Copyright© 2010 by Texrep
"It was me!" She cried. "Me." Her emotion was real.
"No Lily. I didn't hate you. I hated what you did, but not you, never you." I closed the space between us and took her in my arms. She shuddered with sobs racking her body. I fished in my pocket to pull out my handkerchief thankful that I had taken a clean one from the drawer that morning. I offered it to her and that brought a fresh bout of sobbing as she took it.
Ten minutes later or it could have been fifteen, I don't know, she seemed to get herself together. She handed me back my handkerchief.
"Why did you come here, Chad? You know you are bringing back all the hurt again?"
"I saw you in the supermarket. I wasn't sure if it was you, but the girl at the check-out told me it was a Mrs. Martin and she also told me you lived in Hathaway Road. So I thought I would call to see if it was you and if you were alright." She looked at me calmly and I shook my head. "No, Lily. I don't know why I came to see you. One part of me said no, don't drag up the past, the other said go see her. Even as I crossed the road and rang the bell I was still conflicted and my stomach was tying itself in knots." She nodded.
"Yes, Chad. That sounds more like the truth. I'm sorry for the tears. Would you like a cup of tea?"
"That would be good. I'm as dry as the Sahara." She went to put the kettle on.
"Come through, Chad, that's if you can stand the sight of me." She showed me through to the back room which was her kitchen. "Thank you for the allowance you send me. It's godsend now as I can't get work anymore. They take one look at my face and I can see the rejection in their attitude." She went on. "I had to sell the car. I couldn't afford the running costs and I needed the money." I could understand that. As she waited for the kettle to boil, she took some skin cream and anointed her face.
"Is that something the hospital recommended?" She shook her head, whispering something. "I didn't hear that. What did you say?"
She faced me and squared her shoulders. "I didn't go to the hospital."
I exploded. "For Christ's sake, Lily. Why?" Tears slid in globules over the cream and down her cheeks.
"I thought it was you. I was so certain that you arranged it and if I went to the hospital the police would investigate and they would come and arrest you. And I didn't want you to get into trouble. I had caused you enough pain without adding to it." The words tumbled out. I was struck dumb. She had accepted the pain and the ruination of her face purely because she thought I would be in trouble with the police. To say that I was astounded and humbled would be an understatement.
"Lily, even if I had caused this to happen, you should have gone to the hospital. You needed treatment. Whoever arranged the attack deserves all the punishment that's coming. If you had gone to hospital at least the police would have a chance of finding the culprit." I had to emphasise my denial. "Lily. It wasn't me. I couldn't do that to you." She looked into my eyes as if reading the thoughts behind them, and then nodded in acceptance.
"Exactly what happened and how did you cope if you didn't call an ambulance?"
"It was a Monday and I was getting ready for work when the doorbell rang. I answered it. There was a skinny man there, tall but very thin and he asked if I was Mrs. Martin. I said yes and he said "This is revenge". I seem to recall a glass bottle in his hand as he swung it around and the next thing I knew was this cold liquid on my face. Then it started to burn and I could smell it. I knew it was acid. He ran as soon as the stuff hit my face. I think I had closed my eyes instinctively. I felt my way back in here and tried to find a cloth to wipe it off, but then some memory about diluting acid came to me. I found my way into the bathroom and got under the shower It was very cold. I think I stayed there for about an hour. I was soaking wet, my clothes, and my hair. I was chilled to the bone but my face was still burning. I opened my eyes and looked in the mirror. I saw a red blistered mass of flesh, all puffed up. I knew then that I would never look pretty again." Remembering and recounting the episode had brought on her tears again. There was nothing I could do except put my arms around her.
She used my hanky to dry yet more tears. My mind was in turmoil yet suddenly from those swirling thoughts there was a sudden ray of light.
"Bennington." Lily turned from pouring the tea.
"What about him?"
"Bennington did it."
"How do you work that out?"
"Can we sit down? I have a story to tell you."
She told me to sit in the only armchair and she pulled out a dining chair from the table. I explained the whole thing of Bennington, Haskins and Wellow. What I had done to get revenge and as I told the story I realised that Lily's initial reaction was right and wrong. It was my actions. I had started the sequence of events that injured her. If I hadn't taken revenge on Bennington Lily would not have had to suffer this despicable, hateful attack.
"What I did has ruined Bennington. He will probably go to prison. And I had to let him know that it was your husband who did this to him. I needed him to know. Perhaps he decided to hit back and you took the pain. Lily I am so sorry, I didn't think for a moment that it would rebound on you."
"I don't see it that way, Chad. I am pleased that you took your revenge. If it was Bennington then what happened to me was an unforeseen side-effect."
"You seem to take it lightly." Lily smiled bitterly.
"It doesn't matter anymore." She indicated her face. "This happened and there is nothing that will ever make it better." I had made my mind up a while ago. That she was willing to suffer all this agony alone, simply to protect me from what she thought would be arrest and punishment told volumes. Whatever she had done, surely she had paid penance now. To my mind a greater penance than anyone could ask for. She had accepted disfigurement to keep me from supposed imprisonment. I owed Lily a life.
Cautiously I asked. "Lily. Will you come back home? Call it compassion, sympathy, guilt, whatever. It is still love. I told you that I wouldn't stop loving you, and I haven't. I wanted you to suffer as I was suffering. I wanted you to feel the pain that I felt. But never in a thousand years would I have wished on you the pain that you have borne. We will find you a cosmetic surgeon and see what can be done. But please, Lily. Come home with me, I want to take care of you."
She shook her head. "No, Chad. I can't do that." She held up her hand to stop me saying anything. "Let me say here and now. Chad I loved you then, and I love you now. I would be over the moon to think that we could get together and it would be as before. But it wouldn't be. I hurt you so badly. It wasn't deliberate, even so I destroyed something. I can't just walk back as if nothing had happened. You would still look at me and see this face and why it is like it is. Then your anger would return."
"That is something we have to talk about. We both have to understand. I have talked with Mrs. Dax and she has told me some things that make me think I didn't know the full story."
"Mrs. Dax?" I could hear the astonishment in her voice.
"Yes. I suppose you could say that I am now acquainted with her and with Lieutenant General Stanley. After all I interfered with their business to get rid of Bennington and they now seem to view me as some kind of business advisor."
"What did she say?"