They were all crazy. Every single one of them. The screams, the fits,
the calling of names. The building was full of deranged people. But
somehow, I was drawn to one of them.
Her name was Arabella.
I don’t know why or how she was here, she seemed sane enough.
She would just sit on her chair, in her private room, looking out to
the forests. Her bright blue eyes were faded and her brown tufts of
curly hair hung just below her shoulders. It was almost as if she was
a ghost of a girl, mirroring her past. At night, she would stare at the
flickering fire, then start to read her book. The same one, every
night, and she would always read it eerily, turning the pages as if they
would snap in front of her. She would always –
– request I’d
be with her from 6pm (to light the fire) until 11pm (where she’d fall
asleep). As the embers died, she’d always tell me:
‘You know, when I was your age, I looked exactly like you. The
curly brown hair and the blue eyes.’
She said it softly, as if she didn’t want me to hear what she was
saying. It was hard to imagine a twenty-three year old Arabella Jones,
but over the next couple of weeks, I found myself looking more and
more like the photo of her when she was my age.
My hair got more ringlets, and my eyes got brighter. Some nights,
when Arabella had just fallen asleep, I’d stare at the photo, the
embers’ small flames flickering off the glass frame. It was haunting,
not necessarily scary, just haunting.
But I thought, it wouldn’t be too bad to look like her.
The night that I asked her why she was here, her blue pools filled
with a tragic liquid, but she talked anyway.
‘My husband died here – he was a madman, to say the least. And
I thought, I’m reaching 94, so it wouldn’t be a bad place to die.’
I remember a puzzled look crossing my face – thinking, there
couldn’t be a more terrible place to die, amongst crazy people, but I
didn’t argue. That wasn’t part of my job – I was there to keep
Arabella company, not question her antics.
‘He was in the war. After that, he was haunted by the horrors of
the prisoner of war camps. Before he went to war, we had a marriage
that every young person dreamed of. The photos just about show it.’
She always spoke nonchalantly. She gestured to the photos on her
mantelpiece, the same mantle where the photo of twenty-three year
old Arabella sat. Alongside that photo were five photos of her and a