Sleepwalker

I rose from bed, and opened the door.

There she was. Somehow I’d expected

Imogen to be stumbling like a zombie,

her hands outstretched into empty space.

Instead she stood by the staircase,

ghost-like, perfectly still. I dared not

touch her, or startle her. Imogen stirred,

and started to walk. I followed. She was

returning to her room. The door was ajar.

She glided in. Suddenly Imogen groaned,

and garbled some inexplicable words. I

made my exit. I couldn’t help reflecting

that Imogen was a profoundly troubled

girl.

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Discarded

We sat together, drinking tea.

Imogen had warmed to Uncle.

Both of them chatted eagerly.

The pills made Imogen drawl,

but her mind seemed sharp.

Uncle was good at garnering

information. I learnt a lot about

Imogen’s family as they talked.

Her father was some kind of foreign

ambassador. He wandered the globe.

Her mother followed in his footsteps,

like a trophy wife. They were rarely

in the country, too busy to consider

Imogen, or her fragile health. She’d

been institutionalized, discarded long

ago. When Imogen spoke, she didn’t

cast any blame. This was simply how

matters stood. I felt moved, profoundly

sorry for her.

0

Fishes

Dr Stokes warned us that Imogen

could become unpredictable, if she

wasn’t properly cared for. This seemed

far-fetched, because the Imogen I knew

was a gentle, beautiful soul. Her room

had been prepared. It was a cheerful

place. Beatrice had been told. She was

sour and prickly at first, but quickly grew

resigned. Another one of Augustus’s

crazy strays, was all she said, clearly

not amused. Then Uncle and I bundled

into the car. We were going to collect

Imogen. My stomach swam with tiny

fish. It was nerves.

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Limp

Imogen was summoned. When she

rambled into the dayroom, she looked

dishevelled, as if she’d been disturbed

from deep slumber. When I broke the

incredible news, Imogen seemed

genuinely baffled. I realized she was

heavily medicated. I explained how we

could be together. She stirred slightly

at this. It was like a fog bank had lifted.

Imogen, my Uncle is organizing your

discharge. I spoke these words gently.

A fleeting smile flickered over Imogen’s

face, and died. I hugged my girl. She

was like a limp fish in my arms.

0

Flying

Uncle’s generosity staggered me.

He didn’t even know my new girl.

After all, he might be inviting a crazy

woman into the house. Uncle’s trusting

nature was both naive and something

beautiful. Full of joy, I asked whether he

meant this seriously. Certainly, Augustus.

I’d like to chip in, do my bit. We had

reached the motorway. Uncle put his

foot down. The car accelerated past

stationary traffic. I felt like I might fly.

0

Visiting

She came after ten minutes. The way

Imogen glided in made me think she’d

been heavily medicated. There was that

vacancy in her eyes I’d noticed in many

other patients. We held each other close,

and Imogen kissed me feverishly. You

came, you came, she said, awestruck.

I replied that I was going to get her

out of this place. Imogen beamed, then

she shrugged her shoulders hopelessly.

I had no plan. I think she could tell I was

just spouting hot air. We spent a beautiful

hour together. Until a grave nurse poked

her head in, and called Imogen to lunch.

I watched her glide out of the dayroom.

I’d sworn to come the next day.

0

Trouble

We were sat around the big kitchen table

drinking tea, munching chocolate biscuits.

There was no point in dissembling, so I

told Uncle and Beatrice the full story.

I think Uncle was flabbergasted that I

could launch into another relationship,

so soon after Alice’s death. But he spoke

no words of condemnation. The main

thing, Augustus, is that you’re happy.

But bless me, I don’t know how you’re

going to meet up with this Imogen.

Beatrice was tight-lipped, I felt she

wanted to scream. Well, Augustus,

you certainly have a passion for

troubled young ladies. I said nothing.

0

Game

Dr Stokes asked me some curious

questions tonight. I think he suspects.

I asked Imogen to clarify this, but

she was hesitant to repeat his words.

I prayed Dr Stokes hadn’t cottoned

on to our little game. We’d need to be

cautious. Imogen and I spoke softly.

We kissed. We lay together. We

were just perfect. Inwardly, I scorned

the din created by the nurse’s trolleys

beetling down the corridor.

0

Acting

The dining hall was nearly empty.

Imogen and I sat together. I felt

very conspicuous. So we spoke

in hushed voices, afraid some

passing nurse might overhear.

I didn’t want to seem animated,

so I dampened my responses,

acting wooden. Imogen quickly

understood. We whispered like

conspirators, agreeing to meet

later. I knew it would be hard

to stay undiscovered. Once

Imogen had gone, I stared

into space, and played idly

with my remaining food.

There was nobody around.

After a heavy pause, I stood

up, and slouched theatrically

back to my room.

0

Faking

I didn’t know if I’d be able to fake

a seizure. Instead I’d claim I was

having panic attacks around people.

I couldn’t imagine Dr Stokes would be

easily hoodwinked. I’d need to put on

the performance of a lifetime. I ran

through some startling phrases,

and practiced making a long, sickly,

forlorn face. When Dr Stokes finally

appeared, I was genuinely a shivering

mess. I explained my symptoms, saying

my vision was blurred, that the whole

world was closing in on me. I trembled

like a young leaf, sweating profusely.

Dr Stokes took my pulse. Augustus,

I’d like to monitor you for a little longer.

I don’t think you should return home

until we have stabilized your condition.

It was working. I glowed inside.

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