Bathurst, New South Wales
Picture It Competition Entry – Picture C
He lay spread-eagled on the white covered iron bed, gazing tentatively at the small window and the tree limb without. ‘Why,’ he asked himself, ‘are there bars on the window?’ he felt compelled to reach out to touch those tree limbs and to feel the rough texture of the brown bark. But no, there were the bars. Just like there were bars also on his memory restricting his search for truth. All he could think of in his troubled mind was a number, yes his number, it was engraved in his brain. He had been told only give them your rank and serial number. He had long forgotten about his rank, but the number, yes, it was still there. His name, did he have a name, but as hard as he tried to remember it was as if a blank wall came down and closed off whatever lay beyond it.
They said he had been injured in Vietnam or “Nam”. He felt his legs and arms, there were no injuries. His heart beat too seemed strong in his broad hairy chest. Except for the ringing in his head he seemed to be okay. Then why was he here in this small almost bare room, with its locked door and bars on the window?
A male nurse in white fatigues opened the door and entered the room, he dragged a trolley with several items on it and a white cloth covered basin. A bottle of red pills, a vial and a syringe lay nearby.
No, he was not going to let them stick needles in him and give him pills. A faint memory flooded back with terrifying fear. That’s how it all started he had been given a needle and pills to stop sickness when at first going over to Vietnam. He fought the nurse as an orderly rushed into the room. They held him down, administered the needle and forced the red pills down his throat.
Slowly he sank to his knees, the faint light of memory flickering out. They carried his inert body back to the white bed.
Janet had been waiting in the hallway of the hospital for over an hour, this had been a very tiring day. A bus ride, then a train journey and last of all a cab, to this, the veterans hospital and now the long wait to find out if her husband was ever going to be well enough, to ever come back home.
She had been making this trip now for the past two years, ever since his return from Vietnam.
She remembered how happy they had been, she was eighteen and Jeff had turned twenty in nineteen sixty seven. As newlyweds they had been planning their life ahead together. They had saved for a small cottage on the outskirts of Sydney and her trousseau was there ready to make it a very comfortable home, for them and also the baby that she had been expecting.
Then war was announced and Jeff, being over eighteen, was drafted into the army. It was no time at all when he was sent to a camp in Queensland, to train until he was ready to be sent overseas to Vietnam. ‘Why do you have to go?’ asked Janet terrified when he came to say goodbye, ‘Who will be here when our baby is born?’
‘I must go so Australia won’t be overrun by the yellow hordes’ answered Jeff, remembering what had been said on the radio. And tearfully Janet waved goodbye to her young, strong and handsome husband.
Janet remembered how she had waited each week for the thin airmail letters that told her how much he loved her and missed her; they were her only lifeline to him so many miles away. How she cherished each one of those letters and longed for when he would be safe home with her again.
Their little son was born and Janet felt deeply the need for her husband, but he was not there to see his little boy born or to hold her hand during a very hard and painful birth. How she hated those Vietnamese and also the Americans that had drawn Australia into their war.
Mobs marched in the streets of Sydney, accusing the government for having had any part in the war. The men who came back were labelled murderers and some pelted with rotten eggs and tomatoes.
Her Jeff was not a murderer, he was gentle and caring, these scenes were very upsetting to Janet.
At last the doctor came out, ‘I’m afraid no change’ he said taking Janet by the arm, ‘come and have a cup of tea, we must discuss what’s to be done next in his treatment’.
The young doctor smiled and putting his arm around her shoulder led her into the tea room. Janet felt uncomfortable, he was just too sweet and accommodating, she sat down making sure not to make eye contact with him. Dr Roberts liked the red dress Janet was wearing but his mind was really on the shape underneath, mentally he was seeing her as naked and a sly smile creased his mouth. Slowly, slowly he was thinking to himself give her time and the drugs to do their work on her husband, then she will be putty in my hands.
Janet once more returned home to find that she had a visitor. A tall man with fiery red hair asked if Jeff was home, his name was Bruce and he had been with him in Vietnam. He was angry when he heard what had happened to Jeff also very shocked when told of the doctor and asked her the doctor’s name. When told Dr Roberts, Bruce gave a cough, no it couldn’t be the same one surely. ‘Next month when you go to see Jeff do you think I could also go to see my old mate and I think I might know this Dr Roberts.’ He asked, Janet agreed, it would be nice to have some company and perhaps Bruce could help with her husband’s treatment.
Janet travelled in Bruce’s car straight to the hospital. It was so good not to have to catch buses and trains. However when they reached the hospital Bruce insisted that he stay out in the corridor when Janet saw Dr Roberts. Janet thought this rather odd and when Dr Roberts once more took her arm and led her in to have a cup of tea, she saw Bruce quietly and unobtrusively looking round the corner of the doorway. Why didn’t he come in if he knew Dr Roberts? she thought. But then Bruce disappeared, just as she felt Dr Roberts hand touch her leg under the table. ‘Oh’ she thought ‘if only Bruce would come back’ Janet didn’t know what to do, she had to trust this doctor as he was helping her husband.
She quietly removed his hand and stood up to go. ‘Don’t you want to see how your husband is coming along?’ asked the doctor.
‘Oh yes’ Janet replied. If only she could just see Jeff, perhaps this time she might be able to see how he looked. The doctor took her hand and led her along the corridor, through another door and down some steep steps. He brushed a male nurse aside and opening the door to her husband’s room took her inside. Jeff lay prone on the bed. ‘You see, he will never be any good to anyone’ and he tightened his grip on her arm. ‘Now I am well and strong and can give you all the pleasure you need’ and with that he pushed her up against the wall, he ripped down the front of her dress, reaching into her bra and pressing his body against hers. Janet screamed out.
Somewhere in his befuddled memory Jeff heard the scream. It was from Janet, someone was hurting his Janet. With all his strength he rose from the bed and grabbed at the doctor, he would kill anyone who hurt Janet. Suddenly his mind started working again it was like a bolt from the blue. Jeff grabbed the doctor by the throat he was going to throttle him. Oh no thought Janet he mustn’t kill the doctor, perhaps Jeff was worse than she thought.
A hand took hold of Jeff and pulled him away, ‘Not today old mate, but you will get your chance’ and Bruce pushed the doctor onto the bed and asked Janet if she was okay.
A burley policeman appeared at the door, Janet went weak at the knees, this couldn’t be happening! Is Bruce ill like Jeff? she thought they were both in Vietnam.
However the policeman came over to Bruce, ‘Is this the bogus Doctor?’ he asked pointing to Dr Roberts.
‘Yes,’ answered Bruce ‘and my friend is the Vietnam veteran that he has had drugged, hoping that Jeff would die so that he could get his wife Janet.’
This was all too much for Janet she fainted, but when she eventually came around, there was her beloved Jeff bending over her and behind him his mate Bruce.
Bruce explained that the bogus Dr Roberts was only a male nurse who had taken all the staff in with his pompous manner and was actually an ex soldier, who had seen Janet’s photo in Jeff’s wallet and decided that he would make her his own. But first he had to get Jeff out of the way. The fiend was now in jail and Jeff was being given the proper treatment to rid him of the dangerous drugs he had been given.
The iron bars were now gone and the wall that held Jeff’s memory back was now disintegrating, very slowly pieces of information were filtering through. He must now get his strength back; he had a life to live and a young son to get to know. And all this thanks to the fact that his old mate Bruce had kept a promise way back in Vietnam, to one day look him up.
Bio: This story is fictional, however it has been written after speaking with many families and men who have been traumatised since the Vietnam War.