As has become my daily routine, I wake up next to him. I pretend to be asleep while he wakes, glances at me, then carries on with his own routine. He is stooped, grey, old. First he shaves, then washes himself. He comes back into the bedroom we share to dress before he tries to wake me up. He gently wakes me, then encourages me to wash and dress myself. I take my time; I make it clear I won’t be rushed. By the time I sit at the table downstairs he’s made porridge for breakfast along with a tea sat ready for me. We eat in silence. He gathers the dishes and puts them by the sink. He lets me leave. I sit in an armchair looking out at the beautifully maintained garden. He comes to join me in another armchair and reads his paper.
I have no idea who this man is. I have no idea how he got me here or why he insists on keeping me here. All I want is to go home, but he tells me this is my home. This is not my home. My home is a farmhouse with my mother and father, helping out with the milking in the morning and evening. This stranger is cruel – he gets frustrated and tells me that they don’t exist anymore and that he is all I have. I can’t help but think he has something sinister planned for me – I’m 21, so why would he be keeping me here against my will? So far he has kept to the same routine, but I’ve no idea how long I have been here for.
Today is a Monday – he’ll be leaving me soon to go to the local farmer’s market to do some food shopping. I will have another chance to escape. Last time he had left the door unlocked, I tried to find my way home. I hadn’t made it too far down the road when a passing Land Rover stopped next to me. The driver wound the window down and called out to me.
“Mary! What are you doing out here?”
“I can’t find my way home… There was a man…” I pointed back the way I’d come. I didn’t recognise the man, but if he knew me he must have been a friend of my father’s.
“Hop in, I’ll take you home.”
Grateful, I opened the door and climbed in. We sat in silence until he turned around and drove back the way I had already come from.
“Where are you taking me?”
“To your home…” He pulled up in front of that strange man’s house. I scrabbled for the door handle, trying to escape. “Don’t worry; I’ll go get Freddie to help you to the house.” He calls back to me as he leaves. How could I have been so stupid as to think he would be a friend of my father’s this far from home? As I manage to get my trembling hands to open the door the Land Rover owner is back with that old man.
“Please just let me go! I want to go home!”
“This is your home.” The old man is gruff and impatient. He grabs me by the arm and leads me back towards the strange house. I try to wriggle out of his grip, but it’s too strong. The Land Rover owner comes around to my other side to take a hold of my other arm. Neither of them say anything to me as they pull me inside. The old man turns to the driver once they have me secured inside the living room.
“Thanks, Steve… I’ve no idea how she got out…”
Why was he keeping me here? Why were strangers helping him to keep me here? I start crying when I realise that this was the closest I had come too escaping and now it was going to be so much harder. He would make sure to lock the doors so I had no chance to run away.
The front door shuts and I am alone with him. He stalks into the room, keeping his eyes on the floor. He’s got a tic in his jaw.
“Why do you do this to me, Mary?” His voice is quiet. He’s angry, but for some reason he’s keeping it bubbling beneath the surface. For a moment I wonder if he’s going to hit me.
“How do you know my name?” I ask, but he just rubs his hand over his face. I try again. “Who are you?”
“I’m just trying to take care of you. Why do you have to make it so difficult?”
“Because you’re keeping me hostage!”
He explodes. “You live here! Why can’t you remember that?”
I give up. I keep my mouth shut and sit there with tears trickling down my face. He sighs and flops down into his armchair before he picks up his paper. Later I had bruises on my arm from where he had gripped me. That was the most he had spoken to me in the entire time I had been here. I couldn’t understand him: Why kidnap a woman to pretend she was your wife if you didn’t even want to acknowledge she was there?
As he did then, he sits reading his paper while I stare out of the window. This garden is one my mother would be jealous of. Beautiful rambling roses and tenderly cared for flowerbeds that make me even more nostalgic for home. I am determined to escape this stranger. Keeping my eyes glued to the window, I pretend not to notice when he gets ready to leave. He pauses in the door as if he’s about to say something, but he turns back towards the front door. When I hear the key turning in the lock, I scramble to my feet to check if I can open it. The door won’t budge.
I run to the back door but that one is firmly locked too. I turn my eyes to the windows. Leaning over the work surface in the kitchen, I push one open as far as it will go. I manage to climb up onto the surface and awkwardly clamber out of the window, falling on to some bushes. I hear the engine of his car as it starts and gradually pulls away into the distance. I right myself then head towards the road. I should have some time before he comes back to find me. I walk in the opposite direction to last time, hoping not to bump into any more of his friends who are apparently helping him.
I walk and walk until the sun hovers overhead. I’m on some kind of single track country road, which I follow in the hopes of reaching a main road. There will be signs to show me where I am there, so I can start to head back towards my home. I keep walking, my feet starting to hurt – but I carry on to escape that old man. I am not going back to entertain him any longer. After what feels like an age, I reach a junction. The sign in front of me reads Spittal – I’m a few miles from my parents’ house! I follow the direction I’m meant to take, but have to stop for a minute to soothe my aching feet. I lean against a gate and look up as a police car drives past. The passenger’s eyes widen when they spot me, and the police car reverses back to stop next to me. The passenger police officer rolls down her window.
“Mrs Gratton?” She looks concerned, but I feel relieved they’re not looking for me – that’s not my name.
“No, sorry, I’m not married… I’ve just gone for a walk, I’m heading back home now…” I start to walk away but she calls after me again.
“Mary? Is that your name?” She’s opened her door and is coming after me. How had he gotten the police to look for me? He’s the one who kidnapped me!
“Please, I just want to go home…”
Her colleague has left the car too and has come to join us. They both move to stand in front of me.
“Mary, we’re here to take you home. You can trust us.” He tried to smile at me, but I know what they’re planning to do.
“Trust us, we’ll take you home to your family.” The female police officer smiles too.
“You don’t understand… this man, he took me…”
“We understand, Mary. We’ll take you home. We don’t want you being run over on the road…” She moves forward and takes my arm, trying to guide me back towards their car. The other one has moved around to my other side.
“No, you’re going to take me back to him!” I try to break free, but they firmly take me towards the back seat of their car. The male officer opens the door and they both shepherd me inside, buckling me in.
“You’re safe with us, Mary.” The female officer smiles her sickly smile.
They get back in the car. I don’t believe this. How has he managed to persuade police officers to collect me? Though they look like police officers, their uniforms vary greatly to the ones I remember. This car seems far more modern than those I’ve seen driven around too. The one driving turns us back around. Taking me back to him. Panic sets in – I can’t go back to that strange man – I can’t! My hands struggle to release me from the seat belt. In my panic they don’t seem to be working properly. The female passenger turns around as I break free and lunge at the door. The door opens, and I fly from the car as it rounds a bend.
When I wake up, I’m in a hospital bed. There’s a wire thing stuck in my arm and I hurt all over. There’s only one other person in this ward. He’s an elderly man sat in a chair staring out of the window. I try to remember what happened to me but my mind has gone blank. I drift back off to sleep, exhausted.
A nurse wakes me up and checks me over. When I ask her what happened, she tells me that I was involved in a minor car accident. She tells me not to worry and that I am safe. I tell her to let my family know I’m alive and well – she assures me she will. I feel comforted in here. Surely that man can’t have corrupted an entire hospital staff as well. I’m sure my mother and father will come and find me here and I can tell them everything. Another nurse comes by to check on me and I ask if my parents are here to see me yet. She informs me that they’re busy but will come back to see me soon. She says visiting hours are soon.
I appear to have broken an arm and a leg trying to escape my captors, and I’m covered in bruises. Everything aches, but when I think of my family I am comforted. They will have missed me so much – I can’t wait to be home where I belong. All this pain will have been worth it to see them. I never have to go back to that creepy old man’s house. I can move on with my life. I am free.
Visiting comes and my family don’t appear. Crestfallen, I ask another nurse where my family are. She tries to reassure me they’ll come visit me, but now I’m not so sure.
“Have you told them I’m here?” I ask, but she looks shifty and avoids the question. She looks up at the corridor and smiles, then turns to me.
“Who’s that handsome man that’s come to see you then?” She beams.
I turn and see my captor stood in the doorway. He holds his cap in between his hands and looks upset – probably due to the fact that I’d managed to escape from him again. My hope at finally being free dies. How did he know I was here? Then I remember the two false police officers – of course they would have told him I was here. They had probably phoned an ambulance after all.
I withdraw into myself as the nurse tells him I’ve been so excited to see him. He looks hopeful as he sits next to me.
“Mary?” He tries to take me hand, his voice filled with longing. I snatch my hand away – I won’t be privy to his sick game. His face crumbles at my rejection. “Oh, Mary… Why don’t you remember me?”
“I remember you keeping me captive!” I spat, feeling smug when I see him flinch.
At that he withdraws from me, sitting back in his chair. He looks towards the window. We pass the next twenty minutes in silence. He finally tires of it and leaves, mumbling that he’ll be back tomorrow.
And he is. He returns to the hospital every day until they let me leave. I give up on trying to run away. Whoever this strange man is, he clearly has a lot of influence to persuade hospital staff that he is something to do with me. I can’t exactly escape to anywhere with a broken arm and leg either. I decide to bide my time and try another escape once he takes me back to his home. I’m confident I can find another way home. I can try writing letters to my parents to tell them where I am.
When the doctors say I can leave, they take me to his in an ambulance. I try to explain to the paramedics that I don’t know who he is, but they just laugh – they think I’m joking.
The routine changes when he has me home. I’ve made it clear I will stop at nothing to escape from him. So he brings in people to make sure I’m not on my own. They help to wash and dress me in the morning, and take me into the kitchen where the stranger sits with his porridge and his paper. They are insufferably cheerful. I’ve been given a wheelchair to move around the house in, which is how they move me around with my broken leg. With my broken arm as well there’s no way I can handle crutches. When he finishes with his porridge, he wheels me into the lounge. He’s even moved my armchair so that he can position me to look out at the rambling roses in the garden.
The cheerful people return late at night to assist me with my night routine. This carries on for a few more days. I can’t understand this man’s persistence. All I seem to be is company for him. If he wants company so badly why not pay the insufferable people to do it? I’m clearly not happy here. But he doesn’t seem to realise this. One morning as I stare at the roses, I voice this opinion. I very rarely talk to him anymore and he is visibly ruffled when I break my silence.
“Why do you keep me here?” When he doesn’t answer, I continue. He just watches me. “Why pay these people to help keep me here when you can see I’m not happy? Why won’t you let me go home to my family?”
“I am your family.” Frustrated, he puts his paper down. “I’m all you’ve got left. I’m not paying these people to keep you here, I’m paying them to look after you.”
“But I don’t understand-”
“You’re my wife!” He shouts. I jump – I hadn’t been expecting such vehemence. He stands up and crosses to a mantel piece on the far side of the room. He picks up a photograph and hands it to me. It shows me and a handsome young man around my age on what appears to be our wedding day. I frown – the young woman is undoubtedly me, but how can I not remember this? Who is the man in the photograph? It can’t have been that long ago because I don’t look much older than I am now. Then why can’t I remember it?
“That’s us, 63 years ago.” His voice is softer now as he watched me.
“63 years ago? Us? That’s impossible, I’m 21-” I look so happy in that photo.
“Mary,” he kneels next to me. “You’re not 21. You’re 85. You’re my wife. You’ve… You’ve got dementia.”
I frown. What on earth is dementia? “I’ve got what?”
He sighs. It’s like he’s tired of telling me this, but I can’t remember having this conversation. “Your memory isn’t what it used to be. I’m your husband, Freddie Gratton, but you can’t remember me or the fact you live here. Your family have been dead for years.”
I can’t grasp what he’s telling me. He seems to realise this and wheels me towards a floor length mirror in the corridor.
“If you’re 21, how come you’re as old and wrinkled as I am?” He points at the mirror. In it an old woman stares back at me, her arm and leg also in plaster. I can understand what he’s trying to tell me. This is a very clever trick he’s pulled.
He wheels me back into the lounge and places me in front of the window. He goes back to reading his paper. I stare out of the window at a beautifully maintained garden.
“My mother would envy that garden…”
I look back at him. As usual, he sits reading his paper with watery eyes. I have no idea who this man is, or how he got me here. But I will escape and find my way back home to my family. My arm and leg are in plaster – he’s probably done that to make sure I don’t escape. Last time he had a friend bring me back to him. I stare back out to the garden. Today is not a Monday though. That’s when he goes to the local farmer’s market. So I will have to bide my time.