Searching For Clues

Written by Sharon Cochrane

The day I became confused began like any other. I finished work at 7.15am, tired after working 7 night shifts. I walked down the corridor of the ward with my colleague, and out the door, down the steps and into the front foyer. I'd have said, "Thanks for a good night, sleep well. See you next time we're working together." She'd have replied "You sleep well too and enjoy your days off". I'd walk through the automatic doors, into the bright summer sunshine. I'd blink and wince, a dull ache in my head reminding me of my lack of sleep. Some of the other girls leave wearing sunglasses to avoid that sharp glare and the resultant headache. I don't have far to drive home, so I've never bothered with dark glasses. My bed is only 10 minutes away.

I've been confused for 6 months and 19 days.

For 6 months and 19 days I've been trying to figure things out. I've woken most nights at 2am piecing it all together. But the edges are frayed, leaving the raw ends of words, people and events, with nothing substantial to stitch anything together with. Just as soon as I'd caught hold of a thought, it unravelled, hanging loosely. In the middle of the night my mind became a crazy patchwork of rich colours and fascinating embellishments. Nothing was ordered and nothing made sense. I followed a meandering golden thread that promised understanding, but ended abruptly. Another shimmering silk wandered further, but faded out where a darker shade began. I dreaded going to bed, dreaded waking up to these mental 2am games. There were too many possibilities for a fun game, the implications too serious.

When I finish my last night shift I sleep for one hour. I arrive home, have a bowl of cereal, take a shower and go to bed. One hour is enough to rest my eyes and my back, and get me through the day. If I sleep any longer I waste a day. That day is counted as a day off and I never waste a day off. The day my confusion began I had one hour of sleep. It was a hot and humid midsummer morning when I woke. I was thirsty and vaguely disorientated. I had two glasses of water and ate an orange while my coffee brewed. It never makes any difference how much water I drink in the night; I always wake up thirsty. I was too tired to read or drive anywhere, so I chose to do the housework. I needed to do something that didn't need my concentration. Some days I spent the day watching movies, or gardening. That day I did the dusting and vacuuming. I may have done some washing and ironing as well. The exact details of the middle part of the day are now lost in 6 months and 19 days of playing a minor role in the mystery my life has become.

I've become accustomed to having to give an account of myself. What I did on a certain day, or at a particular time. Since being suspended from work, I'm often asked by acquaintances how I fill in my day, now that I have so much time. Last week an investigating psychiatrist asked me how I would describe myself. I seem to be public property now. This is strange for a person who has always been quiet and enjoyed her privacy. Perhaps I could write out an account for you of each hour of that day?
At 7.15 I left work.
At 8.15 I fell into bed.
At 9.15 I drank two glasses of water.
At 10.15 I began dusting shelves.
At 11.15 I dragged the vacuum cleaner from the cupboard.
At 12.15 I brewed another coffee and ate a chicken sandwich.
I could tell you how hot I was. That perspiration gathered under my bra and trickled down my belly, leaving wet patches on the T-shirt I was wearing. And how long a summer's day is when you've had one hours sleep. Fatigue, mind-numbing fatigue, clouded my perceptions making the day seem as endless as a long country road, sun-bleached and empty.

Giving an account makes me think of rows of neat numbers. Numbers that add up to a final amount owed. There's only right or wrong with numbers. They add up or they don't. There's no ambiguity, irony or doubt. No room for confusion.
For 6 months and 19 days my account has been in the red. I keep trying to figure out the numbers. Going over and over my account to check if the numbers were added correctly or if someone has written in the wrong numbers. Has there been a deliberate or an honest mistake? I have searched for clues until I can no longer keep my eyes open. Forget the account idea, it's another digression.

Much later in the afternoon of that day I went shopping. The supermarket is two streets away. It was almost dark as I backed down my driveway. I remembered to take the shopping list. There were plenty of parking spaces, as most of the shoppers had home to cook tea. I found a trolley and walked up and down each aisle methodically taking items from the shelves and crossing them off my list. I didn't meet anyone I knew, which was good as I was too tired to talk. This was my fortnightly shopping, it was payday and it always took an hour. I got through the checkout and packed the groceries into the car and drove home. At this point in giving you my account I begin to get nervous.

I always leave the back door of my house unlocked. Not a wise habit nowadays, one that's left over from simpler days of farm living. That night I'd left my door open and no light on. I drove down the driveway and almost to the back door. I got out of the car in the dark, picked up several bags of groceries and walked to the door.

Inside my house a man's voice called out my name. I couldn't see anything in the dark; I couldn't think for the rush of blood to my head, the pounding in my chest wouldn't stop. I couldn't move. My name was called again, louder, this time. Then the voice said it was a police officer. I didn't know whether this was right or wrong, or good or bad.

At that moment my confusion began.

I put my bags down, fumbled for the light switch. Two police officers in plain clothes came forward to show me their identification badges. They also told me they had a search warrant for stolen medications. I gave them a bottle of the medications they were looking for, but they weren't stolen. They were on prescription.

I had to accompany them into each room, searching into every cupboard and drawer. In my bedroom, they closed the door, two of them and me. They asked me about a friend of mine. My accounting began at that moment:
"When did you last see Robert?"
"Can you tell me what you were doing on that occasion?"
"Did you give Robert anything to eat or drink?"
"Did Robert fall suddenly and unaccountably asleep in your company?"
They said, "Robert tells a convincing story" and left.

A month ago the dense fog of confusion left me; a light icy mist has taken its place. I can now see more clearly, but what I see pains me. My solicitor has finally been given 4 witness statements. I can sleep more easily; I'm not spending all night trying to figure things out. I know what caused the events of 6 months and 19 days ago. I know now what fantastical stories have been written to make my life the movie it has become. I know who the frustrated scriptwriters are.

The fog has definitely lifted, but what remains are tiny razor sharp blades of ice suspended in a fine rain. I never knew how deadly mist could be.

I know what, but I don't know why?