of William, there sat a disintegrating cadaver. She smiled at me, gums exposed, gaping holes where teeth should have been. I could not move. A weight was lying heavy across my chest and I felt that the ground was suddenly falling away beneath me.

“Mrs. Aspern?” A hand shook my left shoulder. My heart was racing, but it was black all around me.

I cracked an eye open and peered out. “Mrs. Aspern!” A sister was smiling down at me, a benevolent ghost barely visible in the dim light from behind her white mantle. I knew her but from where?

I struggled to sit up, but the pain in my right hand as I tried to push up caused me to give up the effort immediately. I brought the hand up a bit but it was wrapped in bulky bandages, only fingertips were visible peeking out from the end. I still had my hand!

Panic struck me.

I tried to speak but it came out as only a mumble. My mouth was dry and all of the parts were glued together. The sister placed two extra pillows behind my shoulders then held a glass of water to my lips. A few sips loosened up my tongue and I tried again.

“What day is it?” I recognized that I was in a room.


My brain was cloudy, moving slowly as if trying to tread water in a pool of dark molasses. The sliver of light from the tiny window spread long across my lap, trapping particles of dust in its path. It was late afternoon. I could barely make out a picture of the Virgin and the infant Jesus hanging over the washbasin. A convent?

“Sunday.” She shrugged as she placed a cool, damp cloth across my forehead, brushing back wisps of hair.

I was given a few sips of broth but the effort was almost too much. I closed my eyes and drifted away again.

This time I felt the hand gripping mine again only it was my left hand and not my right. I could feel the rain on my face. Sadness filled my heart, a deep mourning, but I did not know precisely why. Then a clap of thunder. There was no pain. Was I awake? I opened my eyes to a flash of lightening and saw a male shape disappear through the doorway.


Wait! Don’t leave me…

My mind was playing tricks on me again. I registered this as my eyes shut once more, this time I welcomed the darkness and I begged God to allow me to leave this place forever.  I wanted to die.