Chapter One Hundred Two: Freely Bleeding

7-29-2006-30

“We should do some blood letting,” he said grimly.

“Why?” I asked.

“It is the only thing that will help.” The white haired doctor lifted Nathaniel’s eyelids, one at a time, noting with a grunt the jaundice, a sickly yellow where white should be. He wearily sat back down in the worn wooden chair I had placed by the bedside.

“But how will it help?” I had not seen blood letting benefit anyone. Not ever.

“Madame, leave this sort of thing to the professionals. You should not have to worry yourself with the why’s and wherefore’s…”

He reached into his valise and pulled out a brass encased fleam. The blade clicked open with a fling of the wrist. He held it at the ready.

“I need a bowl.”

“Wait. I…..”

“Bring me a bowl!” he said sharply as he dug into Nathaniel’s forearm. “I don’t have all day. There are other patients to see.” He clamped a hand over the oozing blood then looked over at me expectantly. 

Nathaniel groaned and shifted. 

“Please be quick or this will stain….” he warned.

I shook off the shock and grabbed the basin off of the dresser, the one used for washing up. I felt numb.

“Here.”

“Thank you.” He said it deliberately in mock gratitude. “Now I need some fresh linen and clean water.”

I stood watching the blood flow down the arm in a weak rivulet, forming a deep scarlet pool in the creamy porcelain bowl below. 

“Now?” the doctor prompted.

I left to grab the required items, placing the wash pitcher with the clean water on the floor next to him, then handing over a few strips of clean linen. He put down the fleam and took the linen, draping it over his dark brown pants leg. 

“Just a few minutes more…”

Eventually he took a strip of linen and wrapped it tightly about the wound. Blood quickly oozed through as he wrapped another strip around that one.

“Come.” He motioned me over. “Apply pressure here.” I placed my hand over the indicated spot as he tied the bandage tightly. “He is a free bleeder, as most people in this situation are. It will take time for the oozing to stop. If it bleeds further, apply more pressure until it stops.”

I kept my hand on the bandage, holding tight.

The doctor quickly washed the blade and then his hands using the pitcher and bloody wash basin. Standing up, he dried them both on the towel on the dresser.

“I will see myself out, Madame…?”

“Brierly. Madame Brierly.” I sat down in the chair he had vacated.  “I am his wife,” I added by way of explanation.

“I gathered,” he said dryly. He looked at me pityingly. “I will be back tomorrow to check on you both.” With that, he nodded his head and left. I heard the door close softly behind him.

I moved my hand from the bandage and watched as the red spot on the white bandage widened. I clamped my hand back over it quickly, holding tighter this time. 

It felt as if I was holding on for dear life, holding on to a dream long past. Hope was oozing away beneath my fingers…

But there was no other choice. 

Or was there?

I relaxed my grip, then let go. Blood soaked the bandage, then dripped to the floor. 

Chapter Eighty-Nine: History

 Black and white clouds over mountains and a lake. 
“What happened to you?” 

The woman’s eyes darted fearfully from the trees in the distance, then to my face, then back to the trees again.

Yet she remained silent.

I tried again.

“Why are you here?”

She grimaced, wrinkling her forehead, but never acknowledged my question.

Her brown hair frizzed out about her ears, the bits that had slipped out from the large braid that ran down her back. 

She seemed terribly normal. 

She fed herself. She didn’t make odd noises or weep and wail incessantly. She groomed herself as much as was allowed here, brushing her hair every morning and evening. I had watched her walking from one woman to the next, whispering God knows what into each ear, patting shoulders, offering encouraging smiles.

“What is you name?”

She sighed a great sigh, then closed her eyes.

“Zenobia,” she spoke softly.

“Zenobia? That is your name?” 

What an odd name.

She nodded slowly. 

It was quiet except for the birds in the trees.

Her eyes opened suddenly. “I gave myself the name. She was an ancient Persian queen.” The woman fixed me with a piercing gaze, waiting expectantly. 

My mind wandered, imagining her in rich Persian regalia, riding a great white horse, commanding vast armies. When I did not answer, she coughed, bringing me back to the asylum. “Well? You are…?”

“Oh!” My cheeks reddened. “I am Evelyn.” 

“That isn’t made up, is it? It’s rather plain.”

“No.” I shook my head. 

“You need a new name…” Her voice trailed off as the orderly came back through looking even more sour.

It was hot outside on the porch, but after several weeks here I knew that it was preferable to the suffocating wards and spent as much time out of doors as I was allowed.

I decided to try again. “Why are you here?” I asked tentatively.

She gazed at me suspiciously. 

“Why do you care?”

“I don’t think you are insane…”

She smiled sadly, pushing back a bit of hair from her damp forehead. 

“Depends on who you ask,” she replied, laughing.

We fell silent as a dour female orderly with a pinched face strode purposefully past, shoes clacking on the wooden veranda.

“How long have you been here?” I ventured once the orderly was out of earshot.

“Six years.”

My heart sank.

Six years?

“Why?”

Zenobia took a deep breath. “Because I would not give my husband what he wanted.”

“What did he want?” I pressed.

“A son.” 

She pointed to a stooped young woman with golden hair and vacant eyes. “She has been here three years. We call her Theodora. She sank into a deep melancholy after the birth of her first baby. Her husband took a mistress. She was placed here to keep her out of the way. Now another woman, her rival, is raising her child in her family home.” Zenobia shrugged. “She will never leave. Over there by the doorway, that one is Hippolyta. She had several lovers. The wife of one grew jealous and made a report. In the process she was deemed mentally deficient and imprisoned here two years ago. She had no family that would take her. She will also probably never leave.”

She paused to look around.

“That one, Hatshepsut,” she nodded her head to an elderly, wraithlike figure, “Refused to marry an earl. Her family had her committed decades ago.”

She turned back to me. “How did you get here?”

“I am not entirely sure. But Dr. Jenkins and I have…. we have a history.” I told her about Edinburgh, about the Crimea, about my daughter, about the surgery here. “Did… Did that happen to you?” 

“It happened to all of us, one by one, since that man arrived…” She spoke softly, her eyes darting around, watchful and guarded again. 

Zenobia rose from her seat. “Excuse me. I must go.” She started to walk away but stopped short suddenly and turned, smiling. “Hedwig.”

“I beg your pardon?”  I was confused.

“Your name. Hedwig. The Polish queen who crowned herself the King of Poland. That will do nicely for you, I think.” She paused. “We are not normal. We are exceptional. All of us.”

And then she was gone.

Chapter Eighty-Six: Out

 

My eyelids felt weighted with lead, heavy. I willed them to open but they would not. I decided to focus on my other senses. 

There was an odor. That smell. I knew it from somewhere…

From where?

The Crimea! I was back in the Crimea.

Footsteps faded away to the left, echoing off of hard, antiseptic surfaces. 

I tried again on the eyelids, this time they opened a bit, revealing a long crack in the stained plaster overhead. It was a rusty red, like blood. My heart shot out of my chest, racing into my throat. This was not the Crimea.

Panic dragged me awake and I bolted upright.

Where was I?

Pain slammed through me, suddenly, and I cried out, falling back onto the bed.

Pain? From where?

I moved a hand down to my abdomen and pelvis. There was a large bandage there.

Oh, God! What did they do?

The walls of the long room were an odd greenish gray. I could not tell if that was because of the fading light filtering through the dirty windows or from some terrifying paint job. I looked around. There were other beds, other women.

A hospital ward.

“Psst!”

The woman to my right stared unseeingly at the ceiling, unresponsive. She was almost translucent. Her gray hair was thin and carefully arranged about her head, combed out over the pillow.

Was she dead?

I wanted to touch her waxen skin but that was impossible from where I lay.

Hello?” I ventured, a bit louder. No movement. Not even a blink. I gave up on her and turned to my other side.

“Pssst!”

The woman to my right had bright orange hair. She stirred, looking over at me, but her eyes were glassy and vacant. 

This was not going well. 

A moan escaped from somewhere. It echoed off of the bare walls and floor. I went back to examining the crack in the plaster overhead. Surely someone would be through soon?

Anne! Where was she?!?!!?

I swung one leg and then the other over the side of the bed, doing my best to ignore the pain that seared through my pelvis. Standing, my legs felt unsteady. I took a tentative step forward only to have the knees buckle and I tumbled to the floor. 

Think!

Try as I might, I could not pull myself back up. I felt warmth gushing from between my legs as redness soaked through my white shift and pooled around me on the cold floor. Short shallow breaths were all that I could manage. Colorful bursts of light flashed into my line of sight then closed off into a lengthening tunnel of dark gray.

Get up, damn it!

Thoughts grew fuzzy then faded away. 

Blackness overtook me again.