When McIntosh woke up he couldn’t feel anything below his ribs. He had lost control of his bowls and his kidneys during the night and the warm stench in his small room was smothering. He could taste the foul sedimentary value of his own faeces in his lungs and coughed up a globule of phlegm but swallowed it for the lack of a tissue. Then the clanking noise came from outside his room again. The chain went slack, allowing his leg to drop to the ground. For a few seconds he couldn’t feel anything until the leg clattered to the wooden floor and the pain began. Deep penetrating shards of agony cut through both of his legs, from his feet to his knees to his hips, up into his ribs and then his shoulders, winding him.
It was a whole new type of pain that he had never endured before. There was no way to ease that suffering either. And as he lay there paralysed by his own blood, the wall next to the wall that the chain ran through slide open to an unilluminated larger room. He tried to prop himself up on his hands but that only made the pain worse and he flopped back in a full bodied flinch. And then the noises came from the darkness. Low growls and hissing. Snarling and scratching of something just outside of the wooden room. Whatever it was it was big and predatory and he was still unable to move with the pain. His eyes couldn’t blink with the fright, his heart pummelling his chest. Then the noises got louder and the wooden room shook, then it all stopped, movement, noise, the fear. The wall slide back into place and McIntosh winced as he hoisted himself back over to the mattress to wait out the pain. It was hours before he could lift his knees again and the exertion exhausted him back into slumber.
The moment that he awoke next McIntosh felt a great heat in his left foot – his good foot. It was dark, so he reach down to feel his foot but he missed and grabbed the mattress beneath him. He reached again and missed again, and again. Then he slid his hand down his leg and when he got past his knee he felt a stump. Panicking, he slapped at it and patted the mattress around him looking for his foot, but in a few terrifying seconds he realised what had happened. He didn’t feel any pain, just a heat that filled the space where his foot used to be. He wasn’t even scared. He wasn’t angry either. He just sobbed and mourned himself in absent silence. Then rolled over and tried to sleep.
The next time that he awoke he was in Fay’s lounge with a glass of wine next to him. Etta James was playing on the stereo and the stump of his left leg was elevated on a poof. It hurt then, throbbing with a certainty that was unlike any pain before. Drained of will, he enjoyed the softness of the lounger and bore the bitter pain of leaning over to pick up the wineglass. That he was now missing a foot was just another fact of life to him. He had already stopped thinking about the world outside of Park Castle. He had shut down, just as he had in his first year in prison. His eyes didn’t look beyond his immediate vicinity and his mind followed suit. Then he heard Joseph from behind him.
“Oh, you’re awake. Welcome back, Eli. I have a nice roast in the oven for us. I hope the Astrolabe is to your liking?”
“It’s delicious, Mr. Fay. Thank you.”
“Ah, I see you’ve found your manners. Well done, Eli.”
“Thank you, Mr. Fay.”
“We should celebrate. Let’s have cake after dinner. Shall we?”
“Thank you, Mr. Fay.”
“How’s the foot?”
“It hurts but that’s ok, Mr. Fay. I don’t mind.”
“How about some schnapps before dinner?”
“Yes, Mr. Fay. Thank you, Mr. Fay.”
And then schnapps were followed by Ray Charles and roast beef. McIntosh rushed through it, but Fay watched as he choked down the meal. He had seemed such a hard individual when he walked out of prison those months before. But now he was a broken man. Now he was his to do with as he saw fit. And his guest wouldn’t resist. He was his now in body and mind.
“So, would you like to help me in the garden tomorrow?”
“Yes, Mr. Fay.”
“Oh, call me Joe, Eli. Call me Joe. There is weeding that needs to be done in the flowerbeds, so you can hop you there or crawl or whatever, but I expect a good job… or else… ok?”
“Ok, Mr. Joe.”
“Just Joe, don’t hurt my feelings now, Eli.”
“I’m sorry, Joe.”
“That’s ok, Eli. But you better do a good job. Now… I do believe cake was mentioned.”
And off Joseph went to fetch some cake from the kitchen. There he sliced and dusted a piece of sponge cake and presented it to his guest with a smile. The man ate it without thinking and was instructed to wait while Fay tended some matter. After about half an hour, all of which spent staring at the table in front of him of course, McIntosh felt a warmth in his skin and an itchiness on his arms and legs. He resisted, then rubbed, then scratched himself all over. It was under his skin whatever it was and even his missing foot itched. That was the worst, not being able to scratch a foot that wasn’t there. It seemed as if he had twice as much skin as normal and all of it itched. It was a ragged awfulness to endure, but still he sat at the kitchen table and scraped the fingernails of his left hand up and down his body and used the one nail left on his right hand, the thumb, to scratch his face. It was sudden and powerful and he didn’t understand it. Then he looked back at the plate that the cake had been on and dabbed a finger into the dusting. It wasn’t gritty like sugar or soft like flour. It was sandy. Like crushed chalk. Or crushed tablets. Then it hit him. It was penicillin. He was allergy. But how did Fay know? How did he know that that amount wouldn’t kill him? He himself didn’t even know the lethal dose. Regardless, he thought, this was his life now.
Fay walked back in just then and smiled at the squirming turmoil McIntosh was enduring.
“Did you like the cake, Eli?”
“Yes… Joe. Thank… you, Joe.”
“You’re welcome. Should I take it that you now know what the dusting was?”
“Good, now, tomorrow we will be working in the garden and I suspect it’ll be a hot day. So remember to keep yourself hydrated. There will be plenty of water.”
“What do you say?”
“… thank… you, Joe.”
“Now, it’s time for bed. Do you want me to read to you?”
“How about… The Fairy Queen? That was one of her favourites.”
“Good. Now let’s get you to bed.”
And so, after a blind slap from a cosh and some labour on Fay’s behalf, McIntosh awoke in bed, shackled as usual. Then he heard Joseph’s voice reading a children’s book to him. Slow and steady and almost loving, focusing on Joseph’s voice was all that he could do to distract himself from the itching. It was a simple tale but it cut deeper than any blade as Fay read it as if to his daughter. Gentle, soft tones lulled his guest as he fell asleep with a metallic taste in his mouth. Coughing as his eyes fell, he slipped into dreams of fairies and sandpaper.
It was a harsh, restless sleep. His body was sore and ached inside when he came to. He was unsure where he was and groggy. He didn’t look up. He just sat up and stared at the grass between his feet. His mind registered that he wasn’t in the house or in his room and he felt a breeze in his hair, but he still didn’t look up. Instead he sat and continued to stare at the grass. It was long grass. It like knitting needles. Or spaghetti. It was rough and thick like the grass he slept in by the river. Then, Joseph spoke,
“What do you think?”
“Of what, Joe?”
“Look around you, Eli.”
And so McIntosh looked up and around and found himself in a field of daisies.
“She loved it here, Eli. Isn’t it beautiful?”
“It’s so beautiful, Joe.”
“Yes it is. Now lie down on your side.”
McIntosh obeyed and rolled down onto his.
“And raise your arm.”
Again he complied. Then Fay pulled a crowbar around from behind himself and smashed it down into his guest’s exposed ribs as if he was trying to cut him in two with it. The blow winded McIntosh and he wheezed, but he didn’t scream. He held it in. In that place he was the devil. He didn’t deserve to be there. Nor did he deserve to speak, or scream, there. Again Joseph Fay poured his soul into flesh and bone through the curved, cold steel. McIntosh’s ribs made a cracking thud when the crowbar made contact with them. It was a full sound. An echo of laughter hid within it too. And still, he was silent. And again, this time an audible crunch sang out and McIntosh moaned. This pushed Joseph over the edge and he began to thrash his guest with glancing blows to all over his body. Of course, one of the blows clipped McIntosh’s head and he fell unconscious with a sigh.
Standing over the object of his hatred, surrounded by the pretty daisies, Fay wanted to finish him. On the ground next to McIntosh some of the daisies were splashed with red and they reminded Fay of Lina’s favourite red and white polka dot socks. She wore them all the time. She called them her “magic socks”. And then, the sad rage rising in him, Joseph lifted McIntosh over his shoulder and walked back to the house. On the way he noticed how spring had returned and remembered that Lina’s birthday was coming. He would do something special for McIntosh and for Lina. But for that night, he brought him back and put him to bed.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey