I killed Ruth Morrison.
Do I feel guilty? Yes.
Do I regret it? No.
Would I do the same again?
Yes. But sooner.
Chris Morrison held his wife as close as tubes and wires allowed. The worst reaction was no reaction at all. Not a flinch, not a sound.
The metal bars at the side of the bed dug into his legs when he tried to lean in closer. He wished for home and for no space between them.
Her mouth was hanging open under the plastic mask, dried saliva like mould on her tongue. He flushed, felt an intense embarrassment for the woman in his arms.
Beauty had left every part of her. Even that mouth that perfectly fitted his, silenced now by bad luck or bad timing; some force stronger than she was.
The word accident hadn’t registered at first. He’d been up north for a weekend’s winter hiking when he’d answered the call, heard a stranger with an Eastern European accent saying his wife’s name in a way he’d never heard it pronounced before. Then he’d heard the words fall, head and coma; had been advised to go to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary as soon as possible. An officer would meet him there.
Ten hours later he was still there, holding a lump under starched white sheets that police and doctors referred to as Your Wife. It was so bloody impersonal. Her name is Maria. If it had been him in the hospital bed, Maria would tell him to focus on all the parts of his body that were healthy.
You should be grateful that’s the only thing that’s wrong with you, she’d say.
I know, love, I know.
But what if there were no healthy parts left? What did you focus on then? He looked at Maria, a bruised, bloated version of herself, her breath and blood trapped in plastic tubes. Maria, moving only on the inside, the fight of bloody, pulsating organs neatly packaged into polite beeps and jagged little lines on a screen. And all of this because she went for a run. It was incomprehensible to think he could lose his wife because she’d missed a step or tripped on her laces or slipped on a chip wrapper dumped by a student.
Was that really all that had happened here? Maria had just fallen? He struggled to believe it. When he’d pushed the police for more information he’d been fobbed off, told to be patient. And all the doctors offered were the same phrases he’d written a thousand times as a news reporter - ‘critical condition’, ‘potentially life-changing injuries’, ‘some chance of a full recovery’. All of them utterly meaningless, impossible to measure. But it was the night nurse’s words that had stung the most.
She’d tucked in the corners of Maria’s sheets then squeezed Chris’s hand so tightly that his wedding ring had left a mark on his middle finger.
If I were you, she’d said, I’d start phoning the family. He didn’t need to ask why. The call to Mikey had been quick, though not painless. He was on his way. But it was never as straightforward with Ruth, was it? He’d tried her mobile dozens of times already. It went straight to voicemail without ringing, suggesting it was either switched off or that she didn’t have any signal.
He’d left messages that he hoped gave no suggestion of what was really wrong. Once she called back he’d explain, assure her she shouldn’t feel guilty for being so far away. Anyway, miles meant nothing, would disappear with a flight. The distance between them would not.
TOMORROW: The mystery deepens as family secrets begin to unravel
The Silent Daughter, by Emma Christie, is published in paperback by Wellbeck, priced £8.99, and available on Kindle, priced £3.19
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