Just after midnight on a winter’s night in 1976, Rebecca, aged seventy-seven, is fully dressed under her ancient overcoat. She sits in front of the large window in her ward, staring excitedly at huge flakes of snow gently falling.
She takes a deep breath, stands, quietly opens the door and anxiously peers out. The corridors are deserted. This is uncharted territory. She is afraid the labyrinth will defeat her. At the main doors of the asylum, she resists the temptation to go through them and chooses a nearby emergency exit. She pushes down the bar, opens it and, just before it swings shut, she uses her shoes to wedge it open.
Her stockinged feet crunch in the snow. She puts out her tongue where large snowflakes settle and evaporate. She wonders, When was I ever outside in the snow at night? Never. Though her feet are freezing she’s warm with joy; she’s alive and alone in the snow. She looks to the sky, eyes wide and laughs as the flakes melt on her corneas. She puts her hand over her mouth so no one will hear her laughter. She wipes her eyes with the hankie she always keeps up the arm of her green knitted jumper.
Looking ahead, she sees a stand of white birch, the trunks luminous, eternal, beckoning. She listens and hears uncontrolled sobbing. She goes further into the trees. A young man, of indeterminate age, dressed in striped pyjamas and an old tattered woollen jumper, stands shaking and sobbing.
Hello? Who are you?
There’s no reply.
His sobbing grows louder.
She touches his shoulder.
He raises his head; his face is wet with tears.
Hello? I’m Becky.
I’m from in there.
So am I. Why are you crying?
I came out through a door. It locked behind me. I’m in trouble.
We can get back in. I promise.
Rebecca takes off her overcoat and throws it around his shoulders.
He flings his arms around her neck, his tears as icy as sleet.
She holds him tight. What’s your name?
I’m the Count of Monte Cristo.What’s your real name?
Monty, but I’m a count, honest.
Shall we go back inside? You must be very cold.
Could we stay a bit, please?
We should go back inside.
Can we hold hands?
Hand in hand, in step, crunching the snow, they go on, silently content.
At the emergency exit door, wedged open with her shoes, Monty asks, Can we meet again while there’s still snow? It would be a date.
A date? Yes, I’d like that.
He hands her back her overcoat. You will come, won’t you?
I promise. Why are you in here, Monty?
How long have you been in here?
Since I grew up.
You’re just a boy, Rebecca thinks. You go in first; don’t get caught.
Without warning, he kisses her on the lips and is gone.
Oh, goodness, Rebecca murmurs. Each lost in our own hell.
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© Phil Cosker 2021
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.