Short story: Onwards by Emma Kavanagh
The Missing Hours is the third psychological thriller by former police psychologist Emma Kavanagh.
We’re big fans of Emma’s writing – and if you’re yet to read her latest book then you’re in for a real treat. In this exclusive short story, we see Doctor Selena Cole and her husband Ed – two characters from The Missing Hours – meeting for the first time.
Read on for an introduction to Selena and Ed…
It was a waking, and yet not a waking. A barely there consciousness, punctuated with voices that were known and unfamiliar both. No pain. That would come later. Just a dim awareness of something having changed. Then that embracing darkness, enfolding him so that Ed was helpless to do anything but sink down into it.
“We’re losing him.”
The next time he awoke, it was different. War brings with it its own feel. Perhaps it is the perpetual closeness of death, or the dancing cacophony of bullets, or the smell of blood. Wherever Ed was now, this wasn’t that. The light was bright, glacial cold. The sounds, that had been screams and tread on gravel and the pock pock pock of gunfire, now just a steady beep beep beep.
Ed tried to force his eyelids open. But the light was too bright. And the dim, unfinished shapes that he could see kept resolving themselves into bodies, a Warrior flipped on its side, tumbleweed blown by the wind. A leg, left lying on a dusty road.
He closed them again. Not yet.
The third waking, that was a waking proper. His mind whirring, pausing, rebooting. Consciousness coming online behind still closed lids. There were voices, calm, quiet. Someone was snoring. Ed opened his eyes.
He looked at a ceiling tile. If he just laid here, if he didn’t look down, then it would be like it had never happened at all. Right?
Ed raised his head, an inclination in increments. The pain had found him now, a dull bass throbbing, like he had been blown out of an armoured vehicle by an IED. Yes, just like that. He looked down to the amorphous shape of the sheet. He could leave it at that. For now. Could take this in baby steps, only doing as much as he could cope with. But Ed had never been a patient man. With awkward movements, he pulled aside the sheet.
He had known what it was he would see. The memory of the leg left behind on a Basra road too vivid to be anything but the truth.
But there’s knowing, and then there’s knowing.
Ed stared down the length of the bed at the new shape of him, his left leg now terminating in a neatly bandaged stump, just below the knee.
He stared for long moments and then, pulling the sheet back over, tucking it in neatly around him, lay back, fixed his gaze on the same ceiling tile, and began to cry.
The fourth awaking was perhaps the hardest of all. This one was heralded by a smell, violets, one that reminded him of home. Then the sound of crying. Ed opened his eyes, somewhat unwillingly. His mother, his sister, sat by the side of his bed, weeping, both of their gazes hooked on the paltry remnants of his leg.
“Hey,” he said, his voice hoarse from lack of use “I’m up here.”
It was meant to lighten the mood. It didn’t work.
His mother wrapped her arms around his neck, wailed. His sister, Orla, clutched his hand, telling him that they had already gotten quotes done, that they would get the spare downstairs room in Mum’s house done out for him, that he would be taken care of.
Ed patted his mother on the back, and felt it settle over him like a blanket so heavy that it suffocates the one it is meant to warm. He was a victim. They would take care of him.
After they left, once they were all cried out and Ed had been stripped bare, he lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, and felt it rise up, drown him. The shape of his life to come. And then, that one pure thought – It would have been better if I had died there.
The next awakening came slowly, reluctantly, the knowledge of all that has come and will come keeping him wrapped in the tight safety of sleep. When at last Ed opened his eyes, it was to find a woman standing beside his bed. He pulled back, pulling his sheet up to the level of his chin and studied her, studying him.
“Hi.” She said.
He was looking for it, the pity from Orla’s face, the horror from his mother’s. He tracked her features, wide, a little uneven, her smile slightly lopsided, long hair pulled into a plait. And yet, no matter how hard he looked, he couldn’t find pity there.
“Do I know you?” He asked.
“Not yet.” She replied. “I’m Selena.”
“You’re a doctor?”
“I’m a psychologist.”
“You here to fix me?”
“Do you need fixing?”
Ed’s gaze shifted, back to that ceiling tile. The IED. The once was leg. “I’m not who I was.” He said, distantly.
“None of us are.” Selena replied matter of factly. “The world changes us. Sometimes in ways that we can’t see. Sometimes in ways that we can.” She gestured to the stump.
Ed looked at her. “So,” he said “what do I do now?”
“Well,” she said “eventually you are going to learn to live again. You decide who you’re going to be now. Then you work towards it.”
“I decide?” Ed gave a brief bitter bark of a laugh “Seems like the Jam decided that for me.”
“We don’t get to decide what happens to us. We do get to decide what to do with it.” She was watching him, waiting to take the measure of him.
Ed thought of his mother, of Orla. “I don’t want to be a victim. I don’t want to be someone who needs taking care of.”
Selena nodded, a smile as bright as the dawn. “Okay, then.”
On the next waking, the sun was just beginning to break across the horizon. Ed watched it as it crept higher, spilling colour across a grey landscape. Then he looked down.
“All right, then, Stumpie. Let’s me and you figure out what comes next.”