5. A Man of a Thousand Pieces

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I lingered in that teashop for some time after with my fingers interlaced before my nose, long since tending the cooling beverage I had paid for with the last stretched farthings of my winnings

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I lingered in that teashop for some time after with my fingers interlaced before my nose, long since tending the cooling beverage I had paid for with the last stretched farthings of my winnings.

I still knew no remedy to save my marriage, and suffocating under even more unanswered questions I knew not how to explain to myself, much less to Nina or the police, how it was that I had met the girl at the hospital. I doubted everything, and it was the word of a concussed man against hers that made me so sure I had been up to something sinister after all, yet forgotten the details of how it came to pass.

It stung that much more severely since Nina knew me not to be the straying type, and I had by no means any intentions or records of violating women, now or ever. My sweetheart evidently had conflicting feelings on the matter, though the removal of her engagement ring was clue enough she'd annulled my proposal. I had hoped Frederic knew if this vicche could be responsible for memory loss, mind control, or some other far-fetched, paranormal capabilities, or if I truly had remembered the night's events falsely.

With Frederic unhinged and Nina heartbroken, the only other person in Glasten who might shine some light on my situation was one of the last people whose company I wished to share.

It was a tiring and shamefaced walk for me back to the hospital. I already knew of Nina's friend, Viola, through ordinary conversation, though I had never paid mention of the woman much heed. I had stored vague details of her: a newlywed of larger proportions who fancied herself a trip to India with her husband, who did not work for reasons unknown to me.

Queerly, I do not remember Viola's presence on the most recent night I was admitted to hospital. I had too few pieces to put together of this mind puzzle, and I hoped, if approached with tact, that Viola might unwittingly help me make sense of it.

Despite the less than orderly aspects of my life – my attic apartment, my unpleasant occupation, the growing list of disrupted relationships – the day I visited Viola on the women's ward I made certain I exuded the demeanour of an accomplished man. It was not so that I might impress the woman, as was the reason I donned a suit and hat when I took Nina out to dinner at the Chandalida, but because what little reputation I had hinged on securing this nurse's faith. It seemed sensible not to show the dents in my spirit, and to carry an air of esteem that I did not truly possess. I had not met Viola prior to this occasion and hoped that Nina had only spoken highly and sincerely of me in conversation, assuming she spoke of me to her peers at all.

Viola Harold was taller than I imagined and carried her weight rather well, contrary to my fiancée's portrayal. Her summer blonde hair was parted down the middle and pinned tight and flat against her scalp beneath a white nurse's veil. She might have had a handsome face had her lips not been so inflexibly pinched, but in spite of her school matron's disposition she greeted me most warmly once I gave her my name.

At the time I found this reception most unanticipated; so much, in fact, that I hesitated in my assumption that this woman was the same Viola in whom the crying girl had confided on the morning of our hospital stay. Nevertheless, I found myself mirroring her charm as she engaged me in small talk fixated on my fiancée, the ward, the patients, the weather, and all four all over again. She laughed easily and vehemently over anything at all, mostly her own quips, and her grasp of effortless conversation came across almost dominating.

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