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Cassette 6: 7 th January, Hotel Kyla, Middle of Nowhere, Finland
Nigel – was that you? No, it can't have been. I'm half-asleep and seeing things because I miss you. I fell asleep on the floor last night, with the cassette-recorder in my hand. Now I find myself in bed, complete with the recorder and a new cassette. All the old cassettes have disappeared.
But I dreamed that I was being lifted into bed, and when I opened my eyes, there you were in black uniform, like Stuart's. I was so pleased that I shut my eyes with joy – and then the vision was gone. I guess I just climbed into bed in my sleep.
Well, Nyge, I shall hide this cassette really well. No one is going to read this one but you. I shall bring it when we meet again, and you shall hear about the imprisonment and murder that is happening here. I wonder whom we shall lose today? Well, it can't possibly be me: a president's secret fiancee – who would dare?
I am so lucky. Dear Stuart has been protecting me from our captors, and I think Maury might be persuaded to show me the way out - but, you know, sometimes I am not so confident. From this bed I see myself in the mirror as I really am – a person with no orange wig, no beautiful makeup, and a slim, flat chest. You were so kind when you discovered the truth, and gave me this holiday treat to show how much you care. Even our captors treat me considerately, as the woman that I really want to be.
Oh dear, I can't start crying now. I have become serious and I have duties. I promised to myself that yesterday I should explore that secret passage that joins all the guest rooms. I was determined to find a way out of here.
I went in the other direction, this time: away from poor, dead Elizabeth's room. The passage must run along the front of the hotel, alongside the bedrooms. It is set lower than the floors, so as to run under the windows. Now that I know it is there, it is not so subtle. The window-recesses are almost five foot deep, so you have to walk inside the recesses to see out of the windows. Now why didn't I notice that before? There are many strange things about this place, but I was not interested. It is time I woke up.
So early yesterday morning I crept along the passage and listened at the next room. There was silence, so I looked in. The door of the wardrobe, full of expensive suits, was open, and on the bed lay a man's pyjamas. It must be Stuart's room? I went in, but Louise came out of the bathroom. Well I could see she was a woman all right. I guess she and I are just not satisfied with what we've got. We glared at each other briefly, then gave up. She made me a cup of tea, and we sat on the bed and talked.
“Nice suits, Louise.”
“Not for much longer,” she sighed into her cup.
“Louise, look at me. It's only Masina the clown.”
She glanced up and smiled. You know, when green eyes are as bright as that, it's as if a star shone through them – because this is emerald light and it glows. Then her face turned towards the floor again and the star switched off.
“This is the end of the line for me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know what goes on here - or some of it. But they guaranteed the insurance. Masina, will you promise to see that my family are paid? In full?”
“They are trying out poisons on us. It's the war. The poisons are weapons. You know that, Masina.”
“Oh yes, that. But what's this about insurance? Is this a scam? Are you pretending to be poisoned on holiday so your family get your life insurance? Where can you hide? How are you going to benefit if you are in hiding?”
“Oh, I shall be poisoned all right. I am sacrificing myself for the Nation. I have offered to be the guinea pig for their most terrifying poison, and in return my family is to be paid a million pounds. Yes, it will be presented as holiday life insurance. But it's not a scam. It's patriotism. Anyway they are in debt, and this is a solution,” and Louise stood up, proudly.
“What? Oh don't look at me like that. A final solution, eh. Experimenting on debtors. They will never pay out. What if they lose the war? What sort of war is it, anyway? Nobody won any of those guerilla wars, you know.”
“Well, you must see that they pay. Who else can I ask? Paul is dead. He and I have brought so many people here to their deaths. The company was experimenting on their employees. This is the last batch. They've taken Paul. Now they will take me.”
What company? I didn't think to ask. There was something more interesting going on at that moment. She went to a drawer and took out a bottle. She set it down on the dressing table and arranged some items neatly around it: the vase of flowers, the brush and comb, the after-shave and Vaseline. She still shaved her legs, then?
I drank my tea and watched.
The preparations took a while. She took out a pink shirt and ironed it. Then she ironed it again. She held it up, looked at it, and returned it to the wardrobe. Now she was ironing a striped shirt. The suit went into the trouser press. When it came out, it looked less pristine, but that is the way of trouser presses. A corduroy suit and striped shirt? Oh well, it was her death.
Next came the grey socks and brown suede shoes. I turned my eyes away, but I could still smell the after-shave. Poor Louise. Her hair was slicked back and shining when I looked again. So that was what the Vaseline was for.
She sat in her easy chair and contemplated the poison bottle. She said goodbye to me, and made me promise again to look after her family – though what could I do? I didn't even know who they were. I nodded and said, yes, of course I would.
So she lifted the bottle tremulously to her lips. It was like watching the end of Romeo and Juliet.
“Are you sure about this?”
“Shut up. You're spoiling my moment.”
I shut up kept as still as possible. Louise gazed sadly at the bottle, rocking herself slightly. She gazed around the room as if for the last time. The room did not appear to include me. She was already in the next world. She lifted the bottle again. The cork was in her other hand. The bottle hesitated halfway to her mouth while she sobbed a little.
It was like being at the movies. I watched intently. The bottle rose again and she sipped a little – nervously, as if it burnt. She sat, waiting, looking directly at me. It was her eyes that flamed.
Suddenly she gripped the arms of her chair. Her face registered panic. She leapt to her feet and into the bathroom. The door slammed. There was silence. I left. It was Paul's manner of death all over again. There is little dignity in this life or the next, however many times we may press our corduroy suit.
Now I have watched too many people die. Tomorrow I shall definitely save someone. That person may have to be me.I love you. Your Thomasina.
Copyright © 2003 LS
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