For four more weeks, David worked assiduously on his strengthening exercises, and on his voice. He had cream applied twice daily to all of his burns, an exercise which seemed to embarrass the nurses more than it did him, even though he knew that the scarring around his groin was in a somewhat delicate location. He had asked Dr. Goldman about how he should react, and had been reassured that there was no problem; the nurses were professionals, but perhaps they were embarrassed on his behalf, since he seemed not to notice or react to what they were doing.
He saw Miss Caldwell most afternoons, although not always for voice exercises. She helped out around the hospital, and he would see her, hurrying from one duty to the next. She would always smile at him, and would come to visit more often than she seemed to visit any of the other patients. David had asked her one day if they were friends, and she had reddened a little before replying that yes, she thought they were.
It was Miss Caldwell who alerted him to his visitor. Late one afternoon, as the outside air turned cold enough to require her to come round closing windows, she looked over her shoulder at David and whispered to him that she thought he had a visitor.
“Army uniform,” she said, “he’s filling in any number of forms at the front desk.”
David got up out of his chair in the day room and began to pace up and down. Miss Caldwell told him not to worry, but he felt this was the definition of worry, as it had been explained to him.
Moments later, Jane appeared at the door of the day room, and ushered in Dr. Goldman and an unfamiliar man in uniform, who walked with the aid of a cane. David wondered if he should salute, but decided not to. He stared at the visitor, who stared back as David turned to fully face him. As he did so, the man started to react, first raising his eyebrows, and then screwing his face up as David’s scars came into view for him.
He began to say something, then stopped. David stared at him, wondering if he, too, was unable to speak. The man rubbed his gloved hand over his face and blinked quickly several times, then turned aside and reached for his handkerchief. He covered his face with it for a moment, then blew his nose.
David continued to stare as the man slowly regained his composure and then, as if remembering who he was, stood a little straighter.
“This man,” the visitor said to Dr. Goldman, “could well be one of mine. Some of them, you have to understand, only came to us in the final days, and I didn’t get to know them all very well, if at all. He does look a little familiar to me, but I can’t be sure. If he is the one involved, then I think it would be best for all if he does not remember any of it. It was a terrible thing which happened, and I myself have not fully recovered. Better to remain ignorant, I think.”
He looked again at David, and then away, to the view from the window which overlooked the lawn at the rear of the hospital building.
David could see that the right side of the man’s neck had similar scars to his own, but that they did not extend to his face. He wanted to say something, and briefly wondered if this might bring his voice back, but when he tried, nothing happened.
The army man – David didn’t think he would be called a ‘soldier’, but wasn’t sure – looked once more at David, then turned and limped away, Dr. Goldman following behind. Jane looked over at him, then also left the room. Lost in thought, the grip on his right arm came as a surprise, and he flinched.
Miss Caldwell pulled her hand away.
“Oh, I’m sorry, David, I didn’t mean to startle you. I thought you might need some support, you looked a little unsure on your feet for a moment.”
David hadn’t noticed until now, but had felt a little light-headed. He went back to his chair and sat down, Miss Caldwell kneeling beside him.
“Shall I get you some water, David?”
He shook his head, and reached for the notebook.
Thank you but no. Friend. Thank you.
He looked over to Dorothy, who appeared to be crying. He sat back and closed his eyes.