“Who are you?” Sister Dixon asked. Repeated the question for the third time.
I studied her face. Leaned in a little further towards her and the protesting squeak of the metal chair as the legs bent a little at the welded joints. The chains that bit down against my ankles and my wrists. Like the jaws of the badger trap I had seen back there in the woodshed and the well.
Sister Dixon’s face that remained before me. It filled the room somehow. The flawless skin and muted complexion. The eyes that seemed to peer out from behind a mask. The lips that were red and full and the teeth that remained hidden behind. The darkness of her mouth. Her tongue that looked sticky and wet back there. The loose strands of copper hair that danced upon the hidden breeze that blew down from the rafters. The steel needle that pinned the hair in place behind her head.
“Who are you really Mandy?” Sister Dixon repeated, settling back a little against her own metal chair and crossing her arms beneath her chest and the blue uniform that creased a little beneath her bosom. Her left leg that lifted slowly and travelled across the right and the pleats of a white underskirt that were seen briefly beneath as she brought her leg to settle upon the top of the other. She settled herself and studied me. Her lower leg that was revealed where the hemline of her dress had carried up and the skin that was as muted in colour as the lady’s face. Not real.
The real question lady, is who you are?
And still she continued to study me from the other side of the room. The distance that remained between the two of us. The flickering fluorescent light tube illuminated the black and white tiled floor between us. The light that danced and rippled against the chequers.
“I’m just Mandy.” I said, and my voice sounded as right as rain.
Sister Dixon cocked her head a little and her eyes that narrowed as she scrutinised me. A shadow that seemed to ripple across the surface of her eyes and her pupils that dilated.
“Mandy.” She said. Repeated my name. The sound of it against her tongue and rolling over. “Mandy.” She said, leaning in a little towards me. But her left leg that remained settled upon the right leg and her arms that were crossed. Her hands that were hidden. And I wondered that at any moment she might jump forwards all righteous and brimming with spiritual conviction. That silver crucifix of hers that would be held against her fingers as she thrust it towards me to cast out my demon. But she didn’t. Instead she kind of smiled and turned her other cheek towards me so that her nose was in profile and her left eye that studied mine.
“What do you remember?” She asked.
And I shook my head. The woman studying me from the corner of her left eye and her nose that remained in profile and was hooked towards the end. The blue dress that ruffled against her chest and her shoulders. The heavy material coloured a dull black beneath the flickering fluorescent tube above our heads.
“What do you mean?” I asked, and I was kind of curious now. This conversation felt different somehow to the ones I had previously endured. And I reckoned it was odd that she hadn’t once mentioned poor old Bieber. How her guards had discovered the two of us hiding away in the woodshed and Bieber’s eyes all poked out and rolling around on the floor like two marbles.
“What’s the first memory that you have Mandy.” She said, and her nose remaining in profile and her left eye that studied me cautiously. The lens of her eye that appeared smudged somehow as though she were peering through a membrane that had settled across the eye.
I shook my head and the questions away and closed my eyes briefly. The goblin’s face that was revealed on the other side of my eyelids. His eyes ablaze with flames and his mouth that was wide and lined with tiny teeth.
“I remember a garden.” I said, flicking my eyes open and aware of Sister Dixon seated before me. But my mind peering backwards in time so that it felt as though I were just a shadow within this room and not quite there.
“A garden?” Sister Dixon asked. Her voice. The strange quality to it that I had noticed on previous conversations. The dancing vowels. The seductive quality to her voice as though each word was laced with honey. And a warmth that seemed to spread out from the centre of my belly and across my chest. The feeling not unpleasant. Still my gaze peered back towards the darkness of my mind and the memories that remained locked away in there.
“Yes.” I said, remembering the garden and the green lawn that seemed to stretch for as far as the eye could see in all directions. “We used to play there.” I said, remembering the sound of our voices as we played as only children do. The sun beating down upon the tops of our heads. The shadows that were crisp and sharp against the green grass so that sometimes I was sure that my shadow was another person that would follow me across that lawn.
“Which garden Mandy? Who were you playing with?” Sister Dixon asked. Her voice like honey. The warmth that continued to seep from the centre of my belly and out across my chest and on to my limbs. The little hairs that covered my skin began to prickle and itch. I shook my head. I peered back towards the darkness of my mind. The memories that were barely separated from the dreams back there and had been forgotten in sleep along the way. I screwed up my face and squeezed my eyes shut and peered back towards the beginnings of time. I shook my head and my fingernails that pinched against the insides of my palm.
“I….” I said, the darkness that swirled at the corners of my mind and the endless lawn that was revealed and stretching out in all directions. The garden. The children’s toys that were scattered here and there upon the grass. A swing and something else that I couldn’t quite recall. The memories so dull, so difficult to draw upon.
“……I” I continued, peering out across the lawn and fixing my gaze upon the shimmering objects against the mid-day sun and realising now that it was a child’s see-saw that was painted with shades of blue and yellow. “……I was home.” I said and knowing that the words were true but not quite believing them all the same.
“Good.” Sister Dixon said, “That’s good Mandy.” Her voice said. “And what do you remember about the place. She continued. “Your home.” Her words that word dripping with honey. “Tell me about where you used to live as a child.”
I peered backwards. Forced myself to remember. The sun that pressed down above our heads and the sky that was like a china-blue bowl above our heads. A jet plane that was streaking across the sky so that it cut a deep scar of white. The sound of a voice calling out to me from the see-saw. A girl’s voice that was calling to me. Calling for me to join her. To play with her a while. And a cool breeze that passed across the lawn so that I could smell the blades of grass and dew that had settled upon the tops. The scent of something else too that carried upon the air that I couldn’t quite grasp hold of. The smell that was sharp and prickled against the insides of my nose.
“There were toys.” I continued. “Children’s games that were dotted here and there.” I said, “And the day was shining and warm and the garden seemed to stretch for ever.” I said, peering back to that long-forgotten day that had been locked away for so long.
“And who was you playing with.” The voice asked, Sister Dixon, “In the garden?”
I shook my head. The sense that the images did not wish to be recalled, but still I spoke the words and forced the memories out and the taste of them upon my tongue. A bitter taste of salt.
“I was with my sister.” I said. And I was. I knew that that was true. But it couldn’t be. I didn’t have a sister. I never had.
The memories that were glimpsed between the darkness of my mind. An image of the see-saw lifting above me and my sister on the other side and her body that remained in silhouette against the white sun. And behind her, the endless lawn and a wall that continued in all directions and was tall and built of red brick. My sisters voice calling out to me. Calling to me. Her sister. My sister. Her childish chattering words of excitement as I pushed my heels down against the grass. The see-saw began to pivot back to earth.
“And what happened then Mandy. Try to remember. What happened to your sister Mandy? Tell me.” Sister Dixon asked. Demanded to be told. Her voice that had turned in to something cold and ruinous.
I shook my head and shook sister Dixon’s tricksy words away.
“No.” I said. My temples throbbing and the buzzing of the hornet’s wings against the insides of my ears. “I can’t. I can’t remember.” I said.
The memory of my sister laughing and calling out to me and the two of us racing across the lawn and the air that burnt against my throat as I chased behind her. Her green dress that was billowing out behind and pink little legs that raced across the endless lawn. And I was sure that neither of us had ever travelled this far from home. And I wondered if I should turn back and peer across my shoulder. To see if I could lay my eyes upon Mummy who was sure to be watching from the kitchen. And my Father standing beside her and wearing black. The two of them peering out from the darkness of the windows and across the endless lawn. Seeking out their two daughters as they raced across the lawn and away from them.
“I chased her.” I said, “She was running. She was happy. Laughing. So happy.” I said. And the memory of my sister’s voice calling out to me and her hair that was as black as the raven’s wing and appeared to be blaze with sunbeams. My sister. The two of us raced across the lawn and away from the house. The red brick wall that continued for as far as the eyes could see. The rhododendron’s that leaned in towards the endless wall and the shadows that were thick beneath the bushes.
“Where did you follow her to Mandy?” she asked. Sister Dixon. “Where were you racing with your sister?” She asked, and her words that were as cold as death.
“I don’t remember.” I said, our shadows that nipped against our heels as we raced across the endless lawn. The smell of scorched grass. The scent of something foul and rotten that carried across the red brick walls and over the garden. The girl racing on ahead of me and calling out and turning her face towards me. But her face obscured by shadows and the strangest memory that her eyes were ablaze with fire. And how I longed to sit with her a while and peer towards her flaming eyes. But the girl raced away from me across the endless lawn. Until finally a building was revealed in the distance and drawing in towards us.
“Tell me Mandy.” Sister Dixon repeated, and her words that had caramelised and were sizzling between her lips. And I was sure if I were to blink and peer upon the side of her face once more that her skin would have been stripped away and the creature that remained hidden beneath would have been revealed to me once and for all.
“Tell Me Mandy! You do remember! Where were you running to with your sister? What were you looking for that day? Tell me!” She hissed.
My sister racing away towards the building that grew larger as we raced towards. The endless lawn that stretched away behind us. My Father and my Mummy peering out towards us from behind the windows of the kitchen.
“Where were you running to.” She said. Her words crackling and popping. “Where was it? Tell me Mandy. Tell me where the two of you were running?”
And my fingernails clawing against my palms and my teeth grating and my eyes screwed up and the darkness that creased and folded against the insides of my eyes. The taste of something foul upon my tongue and something wriggling and twisting within my gut. The sound of its sibilant hiss against my ears so that the hairs stood to attention across the whole of my body. My skin beginning to itch from head to toe as though it were about to split right open.
“No!” I screamed, forcing my eyes open and allowing them to settle upon Sister Dixon. The little room where the two of us remained seated.
Sister Dixons face turned to one side. Her nose that was hooked and the darkness of her eye that studied me as she blinked.
“No.” I repeated. “I don’t remember.”