Once we got home, Elizabeth seemed dis-
orientated. I figured the medicines were jumbling
her brain. Father sat her in the lounge, tucked
her into a soft blanket, and went away to make
sweet tea. Elizabeth gazed at the net curtains.
It was a disturbing, vacuous stare. I struggled
to say some consoling words, but nothing passed
my lips. I’d heard about lobotomies and vaguely
wondered whether they’d performed this
unspeakable operation on Elizabeth. Her whole
personality was altered. Like someone had stolen
all Elizabeth’s sunlight, then butchered her soul.
It was criminal. Father came in with the tea.
Suddenly, softly, Elizabeth asked for her
afternoon meds. It was a distant, automatic
inquiry. Elizabeth thought she was still in hospital.
A nauseating chill ran up my spine.
Elizabeth was dwarfed by a massive steel-grey
blanket. She had a brown paper bag with her
belongings, it was clearly hospital issue. I felt
profoundly sorry for her and couldn’t look into
her eyes. The happy bounce had left Elizabeth’s
step. I could sense she was profoundly changed.
Father bundled her into the car in a gentle, kindly
way and we drove away. The bright sunlight was
clearly disturbing Elizabeth. She squinted and her
eyes watered profusely. A month of incarceration
had rocked her health and her soul. Father
hazarded a few concerned questions, but Elizabeth
was chillingly mute. Her head hung down and she
shivered. I thought about extending my arm across
her shoulder, but it seemed wrong. The silence
froze over. Father awkwardly tuned in the car
radio. Elizabeth covered her ears like a startled
rabbit. The gesture was shocking.
When Father returned, he told me he’d had a call
from the hospital. Elizabeth was going to be
discharged. My head spun. Father was thrilled
about bringing Elizabeth home. He knew nothing
about Clarissa. I felt sure Father would disapprove.
After all, he was thoroughly smitten by Elizabeth’s
charms. I didn’t feel up to explaining the
complicated tangle of my emotions. Father
would surely frown. All I knew was that since
this morning Clarissa owned my soul. Elizabeth
would very soon suss out my betrayal. I’d have
to come clean, even if it rattled Elizabeth’s fragile
spirit. It was only proper.
When Clarissa had to leave, I felt confused.
There had been a shattering change in my
loyalties. Our gorgeous lovemaking had done
that. I had entwined Clarissa’s body in mine,
we were interlaced now. There was no room
for Elizabeth in our beautiful partnership.
Clarissa glowed. She knew this too. I wrapped
her scarf at her throat, and smooched her lips.
She whispered my name. The ordinary word
sounded as if bewitched by magic. I led Clarissa
down the steps, and out through the shop.
She threw me a beguiling smile that smote
my soul. The door tinkled, and she was gone.
The next day, Clarissa came round. I thought
about confronting her, but she was just so sweet,
I didn’t have the heart. We became intimate.
Clarissa kissed my neck. I felt elated. I felt like
a leech. I wondered whether I might implode.
My bedroom grew steamy, misty. I was un-
buttoning Clarissa’s blouse. It all happened
like blissful magic. Nothing could stop us.
When Clarissa left, we kissed. It was chaste
and beautiful. I was confused. I went back into
the kitchen. The room was bathed with sun.
I felt light-headed. I knew it was love. Both
Elizabeth and Clarissa stirred my soul. It was
all impossibly wrong. There could only be looming
disaster. Elizabeth would certainly claw, scratch
and bite any rival. She wouldn’t tolerate any cosy
polygamy. I knew the whole thing was absurd.
I’d have to break it off with Clarissa. I couldn’t
mislead this wonderful girl.
It was easy to talk to Clarissa. She didn’t bear
a grudge. She seemed to understand about my
friend. She was clean, uncomplicated. It was like
Clarissa and I were dear friends, talking about
treasured memories. Clarissa sat pertly with her
legs neatly crossed. She glowed with a wholesome
beauty. Suddenly I wished I’d never met sad,
accursed Elizabeth. With Clarissa one could be
simple, even happy. Slowly our conversation trailed
away and we slipped into silence. It didn’t matter.
I sipped my tepid coffee. Across the room, Clarissa
smirked at me. It was a loving smirk. I couldn’t cast
away such rare loyalty. I stood, stretched my arms,
shuffled over to Clarissa, and hugged her delicate
It was early. I’d nipped out for a carton of milk,
because I abhorred black coffee in the morning.
Fumbling for my house keys, I stumbled back up
the garden path, my head down. When I looked
ahead, Clarissa was standing by the door. This
was incredibly awkward. She was dressed in a red
knitted coat and she looked sad. This must have
been difficult for her. I opened the door and we
went inside together. I felt like a monstrous cheat.
I said I’d make us some strong coffee, and sat her
down in the living room. In the kitchen, I struggled
to compose myself. Clarissa turning up like this
was confusing. My mind was already mush from
worrying myself sick about Elizabeth. I felt
compelled to explain things. I didn’t want to
rebuff Clarissa. She was clearly kind, she cared
for me, she was determined and considerate.
I drew a huge breath of courage, placed the
two coffees on a tin tray, and glided back into
the dining area.
I returned to school. Everything seemed normal.
I’d missed many classes and had fallen behind.
I dreaded an awkward meeting with Clarissa.
So I hung my head, and shuffled down the
corridors, greeting no one. I was in my little
bubble. Nobody bothered me. I dreamt of
Elizabeth in lessons, she haunted me, as the
chalk dust swirled in great clouds, and the
teacher droned on about some inexplicably
dull subject. I’d grown too old for school.
At lunch I sat alone. I had no appetite.
With my fork I toyed with the mashed potato,
eating nothing. I wondered what foul
institutionalized meals were being shoved
under Elizabeth’s nose. When the bell rang,
I pelted home on my bike, avoiding everyone,
hoping there’d be some news when I reached
base. Father would be there, slurping a big mug
of tea in the kitchen. His face was sad and empty.
I no longer sought the sanctuary of my attic room.
Instead I sat with Father in the chilly lounge. Few
words were spoken. This didn’t matter. We had
grown since Mother died. Elizabeth had bound
us even further. Father told me to wait it out.
Eventually Elizabeth must be released. His simple
bland comfort was somehow consoling. The
doctors would surely understand that Elizabeth
wasn’t like the other crazy inmates. It was a
matter of time. When she was discharged,
I promised myself to tell Elizabeth how much
I loved and worshipped her. She knew, but I must
make a full confession. We would be forever
together. Only earthquakes or global catastrophes
could separate us.