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Authors: Philip Taffs

The Evil Inside

The Evil Inside

Philip Taffs

First published in Great Britain in 2014 by Quercus

This edition first published in 2014 by
Quercus Editions Ltd
55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block
London
W1U 8EW

Copyright © 2014 by Philip Taffs

The moral right of Philip Taffs to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Ebook ISBN 978 1 84866 400 5
Print ISBN 978 1 84866 399 2

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

You can find this and many other great books at:
www.quercusbooks.co.uk

Philip Taffs has worked as an advertising copywriter in his native Australia for over twenty years. He is a PEN prize-winning short story writer, and lives in Melbourne with his wife and his two sons.
The Evil Inside
is his first novel.

 

To Shoba and Moira.
And to Alan Pilkington who said ‘you'll see'

The Danger Zone

I jumped out of the taxi onto the slippery hospital driveway.

It was still raining like Noah was in town.

‘Shit!'

I slapped a fifty into the happy driver's hand, ran round to the other side of the cab and opened the door. Mia slid out – belly up, legs akimbo.

I steered her towards the entrance as she dropped small red bombs of blood every few feet.

Doors hissed and we were suddenly in the terrifying sterility of the Cabrini Emergency Department. It was unbearably white and bright, an overlit limbo. A digital desk calendar on the counter clicked over to 1.19 a.m.: 09/09/99.

There were three nurses sitting behind the admissions desk, drinking coffee. One of them was whinging about her inept husband, keeping her two colleagues highly amused. A country music song was whining on the late-night radio: ‘ … and that was the tremendous Tanya Tucker with “I'll Come Back as Another Woman” – but when you're as beautiful and talented as Miss Tanya, why would you want to?'

‘Excuse me,' I said. ‘We need some help here.'

None of the nurses paid us the slightest bit of attention. I banged the bell on the desk. ‘Hell-ooo!' I bawled.

‘We'd like to help, Sir, please calm down,' Nurse No. 1 said, putting down her cup. ‘Now, if you'd just like to fill out this form—'

‘Fuck the form!' I frisbeed the clipboard back over the counter at her. ‘My wife is pregnant and bleeding and I want some help – right now!'

The nurse rolled her eyes and made a lackadaisical announcement into a microphone. After a minute, another nurse materialized and took Mia's elbow. ‘Sir, I'll take care of your wife if you take care of the paperwork,' she said, leading Mia off into the glare.

I swore again, reluctantly took the clipboard back from the desk nurse and began scrawling furiously. The other two nurses continued their conversation as if nothing had happened while I spilt the entire contents of my wallet onto the floor trying to locate the requisite health insurance and credit card details.

I finally completed the form and handed it back with a fierce ‘Here.'

‘Thank you, Sir,' the desk nurse said. ‘Now one of these other nurses will take you down to where your wife—'

But I was already walking.

‘What's wrong with her?'

Mia had her legs up in stirrups. She was hooked up to a foetal monitor and there were a couple of drips stitched into her forearm. She looked green.

‘She's lost a lot of blood,' the junior doctor in blue said quietly. ‘But we'll have that under control in a minute. The baby – how many weeks is it?'

Twenty-three? Twenty-five? Fuck. I wasn't exactly sure. My brain was jelly. And the ponytailed doctor looked too young to drive a car, let alone handle an emergency like this.

‘I think about twenty-four weeks,' I guessed. ‘Near the end of the Danger Zone.'

The doctor nodded. ‘Her gynaecologist is on his way. About ten minutes.'

I held Mia's hand as they continued to take readings. I looked at the ultrasound, at the tiny being who had brought us here. It didn't seem to be moving much.

I couldn't think. I couldn't talk. I just kept wishing there was a teleportation machine that could zap Doctor Hill to us in an instant.

‘Guy?' Mia said quietly. ‘What'd the doctor say?' She sounded dreamy, far away.

‘She said Hill's on his way.'

‘Oh. Good.'

Mia was thirsty. I went out into the corridor. Two young orderlies were leaning on the water cooler, discussing the details of last weekend's Blues–Lions football final.

‘Excuse me,' I said, moving in between them. The water was cool but it did nothing to slake my thirst. ‘Excuse me,' I said again, refilling my cup. The orderlies finished their breeze-shooting and slow-waltzed off with their buckets and mops.

I leaned against the cooler myself for a moment, closing my eyes: trying to turn unbearable reality back into a bad but baseless dream. I tried to convince myself that with all the miracles of modern science and technology, nothing really catastrophic could happen to my wife – or our unborn child. After all, this was almost the twenty-first century. This wasn't an episode of
ER
; this was a real hospital with real medical professionals.

Like Doctor Hill.

Then he was suddenly there in front of me: bald, patient, kind – just as Mia had described him. My words spewed out in a torrent: ‘Oh, Doctor Hill thank God you're here Mia's bleeding and she first started last Friday night and I'm sorry I haven't come to meet you yet but I was going to come next week and—'

Hill held up a palm. ‘Please, Sir. Calm down. You must be Mr Russell?'

‘Guy.' I pumped his hand, spilling Mia's water with the other.

‘Now, when did Mia start bleeding this evening?'

When? When? Fucking when? Think, man, think!

‘Um, well she wasn't feeling well so she went to bed early. She called out to me at about 12.30 a.m. and she was bleeding then. In fact, the sheet was all covered in blood.'

Truth be told, I was still up reading my father's old Penguin copy of
The Count of Monte Cristo
and had had a few drinks: that's why I'd had to call a cab instead of driving Mia myself.

Hill didn't say anything. We were walking quickly towards Mia's room.

He looked at me kindly. ‘Why don't you wait in the waiting room down the end there while I talk to Dr Ross,' – that must have been the name of the junior doctor – ‘and examine Mia.'

Hill's firm but gentle hand on my arm suggested I should do as he asked. He went into Mia's room and closed the door.

I don't know how long I sat in the purgatory of that waiting room. I plucked a
Gone Fishing
magazine out of the rack and flicked through it blindly. A new nurse brought me a lukewarm coffee. But she said nothing, and then walked away again.

I flipped the page and stared at an old black-and-white photo of Ernest Hemingway standing next to a shark he'd caught down in Cuba in the fifties.

Like many young writers, I'd had my obligatory ‘Hemingway Phase'. Immediately after university, I hitchhiked to Western Australia and got a job on a filthy old fishing trawler called
Dirty Mary
in a windy coastal town you'd miss if you blinked.
Dirty Mary
's captain (I knew him only as ‘Olav') was a mountainous bewhiskered old Norwegian drunk whom I suspected had fled his homeland after murdering someone there.

Anyway, the naive plan was that I'd work on the boat during the day and write down my visceral and fascinating
Old Man and the Sea
type experiences at night in my cramped, smelly bolthole above the town's only hotel. The problem was, after a day hauling nets and cutting bait, I was just too damned tired to work at night.

I lasted just three months and drifted back to Melbourne with only three pages of notes and a nasty case of Hep C from drinking too much cheap Australian whisky and eating mouldy food out of rusty tin cans.

I lifted the magazine closer:
The one that
didn't
get away from Papa,
the caption read. Hemingway looked like a big fat shark himself. But despite his sunny smile, I felt as cold as an iceberg. I needed a cigarette. Or a joint. Or maybe something even stronger.

‘Mr Russell?' Hill was in front of me again, trying to get my attention. ‘Guy?'

‘Hmm?' It was hard to refocus on reality. Light was bouncing off his pate like a laser display.

‘Guy, come with me. I have something I need to discuss with you and your wife.'

*

‘The thing is,' he took Mia's hand, ‘we're seeing foetal distress. Low heart rate. The baby's trapped in a hostile womb.'

He could have been speaking Swahili. I stood there, paralysed and confused. Meanwhile, a nurse I hadn't seen before was plumping Mia's pillow. She was an older woman, with streaky grey-blonde hair. There was severity in her face rather than sympathy. She punched the pillow like a middle-weight.

Hill went on. ‘In simple terms, your baby's amniotic sac has ruptured. That's why Mia is bleeding. And possibly why the baby's not moving. There's also meconium in the amniotic fluid.'

I wondered if Mia had mentioned to Hill about the last time we'd had sex – the Friday before.

He read my mind. ‘That bleeding Mia experienced when you last had
intercourse
,' – he pronounced the word as if it were a major crime – ‘may have been an early sign of the problem. In fact, given its
exuberance
– he gave me a searching look – ‘the
intercourse
may have even aggravated the situation somewhat.'

The foetal monitor gave a reproachful little groan of agreement before clicking back into gear. And I could have sworn the old nurse tut-tutted as she gathered up Mia's soiled linen.

The nurse paused with her bundle of sheets and slips, squeezed Mia's shoulder and grunted at her, ‘Don't worry, love – it'll all turn out the way it's meant to. You'll see.'

There was something not quite right about her. She brushed past me with a scowl. I was glad she was leaving.

Letting Hill's words sink in, Mia flashed a sideways look at me – and it was not the look of love. She was sitting up. Her face was almost as white as the sheet that she had pulled up to her neck. Hill and I stared at the outline of her abdomen, rising and falling like a bellows.

And the good news kept right on coming. ‘The bleeding is most likely attributable, however, to placenta praevia. Scar tissue on the uterine wall that forces the placenta to take up an abnormal position. Probably a result of the
interventions
Mia undertook prior to the birth of your first child.' He looked at me again. ‘On top of the other difficulties, the foetus is also currently lying in a breech position.'

Interventions
. The two abortions I'd strongly encouraged Mia to have a few years prior to having Callum, our first-born, who had just turned three. My career had been even more important to me in those early days. I often worked till midnight: I didn't have time back then for changing nappies or humming lullabies. I was young, selfish and stupid. And ashamed now because of it.

Mia gave me another look: I suddenly felt as though I was the one being monitored.

‘Can you fix it?' I asked stupidly.

‘Unfortunately I can't,' Hill replied. ‘And neither can Mia. The thing is: the baby needs to be born right now if it is to have any chance of surviving.'

He waited a beat. ‘But the problem is we have no idea how the baby has been affected by what's happened.' He waited again. ‘And the fact that the baby will be born so early could result in some severe abnormalities.'

Severe abnormalities
? In
our
baby?

‘What should we do?' Mia's voice sounded disembodied, as if it was coming out of the air conditioning ducts or the washbasin.

Hill held her hand. ‘We have to deliver the baby now – for your future health, if nothing else. However—' Hill paused and looked at us both very gravely.

‘However what?' I asked.

‘However, given the foetus's high risk of abnormality or major health problems, you may choose to terminate it
before
it's born.'

Mia looked to the wall.

‘Under state law, you would be perfectly within your rights to request a termination if I, as your doctor, were to assert that not performing the termination would be deleterious to your physical or mental health. In another two days when the pregnancy enters its twenty-fourth week, however, the situation becomes a bit trickier: we would have to move you to a public hospital and the decision would then have to be made not by you or myself but by an ethics committee.'

I walked round to the other side of the bed and tried to catch Mia's eye. But she looked straight through me and turned back to Hill. ‘Have you had many other cases like this?'

Hill shrugged his shoulders. ‘I've had similar cases but, of course, no two sets of circumstances are ever exactly the same.'

Mia finally met my gaze. ‘What did the other women … I mean couples … decide?'

‘Some couples who were childless – or who had strong religious beliefs – chose to proceed with the birth without … “intervention”. And risked the consequences. The majority of other couples, however – the ones who already had children – chose intervention.'

He gave us a hard little smile. ‘You already have a delightful little boy, don't you? I met him with you at my office, Mia, C—'

‘Callum,' we said together.

He nodded. ‘Callum, that's right. With the blonde hair. And after today's … procedure, there's no reason why Mia couldn't become pregnant again some time in the future.' Hill walked toward the door. ‘But, as I said, whether you choose intervention or not is completely up to you. I'll leave you two alone now to discuss it.'

‘Dr Hill?' Mia was barely audible.

‘Yes, Mia?'

‘Is it a boy or a girl?'

‘It looks like a little girl.'

I didn't know where to look. I certainly couldn't look at Mia.

All I could focus on was the pile of fluffy white towels that the nurse had left on top of the windowsill.

I was woken by a garbage truck air-braking in the dark alley behind the hospital, carting away God-knows-what to God-knows-where. In the cold hour before the dawn, I lay curled on a blue plastic hospital chair, next to my newly empty wife. The chart at the end of her bed read ‘Stable'. Whatever the fuck that was supposed to mean.

Mia's arm was dripping into a tube. My nose was dripping onto my shirt.

His and Hers catatonia.

I blearily recalled a pleasant get-together we'd hosted just a few weeks before:

Our wide kitchen window looking out onto shiny green grass and glorious gum trees.

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