He came out of the water at the side of a lake, near where a small river joined the main body of water. The air was cool and fresh with the scent of the pine forest and the surrounding mountains were dusted with snow. It felt like early spring. Edge thought he could hear a woman’s voice calling in the distance, so he followed the left bank of the river through the trees.
In this section the side of the river opened up to a small meadow, which was flecked with spring flowers such as bluebells and snowdrops. The beauty of it all was sublime.
“Hedge, you came.”
She emanated out of the trees like a spirit of the forest, a long, diaphanous garment hiding the movement of her feet in the long grass. But it didn’t look like she was walking. She was exactly as he remembered her, but more serenely beautiful. He felt like weeping.
“Jozica. I thought I would meet you once before, but…”
“But Minty stopped you. I know. He is here as well.”
Edge turned away in anguish, “Jozica, I’m so sorry I killed you.”
“You didn’t, Hedge. He was going to kill me anyway. But as long as he lives, I torture him during his sleepless nights, driving him mad in that small but luxurious cell of his,” she looked at him and smiled, “All that guilt, bitterness, fear and anger that you carry. Get rid of them. Don’t carry them for me.”
They both looked at two swans on the lake, their necks entwined in courtship. A gentle and sudden breeze ruffled the still water.
“Jozica, am I dead?”
“She sighed softly, “Well you’re here with me. What do you think?”
“Good. I can be with you.”
“It is not that simple, Hedge. Your wife Moira is beautiful and despite your unkindness to her, she wants you back. You have caused much unhappiness and yet you are capable of such random, kindly acts. Please be kind to Bia Vargas and don’t let her love you too much.”
“Where’s my mum?”
“Waiting for you. But there’s something you must understand, Hedge. This isn’t your time. There are things for you still to do. There is somebody you must save because your lives are interconnected. You must go back.”
“I don’t want to!”
“You must. There is no element of free will involved,” She embraced him, “I will always love you, Hedge and I’ll be here when it is your time. I’m sorry, but the rest of your mortal life will be one of difficulty and some pain, but bear for us.”
She gently placed her hand on his forehead and the bomb went off inside his brain again and he was screaming with pain.
He was looking over the shoulder of a surgeon who was performing a craniotomy on his skull. Skin flaps had been opened and the surgeon was now drilling out a bone flap on his frontal bone.
Well thanks a bunch Doc. That’s going to look a right old fucking mess now, isn’t it?
The surgeon finished cutting with the high speed cranial saw and stepped back through Edge to allow the theatre nurse to aspirate the wound. He felt the sudden chill and shivered.
Don’t worry, Doc. I have that effect on people.
The anaesthetist was monitoring the blood pressure, O2 sats and heart rate like an anxious parent. They had already lost Edge twice, once in the ambulance and once in the ER. The out of body Edge felt himself being drawn backwards towards a tunnel in the corner of the room.
Catch up with you later, perhaps…
He came out of the light in a confused state. He had been looking at himself on the operating table, but now he seemed to be sitting on the top of a cheap wardrobe in an insalubrious bedsit. He was looking down at a girl slumped across a bed, naked apart from a pair of tanga pants. She had pissed herself.
Oh great! Just my luck, he thought and came down to step on a hypodermic syringe. Oh shit.
He remembered what Jozica had told him. There is somebody you must save because your lives are interconnected. You must go back.
He sat on the bed and shook her.
She groaned but made no movement or opened her eyes. He felt for the carotid pulse in her neck. It was very faint and slow. He looked at her body. Very pleasant apart from the mess of her arms. Oh Christ, a fucking junkie. He shook her again.
“Leave me alone,” she murmured, “I want to die.”
“Well I don’t. Wake up you bitch.”
He picked up the phone but the line was dead because she had been disconnected He reckoned that by the time he went and phoned for an ambulance and got back, she would have gone. He didn’t even know where he was. He pulled her up. But she slumped back, floppy, like dead meat. He tried to remember the month’s training as a combat medic he had spent in that Birmingham A&E department. Plenty of drugs there, but he had nothing here. What did he need to prevent cardiac and respiratory depression? Stimulus. A shock. He carried her into the shower and toilet cubical and dumped her in the shower basin. She was so light, nothing of substance. He turned on the cold water, full blast. She opened her eyes and gasped, staring at him with terror. He turned off the shower.
“You have to stay awake. If you fall asleep you will die and so will I.”
“I want to die.”
He turned on the shower again and she started sobbing, trying to avoid the water.
“Do I have your attention now?”
He picked her up and carried her back to the bed. He found a towel and dried her vigorously, rubbing hard to get the blood flowing.
“What’s your name?”
She closed her eyes, drifting off so he shook her.
“Cynthia, Cynthia Penrith.”
“Where are we?”
“London, stupid. Have they just let you out of the loony bin?”
He looked round the flat, struck by just how unfamiliar everything was. The woodchip walls were a ghastly orange-brown colour and the dirty curtains looked like somebody had thrown up on them after overdosing on Smarties. The plugs and light switches looked all wrong, “What year is this?”
She giggled and closed her eyes, so he shook her again.
“Christ,” he said, “What the hell is going on?”
She had a lucid moment and her eyes opened in terror, “Oh God, please don’t hurt me. How did you get in? I’ll call the police.
“Well you could if your phone hadn’t been disconnected. Right, Lady. What shit have you been putting inside your body?”
“Ohh allsorts have come and gone in me,” She giggled and he slapped her gently, “What shit have you taken?”
“Dust and Charlie.”
“Fucksake, what’s dust? I know what Charlie is.”
“You took fucking heroin on top of cocaine. Are you trying to kill yourself?”
“Yes!” she sobbed, “My life is fucking shit. Look at this place. This is my shitty life and I want to die.”
“Take it from me, love. Death is pretty overrated.”
But she was falling asleep again. Edge knew that the cocaine would have worn off by now but the effects of the heroin would have been exacerbated. If she went to sleep she would probably die from respiratory depression.
“How much and when?”
“I don’t measure it, half a syringe. I think it was stronger than the usual shit. Took it…..”
He shook her.
“Just after one-thirty.”
During his SERE course Edge had been interrogated after 48 hours of sleep deprivation. Over the next five hours he was going to find out just how hard interrogators had to work. It started with what she had eaten over the past week (very little and mostly crap), the programme schedule on the television for 1977. Some of the programmes seemed unbelievably dull, then he thought about Big Brother. By 3am Edge was trying to get her to remember the weapon handling drills for the SLR, L85 and the immediate action drills for both weapons. Then it was kings and queens of England from the Tudors and finally capitals of the world.
At 6:50am she opened her eyes and looked at him, “Please, I don’t want to do any more capitals of the world. You’re driving me mad.”
She fell into an exhausted but natural sleep and Edge started to clean up the detritus in the flat, throwing out all of the drugs paraphernalia. He know that she would go ballistic when she found out and he grinned. He washed the ancient pots in the sink and put them away, folded up her clothes and generally tidied. He turned round and saw her looking at him.
He found a blanket and put it over her, lying beside her on the bed.
“You’re really nice. Do you want to fuck me?”
Edge remembered an old lady peering at him from under a waxed hat as he layered his hedge in Devon, “No, you’re all right love. You’ve had enough excitement for one night.”
He cuddled her and she nuzzled up to him, the first time for so many years that she had been intimate with another human being without there being a sexual element. She drew back to get a look at him for the first time. He was a middle-aged man with a short beard and long, prematurely grey hair. He had a hard, brutal face with a broken and badly set nose. But it was the harsh, jagged scar on his forehead that was most frightening.
“Are you my guardian angel?” she asked and then giggled, “It’s not very likely is it?”
He thought about it for quite a while and then everything suddenly fell into place. He could now make sense of the impossible.
“No,” he said as the realisation hit him like a sledgehammer, “but I think you could be mine.”
She wrinkled her nose, “You’re silly. What’s your name?”
“That’s a silly name. Will you stay with me, Edge?”
He felt an agonizing blast go through his brain and knew that his time here was finished, “No. I have to go back.”
“Will I ever see you again?”
“Yes. In thirty-three years.”
“I’ll be dead by then.”
“You won’t, but you’ll have lots of regrets and so will I. Stay off that shit, go back to your family and live the rest of your life at a slower pace.”
“Bye, Edge. You’re a bloody ugly guardian angel,” she said and fell into a sleep he knew she would wake up from.
“And you’ll be a bloody ugly cat minder,” he said, gently kissed her and returned to his own body and the pain.
Edge finally woke up fifteen days after they had put him in the medically induced coma. Every day they would check his intracranial pressure and drain the fluid from inside his skill with an intraventricular catheter. They were also constantly monitoring for signs of bacterial meningitis but although the NHS was the envy of the world, hospital acquired infections were much lower in Portugal and the Hospital Particular do Algarve was a very good hospital. Most nights Bia would sleep just outside the HDU suite on a camp bed and Edge would watch her in his ethereal state, both humbled and saddened by her devotion to him. It would have been much easier for him if she had just left
He was bored endlessly wandering through the hospital corridors, desperately trying to find the route back to the meadow beside the river. He suspected that as long as the machines were keeping him alive, that route was barred to him. The day of his awakening, the out of body Edge was dragged back to his flesh, blood and bone version and the pain was back. The nurse doing the 15:00 Obs saw him looking at her, she smiled in genuine joy and surprise and went to page the neurosurgeon. She came back and gently wiped the dribbles away from the tubes. As he regained full consciousness, Edge started to gag and with the help of a senior nurse, they removed the airway tubes. The neurosurgeon came in with some sheets of paper and sat on the bed next to him.
“Good afternoon, Mr Edge. We are so glad to have you back. How do you feel?”
“Rough,” he whispered hoarsely.
The surgeon checked his pupils and their reaction to light, “Do you know what day it is?”
“It’s a Friday because I can smell fish.”
“And what is this,” the surgeon asked holding up a picture.
“It’s a car.”
“What colour is it?”
“No it’s red, but don’t worry. You will probably get a few things mixed up until your brain rewires itself. Of course, some things you may never get back. Mr Edge, you are a tough man. You will need to be on your long road to recovery. God has given you a second chance.”
“No, actually it was the spirit of a Croatian forensic anthropologist called Jozica Marić, whom I killed with my stupidity.”
The surgeon smiled uncertainly, “You are bound to feel confused for some time. I will be back later this evening to see how you are.”
“Did you operate on me?” Edge asked, grabbing the surgeon’s sleeve.
“I was part of the team which saved you, yes.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m sorry I made you shiver when you stepped back in the operating theatre.
The neurosurgeon looked at Edge uncertainly. On the way back out he spoke with the senior nurse, “Keep a close eye on the English patient and make a note of what he says. You do speak English?”
“Not very well,”
“All right, ask one of your colleagues who does. He seems to be out of the worst, but some things he said are a little worrying. We will need to know how well his higher faculties are working after his brain injury.”
That evening Bia visited him and hugged him to death and cried on him, “Oh Adje, we thought you were dead.”
“I bloody well will be if you don’t let me breathe,” She held his hand and he smiled lopsidedly, “Tonight I want you to sleep in a proper bed, not a camp bed. Got that?”
“How did you know?”
“My guardian angel told me. Thank you, Bia for staying with me, but I’m getting better, so a good night’s sleep for you. Keep the bed warm for when I get out. Can you do me a favour please? Inside my bag in the bedroom there is an internal pocket on the side away from the straps. Inside it there’s another cell phone and a notebook. Could you please bring them tomorrow with the laptop?”
She nodded, but seemed reluctant to leave, “Go on, Bia. Sleep well and don’t forget to bring the stuff I asked for. How did you get here?”
“I drove your car.”
Bia finally let go of his hand and went to leave, “Night love. Bye the way, the story with Richard Parker the tiger, is much nicer.”
The following day Edge put the phone on charge from the laptop with a USB cable. There was only one telephone number in the phone’s number log. Edge called it and left a message. He switched on the laptop and sent a short e-mail.
Sent: 24 March 2013 at 1854
Subject: Stand To
FAO Inkspot01. I am in extremis Portugal Hospital Particular do Algarve, Faro, Portugal. Please join me with all haste.
Edge asked if it would be possible to see the hospital’s dermatologist and a small, darkly intense man visited him and he explained his problem through an English-speaking nurse.
“Sir, this is a photograph of my housekeeper,” the nurse smiled knowingly at that before translating, “She is dear to me and I would like to repay the kindness she shown me. I have considerable financial assets, and I am asking you if the lady’s birth mark can be treated. I don’t care about it at all, but she is very self-conscious.”
The dermatologist looked at the photograph Edge had taken, unknown to her. He looked at him and smiled sympathetically, “I’m afraid Mr Edge that there is no guarantee that any procedure could make the unfortunate lady’s facial blemish less noticeable. Laser treatment has very limited success as I believe that the epidermis is affected. Surgery could well make the disfigurement much worse and I would caution against it. I’m sorry that this isn’t the answer you wanted but I have to be fair to you and her. On the other hand, I could perform a skin graft on your head to disguise the wound to your forehead.”
He gave Edge his card and left. The nurse patted Edge’s arm. “God bless you, Mr Edge.”
The receptionist looked at the impossibly handsome man, who for some reason wanted to visit the English patient.
“Ha yes, Meester Hedge,” The lady made a telephone call and a nurse clip-clopped into the reception. He was grateful she looked like a nurse wearing white clothing that was clean, rather the scrubs.
He followed her into the bowels of the hospital to the high dependency unit. In the HDU, Edge was still connected to many machines that went beep.
“Ten minutes,” the nurse said sternly and left.
He was shocked at his state. It was like half of his face was slumped with a rheumy, half-closed eye that looked red and sore. Edge opened his good eye and looked at him.
“What have you done, Edgie?”
“Thanks for coming,” he whispered hoarsely.
Edge said and told him about everything that had happened from his leaving the Army, to the discovery of the rifle and the war crimes investigation. He told him about living rough in London and following Ron Gleam. He also told him about Bia and how they had formed an unlikely relationship. Morrison told him about his life.
“Edgie, we’ve both been done up like a couple of kippers,” Morrison concluded.
“Who do you reckon it was?”
“Don’t know, but when I find the bastard, I’ll kill them.”
Edge gave him a flash drive with his good hand, “It’s all in there. Where the rifle’s hidden. Where that bastard Gleam lives, his family and movements. Photographs and plans, maps of the area. Ways in and out.”
“I’ll take the shot for you,” Morrison said looking at Edge’s lopsided face and tried to stop himself from bursting into tears.
“Did she ever come back, Henry?”
“The Paki Princess with those lovely eyes.”
“No, mate. She never did. I’ll be back to see you before I go and then to let you know how it went.”
On the way out, Morrison saw a young woman heading for the HDU ward. She turned away from him, looking down at the floor. Morrison stopped and looked at her.
“Excuse me, are you Bia Vargas?”
She turned side on to him, with a hunted look, “Yes?”
Morrison hugged her, “Thank you, Bia. He isn’t the easiest person in the world to like. He can be a bastard, but there’s always something else. You’ve probably discovered it.
When Bia went in to see Edge, she was furious, “How did you describe me to him?”
Edge sang in a cracked and croaky voice:
Yes, she caught my eye
As we walked on by
She could see from my face that I was
And I don’t think that I’ll see her again
But we shared a moment that will last ’til the end
“He said you could be a bastard, Adje,” but she hugged him nonetheless.
© Blown Periphery 2018