“My name … is … Danielle,” she spoke in a barely audible voice but immediately all four people around her stopped what they were doing and leant closer to her. They heard something. What was it? Did she move or speak?
Danielle felt like she was suffocating and she gasped frantically. It was quick, rapid breathing. The bodies crowding her were now no more than shapes but she knew - somewhere in her mind - that they were real people. She was back at last. The strong smell of disinfectant in the room caught her off guard. She croaked, “Please, don’t let me go again.”
“Hello there.” Then there was a pause, “Can you tell me what your name is?” a deep but gentle voice questioned her. It was the type of voice that would make a marvellous baritone Danielle thought as she fought to grasp the rest of his words from the air that was swimming around her.
“I’m Hutch. You’re doing fine. We’re going to look after you, young lady.”
There were unfamiliar noises around her. And a steady beat off to the left caught her attention. She tried to recognise it but the memory wouldn’t return.
The white ceiling tiles were dazzlingly bright, even though her eyes wouldn’t open. The strips of light that were evenly placed up there burned into the back of her eyelids and she tried to frown.
“I’m your doctor today. How are you feeling?” Danielle attempted a smile but found she couldn’t. His name somehow reminded her of her rabbit, Snowy, and how he would jump around and gently nudge to get attention; softly, but firmly, drawing her focus to him. Snowy was there. Danielle was convinced. She was safe again; at home and dreaming.
“Now, let’s see. Here ….” The musical voice broke into her thoughts. As she felt Dr Hutch touch her left arm Danielle noticed that his words were fading away as if someone was slowly turning the volume down on a stereo. She struggled to catch the words. She turned to the left – there was nothing there. The sound was still fading. She knew he was letting go. But he had just promised not to, hadn’t he? Danielle knew she had to trust this velvet-toned stranger so she turned painfully to the right and tried to hear him there. His words seemed to be falling into sand. Then questions appeared and hovered just above the surface of the greenish coloured sea that was now in front of her. They were all jumbled up and were closed in small, round transparent cases that seemed to sway gently in a breeze. The containers reminded her of something. Her memory shifted as she searched … then it came; it was the old 35mm film that her grandfather had been so fond of. He called it, “Proper film for a proper camera. No new fangled computer stuff. You have to think for yourself.”
She missed Grampy. She wished he was there, now. A feeling of total sadness invaded her entire body. She shivered involuntarily. The shadows around her noticed because their murmuring got more intense.
Instinctively she knew she wasn’t dreaming. The fear gripped her throat as she panicked. “Where am I?” she questioned herself. Grampy was good with puzzles, he’d help her work it out. But where was he? A person in the distance resembled him; with that familiar cap, walking with a bit of driftwood in his hand. The dog next to him confirmed it. Grampy and Flash. Always walking and looking for something together after Gramps had gone.
Danielle started after them but knew that she wasn’t moving; her feet were totally still. She stared at her legs without recognition, and when she looked up again Grampy and Flash were no longer there. Suddenly, although it didn’t make sense, Danielle knew she had to dig for the words. Tears as heavy as hailstones fell from her face. They were making the sand hard to move.
She was on her hands and knees, digging in a frenzy, trying to uncover the letters and arrange them into recognisable words. She knew that they were her only means of escape. If she could unscramble the puzzle then she’d be able to get out of this lonely place. Within a moment that quickly disappeared Danielle immediately realised that she had no concept of time. What puzzled her most of all is why no one had come to find her. She couldn’t figure out why she was all alone.
She tried to move the heavy sand but it changed into flames and she was unable to see anything. Her eyes still wouldn’t open. Panic tightened around her throat and she tried to call out but there was no sound. Danielle wasn’t sure if it was her voice or her ears that weren’t working. Slipping through time she remembered feeling the heat as she went back into his flat, the man she had told she was leaving. She was flushed and embarrassed after such a wonderfully dramatic exit. Now the annoyance she felt at herself for rushing out without it made her blush. But she had to get it. She needed it.
No one knew that they were together. It had been a secret because it would ruin her image. Standing there alone on the pavement she felt cold, despite the afternoon sun, but she knew she couldn’t replace what was still in there, so reluctantly she turned back through the opened door and mounted the stairs to the bedroom. It was there that she saw him, sat on the side of the bed that they had recently shared.
He was sobbing and had a lighter in one hand and the photograph in the other.
“What are you doing?” she screamed as he looked up at her and flicked the lever with his thumb.
“I’m sorry,” he mouthed as the flames flew all over him.
Danielle knew she should run out but instead she went towards him and snatched the photograph and then tried to roll him onto the floor, but Edward was much bigger than her, she’d always felt protected by his size, but now he was resisting her touch. Suddenly alert he grabbed at her and his fire covered her arms like an electric blanket that was too warm. There was a strange smell. Familiar, but strange.
“I’ve got to get to the phone,” she though as she dropped to the floor with Edward on top of her. But she couldn’t move. She was trapped. “Where did he get petrol from?” she thought as she was smothered into unconsciousness.
“She’s off again,” a familiar cold voice came at her from across the room. Hatred began swelling in her immobile chest. The calm resignation of that unbearable tone meant only one thing: she was being let go again.
“I can hear you,” Danielle croaked, Frantically she cried, “Don’t touch me!” but her scream got trapped in her throat as the rate of her breathing was snatched from her control by the medication that slipped into her arm and quickly raced around her body. Each drip felt like another thick blanket suffocating her mind.
It felt like sinking. It was that horrible plummeting sensation all over again. It made her sick and weak and she’d only just crawled back to the top.
“I only want you to see me,” Danielle thought as she was thrown onto the coarse unforgiving sand. The questions were still suspended over the sea in transparent cases and the sand was full of holes she had already dug. She manoeuvred herself to a smooth flat section of sand and started digging. Escape must be under the sand.
The day when cameras had last captured her now seemed so long ago. The photo shoot that morning had been staged by her agent. Danielle was coming out of a gym looking fit and healthy as usual. She looked surprised, as arranged, and then relaxed into a wide but coy smile before dashing off to the waiting car.
Reflecting on the wonderful life that she had Danielle attempted a duplicate smile but her skin was so tight near her lips that she couldn’t move. Confusion played in her mind. A tear came from the corner of her left eye and rolled down her altered face which was no longer smooth. More salty tears stung her as they travelled downwards past her bandaged-covered ear and sank into the pillow. A small oasis quickly formed but nobody noticed - apart from her. She heard them talking, they called her Jane Doe.
That last afternoon was the only time she had alone before she was due to fly back out to
Angeles. The woman in the crowd also knew that it was
her last chance for about six months to see Danielle in person so she rushed
forwards. A bright smile was on her face.
“Ellie! Ellie!” she shouted. Although she felt a little out of place she was determined to be noticed. “Do the big smile you practised,” she said to herself as she leaned forward and shouted the girl’s name again. She pushed the shorter, thinner girls and screamed, “Ellie! Over here. Please …”
“Not now,” were the only words she heard as she was pushed back by the group of hysterical people who surged ahead of her.
The hospital room where she lay hummed with machines.
The television was on in the background.
Sharply focused and tagged was a picture of a beautiful woman with her head flung back as she laughed with joy.
It said ‘Missing: Danielle, also known as Ellie, Jenkinson. Last seen ten days ago….’
“That’s me,” Danielle said, “that’s me.”
Nobody heard or looked at her.
“She was such a great actress,” the familiar voice spoke tenderly for the first time. “I used to watch all her films.”
“I know,” responded a new voice, “I’ve never quite got it. You know … why they crave the fame like it’s all that, then just disappear the next day.”
“I bet she’s on some private island somewhere, just enjoying the sun, sand, and …”
“Sex!” they both laughed together and, with their backs to Danielle, they folded their arms and sighed.
“Some people don’t know their luck.” the tallest nurse concluded. “Turn it up a bit, Jackie, I can’t hear it. It won’t disturb her … she’s dead to the world.”
Holding the remote control towards the suspended television Jackie increased the volume and turned to look at the patient lying on the bed on the other side of the room.
“Hey,” she said in a quiet voice while she gently nudged her companion in the matching uniform, “did you see that?”
“I think she moved.”
Nervous laughter responded to the comment. “No, don’t worry. She always does that. Twitches and twitches but never comes around. I’ve been here since day one.”
The two nurses took a moment to look at Danielle and then, as if on autocue, they both turned back to the television screen when the music signalling the end of the missing appeal was played on screen.
“So, how long have you been on this ward?” Jackie questioned, absentmindedly making conversation.
“Of course you!” chortled Jackie, “poor little lamb over there can’t hear a thing you said. Do you think she’ll ever talk again with those injuries?”
“Just as well really. Sorry, I mean, just as well she can’t hear. We have to keep her deeply sedated until she heals some more. Did you read the notes yet?”
“Yeah, she’s alone. Nobody’s reported her missing. But with that beautiful auburn hair I bet she was noticed a lot before! You know, someone you just had to stop and stare at … the ones who cause even straight women to admire them. Someone must miss her, surely?”
“Hmm.” Jackie’s colleague glanced through the half-closed blinds on the door and said, “We’d better finish changing these dressings before we give her a bed-bath, we’ve got three more on this side to do before tea-break.” She didn’t want to discuss the patient any more so she walked back to the bed and stood expectantly, waiting for her co-worker to join her.
Taking the few steps across the room Jackie sighed and agreed, “O.K. Let’s get on with it then.” Then she added tenderly, “Pass me that large dressings and tape, please.”
They moved around the bed like synchronised swimmers. Gentle movements raising limbs, cleaning and redressing the wounded form on the bed.
The television hummed in the background.
“From the look of these fingers, it seems like she never did a hard day’s work in her life,” Jackie looked up from the delicate work of replacing the layers of protection.
“Not sure how she’d cope if she saw what’d happened to her hands.”
“She’ll heal. Given time. She’ll heal.”
“She was the lucky one. That poor man died trying to save her you know.” Jackie commented.
“Looks like she had regular manicures,” the talkative Jackie continued, “look at this.” Raising Danielle’s hand she glanced towards her fellow nurse.
“We get all sorts in here,” was the only response, “When they’re in this condition they’re the same as anybody else. Helpless.”
“They need us, so we’d better get on with it. Eh?”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“How many more did you say we had to do?”
Sat on her sofa that same evening Felicity Parker took the photo out again and looked at it. She hated and loved the image at the same time. When the girl had been brought in to the burns unit the week before the photograph had been in her only hand that had recognisable fingers left. It was partially scorched but there was no mistaking the beautiful girl sat next to the older woman.
Felicity set aside the microwaved meal and pulled on her reading glasses. The case fell to the floor and lay next to the scrunched up chip paper and empty cola bottle that was the previous evening’s meal. She had fallen asleep after eating while holding the photograph.
There was discolouration around the top edges of the print, and it buckled where it had been tightly clamped in Danielle’s hand for several hours before she was found.
Felicity knew that it was the girl’s only original picture of her dead mother. She had read all about it years ago. She remembered everything about her. She knew it was Danielle as soon as she saw her hair through the bandages that evening. That rich reddish-brown hair was the colour she had tried to make hers go for months. She had seen it outside the gym that morning. Felicity fingered a lock of the hair that she had since taken and then slipped it back in the envelope with the photograph.
“I could have helped you,” Felicity murmured. “All I wanted was an autograph. You shouldn’t have said no to
Then she hung up her uniform for the final time.
© Marjorie H Morgan 2012