Brand New Day
by Andrew Lee-Hart
And I can see the light of a clear blue morning/ And I can see the light of brand new day, (Dolly Parton)
The Old Farmhouse Above the Village
Where is the bloody gun? she spoke slowly and deliberately, emphasising each word equally, as if she was speaking to a very stupid child.
I already told you I havent seen any gun.
He was reminded of a particularly unpleasant Sergeant when he was in Northern Ireland, but this young woman was not his superior and shouldnt speak to him like that.
Jesus you are an idiot and she stormed back into the farmhouse, she could not bear the thought of being told not to blaspheme, or having the wisdom of Dolly Rebecca Parton quoted, or worse, sung to her.
She looked once more for the gun, the only weapon she had brought with her, and now it was gone, if L. had been one of her previous conspirators she would have been suspicious, but he was a fool, lacking even the most basic common sense; she realised that he was just muscle, brought along as back-up, but even for that job you need brains and the ability to blend in, and to speak the language. What on earth had They done sending him down to work with her? She may not have always liked the people that she had worked with in the past, but at least she could rely upon them.
L. meanwhile was walking down towards the village in the late Spring sunshine, feeling cross and hurt, his Italian was fine, it was just that when she was there stood next to him, sighing and anxious to take over, it put him off, and anyway languages had never been his forte, it was other skills that he had been chosen for. He hoped that whatever they had been ordered to this village for would be over soon and he wouldnt have to see that awful woman again.
Hello Englishman said the young woman at the counter of the villages only shop; he gave her a smile, but not too friendly, he knew she had a boyfriend, a tall young man, who did not look the type who would countenance flirtation with his lover, but her whole face was welcoming and full of mischief. Unfortunately neither of them could speak much of the others language, so after some smiling there was a silence until he pointed out the cigarettes and chocolate that he had come in for, and as she handed them to him he felt the tips of her warm fingers on his hand, and for a moment felt incredibly aroused.
Having a cigarette at the back of the Farmhouse, she pictured him walking back; catching a faint whiff of citrus from the orange and lemon trees on the way, and hearing the faint buzz of cars on their journeys to either Naples or Sicily, although the autostrada itself was hidden by the hills, which were almost grey in the sun. She wondered if he would turn aside to go into the small Romanesque church on the edge of the village and say a prayer.
In front of him were an elderly couple walking along the same path as him, the man one step ahead of his wife; they could have come from any time in the last three hundred years he thought, the same clothes and mannerisms. Perhaps he should leave The Neapolitans, it was time to move on, he could stay in Italy though, not in this village, but in one of the large cities in the North, Milan or Torino, where They would never find him, and he could get a job and start anew, away from shrewish English women who were rude and dangerous.
Once back in his bedroom he put on one of his Dolly Parton c.d.s
Cause I am strong and I can prove it/ And I got my dreams to see me through/ Its just a mountain I can move it/ and with faith enough theres nothing I cant do.
He heard her in the study next to his room, where the fax machine was kept, and went in to see what she was up to.
Have you cooked anything? he asked her.
With what? You have just been to the village, why didnt you get something? Or were you too busy flirting with that girl in the shop?
The girl wasnt in the shop, it was the old man, her father.
Well you could still have bought something.
We have got tomatoes and pasta. Couldnt you do something with that?
She sighed, couldnt you?
But he had cooked when they arrived yesterday, and it hadnt been too bad, he had just used too much food, and so about half had gone to waste.
Have we had any orders yet?
She just looked at him, and there was a silence, and they both looked at the fax machine which refused to respond to their gaze. They were both nervous, waiting to know what happened next; would they be sent to kill someone, or to spy on someone? She wondered if L. had been ordered to murder her, as a punishment for her mistake, perhaps he was pretending to be an idiot, but would turn into a ruthless killer once he got his orders.
As she was hungry, she did as L. had suggested and cooked a pasta dish; frying tomatoes and peppers and then putting spaghetti onto boil, after which she added some tinned tomatoes and rather tired looking herbs. Presumably The Neapolitans had sent someone here before she and L. had arrived to get the cottage ready; she imagined a quiet, discrete young woman getting her orders and driving down here, not knowing who she was preparing the room for or why, just doing what she was told, for the small cheque she received once a month. Why couldnt she do that? She was tired of the killing, the sex with strange men and (occasionally) women. Now she was stuck in a small farmhouse on a hill, with a strange Englishman, who was clearly not all there, and was acting as if he was her younger brother and frankly she did not have time for that shit. Normally she worked with impossibly handsome Italians and reserved Scandinavians, who inevitably she would bed at least once but who would leave her feeling cold inside.
And then, unbidden came a memory, almost as if from a film that she had seen long ago; a field late at night in France and gunfire, she watched as the man she was with, XXIII, screamed and fell into the mud, and then she panicked and fled into the dark, leaving behind the bodies and the money, but not caring as she was scared, more scared than she had ever been in her life.
The dinner smelled pleasant enough; she was no cook, but she hadnt burnt anything, and the scent of fried onions and tomatoes was permeating through the house, so that no doubt L. would be down in a moment, but then just as she was about to dish it out, she heard the sound of the fax machine disgorging paper and she ran up to the spare room. L. had his dreadful music playing very loudly and so hadnt heard it, thus she had a moment to read it before he came in.
As soon she picked up the two pieces of paper she realised that they had been sent in error, that is was something that was dangerous and would have consequences; quickly she folded them in half and pushed them into her jeans pocket, and then looking up she saw L. in the doorway.
Is that a message? Was that our mission?
She looked at him, nothing, just a test message. Dinner is almost ready. And she slowly walked downstairs, the fax hard against her thigh.
The Girl in the Café.
What did the fax say?
Nothing she told him.
He was looking a little frightened which made her glad.
Come and eat. She said, it will be cold.
They sat down opposite each other at the kitchen table; the kitchen was the largest room in the villa; the heart of it, and she could imagine in the past, families sitting together after working all day in the fields, talking and laughing, as they ate.
Where is it?
The fax. What did you do with it? You put it in your pocket.
No, I destroyed it.
Why would you destroy it if it was unimportant?
After eating the pasta he went looking in the large fridge and came back with two bottles of beer, putting one down in front of her and they both started to drink. He smelt of cheap aftershave and sweat after his walk. She lit a cigarette and watched him carefully; he seemed unstable, and after he finished the bottle, he got more beer, one for him, one for her, even though she hadnt finished the first one.
My son died he told her, killed himself. He was only twelve.
I am sorry.
That is why I am here, why I joined the Neapolitans.
And then he talked on and on, as if he could not stop; about his guilt, how Mark was unhappy at school and his wife had not known what to do and he had wanted to help, but he was away in Belfast, trying to keep the peace, and he did not dare ask the sergeant for special leave to go back, and anyway he thought, it was probably nothing, just a phase his son was going through. And then his wife had gone into his room one morning to find Mark hanging from the wardrobe, and had cut him down with a kitchen knife, but he was already dead, or he was by the time that the ambulance arrived.
She could feel that he was desperate to cry, but somehow he could not do it, that it was pressing on him, but that if he succumbed he would be overwhelmed, that he would lose control.
I went to the funeral and then I didnt come back. I just left and havent come back to England since, no need.
What about your wife?
She is in hospital somewhere.
She found that she had finished the second bottle of beer and was feeling confused and dizzy; she lit another cigarette, sucking on it desperately. He talked and talked, going round in circles, trying to work out who was blame, but she did not want to listen, the story sounded familiar, as if she had heard it all before, and she could not let herself get pulled into his misery.
What did the fax say? An elderly woman sitting on a chair watching me, asking questions.
Where is L?
What did the fax say?
I was naked under the duvet, and could not remember going to bed or undressing; the last thing I remembered was sitting with L. in a café and there was a young woman with very dark hair, so dark it shone, staring at us, and now I was in bed while an elderly woman fired questions at me.
I noticed that my room was not how I remembered it, all my possessions were gone, my make-up, my books; there was just two chairs and a small wardrobe, not even a television, and I am sure that there had been one before. And was it always this small? It did not feel like a bedroom, more like a room in a hospital.
Where are my clothes? The woman sighed with exasperation.
What did the fax say? Did you read it?
I looked at her, and had a picture of a piece of paper in my head, but what did it say? Perhaps I had hidden it? Or had L.? I was not going to say anything, I needed time to think, and where on earth was L.? Was he in the next room? I got up, and realised she had a gun pointing at me.
I ignored her; I can tell when someone is prepared to shoot, and the old woman wasnt; well not yet. Looking inside the wardrobe I found my clothes tossed there, as if they had been searched and then discarded.
Two men came in as I dressed, and without a word the younger one pushed me back onto the bed and bent over me while punching me repeatedly in the face, the other one, old with steel grey hair, sat down next to the woman and they both watched in silence, until I rolled with a bang off the bed and onto the marble floor, I lay there gazing at the expensive shoes of my attacker, hoping the L. would come in and rescue me, but he didnt.
Come with me, L. had said, let us go to Nashville, we could meet Dolly.
What about money?
He laughed, I have money, and we have a car. We can drive anywhere. Imagine being in the States, Dolly on the stereo and the wind in our hair.
They packed hurriedly and took some of the food out of the fridge, and she drove out of the village, heading North.
Why North? he asked.
More space, we can go anywhere, Milan has an airport.
He laughed as Love is Like a Butterfly played loudly on the car c.d. player, and he sang along.
They followed me everywhere; when I was having my bath, making myself something to eat, all the time asking me about the fax, whether I had read it, and what I had done with it. The three of them, taking it in turns to haunt me, the woman was probably in her sixties or seventies as was the man with grey hair, but the other was younger than me, and seemed to be the muscle, there to do any punching and kicking, and when they decided to kill me, I imagined that he would be the one to pull the trigger.
The older man sighed quietly, he was wearing some kind of white jacket, like a doctor.
What do you do this to yourself? You were never beautiful, but now and he sighed, as if he was sorry, and he stroked my ribs which were red and very sore. He kissed my forehead, all you have to do is tell me what happened, what you did with the fax, tell us and then you can go back to your work, or you can leave and live the rest of your life far from here, put an end to all of this.
It was then that I knew they had no intention of letting me leave alive, that as soon I had told them what they wanted to know they would kill me.
And gradually, between the beatings and interrupted sleep, I began to remember what the fax had been; a list of names and telephone numbers, presumably important ones, sent to the wrong fax number in error, the person responsible floating down the Tiber with his or her throat cut. I imagined what happened when they discovered; Gina quaking when she reported it, knowing that the Neapolitans do not countenance mistakes, and the panicking men beside her, equally frightened and bewildered.
I was sitting at the kitchen table with the elderly woman.
You dont remember me she said, looking surprised, I shook my head and she shrugged,
I am in charge of The Neapolitans she told me, I like you, I always personally choose our employees and if I dont like the look of them, then they are sent back to where they came, or if they know too much, well ..And she waved her hand in a dismissive gesture.
But you I liked, from the beginning. You were a soldier in Belfast werent you? You have seen bad things, but kept your humanity, I like that.
I looked at her blankly, at her humorous smile, giving the impression that all the beating up and questioning had been a dream, as if we were old friends, discussing the past.
She sighed you were only meant to stay here for a fortnight, time to recuperate and learn from your mistakes, but then the fax arrived. If only you would tell us what you did with it. We know it arrived but . And she shrugged, we just need it back, to know it hasnt gone anywhere it shouldnt have.
I looked at her, my face aching, my stomach a ball of pain, so that I pingled with the food in front of me, unable to eat properly.
And then she was in the car with L.
What was the fax?
Oh just letters and numbers. Probably an error message.
He sounded serious, do you have it with you?
No, I told you I threw it away, shredded it like we always do.
He said nothing, and put on another Dolly Parton c.d., how many songs had she recorded? She would have much preferred silence but was too polite to say so.
They stopped at a café which smelt strongly of coffee, in a small town whose name she did not know, and he ordered pizza for both of them, she sat opposite him picking at it with her fingers, it was a Margherita pizza with a very thin base, L. was tucking into his eagerly and watching the dark-haired woman at the counter.
She is too good for you she told him.
She reminds me of someone.
The woman was looking at them now and chewing on a pencil as she did so, her eyes seemed humorous, as if she was trying not to laugh.
Just a minute and L. got up, she saw him whisper something to the woman at the counter, as he walked past her in the direction of the toilet. She felt the womans continuous observation as she ate the rest of the pizza and drank her lemonade, and then she sat and thought, before realising that L. had been gone quite some time and that he wasnt coming back.
Where did that man go? she asked the young woman.
She sighed and ran outside, and as she expected the car had gone, and that is where they found her thirty minutes later, sitting on a park bench close by, hoping L. would come back, but knowing he wouldnt and not knowing what to do. The younger man got out of the car, and ushered her into the back of the car, his hand on her elbow, and she sat in silence as the older man drove them back to the village and the farmhouse.
What is the fax? Why is it so important?
So you have remembered it?
Questions. Is that all you do? You have come all the way here, what is it?
She looked at me sternly, and then the two men came in and sat either side of the woman, and they all looked at me.
Why does she want to know what it is? Asked the younger man, sounding genuinely curious.
She must have it, must remember it.
What is she playing at?
Once she tells us she is free, does not have to worry about it ever again, can go wherever she wants.
The three of them batted the conversation about as if I was not there, whilst I tapped my left foot and realised that I needed to urinate, but was determined to hold it in.
Eventually I spoke.
There was a fax, but I realised that it had come to me in error, so I hid it, but I cannot remember where, you have confused me with all your questions I paused to get my breath, as I was feeling anxious, and L. was nobody, just a sad soldier, who is still mourning his son and is confused and has driven off to find Dolly Parton.
The three of them watched me.
But you are L. the woman said.
I saw the woman exchange a look with the older man, a look that I could not interpret, whilst the younger man got some glasses out and some wine from a cupboard and we all drank in silence. And then there was a mechanical sound from upstairs, the fax, and both men hurriedly ran out of the door.
The gun was under the table, I had taped it there when I first arrived, however long ago that was. When the two men came back down I was pointing it at their leader; I kept it steady, they knew that I was a killer, and so they handed me the car keys without hesitation, and then sat down in a row away from the table. I shot the younger man anyway, he had hit me and made me ugly, and I thought that he would go for me if he got the chance, risk his life, whilst the other two were more sensible and less able. I watched him slide to the floor and lie there, a puppet, and then I left the building, picking up the fax from the vase at the side of the front door, where I had left it, before getting into the car and driving through the evening gloom.
As I drove, I ripped up the two sheets of paper, and scattered them out of the window, probably a mistake, I should have kept it then I would have something to negotiate with. I knew I would have to change cars soon, that they would send word but it was getting dark and I would have time to escape, an organisation that sends out secret faxes to the wrong address cannot be that efficient. And I needed to think about my son, to mourn him, stop running away from him, retreating into death and fantasy.
After about an hour I stopped the car down a side road, dangerous but I was so overwhelmingly tired that I had could no longer drive. As I lay dozing I remembered visiting the doctor after my son died, the medication he had given me which I refused to take, and then the day after the funeral my husband leaving me, not back to the army this time, just disappearing, leaving me with an empty house and my sons bedroom which I dare not enter. And I wondered if I was going mad and what was the smell of pine disinfectant that was suddenly all around me and somebody was singing, and then there were screams and shouts that echoed all round me?
My room smells of disinfectant and stale food; everything is attached to the wall or floor, they do not even let me have books in case I throw them at the doctor or try to eat them, so all I do all day is lie on my bed, fighting off sleep and the awful dreams that sleep brings, and listen to the screams of the other patients and the sound of fist against body as someone lashes out at one of the orderlies or at another patient.
And then it is breakfast time; the orderly who loves Dolly Parton smiles at me nervously as he unlocks my door and hands me a plate with toast, little pots of marmalade and margarine and a large mug of coffee on it. I eat the toast plain, ignoring the marmalade (which I hate anyway) and margarine because I suspect they put drugs in them, but I doubt they could interfere with the toast, and anyway I have to eat. I take a sip of my coffee to help the dry toast go down, there were probably drugs in the coffee too but what can I do? Once when I threw it at another orderly, the ex-soldier who I particularly hate, I noticed powder on the floor where I had spilled it, but still I was having these dreams about being a secret agent in Italy, and they seemed more and more real, so they must be giving drugs somehow, unless it is true of course, but the doctors tell me that it isnt.
After eating my toast I sit on my bed, I had asked for a radio or a television, but was told it was too dangerous that maybe when you behave yourself a bit better, then we can ask Doctor Thornberry. I must have dropped off, because I wake as two orderlies come in, the ex-soldier and a young woman with dark hair who look at me with the slightest of smirks.
Time to see Doctor Thornberry.
I lie there watching them warily.
Do we have to put straps on you?
I get up gingerly and with one either side, walk through several white corridors, the floor is cold on my feet, and I wish that I was allowed slippers, but perhaps they think I would try to swallow them or slap one of the orderlies with them.
I am ushered into an office, the man leaves but the young woman stays, sitting in the corner sucking on a pencil while never taking her eyes off me. There is an old woman at the desk, writing and when she looks up, I realise that is I, the woman from my dream.
How are you? she asks.
But by the time that I have thought of something to say, she is offering me coffee.
You must be thirsty she tells me and pours some into a mug from a cafetiere, and after drinking some of it herself; presumably to show it is not poisoned, she hands it to me, and I have a sip or two. I notice the fax machine in the corner, white and with some sheets of paper on top of it and I wonder what they are, and if any of them are about me, or are a list of agents sent to the doctor in error, and it is difficult to resist the urge to get up and look.
You are still not eating she tells me.
I dont eat much, I never have.
Two pieces of dry toast is not enough, no wonder you look ill.
I glance at the young woman, who is still looking at me, taking it all in. I would like to ask her to leave but know that my request will be refused.
I am glad to hear that you have been keeping your clothes on, thank you, you were embarrassing the orderlies.
But where are my clothes? I cannot wear these horrible things I tug at my dressing gown and grey pyjamas, all they will allow me to wear.
Maybe when you are feeling better, and when you tell us what you did with the fax.
I said maybe when you are feeling better.
You were in my dreams I tell her, and her I indicate the young woman, whose expression does not change in the slightest.
Was I the leader of a mob again, the Neapolitans?
Yes, I must have told you about it before.
I feel a faint pressure in my bladder, but I have learned to train it, as I am sure that they watch me using the toilet, so I only go when I am desperate.
Tell me about your son?
I try to think, as if remembering a lesson, he was called Mark, and he was at school and one day he hanged himself. And I found him in the morning.
What was he like?
He had blonde hair and was clever, but quiet, and I thought that he seemed more down recently.
Doctor Thornberry nods in approval, and waits for me to continue, but I cannot think of anything else to say.
I need the toilet I tell the young woman, and at a nod from Doctor Thornberry she takes me back to my room.
When an orderly comes in with my lunch I ask if I can eat it in the television lounge.
As long as you behave.
I nod and carry my sandwich and bottle of orange juice and sit down next to a young man who is intently watching the television.
Hello I venture but he does not reply, he also has a sandwich and orange juice which are on a table in front of him. The orderly sits down a few seats away from me and watches me, but I know he will have to look away eventually; and when a young woman comes in whimpering with bleeding cuts on her wrists, he goes over to her and calls for a nurse, which gives me the opportunity to swap my sandwiches and drink with the idiot next to me, and quickly eat and drink them up.
Later I go to see Doctor McDonnell, who I see every afternoon, he has steel grey hair and a smooth, false voice, and reminds me of someone unpleasant, but I am so confused I cannot remember who. As usual there is a nurse with him looking bored, and who exchanges arch looks with the doctor throughout the session.
I go behind a curtain and put on a robe and then lie on the bed and he looks at the bruises on my chest and on my face.
Why do you do this to yourself? he asks, and I wonder why he is trying to trick me and stay silent, but he asks me again.
Come on I know you can speak. Why do you hurt yourself?
But it is your orderlies, they want to know about the fax.
Now come on, we have been through all that. He looks in exasperation at the nurse, who shrugs in reply with a what can you do expression.
Sometimes I believe what the doctors tell me is true that I can remember coming into my sons room, and desperately trying to cut him down, and eventually I did it and he fell onto the floor and I lay down next to him not knowing what to do. Perhaps I should have telephoned the ambulance first, nobody would tell me how long he had been dead, or if I could have saved him if help had come more quickly, or perhaps I should have shouted for a neighbour, or held him up, eased the pressure on his neck.
And I remember my husband, sitting at the kitchen table drinking beer whilst I smoked, but then he turns into L., crying and telling me about his son, and we are in the kitchen in Italy, and L. seems more real than my son or my husband, and I cannot remember who is who, and they all become L. who is so real that I cannot have made him up.
I try to remember what my everyday life was like when I was married; apparently I worked in a library, but I cannot remember that, cannot imagine what a librarian would do all day, or what my colleagues were like, or if I had any friends. But I can remember killing people and hiding, and a muddy field in France and the sound of gunfire, and someone dying next to me; that is what seems real.
After examining me some more the steel-haired doctor makes a telephone call and two orderlies come to take me back to my room, he does not wish me a good afternoon like he normally does, as if I had failed him in some way, or am being stubborn like a naughty child, the nurse frowns at me as I leave, and I pitter pat back to my room on my bare feet, whilst the orderly holds my elbow so that I dont escape.
I sit in my room until there is a knock on the door and the orderly who likes Dolly Parton comes in.
Hello sweetheart, here is your tea and he hands me a tray with lasagne and a large glass of fresh orange on it, and I can smell the citrus which reminds me of Italy and that village. The orderly stays close to the door because he knows that I have attacked people in the past, and then once I sit back down on my bed he leaves, and I hear him whistling Jolene as he walks away down the corridor.
After a moment I throw my dinner against the wall, and watch it slide to the floor, and then I weep for a village in Italy where I could stay with my son and be happy. I am dreadfully thirsty; perhaps there was something in Doctor Thornberrys coffee, so I drink the orange juice down, and then try to be sick, but nothing comes up. Having that drink was a mistake, but I was so thirsty and you cannot not drink, but they must have put the medication in there, and I fall asleep wondering if the orderlies and doctors spoke to me in English or Italian.
And as I always do I wake up and the hospital is deadly quiet and sitting either side of my bed are the woman and the man, the two doctors, and I am naked under my duvet.
What did you do with the fax? they ask again and again, and then a young man comes in and starts to punch me, harder and harder, whilst in the distance someone is singing something by Dolly Parton, and I sing along, ignoring the pain and the endlessly repeated questions.
I can see the light of a clear blue morning / And everything's gonna be all right
More stories from Winamop
Copyright reserved. Please do not reproduce without consent.