A faint drumming sound competed with the thumping of the blood pumping through her head. Karen opened her eyes. The light in the room was grey - washed out. The air was stale, thick and hot as she struggled to sit up. It seemed that her head was too heavy to lift from the pillow. She was in her bed but memories of recent events were blurred. And what was that drumming sound - getting louder as she became more alert? The rain. Rain thundering against the roof and hammering on the window-pane, forcing Karen to remember that she was trapped in a nightmare.
The peace of forgetfulness was swept away as reality hit her hard in the stomach, twisting and churning the fear back into its place.
She listened. Craned her neck to hear whether she was alone in the house. She glanced at the clock wondering whether it was morning or evening. Neither. It was nearly midday.
She couldn’t work out how long she’d been asleep. The dreams had been many, she sensed but all had shifted out of reach as soon as she’d woken. Listening again she could hear the sound of someone moving about in the kitchen. Peter, she guessed.
The thud of the door knocker lifted her spirits. She struggled out of bed and stumbled to the window. She could just see the top of a man’s head. Dr. Wright.
Karen made her way to the bedroom door and opened it. She knew she had to make a good impression on him. This could be the way out for her. But as she reached to top of the stairs she saw Peter standing in the hall below. He was standing quietly, making no attempt to open the door. Karen froze, then crept back along the passageway and let herself back into the bedroom, closing the door gently behind her. She went to the window, now wide awake and lifting the net curtains, tapped on the glass, hoping that she could attract the doctor’s attention without Peter hearing from below.
Dr. Wright knocked on the door again but didn’t look up. The noise of the storm was too much. Karen banged on the window, louder this time, praying that he would hear. He turned to walk away.
Karen knocked again and screamed out in panic, ‘Doctor, please, I’m up here! Please look up!’ She sobbed in frustration as he continued walking down the street, the rain dripping from his sleek, black hair.
‘Karen, you’re awake.’ Peter stood watching her from the doorway.
‘That was Dr. Wright at the door,’ Karen sobbed. ‘Why didn’t you let him in?’
‘Was it? I didn’t hear anything. Are you sure you weren’t dreaming it?’
‘I saw him. From the window.’ She stared at him. ‘What are you trying to do?’
‘I’m just trying to look after you.’ He smiled. ‘Now come on, back to bed with you.’
He took her arm and steered her towards the bed. She sat on the edge knowing that the best thing to do would be to go along with what he wanted. She was locked in the house and he had the only keys.
She felt so tired.
‘Just stay there and rest,’ he was saying. ‘I’ll be downstairs if you want anything. Now be sure you call me.’ He left her alone again.
Karen’s thoughts raced. She could hear him moving about downstairs and wondered what he was doing and what her next move could be. It seemed so hopeless.
She was still wondering how to get out of this mess when she heard the front door again. Hoping that it was the doctor coming back she pulled herself up from the bed and across the floor to the window. She craned her neck to see who it was. Margaret.
‘Thank God,’ she thought, banging on the window furiously. Something made Margaret look up. Karen waved in desperation.
‘Please,’ she mouthed. ‘Make Peter let you in.’
Margaret turned back to the door and knocked again. She was shouting through the door at Peter.
‘Will you let me in?’ she called. ‘Peter. It’s Mum. Let me in - please.’
Karen moved to the bedroom door and went out into the hallway. She stood at the top of the stairs, watching Peter below.
‘What are you going to do?’ she asked. ‘Stop Margaret from coming in too? You can’t keep me a prisoner for ever, you know.’
‘I’m not keeping you a prisoner,’ he spat back. ‘I am letting her in, you silly girl.’ He went to the door, took the key from his pocket and turned it in the lock.
Margaret pushed past Peter and rushed towards Karen who had made her way down the stairs. She took Karen’s hands and looked into her face.
‘Are you alright?’ she asked then turned to Peter without waiting for an answer. ‘What on earth is going on?’ She glared at him, waiting for an answer.
‘Nothing’s going on,’ Peter said at last. ‘Karen’s not been well and I’ve been looking after her, that’s all.’
Margaret looked back at Karen. ‘Well?’ she asked again.
Tears were filling Karen’s eyes. She stood, unable to say anything whilst Peter was there, watching her. ‘I’m alright,’ she said finally.
Margaret gave her a long hard look and sighed. She let go of Karen and began peeling off her coat. She turned to Peter.
‘Well are you going to ask me in properly?’ she asked. ‘What about making me a coffee?’
‘Come into the lounge,’ Karen said, leading the way into the front room.
Peter stood for a while, then went into the kitchen to make the coffee.
Karen and Margaret sat together on the sofa, alone for a few precious moments.
‘Now, Karen,’ said Margaret quietly. ‘How are you really?’
Karen glanced towards the door leading into the hall. ‘I’m alright,’ she whispered. ‘But Peter’s making me out to be an invalid. He won’t listen to me when I say I’m OK. I am OK - really.’
‘You don’t believe me either.’ Karen’s heart dipped.
‘I do,’ Margaret assured her. She went on quickly. ‘Listen Karen, I came round to talk to you about finding your real mother but maybe it’s not the right time to talk about it.’ She looked towards the door.
‘You don’t think Peter will approve.’
‘You seem to have enough on your plate at the moment,’ said Margaret. ‘What with this baby and everything.’
Before Karen could answer, Peter was back with three steaming mugs of coffee on a tray.
‘There you are Mum.’ He handed Margaret a mug.
‘Thank you.’ She took the mug and sipped the coffee.
He handed a mug to Karen. ‘Here you are darling,’ he smiled at her.
Karen hesitated, then she took the mug from him and held it in her hands.
Peter sat back in the armchair. ‘What have you two been talking about,’ he asked.
Margaret looked at Karen, then back at him before speaking. She took a breath.
‘I’ve been trying to find out about Karen’s real mother,’ she said. ‘I went to the Social Workers in Fareham.' She looked at Karen. ‘They weren’t very helpful really but I found out that if you write to them they’ll be able to give you all the information they have on file. They may not have much more than we already know, so it’s best not to get your hopes up too much.’
She looked back at Peter. He was glaring at her.
‘I hope you have no objections to this, Peter? I think it will help Karen through this - difficult time.’
‘I have no objections,’ Peter said. ‘Why should I object? I don’t know why you think I would.’ He smiled sweetly at her.
‘Good,’ said Margaret. She turned back to Karen. ‘Would you like me to help you with the letter?’
‘I’m not sure,’ Karen faltered. ‘I mean, I don’t know what I want any more.’
It was the sneer on Peter’s face that made up her mind.
‘OK. Yes, I would like that,’ she said. She looked at Peter. ‘If you don’t mind?’ She was hoping that he’d leave them alone to work on the letter together, giving her precious time with Margaret without him breathing down her neck.
‘Like I said, why should I mind?’ he repeated.
‘Aren’t you going to work today?’ Margaret asked. ‘I could sit with Karen. Keep her company.’
Karen felt the anger rising again. ‘I don’t need looking after. And please stop talking about me as if I wasn’t here! I am not an invalid, or stupid!’
‘No of course you’re not,’ said Margaret. She looked at Peter. ‘So you don’t need to stay here. Perhaps you should get off to work.’
‘Are you trying to get rid of me?’ he laughed.
‘No. But I would like some time alone with Karen.’
‘Well, for your information, I’m not going to work this week,’ he said. ‘I’ve taken some time off so I won’t be going far.’ He got up. ‘But I know when I’m in the way. I’ll be upstairs if you want me.’
Peter was half way up the stairs before he called down as an afterthought, ‘Just remember whose mother you are.’