I am not the letter-writing type; we both know that. Heck, I am the kind of guy who gets a migraine writing emails. That’s one of the reasons I have placed this in your phone as an audio file. It’s still a letter, right? You even get to hear it in my own voice! There’s another reason why I had to make it an audio file, but I will get to that in a bit (and I can see you grinning in that impish way you have at my OCD, but doing things in an orderly fashion is something that stays with you).
So this is a letter. You might even say this is a love letter, except of course that sounds odd, coming from me.
But listen on; it will all make sense soon.
You are in hospital now, propped up in your bed; your sedatives have worn off, and your next dose won’t be for a while. You look beautiful and vulnerable, propped up against all that white…white bed linen, and that garish hospital light that I have always hated. Mostly, of course, you look beautiful and alive. After what you have been through, that’s what counts, really.
There was always something tragic about you. It was in the way your eyes glanced away quickly, like you didn’t want anyone to peek into the depths of your soul. I hate clichés about as much as I hate disorderly things but if the eyes are the windows to the soul, well, I could look at your windows for all eternity.
And now I sound like a pubescent high-schooler trying to imitate Shakespeare. I would be embarrassed except the current circumstances make embarrassment seem trivial.
You have beautiful eyes, Daisy; beautiful wounded eyes. I think it’s the reason why I was gentle with you. I am not the gentle type, and heaven knows I am going to need that hardened side of me now that things have gone kafluey (that’s your word; I am trying to hold on to everything about you).
You made me gentle. When a cynical thirty something successful business man who deals in everything from pharmaceuticals to construction supplies meets a twenty three year old in a bar, it sounds like the script to a predictable cynical tale.
I didn’t try to get your number from your friends, even though they were practically peeing in their pants in their efforts to give it to me. It was something about your eyes, I guess; your gorgeous wounded eyes, peering over the rim of your glass at me. They got to me, leaving me with no sleek moves in the old locker.
I kept going back to the bar of course, hoping I would meet you. Sometimes I saw your friends there, but I held back. I knew you would come back.
And you did, about 6 weeks later.
Your friends were on the dance floor, gyrating like harpies; they were attractive wild things but had the personalities of female dragon flies. I often felt like prey around them, and this from a man used to haggling multimillion dollar deals.
You were seated at the bar, sipping from one of those wide brimmed glasses used to serve exotic drinks that seem to be designed exclusively for females. I sat down next to you and put my beer bottle on the counter. You turned to face me, your eyes again peering at me over your wide brimmed glass. Those wounded eyes…
You made me gentle.
I am tempted to describe the weeks that followed as a whirlwind romance, but that would be lame. It was rich, textured, almost tangible. Lunches at restaurants whose menus had never dazzled me suddenly became sumptuous feasts; movie nights made it into my insane schedule. We went to parties together, my connections keeping pictures of us out of the tabloids.
We even visited a zoo and fed the baby giraffe, for fucksakes (I was genuinely worried about bumping into one of my business associates; in my line of work, it doesn’t pay to have people see your ‘softer’ side).
All this time, the possibility of sex hang between us like a ripening promise. Kissing your sculpted lips was a sensual delicious process, but I am an instinctive man; it’s how I have survived the concrete jungle that is this city, thrived in it in fact. You were holding back; I didn’t ask why, and I didn’t push.
We were walking out of the cinema one evening (I think it was Interstellar that we had been watching) and you were walking slowly, your gaze turned towards the night sky. That’s when you asked me to join you and your family for Sunday dinner.
I wasn’t startled or thinking we had turned a corner or anything melodramatic. But something in my bones told me I would get to know more about the gorgeous girl with the haunted eyes.
The house struck me as odd when I first saw it: a huge colonial with whitewashed walls. It was after I met your father, a large looming man with a crushing handshake that things fell into place. He was a doctor, after all; the off-kilter feel to your home was because it reminded me of a hospital.
Your mother, a mousy woman with a tired watchful face didn’t say much at the dinner table; she seemed to focus deliberately on your little brother, a boisterous 11-month old chubby thing. Eva, your twelve year old sister, was equally quiet, absently picking at her food. It was one of those homes dominated by the head of the house, and your father didn’t disappoint. He spoke about everything, from politics, to football, to the price of gasoline and whether marriage was a failing institution.
I held my own of course; I deal with men like him every day, men who have come to think they own the universe, that their farts are like a solar wind, affecting the destinies of planets. You were seated next to me, and I felt oddly, like you were relieved to have me there.
He didn’t bring up the obvious elephant in the room, the fact that we were seeing each other. Not then.
‘It’s all this romantic nonsense they put into young people’s heads!’ he said, his voice booming across the dining room. ‘Do you have any idea how old Romeo and Juliet were, young man?’ he asked, chewing furiously, a 54-year old patriarch in his prime.
‘Thirteen’, I replied.
He nodded approvingly.
‘Exactly! And a well-read man you are! Thirteen! Pop culture has a huge influence on romance, and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet had possibly the biggest impact ever! And we define our romantic notions on the ideals of a pair of thirteen year-olds who existed in a fictitious world 500 years ago!’
I ladled more mashed potatoes onto my plate (the food was delicious), unable to think of a reply. He switched topics suddenly, a disconcerting habit I had noticed that evening.
‘Are you a religious man?’
I said I was.
He nodded vigorously.
‘I am a doctor, been a practicing surgeon for over twenty years, but I will tell you, there is life on the other side.’
He nodded darkly.
‘Yes indeed. I am always telling my wife here (at this point he reached out and put a large bear-like hand on her arm; she flinched, not looking up at him) that if anything happened to me, and she ran my estate or my family in a way I disagreed with, I would come back from the grave and set things right. Is that not right Margaret?’
His wife muttered something under her breath about not bring up such subjects ‘in the midst of company’.
‘Pah!’ he said dismissively. ‘Our daughter seems to have landed someone with a backbone, eh?’
It was the first time my actual presence in relation to you was being brought up. I waited for more, but what he said next caught me completely unawares.
‘You know, in the old days, Eva here would be considered ripe for marriage.’
I held his gaze carefully. ‘I beg your pardon?’
He chuckled. ‘Oh don’t be such a ninny! Back then, 13 was considered bad luck, as it still is today. And to ward off this supposed bad luck, many cultures married off their daughters when they turned 13.’
I had no idea what to say to this, so I remained silent. It didn’t seem to bother him.
He nodded in the direction of Eva who was staring steadily at her plate, not even bothering to pretend to pick at her food.
‘This one will turn 13 in a few weeks. Just the perfect age, if you know what I mean.’
He was leering at me.
I felt a slight disconnect with reality, the sounds of cutlery and the cooing noises from the little boy in his mother’s lap seeming to come to me from a distance. Next to me, you held your fork in a death grip. Across the table, tears had built up in your mother’s eyes. At any moment she would blink and they would spill down her cheeks, tumbling with liquid abandon.
Mercifully, at that moment, your father’s cell phone rang.
He answered it, spoke briefly, urgently, and hang up. He got to his feet abruptly, dabbing at his mouth with a napkin.
‘I have to leave.’ His voice was brusque, professional. ‘An emergency at the hospital; don’t wait up for me’.
He delivered those last lines while striding towards the hallway, picking his doctor’s bag in one practiced movement.
The door opened and slammed behind him; outside, we heard the car start.
Eva left the table, walking stiffly to the stairs that led presumably to her room. We helped your mother with the dishes, brushing aside her protests.
After we were done with the dishes, I was ready to leave.
‘I am coming with you.’
We were standing in the hallway, the sounds of your mother humming a lullaby to your little brother coming in from the living room.
Your eyes held mine, fierce and desperate.
‘Of course. Let me say goodnight to your mother first.’
Your mother looked up when I walked into the living room. The little boy in her arms was now fast asleep.
She cut me off before I could say anything with a shushing gesture, her hushed tones carrying easily in the silent house.
‘Be gentle with her.’
I nodded, not saying anything.
She turned her attention back to the sleeping child, the lines of her face etched with the brooding concentration of motherhood.
You were quiet on the drive to my house. I was glad you were; I knew that when you did start talking, it would be about a darkness that rules men.
I let us into my house, and you asked me for directions to the bathroom. As I fixed us some drinks from my mini-bar, I could hear you in the bathroom, retching.
We sat on the balcony, the warm balmy January air made bearable by a light breeze.
‘My father has been raping me since I was 13. At first, my mind had no way of dealing with it, of understanding what was going on. And then…then there was the pain, the guilt, like I had something to do with it, like it was my fault.’
You held your glass in a vice-like grip, the veins on your hands clearly defined.
‘My mother knew, of course. The shame destroyed her. I went to her after the third time and she simply broke down in tears; she already knew. She is a proud woman, from a proud family. It was the ultimate failure for her, but what would have been far worse was people finding out what was going on. And he held that over her head, of course.’
Here you paused and downed the contents of your glass.
I returned from the kitchen with another whiskey, coke and ice for you; my glass had only whiskey. I needed it that way.
You took a sip, smiled wanly at me, and continued.
‘When I was 16 he started hitting me…during…you know. That’s when I knew if I didn’t do something he would kill me.
I was waiting one night when he came into the room. When he got into the bed I put a large kitchen knife against his chest.
I was so scared.
This was my father you see; outside of those nightmarish nights, he still treated me like his child. He was courteous, paid for my school fees, provided me with my pocket money, asked me about my grades. In my bedroom his eyes glazed over; he was an animal, a thing that was only interested in plundering my body.
He looked at me and said he would kill me if I so much as nicked him. So I nicked him with the blade, drawing blood. I didn’t care; I was not going to get hit while being raped by my own father.
He never came back to my room again.’
‘Of course I wished I had stood my ground earlier, but 16 is a long way from 13; when you are 13 you still believe in guardian angels, and your mother. When you are 16, the world has already started letting you know that for the most apart, you are alone.
After a while, it all started to seem like a dream; time is funny like that. I got accepted at Uni, and graduated with honours. His practice was doing well, and my mother even got pregnant again (though I remember that used to make me feel ill sometimes; we had shared the same man after all).
I dated of course, but never let things get anywhere. The idea of a man touching me like that…well…
And then I met you. Dark, and strong, and so controlled. And now we are here.’
I looked at you.
‘You are scared for your sister. Eva.’
You answered with barred teeth. ‘Yes. I will kill him if he so much as touches her.’
You were on your feet, your glass forgotten, standing with your hands folded into fists, the chords in your neck straining. The moonlight hit the planes of your face with cold white light, turning you into a goddess of death, compelling in her cold white beauty.
There was a loud knock at the front door.
You grasped my arm, your eyes wide.
‘He followed us here!’
I tried to calm you down.
‘That’s impossible; he was at the hospital when we left…’
You cut me off, your breath coming in harsh gasps like a wounded animal.
‘You don’t understand! How do you think he has survived all these years? He has friends, contacts, people who owe him favours! He must have given them your licence plate when he saw your car outside. And when he didn’t find me home he came here!’
You were gripping my arm and I gently pulled your fingers loose.
‘It’s okay; let me check first. If it is him, I will deal with this.’
I left you at the balcony and walked through my living room, down the hall to the front door. The security light was on and I could see the features of the man standing on the front porch.
It was your father.
I am not sure what it was; indignation, anger, the image of you standing on the balcony sketched by the moonlight, the whiskey; what I do know is that my instincts let me down. It was the last time that ever happened.
I opened the door, ready to ask the man what the hell he was doing at my doorstep, his daughter was an adult for fucksakes, and he barged at me, 140 kilos of tall, angry possessive, manic adult male. I remember stepping nimbly aside, thinking I was lucky I was still in shape and fast on my feet. I remember seeing something glint in the light cast by the overhead bulb and realizing too late that he had been feinting when he barged at me, that his real purpose lay in the hand swinging towards my chest, gleaming wickedly with intent.
I remember something cold sinking with ease into my chest, and holding onto him as I toppled back. His momentum carried us both to the ground, and he was screaming something incoherently over and over, something that sounded like ‘She’s mine!’, his face contorted with rage.
I remember dying, feeling the cold come over me, with your father lying over me. And I remember seeing you standing behind him in the dimming light, your face a mixture of horror and cold rage, the ice pick I had used to carve out ice for our drinks in your hand. You hit him once, in the jugular. You are a doctor’s daughter after all; you knew what to do. But by then, I was with the darkness.
Everything else I saw from the other side: the neighbours who came rushing in; the cops who finally showed up, clumsy and shocked at all the blood; the scalpel wedged into my chest (he must have come here with his trusty doctor’s bag); your mother screaming hysterically when she got the call; the family lawyer who dealt with the police deftly, efficiently; the trip in the ambulance to the hospital, where you were treated for shock. I was everywhere; I saw everything. It’s one of the benefits of dying suddenly I guess; it’s like you get to fill in all the gaps.
The doctors say you can leave tomorrow; they say you are stable now, though the effects of shock will take time to wear off. As for the short term memory loss, they say that will pass as well. No one dares tell you anything; they are worried they might trigger a response or something from you. Before I recounted everything, you only remembered what had happened up to the point where your father left for his practice, to deal with the emergency.
Eva has been seated with you the whole time, only going to the bathroom and grabbing the occasional shower when she can (I guess the weather is still warm; she freshens up with a quick shower about three times a day).
Your mother was here too, but she can’t look you in the eye; she feels like she failed you.
Eva used your phone to play you some music from your playlists while you were sedated. With your headphones on, it was also a great way to make sure you didn’t hear the nurses gossiping about what had happened if you woke up suddenly.
And that’s what gave me the idea of leaving this as an audio message; something that would play back during your sleep, bring back those memories.
You need to remember, you see. Your family needs you; your mother is almost broken up by all this, and Eva’s brave face will not last. And then there is your little brother, of course.
One more thing: your father was right about life after death. Of course he was; I wouldn’t be here, transcribing this message to you otherwise.
And he is here; in the hospital. Prowling, going from room to room, looking for you, looming even larger in death than he was in life. He plans to make good on the threat he made at the dinner table, you see, the one where he said he would come back ‘from the grave and set things right’.
But I am here; and this time, I am ready. There will be no mistakes. I will be your guardian angel, and this time, you can believe in them again.
I will fight him off for all eternity if I have to. After all, that is what love is supposed to be: eternity.
I love you. You made me gentle.”