The Patient in the Cellar
A Short Story
Written by Annika M W
The Friend – Part One
I don't remember precisely what it was that she had. There was a patient at the hospital that was dreadfully ill. She would suddenly go into convulsions and have fits that would harm other patients, so the doctors and her nurse had moved her to the lowest parts of the building – she was moved to protect herself and the other patients. Only one nurse and a doctor were allowed to see her. The nurse stayed with her all the time, soothing her and singing to her to calm her nerves. She only had a matter of days to live. I do remember when the convulsive fits started.
We lived together in a small flat that always had the sun shining in through it. It was painted a light yellow to make it bright. My friend wanted to share a room with me, though we had beds on opposite sides of the room. I would have preferred to have my own room since the flat did have two rooms. However, she had insisted in sharing – my friend hated being on her own. She had signs of mental flux and I should have seen it sooner. But I did not…and I could not escape. I should have but I did not. The first time she attacked me, I was nearly choked to death. She had an ear-piercing scream as she pinned me down on the bed and held my throat. One of the neighbours fortunately heard her scream and phoned the police. They arrived within a matter of minutes and pulled her off me. I gasped for breath and had tears falling from my eyes.
One of the police officers lifted me gently up as the other two held down my friend as she thrashed about and scratched them. He wrapped a jacket around me and ushered me out of the bedroom.
"Are you alright?" he asked me, as he sat me down on the living room sofa.
I nodded slowly, still startled by her sudden change. My hands trembled. I closed my eyes as I heard her scream again. The police officer took hold of my trembling hand gently and gave me a look of care and concern I would never forget.
"Is there anyone you can stay with tonight?"
"I can stay with my sister. What will happen to Joanne?" I asked.
"We will take her to the hospital to have her examined properly. She will not be harmed, I promise."
"Would you like me to drive you to your sister's house?"
"I think I can manage."
After the police removed Joanne to a proper, safe environment, I did not see her for months until the hospital phoned me. I sold the apartment a month ago; I would not be going back. I did not wish to have any memories of the attack. I decided to go see her, despite everything in me saying no. It may not have been the wisest choice. But I went.
The Nurse and the Patient – Part Two
The patient had been writhing on the bed, rolling about and panicking. Her breathing was unstable. The nurse returned with some water and medication for her patient. She set it on the nightstand beside the patient. Joanne looked at the nurse and cowered towards the wall, shrinking into herself.
"Come now Miss Jo, we only want to help you feel better," said the nurse, sitting beside Joanne.
Joanne held her breath as the nurse took hold of her hand.
"The only one who can make me better is Silvia. You aren't Silvia…Silvia can only make me better! Where's Silvia?"
"The doctor called your friend this morning. She said she would pop down for a visit, dear. Alright? Now, calm yourself and take your medication. Rest until your friend comes here."
Joanne obeyed reluctantly. With trembling hands, she drank her water and swallowed her pills. The patient soon calmed and rested on her back, staring up at the white popcorn ceiling of the hospital.
"Why'd they move me down here to the pits? Can you sing to me, Nurse?" Joanne asked, releasing a staggered breath.
"Of course I can sing to you, what would you like me to sing? Miss Jo, they moved you down here for your own protection. They don't want you hurting yourself or the other patients. We are lookin' after you." Nurse answered, calmly.
The nurse was stroking Joanne's hand gently and began singing an old tune she sang as a child. The nurse leaned up against the wall as she sat on the chair, still humming. Several hours passed as the patient slept soundly. The only thing that had been a distraction as the nurse worked on her crosswords was Joanne's hoarse breathing. The nurse wondered when the patient's friend would possibly arrive. She'd heard gossip that Miss Jo had nearly strangled her friend to death before the police arrived. Perhaps Joanne had despised her friend because of her easy, carefree life without struggle and illness. The nurse silently cursed at the friend and scoffed. No, Miss Jo was far better off without that prick of a friend.
A soft voice and footsteps startled the nurse and Joanne.
"Silvia!" Joanne cried out, sitting up – her wild hair flinging about her. "Silvia, I knows you're there…you just don't want to see me. I know that perfume – it's your favorite!"
Behind the corner, a doctor and Silvia stopped. Silvia felt her heart pounding in her chest. She always wore too much of her perfume. Silvia shook her head at the doctor as he glanced her way.
"Please, no," she mouthed.
"Silvia!" Joanne screamed and began thrashing again. "You – stupid – wench you locked me – up in here!"
Her screams were horrific to Silvia as a tear slid down her face. She couldn't face Joanne without the memories coming back to her. Her hands trembled as she moved and kept her back against the wall. Joanne was sobbing and shouting at the nurse, trying to shove her away. The doctor left Silvia's side as Joanne tried to break free. Joanne turned pale as she began coughing and choking on her own breath. She gathered the blankets to her mouth as she released a violent cough. The nurse looked down at the blanket to see blood stains. Silvia didn't have much longer to live.
"She's having an uncontrollable fit. Did you give her the medication?" the doctor asked.
"Yes, she took it. I know she did. There, there," the nurse took Joanne into her arms and held her as she wept. "Hush now, dear,"
"Silvia, there's a piano in the corner there…won't you play Silent Night while nurse sings to me? I want to see you, you coward." Joanne shouted.
Silvia closed her eyes and sighed deeply as the doctor came to her again. He urged her to the old worn out piano and sat her down. The old piano was out of tune but the melody still calmed Joanne. The nurse took hold of Joanne's hand as she rested her head on the pillow and tried to regain her breathing.
"Sleep in heavenly peace," the nurse began. "Let go, Joanne, be at peace as I sing to you one last time."
The nurse had surprisingly a beautiful voice as Silvia listened. Silvia played the song slowly on the piano – how one would play a gentle lullaby.
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright! Round
Yon Virgin mother and child,
Holy infant so tender and mild…
Sleep in Heavenly peace – sleep in heavenly peace.
Joanne was pale when Silvia went to look at her. Tears fell from her eyes as Joanne passed. The nurse released her hand from Joanne's and folded her arms across her chest like an X.
"I'm sorry, Jo," Silvia said, before rushing out.
The fear lived inside Silvia the rest of the afternoon and the evening after she returned to her sister's house. It had been a bitter end for Joanne, but she would suffer no more.