Chapter Eighty-Eight: Crumbling

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I wept bitterly that night and every night after…

The days were spent in a stained jacket of sorts that wrapped my arms around the torso and held them tight. I was placed in a chair and then tied down, only to be wheeled out to the veranda to take in the air twice a day. I was fed by the orderlies as apparently I could not be trusted with utensils. 

They were probably right.

Time passed slowly. 

I thought about all of the ways I could hurt that man with a spoon: evisceration would be difficult but if he held still long enough maybe with some chloroform or ether, I could ram the handle up a nostril and do some damage to his brain, I could scoop out each eyeball or maybe even his testicles, I could shove the handle into each ear and render him deaf, I could use that same handle at his jugular and maybe make him bleed to death….

I asked everyone I came across about my daughter but was only met with blank stares or shrugs. I begged for answers, news, any bit of information. 

None came.

Dr. Jenkins himself was a specter, flitting in and out around my periphery. How lucky he must have felt when I fell into his lap here. Had it been orchestrated, his little charade? Or purely chance? What were the odds anyway? 

I had no uterus. No ovaries. No child. He had robbed me of everything I had left.

Everything but my hate.

It was not a strong enough word, really…

After a week I was pinned down for an exam by him, my legs spread wide and held in place by two male orderlies as he painfully probed with his fingers. All the while he watched my face with a grin, clearly enjoying himself.

I held his gaze until he looked away.

If I could only kick him.

But I could not. I had already tried. 

Hence the male orderlies.

They leaned heavily on my legs, forcing them still. I could no longer feel my feet, the circulation had been disrupted for so long.

I wiped away all outward emotion. I resolved that I would not give him the satisfaction of having control of me in that way any longer. There were places in my mind where he could not touch me. I escaped there until he was done. 

A female attendant stood silently to my right, shifting her weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other. She had little to do besides serve as an observer, a witness to my humiliation. I wondered what she must be thinking. Whenever I looked at her she looked away.

He moved up to my abdomen and removed the sutures. They had been terribly itchy. Restrained all day and all night, I could not reach the area to scratch. That fact alone was enough to drive me mad…

He was rough but the removal was a kindness, after all. My quality of life would be vastly improved. I hated him all the more for making me feel even this small amount of gratitude toward him.

Soon enough it was all over. 

I should have killed you when I had the chance, you bastard.

My legs were released as he stepped back, my chemise pulled back down to my ankles. The blood rushed back into my toes, a wave of prickly pain that excruciatingly crescendoed and then died away. He walked up to the basin and pitcher placed on the table next to the head of the bed. He washed. 

As he dried off his hands and rolled his sleeves back down he leaned in close to my ear and spoke softly. “I hear your daughter will be adopted out by a nice family. They needed extra hands to labor around the farm. They have adopted six other children from other unfit mothers already. I hope the girl does not mind cow shit…”

I closed my eyes and let the hate wash through me. I could feel it in every hair of my body, every pore, every fiber.

For now hate was my hope.

Chapter Eighty-Seven: Tethered

  

There were voices: a man and a woman, speaking in hushed tones. I tried to focus, to listen to their conversation through the fog in my head.

“The incision seems to be healing well now, Doctor.” The woman, whispered.

A man’s voice responded, softly, “Excellent. Maybe now she will not endanger herself by moving around.” 

“Shall we remove the restraints?” 

Were they referring to me?

“No. Not yet.”

I could hear the nod of the crisply starched cap, even though I could not see it.

Did I dare open my eyes?

It was then that I realized they were moving away. My opportunity to ask questions…

“Where am I?” I blurted out, looking about.

The man had turned away and was walking toward the bed across the ward, his back to me.

“You are at The Royal Asylum For Women.” The nurse spoke kindly, brushing hair back from my forehead.

“Why?”

“You had an acute attack of abdominal dropsy brought on by a neurosis.”

“Where is my daughter?” 

“Safe.”

“What does that mean?” I demanded.

“She is being cared for elsewhere.”

“By whom?” 

“I do not know.”

“Bring her to me!” Anger crept into my voice.

“I cannot. You are not able to care for her in your condition,” she said sternly.

“My condition.” Fear suddenly replaced anger. “What is my condition?”

“You have had a surgery.”

“What kind of surgery?”

“Dr. Jenkins performed a hysterectomy.” She looked at me pityingly. 

Oh, God.

Surely not. Why? And not the Dr. Jenkins I had known from another life… Stuart Jenkins? Surely there were plenty of other Dr. Jenkins in this world. 

Please… 

At the sound of his name the man turned around and began to walk back to my bedside.

His face.

It WAS him!

He smiled pleasantly as he approached.

My mouth filled with bile.

“Ah, Mrs. Aspern. Awake are we?”

“You had no right!” I screamed at him. Others in the ward shifted in their beds uncomfortably, taking notice. I tried to sit up but my arms were tied down to the bed. I jerked at the leather wrist restraints so hard that the bed frame rattled. 

“Oh, yes, I did. I have every right as your treating physician.”

“You hack!”

“I have removed hundreds of uteri in my career. In fact, every woman in this ward right now, has had this same procedure by me. I think I am able to judge well enough when one is causing problems.” He stared down at me haughtily. “And yours most certainly was causing all manner of infirmary.”

He reached a hand into his pocket and pulled out the old pessary, dropping it onto my abdomen. It hurt greatly as the heavy, metallic weight hit the incision. The padding from the bandages was not enough to break the fall.

I winced.

“It was probably simply pinching the vaginal mucosa, causing your pain, but it was easy to see that your uterus and ovaries were sitting too low in your pelvis, causing you fits of hysteria. You should feel much better from now on.” Another smile spread across his face.

“You did not ask my opinion!” I hissed through clenched teeth. 

It was rape. It was worse than rape. This man had had his hands inside of me, stolen from me without my consent.

A glint appeared in his eye as he leaned in close to my ear. He whispered slowly, threateningly, “The feeble minded are never able to make their own decisions.” 

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.

Chapter Forty: Preparations

“What did she say?” Madge whispered softly.

We were in the dormitory. We had ended our long shifts, eaten a few bites, washed up as best we could, and were lying in our bunks in night gowns, bundled in coarse army issue woolen blankets to guard against the chill. Moonlight streamed in from a tiny window at the end of the long room. The only other light came from the glow of the wood stove at the center of the room, used for heating. Other women were already asleep or had just awakened to begin the night shift.

I did not want to discuss this with Madge. I rolled over and said, “Go to sleep.”

“No! Tell me.” Her bed creaked as her body shifted and suddenly her head was peeking over the mattress above me. Her hair dangled in a long plait that stretched almost comically to my own mattress, swaying to and fro.

“Madge! Go to sleep.”

In seconds, she had slid down off of the bunk and was kneeling barefoot beside me. She knelt there silently, inches away from my face, making it clear that she did not intend to go anywhere until I had told her what she wanted. Damn it!

I whispered, “She said that Dr. Jenkins had told her that I had disobeyed an order and put a patient at risk.”

“You didn’t did you?” she whispered back.

“No, of course not!”

She nodded. “I hate him.”

I sat up. “You have met him?”

“Yes.” She started to climb back up. “More than met him.”

“Wait! What do you mean?” I grabbed her arm.

She paused a moment, thoughtfully, then spoke. “He told me that I had to perform certain services for him or he would report me to her. Watch out for him, Evie.”

“Did he touch you?” I had to ask.

Again, she paused. She uttered a very quiet, almost imperceptible, “Yes,” then launched herself back up atop her bunk.

I was not sure what to say. Should I comfort her? Tell her my plan? Pretend I had not heard?

I allowed a few minutes to pass, the bed frame creaking again overhead as she settled into a comfortable position beneath her covers.

“Madge?” I whispered.

Silence.

Perhaps it was best that way. I did not want to talk about the details of my experiences with him. One could not predict human nature. Would she feel compelled to purge her conscience by telling others of what happened to me? In this case I could trust no one.

Clearly, this man was a predator. In the short time he had been here, he had managed to threaten his way into the drawers of how many women? And in the intervening years between my time in Edinburgh and now, how many hundreds more had he hurt? Guilt ate at the fringes of my mind. I had known what he was then, but I had not tried to stop him.

In a dark corner of my trunk, at the end of the bed, lay the small, glass vial that would be his undoing.

Chapter Thirty-Eight: Scutari

As I entered the surgery, I could see the physician, his back to the door, hunched over the macerated arm of an unconcious soldier.  The light was poor, requiring supplementation from the flame of an oil lantern that had been placed at the poor fellow’s shoulder.  The rusty smell of old, dried blood hung in the air.  I could see, by the orange glow of the flickering light, drops of fresh blood landing on the floor at the physician’s feet. Plip. Plop. Dripping from the patient’s fingertips. I walked quickly to stand next to the growing puddle, worried about stepping into the blood lest I slip or leave deep red footprints trailing behind me as I moved about.

He was busy suturing the pieces of filleted flesh together, trying to reassemble the poor fellow’s arm.  I also noticed that he was using chloroform, as the patient remained quiet throughout the procedure.  A chloroform mask lay on the table at his head, the faint sweet smell of the gas wafting to my nostrils from the bit of lint wedged within.  The use of anesthesia had been strictly forbidden by the chief of medical staff in the British Expeditionary Army.  I wondered how this particular physician had acquired chloroform given the moratorium.

“I was told to come assist you,” I announced softly as I stepped forward.

He looked up and opened his mouth to say a terse thank you, but stopped short.

We recognized each other at exactly the same moment.  I could feel the blood drain from my face and my heart land in the pit of my stomach.  My fingertips seemed to cease their existence.  If it affected him more deeply, I could not tell.  He had already returned to his sewing. 

I had no idea what I was doing in the surgery as I had spent the entirety of the preceding weeks and months on the wards, making bandages, washing linens.  I had come here as a volunteer, not as a trained nurse. He had to guide me step by step…daub here, snip there, hold this, pass that.  I stole furtive glances at him from time to time while he was engrossed in his sutures.  His furrowed brow.  The firmly set jaw clenching and releasing in rhythm to the stitching.  There were more creases in his features.  Gray was creeping into his beard.  Who are you now?

The man’s arm was gradually looking more human and less like ground mutton.  You are not a surgeon.  Where were the surgeons? They must have been on the battle fields. 

“Cut,” he ordered, presenting the suture ends.

“Yes, sir.”  I replied hoarsely as I snipped, fumbling with the scissors yet again.  It required two attempts to sever the dark thread.  I desperately needed to seem capable, confident, unaffected…but had failed.

 Finally, he placed the last suture and tied it.  I cut the ends.  He put down his instruments and stepped back to examine his handiwork.  The sutures were even and neat, like little ants marching single file up to the shoulder.

“Just apply a dressing and he’s done.”  He finally looked up from the arm to my face.  There was a wan smile there.  I was not sure how to read it.

My heart sank further as I registered the request.  I had not realized it was possible until that moment. I could feel my cheeks flush. I did not want to ask this man for help, but the patient would be the one to suffer and I swallowed my pride.

“I am afraid that I do not know how,” I confessed softly.

He nodded and proceeded to demonstrate the techniques of proper bandage application. At one point his hand brushed mine, producing a shudder.  I was not sure if it had been on purpose, his touching me.

The chloroform began to wear off and the man groaned as I cleaned the area with cold water.  I gathered the instruments and placed them into a metal tray; the clatter was a welcome distraction.

I did not know what to do now.  I stood awkwardly.

“Pain” I quoted Galen, “is useless to the pained.”  He arched an eyebrow in surprise. “How did you come to defy Dr. Hall?” I asked.

“If God can be seen as the great anesthetist when he placed Adam into a deep sleep while he removed a rib, then I figure there is a higher power than Dr. Hall.”  It seemed highly inappropriate, but I wanted to laugh outright.   Nervousness was affecting my reason.

He stepped closer to me. I could smell his stale breath as he looked down at me. He must have brought some scotch with him to this godforsaken place. The hairs at the back of my neck stood up on end. I took a cautious step back.

“What is the matter, Evelyn?”  He grinned.  My breath caught. “Yes, I do remember your name.”

The man on the table let out an even louder groan as I tried to move around the man blocking my path.  He reached out his right hand to stop me, grabbing me about the waist. 

Leave me alone, you bastard!

“If you touch me again, I will scream for help.” 

He moved his hand but did not step back.  “And then say what when I explain to everyone how we happen to know each other so well?”

“Leave me alone,” I muttered, then pushed past him and out of the room. I looked down at my apron.  His bloody handprint was there.  I quickly untied the white smock and wadded it up in my arms.  I prayed I would not get caught out of uniform. I walked until I believed my footfalls would be out of earshot, then I ran. As I ran through the maze of corridors, all of my fears came to life.  I had not thought about this man in years.  I had buried him, expunged him.  But here he was.  In the Crimea?

Stewart Jenkins.