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Image for Guilt


Carla Dow | Lakshmy Mathur

He bangs his head hard against the window, shaking the glass in its cold metal frame. His skull slams again and again on the unfeeling pane.

“Don’t do that.”

I reach out and place my hand on his shoulder, my movement is slow and deliberate, gentle so as not to startle him. Still his muscles tense beneath my palm. The rough wool of his jumper is scratchy but I don’t pull back, now I’ve reached out to him I cannot pull away.

Bang! He shunts his head forward again, hitting the glass so hard I’m afraid it may break, but it only vibrates, shaking our view of the outside world as if it were a scene in a snow globe.

“I have to get back. I have to go back there.”

Marc turns his frantic gaze on me, his eyes wide and staring. I suck in my breath with a dizzying woosh, trying but failing to resist being drawn into his intense desperation.

Marc often talks about going back, many do in fact. It’s the one thing the patients here have in common — a desire to turn the clock back. But there is something different about Marc. He really believes he can go back. He believes if he could just get out of this loony bin he could make the rest happen. Because Marc has a time machine.

Crazy. Like most here, Marc is officially a few sandwiches short of a picnic. But Marc is also a murderer. Marc was a drunk driver. But that does not mean he doesn’t have a time machine? He may well have. What do I know?

“It was my fault,” the faintest whine rises from his throat, escaping with a puff of hot air onto the cold glass pane. The sound brings to mind the squeak of a tiny mouse as its neck is pierced by the sharp tooth of a predator; lungs gasping, throat closing over, life ebbing away. Marc places a hand on the window, little smudges of condensation building up at his fingertips.

Bang! His forehead thrashes forward again. He drops his arm and I watch as the shadowy outline of his palm retreats, the perspiration reversing backwards as if it had never happened.

I squeeze his shoulder where my touch still rests on the prickly wool, I breathe in the musty staleness of the damp fibres.

“It’s all ready,” his voice is low and urgent as if we are conspirators. “The machine is ready to go, all I need is to get out of here, then I can go back and set things right. She didn’t need to die.”

A tight little squeal escapes his throat, a painful sound. His nostrils flare new clouds of heat against the window, misting over the outside. Each breath replaces the last just as the glass is about to clear.

Marc killed someone. That’s why he is here. That’s why he wants to turn the clock back — to reverse what he did, to make things right again. She was young, her life stretched out in front of her. He talks about her with a familiarity as if she were a friend or a relative, rather than an anonymous victim whose path crossed his at the wrong time, in the wrong place.

I’m not so sure it would make a difference if he went back. If the car had not crushed her then — like the delicate shell of a snail under a careless foot — what then? Something else could have got her, maybe it was just her time? Maybe if he did go back and change everything, she would die anyway. Life — and death — is something that happens to us. It’s not in our control.

Marc spins around so fast I almost lose my balance. He grips at my elbows, the sharp ends of his fingertips digging into my bones so that I imagine the buds of bruises blossoming under his touch.

“She was a mother. I took away a little boy’s mummy.”

Tears threaten to overflow from his bloodshot eyes where little red veins line the clear white. He’s holding onto me as if I’m the one he needs to convince to let him out of here, like the keeper of a wild animal that is desperate to be set free. But I am just another captive; the locks and bolts imprison me too.

I pull a packet of cigarettes from my pocket and offer it to him, trying to distract him. He takes one, his eyes thinning into suspicious slits as the lighter sparks. He takes a deep draw, pulling the smoke into his lungs, the paper and tobacco crackling as it burns. The red cherry glows orange, lighting up the shadows on his face.

“So this time machine Marc,” I cannot help myself. “Can you decide exactly when, which moment of which day, you return to?”

He nods frantically, his head jerking back and forth on his thin neck like a wooden toy. I can’t reign in my curiosity. What else do I have to do? He takes another drag on the cigarette and blows the smoke onto the windowpane.

“So I’m curious, would you go back to the time before you hit her and swerved to avoid her, or before that and not get behind the wheel, not have gotten so drunk?”

Marc’s head snaps up shaking from side to side, his eyes lock to mine. His shoulders sag.

“No, no, no, no,” the pitiless mouse squeal jabbers into a desperate mewing. “That wasn’t me, it wasn’t me.”

I frown and take a step back. Crazy people can be unpredictable.

“I wasn’t drunk in the car, I wasn’t the driver,” a deep guttural growl issues from his throat. “I was her doctor, I was working in A&E when I was drunk. I was supposed to be helping her, supposed to be saving her. But I killed her.”

About Carla Dow

Carla J. Dow has worked as a news journalist and has written for a variety of charity publications including for the Red Cross. Most of her work is inspired by real-life encounters from travelling and volunteering around the globe. Carla's current projects include a never-ending attempt at her first novel and an equally endless plethora of short stories about people who do not belong.

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