When Maggie wakes from a coma, her world is torn apart. The police tell her that her daughter Elspeth is dead. That she drowned when the car Maggie had been driving plunged into the river. Maggie remembers nothing.
When Maggie begs to see her husband, Sean, the police tell her that he has disappeared. He was last seen on the day of their daughter’s funeral. What really happened that day at the river? Where is Maggie’s husband? And why can’t she shake the suspicion that somewhere, somehow, her daughter is still alive?
Read on for an extract from Day of the Accident by Nuala Ellwood!
Day of the Accident
Lewes Crown Court
Now that I’m finally here I realize that what I feel, more than anything, is a sense of unburdening. I always knew deep down inside me that it would have to come out in the end; that someone would have to pay.
The two officers flanking me stare straight ahead, though my eyes are drawn to the ceiling. Its honey- comb design seems to shift and bend as we walk, like the ripples on the surface of a river. Somewhere up there they will be taking their seats, the strangers with whom my fate now rests. They will be issuing polite greetings, shuffling papers, reading notes. All in a day’s work for them, this case, an open and shut one according to my lawyer, though not to me; not to me.
Elspeth is with me as we come to a halt by an ornate wooden door. I can feel her presence like a second skin as the first officer steps forward to open it, then with a tilt of the head ushers his colleague and myself through.
The officers lead me to my spot and though my lawyer has prepared me for this moment, rehearsed it until I’m pitch-perfect, it is still a shock to be in this room. I look up to a sea of black-robed figures all on their feet and I’m reminded of Elspeth’s charcoal drawing of the crows that used to litter the meadow at Larkfields. When she’d finished it we hung it on the wall in the kitchen so everyone could admire it. Yet, though Elspeth had been very proud of the drawing, I had always found it chilling, as though it were alluding to something much darker, something rotten that lay hidden at the heart of our family. And now, in this moment, when my mind should be focused on the proceedings at hand, all I can think of is the collective noun for a group of crows.
I swallow the thought as the judge begins to speak. As he reads out the list of charges I lower my eyes and try to summon Elspeth to my side again. But all I can see is the river and that secret spot where the two alder trees, leafless and bone clean, bend their heads towards each other. I recall the pain, the eerie silence. The panic. The fear. I hear the words I told myself over and over. This is for the best; this way I can wipe the slate clean and make it all better.
‘Margaret Rose Allan.’
The judge is addressing me. I stand up. I try to appear calm though my left leg is shaking violently.
The judge continues to speak. I hear the word ‘manslaughter’ and though I have prepared for this, the enormity of it suddenly hits.
‘How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?’
‘Forgive me, Elspeth,’ I think as I enter my plea. ‘Please forgive me.’
Lewes Victoria Hospital, Lewes, East Sussex
Five weeks earlier
Monday 17 July 2017
I wake to a liquid world. Orbs of yellow light hang in front of me. I try to blink them away but they grow bigger and bigger until their bloated shape is all I can see.
I close my eyes and the pain begins; faint at first then raw, excruciating, splitting my head into tiny pieces that fall into the dead space around me as I lie here unable to move. I hear movement in the room and voices low and muffled. A hand touches my arm and I feel something sharp penetrate my skin.
A male voice. He sounds like he is under water. I stay still, my breath rising and falling alongside the pain in a twisted tandem. Up and down, up and down.
‘Have we managed to contact her husband?’
The aquatic voice gurgles somewhere on the margins of the room. I can only hear in waves. Another voice answers but I can’t make out the words. Then the man speaks again. This time he sounds clearer, like his face is pressed right next to mine.
I recognize his voice now. It’s the man from my dream. I want to see him but my eyes won’t focus properly. Everything is blurred.
‘Maggie, can you hear me?’
I go to speak but my mouth is full of water. River water. The milky taste of the Ouse. I hear it rushing in my ears, into my nose. I try to breathe but the water is consuming me.
‘Maggie,’ he repeats, the name a rock thudding against my head. ‘Can you hear me?’
The answer is, yes, I can. And not only at this moment but for some time now. I’ve lived with his voice, all their voices, in my dream world, the world I’m reluctantly leaving. The lure of sleep is overwhelming. It entices me with its velvet embrace, tempting me to lose myself in its folds.
‘Maggie,’ says the man firmly. ‘I need to know if you can hear me.’
I turn my head then and look straight at him. The fog begins to clear and he comes into focus, a man in his early forties with cropped greying hair and thick blue-rimmed glasses.
‘Yes,’ I whisper, finally, hearing the collective sigh of relief trickle through the room. Then more loudly: ‘Yes.’
Wednesday 19 July
Something is shifting. I become aware, slowly, of noise, chatter. My eyes are the first to respond, flicking open like a switch taking me from darkness into light. I see a glass window in front of me. There’s a blur of colour behind it; movement, figures. I try to focus on the figures but they bleed out like street lights reflected in a puddle. I blink, once, twice, three times, then I turn my head. The movement brings about a sensation akin to travel sickness. I’m aware of a tightening in my throat. I go to touch it but my arm won’t move. I look down and see wires. They are attached to my hands and chest.
‘Hello,’ I say, my voice a croak. ‘Hello?’ Louder this time.
I hear the door open. A man appears at the end of the bed.
‘Maggie?’ he says, his voice loud and deliberate.
I recognize his voice.
‘My name’s Dr Elms.’
Dr Elms. I last heard the name in my coma dream.
‘Wheremi?’ I say, pushing the words out. ‘Wheremi?’
My mouth feels twisted. The words aren’t forming properly. My lips feel numb.
‘You’re in Lewes Victoria Hospital.’
He is speaking very slowly, like a warped record.
I look beyond him and see two women, one in a blue uniform, the other in pink. The one in pink smiles at me then comes over and sits by the bed. I feel her hand on my hand. It’s warm.
‘You’re doing really well, Maggie,’ she says, gently.
I turn to look at her. She’s middle-aged with short mousy hair and a soft, kind face.
‘I’m Claire,’ she says. ‘I’m your nurse.’
When she says that word a sharp pain engulfs my chest and I ball my fists, willing the pain to subside.
‘Let me get you some water,’ says Claire.
She pours a cup from the jug by the bed then brings it to my mouth. I take a long sip. The water is cool and refreshing but the pain remains. Panicky pain.
‘Whatsss,’ I say as Claire takes the cup away. ‘Whatsshappened?’
My brain feels like it’s turned to liquid and my words are drowning in it.
Dr Elms walks over and sits down on the chair next to the bed.
‘I’m afraid you were involved in an accident,’ he says, emphasizing that final word with a nod of his head. ‘You lost consciousness and have been in a coma for nearly ten weeks.’
Claire rubs my hand. It sends a shiver up my spine and I jolt up in the bed.
‘Accssdent?’ I say, my mouth twitching as I try to take hold of the word. ‘Accssdent?’
‘Yes, an accident,’ says Dr Elms. ‘A car accident.’
As he speaks, I’m suddenly gripped with panic. I look around the room. There’s Dr Elms, Claire and the other woman in a blue uniform. There’s a room with a window looking out on to a corridor. I look back at the three people. Elms, Claire, uniform. Elms, Claire, uniform. Someone is missing. Someone should be here.
‘Essh,’ I cry, throwing back the sheet. ‘Essh…’ Claire puts her hand out to hold me back.
‘It’s okay, Maggie,’ she says. ‘Try to keep calm.’
The name is in my head but it won’t form on my lips. The most important name, the most important person in my life, and I can’t get it out.
‘Daaaa…’ I begin, ripping through the film that separates my thoughts from my speech. ‘Dauu… Esssh?’
‘What is she saying?’ says Elms, turning to Claire.
‘I’m not sure,’ says Claire.
‘Essssh,’ I cry, pounding my fists on the bed in frustration.
‘Maggie, it’s okay,’ says Dr Elms, coming towards me with his palms raised. ‘You’re safe now. It’s all okay.’
I shake my head as he approaches. He puts his hand on my hand.
‘Whesh,’ I gasp, but I can feel my voice getting weaker. ‘Wheshe?’
‘I didn’t quite get that, Maggie,’ he says gently. ‘But don’t worry, just try to rest for now.’
Raw terror rips through me. Why won’t they answer my question? I need to get out of here. I need to find her.
‘Maggie, no,’ cries Elms as I launch myself forward.
I feel his arms on mine.
‘Claire, get the midazolam.’
I try to fight him but he’s too strong. Claire’s face appears in front of me. I feel a sharp sting in my arm and then the room starts to melt. I put my head back on the pillow. The panic dissipates. I try to remember what I wanted to ask but I can’t grasp it… it’s slipping… I fall.
Enjoyed this extract from Day of the Accident by Nuala Ellwood? Let us know in the comments below!