It’s late on a Saturday night and if you’re indoors keeping warm like me, here is a little introduction to the main heroine in the current thriller novel I’m writing. I won’t say too much about her, I’ll let her introduce herself. It’s New Years Eve, and she’s on a mission to prove she is not guilty of murder. So who is?
CHAPTER ONE: CHARLOTTE—2014
31st December 2014, 11:00p.m.
I stare blankly at the familiar scenes on TV I’ve seen year after year. It’s a chilly New Year’s Eve. Despite the minus degree temperature and threat of snow Westminster Bridge, and central London are packed with party goers, old and young, from near and far. Happy faces of all races smiling for the camera, holding up their banners with Happy New Year! They’re all there to see out the old and welcome in the new. Something I’ve longed to do, clear out the old bitter twisted thoughts in my mind and welcome something new.
I tear my eyes from the TV and take in the surroundings of my small shabby room. It’s dimly lit with a bedside lamp and no bigger than a prison cell. Within the four walls house a single bed, a cheap plastic table with two chairs in the corner, a built-in wardrobe and a sink with a leaky tap. The walls were once a shade of magnolia—I remember, with all the years of chain smoking the shade has shifted to a drab shade of yellow.
My room faces the main road opposite Kings College Hospital, London’s largest teaching hospital in south London, Camberwell. Peckham is to the west of the hospital and Brixton to the south of the hospital. Camberwell has never been a pretty place to hang around in, drugs, gangs, drunks and prostitutes are all part of the furniture in this part of town. From what I’ve read in the paper Brixton is now up and coming, it recently opened a Costa Coffee shop and now has quant little cafes by Marks and Spencer. The new so called up and coming young working professionals over the years have invested mummy and daddy’s cash in the area. This has somehow lifted Brixton’s shackles of drugs, gangs, drunks and prostitutes— by day time at least.
I’ve been rooted here in this same spot, a mental institute since the age of thirty. I’m now thirty -five. For the last five years, I’ve been confined within the four walls of a tiny hospital room in Mausely Hospital, ever since that day. The day my whole life changed, when I met Joseph and her.
“Criminally insane” the prosecution labelled me as I stood on the dock at the Old Baily Crown Court, central London five years ago. I laughed at their accusation and refused to believe that I’m the insane one. As the years passed by, I often wonder, am I? Insane? Maybe, for falling in love with Joseph Andrew. Does that make me insane because five years ago I was a woman in love?
“Right then Miss Charlotte let’s get you sorted for the night, shall we?”
The voice of my favourite nurse Patience breaks my thoughts, as she enters my room. She’s a short heavy set lady in her early fifties with skin the colour of mahogany, her hair is always braided neatly and piled up on the top of her head. As usual she looks like she’s about the bust out of her uniform. Nurse Patience is the sister in charge of Rainbow Ward where I’ve spent the last five years. I stare and blink at Nurse Patience’s thickly painted on eyebrows and bright gold lipstick with dark liner, I’m happy to see her. Over the years, I’ve grown fond of her, she treats me like a human being which was more than what the other nurses do.
“Ah— ah Charlotte when was the last time you took a bath, and changed out of that ragged cardigan? Look at this room, cigarette ash is everywhere.”
Nurse Patience opens her thick arms and gestures around the room for me to take note.
“Tomorrow we will start a new regime, being the New Year and all. Let’s start as we mean to go on OK?’’
I look down at my ragged black leggings with a hole in the knee and my pink cardigan. Nurse Patience is right, I’ve not had a bath for days or even left my tiny prison cell room to socialise with the other patients. What is the point in a bath anyway? Over the last five years every time I look in the mirror I see less and less of my former self. I give nurse Patience a faint smile to acknowledge her comments about my appearance and living state.
“Cheer up girly.’’
Nurse Patience says as she leaves the door open, for safety reasons and approaches me slowly. She sits down on my narrow bed. Its springs give way under her heavy behind. Nurse Patience hands me my nightly medicine. Two Olanzapine tablets and a glass of water and watches me with enthusiasm.
“What is this, Lemonade? Patience I’ve not had this is a long time!’’
I giggle as I swallow the content of the plastic cup. Nurse Patience smiles at me with a warm motherly smile.
“Happy New Year Charlotte, and may this year be a better one for you.”
Nurse Patience smiles again and gives me a small wink, she lifts her heavy behind off the bed and makes her way to the door and calls over her shoulder.
“And Charlotte, tomorrow we are taking a bath ah— ha ok!’’
I can’t help but feel a mutual warmth for her as she closes the door quietly behind her. Again I’m in solitude, alone on my stiff single bed sitting upright, I turn back to the TV it’s 11:30p.m. already. I watch a pretty blonde female presenter on the TV wrapped up in a black hat, scarf and gloves walk along Westminster Bridge, she stops random members of the public to ask what brings them to Westminster Bridge this year. I zone out of the TV conversation and roll a cigarette then head over to the mirror. In the dirty plastic mirror above the leaking sink I look at my reflection. I’m greeted with a pale porcelain colour face, sunken in cheeks, greasy dirty blonde hair to my shoulders and dim green eyes. I look every one of my thirty –five years and then some. At five— foot— ten now all I am is a tall thin and frail skeleton of a woman, I lost all my curves years ago.
I pull on my cigarette, as the nicotine hits the back of my throat I think back to my former self and my curves. I remember that’s what attracted him to me. My curves plenty of them for a white English girl he’d always say. A man likes a little booty to hold onto at night! He’d say with a cheeky grin and his gold tooth flashing. I’m less than half the woman I used to be. Depressed at the reflection staring back at me in a bright pink cardigan from the local Scope charity shop along Camberwell New Road, I turn away and go over to the window. I stare out at Kings College Hospital and the main road. The main road is buzzing even more than usual with people. In my mind, I imagine they’re on their way to house parties, to see family and friends and of course central London to visit London’s famous Westminster Bridge fireworks display put on especially for tonight. I spot a group of girls in sky scraper high heels running past the hospital opposite me, to the bus stop to catch the number 176 bus, making its way down Denmark Hill. I smile as I watch them laughing and joking in their skirts and heels.
I tear my eyes away from the group of girls and spot a couple walking up past the hospital toward Denmark Hill station. A black male and a white female are holding hands and well dressed for the cold weather in hats, scarfs and gloves. As he holds her hand he walks along with the natural confidence of a man with everything, his swag in his walk shows he’s full of confidence with his girl on one arm and their Nandos take-away bag on the other. She’s carrying a blue plastic bag a tell tell sign of a trip to the local off licence for cheap Lambrini wine and beers. The sight of them makes my heart stop. My mind races back to a place I’ve not been mentally for a long time. I move away from the window and glance at the clock 11:45p.m.
I finish smoking on my bed, careful not to drop any ash this time in fear of what nurse Patience will say in the morning. I lay down facing the TV, my mind races as I hear the celebrations, well wishes and the pretty presenter on the TV all in good spirits. The crowd around the bridge eagerly await London’s pretty firework display to bring in the New Year.
The Olanzapine starts to kick in and relax my racing mind. I close my eyes and reflect on life and the events that brought me to this drab mental institution in south London.
I’m Charlotte Price-Smith or was, should I say. I had a career and happy go lucky attitude. I was a nurse myself, a paediatric nurse at Lewisham Hospital south London. I loved my job, the kids, caring for others, no two days were ever the same. University and training were hard, throughout my nurse training days the one thing I hid well at the time was my mental instability. I was diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic at the age of eighteen. Even then, I hid it well until my best friend Tamara noticed the slashes on my arm and strange behaviour.
My job had been stressful to say the least, back then I’d become reliant on mood stabilisers and sleeping pills. A heavy work load and up and down shift patterns left me burnt out at times. I got through it with the support of colleagues and Tamara. Tamara had been my rock at times. I wish that she’d never moved south from London, to the south West coast of England to Cornwell, to practice medicine after qualifying as a doctor. Over the years our contact has reduced, every now and then I receive a letter with the familiar handwriting on the envelop, and my heart always skips a beat. Someone has remembered my birthday, or just wants to say hi would run through my mind, when an envelope arrived. Over the years, that someone has normally been Tamara. This is more than what my own family has ever done in the last five years I’ve been locked up in an institution. My family were in complete denial about my mental state prior to my life spiralling out of control, and are even more in denial now. Ashamed probably, that their only child turned into a nut job, risked her life in some of the more rough areas of south London to make friends, just to be accepted and decided to date outside her race. The latter was a hard pill for dear old daddy to swallow. He imagined I’d end up with some stuffy upper classed white male from the medical field, and live a nice quiet life in the suburbs of Bromley. Mixing with “those people” in our neighbouring areas of Lewisham and Catford will get me into trouble he’d say … it did.
Five whole years have passed, and not one birthday or Christmas card arrived from my parents, not even a letter to see how I’m doing, cooped up in a mental institution. The ladies on Rainbow Ward as crazy as they are have become my family as well as nurse Patience of course. They accept me, love me and make me feel part of a family. It all stared back in 2008, when Joseph Andrew I and crossed paths at a club, I was on a girl’s night out with Tamara. Tamara and I both know him from college. Back then Joseph and I were from two different backgrounds completely in our college days. I was the middle classed white girl and he the inner city black boy.
All those years later when we met that night at the club, not much changed we were still from two different worlds—but I was drawn to him. Tamara warned me off. The bad boys were trouble—especially Joseph Andrew she said. I couldn’t help myself back then. We exchanged numbers that night at the club and met up for coffee the following Saturday morning. One thing led to another, I fell in love.
I refocus on the TV and watch the crowd along Westminster Bridge cheer, when the ten second countdown begins, I bring my mind back to the present from my old life. I stare at the TV in a zoned-out state. My stabilisers take full effect. I focus on the clock hands on Big Ben on the TV, as the crowd count down.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!! 2015 flashes across the scene. I roll over to face the wall away from the TV. This is the year, I’ll do it, make everyone pay, I’m crazy yes but I’m not a murderer and the whole world will see why.
Oh wow! What will happen next?? Charlotte obviously has a score to settle with someone. But who? Find out in the next flash fiction preview!