The Strange Case Of Cassie Sparrow

I tend to work on my books, but every now and again I like to write short stories and other pieces that takes me out of that sometimes. For that reason, I present:

The Strange Case Of Cassie Sparrow

JULY 1974

I was in my early twenties. Maurice was 35. We had never actually dated, but were simply work colleagues. I was just embarking on a nursing career. Maurice was a qualified consultant with more letters to his name than I could possibly concede. I learned from my colleagues, that he was something of a medium-cum-psychologist. Although this might simply be hearsay.

I had recently finished my nursing training and spent the early part of my career in a cottage hospital in Bath.  There I read of further opportunities that would give me more money than I was currently earning. I was trying to keep up the payments on a damp and pokey flat, that I considered practically unfit for human habitation.  When I saw the advert in ‘The Nursing Times’ I didn’t hesitate.

The job was only temporary. But it was live-in, and treble the money I  was getting working at the hospital. Unfortunately it meant that I wouldn’t see Maurice for awhile, but he’d given me no encouragement as to how he felt. Besides there were more accomplished colleagues to flirt with than a recently qualified nurse.

Mrs Sparrow was the lady who required a live-in nurse for her daughter while she was away. It would only be for a month. The money was equal to at least three months working at the hospital.

The large and spacious house was one of those old Georgian places  that Bath boasted. On my arrival, Mrs Sparrow drew me into her kitchen with an invitation to take tea.  Her movements were oddly quick, birdlike (she aptly lived up to her surname). She poured water into her kettle. Her hands shook so badly, I was afraid that she might scald herself. In fact, I was so unerved by this I offered to do it for her.

Mrs Sparrow turned her back quickly. I swore I saw tears in her eyes for no accountable reason, while I just wanted nothing more now than to see my patient.  I had learned – courtesy of the agency – that Mrs Sparrow’s daughter, Cassie, had been involved in a tragic accident on her wedding day. The car both she and her new husband were travelling in had crashed headlong into an oncoming lorry. Cassie was left paralysed from the neck down with a spinal injury. Her bridegroom died of massive head wounds at the scene.  I longed to learn a little more about Cassie from her mother, but it seemed she was more interested in discussing the holiday to Spain she was about to take with her friend.

In the lounge Cassie Sparrow sat in a wheelchair by the window, her gaze staring off into the distance. When I spoke her name she neither turned her head, or moved to acknowledge either her mother or me.

Mrs Sparrow informed her that I had come to look after her while she was away. Still Cassie remained unresponsive.

Cassie was so thin and emaciated, I wondered if she was getting enough sustenance. She had a drip attached, plus a catheter, which indicated she had no capabilities of either feeding herself or going to the toilet.

Cassie Sparrow sketch by Peter ShorneyI suggested to her mother that Cassie might be better off in hospital. The small, birdlike woman shook her lank locks emphatically. She didn’t know how long Cassie had, she said. She wanted her home if anything happened. I could understand this, but still…

Cassie’s own hair was equally as lank as her mother’s, as if  neither woman had opened a shampoo bottle in a long while. The agency informed me that Cassie had been like this since the accident more than six months ago.

Carers came in twice a day, but Mrs Sparrow needed someone with her daughter constantly. Cassie had been discharged from hospital at her mother’s request. Besides there was nothing more they could do for her.  She had simply lost the will to live.  Cassie obviously missed her husband. That was only natural. But she was still alive. That’s if one could call this pathetic kind of existence living.

Mrs Sparrow had gone, and I found myself alone with Cassie. It disturbed me the way she lay there so stiff and unresponsive, almost as if she were carved in stone. I checked her drip and catheter regularily, chatting to her all the while. Still there was no response. I could have been talking to a statue for all the life she exhibited.

The first thing I opted to do was to wash her hair. I gently rubbed in the shampoo. Wiping her hair dry with a towel. I continued to chat, mainly about myself. I was too afraid to discuss her own tragic circumstances.

When night came I geared myself up to prepare her for bed. With no assistance from my patient, I slipped off the drab pinafore dress she was wearing, exchanging it for a pretty cotton nightie I found in a drawer, and settled her down.

Dressing her was effortless. She was so light I could have almost carried her myself. Plus it was like putting a rag doll to bed. As before she merely lay there stiff and unresponsive.

Her eyes, so huge and dark, stared back at me imploringly, almost as if she had forgotten how to close them. So I did it for her, while a shiver coursed the length of my spine for no accountable reason.

I drew her attention to the bell placed beside her bed. If she required my assistance during the night. Although I doubted if she would use it. Besides, I would check on her anyway.

My room was small but comfortable. I had a nice soft bed to lie on. While I undressed, washed and loosened my hair from its chignon, I couldn’t stop thinking about Cassie. Even when I lay down my thoughts wandered to the tragic bride.

I was awoken abruptly by the sound of music playing somewhere in the house. Unmistakably a waltz tune. Had I left the T.V on? Quietly slipping out of bed, and pulling on my robe, my senses adjusted and I realised the music was coming from Cassie’s room. I knew there was a radio in there, but I swore that I had turned it off when I bade Cassie goodnight.

When I entered the room, everything was quiet. Her eyes were closed tightly, while her hands, white and. pale, rested on her chest as if she were dead. It was a stupid notion, and I admonished myself instinctively for thinking it. Returning to my room I no longer heard the music, and I soon settled down to sleep.

When I awoke the next day, everything remained the same. I washed and dressed Cassie as usual. This limp rag doll in my arms. I often found myself close to tears when I thought about what had happened to her, the way she was.  Especially when I found her wedding photo while I was searching for aspirin for a headache. The girl in the photo was not the same girl as the one on the bed. I knew it was Cassie, but the girl in the photo looked so young and beautiful. She smiled up at the handsome young man in his wedding suit beside her, a jubilant light in his eyes for her.

That night I lay in bed, my thoughts preoccupied with Cassie as usual. I dozed off finally, only to be awoken by the familiar waltz music. When I opened my eyes I was astonished to observe Cassie Sparrow standing beside my bed!

Wearing the cotton nightie I had found for her, Cassie smiled directly down at me. I exclaimed, “Cassie, what are you doing here?” She did not speak. Composing myself a little from the shock at seeing her, I asked her what was wrong. I got out of bed and offered her my hand in order to guide her back to her room.

Yet, crippled or not, she moved faster than I. In fact, she was so fast she’d already disappeared from the room, barely had I thrust my feet into my mules. The music ceased with her exit.

The following day I admonished her about holding out on me, and even her own mother. She could walk after all. She had come to my room. Also, the girl who had come to my room more resembled the one in the wedding photograph.

I urged her, somewhat angrily, to get up. To walk. “Come on, Cassie, show me what you can do! She lay on the bed as if she hadn’t heard me. I began to grow a little afraid. Why, I didn’t know. Cassie didn’t appear to be a threat. After all she was, to all intents and purposes, crippled.

I heard the now familiar waltz music again the following night, I was out of bed quickly and heading to Cassie’s room. As the music played I saw them. Cassie and her bridegroom.

She was dressed in white satin. Her husband was so carefully groomed and handsome. His eyes were locked into those of his young bride, with so much love that I failed to avoid the tears from springing to my own eyes.

They waltzed across the bedroom floor. Cassie was beautiful and free from pain. Her hair was softly curled and spilling to her shoulders, not lank and unwashed as I was used to seeing it. The entire tableau was surrounded by an almost angelic light. My heart hammered so loudly that I felt close to fainting.

When I could move again I realised there was no light, no music. Cassie lay on the bed as stiff and unresponsive as always. Certainly not the girl I had witnessed dancing with her bridegroom.

A gasp escaped me however, when glancing in the mirror, I was aware of the reflection of a man I recognised as Cassie’s bridegroom. Only this time blood was pouring down his face from a terrible head wound. When I screamed the man disappeared.

Although it was after midnight, I knew I didn’t want to be alone. There was only one person I needed, so I telephoned Maurice. I wondered if he might be tucked up in bed with the new locum, Alexa Mason. Everyone knew how much she fancied Maurice. He told me, when I asked, that he was alone. He said he would be there as soon as he could. I gave him the address. When he rung off I burst into tears.

Waiting for him to arrive seemed to take forever. I shut myself up in my bedroom, hands over my ears while the waltz music continued to play, making me aware that Cassie and her groom were still dancing somewhere in the house. They were oblivious of my presence, lost in their own world wherever that was.

Soon I was in Maurice’s arms, pouring out everything that had happened. I felt foolish because I half expected him to put it all down to my imagination, but he didn’t. When I explained what was going on, and followed him into Cassie’s room, I realised that the music was no longer playing.  There were no apparitions, no injured man in the mirror.

His tall frame lowered over the girl on the bed. Maurice lifted her limp hand in his before he asked if I would fetch him a small hand mirror. When I returned with it, and passed the mirror to him, he held it over Cassie’s mouth. His next words practically sent me into a state of collapse, for he quietly announced that Cassie was dead.

“What?” My gaze flickered upward, while my knees began to buckle beneath me. “But… but she can’t… I… I mean…” My words trailed. I didn’t know what I meant.

Maurice’s dark eyes were sympathetic when they turned to me again. “I’ve had some experience of these things. I believe that Cassie’s mind, her consciousness if you will, had left her the night of the accident. She lived, but only as a shell.  As if her soul had abandoned her body. That would certainly account for her unresponsiveness. Perhaps she was just waiting for her mother to leave. I believe that a person knows when their time has come. They don’t want loved ones hanging around to see it.”

“But the apparitions, or whatever they were that I saw?” Maurice smiled and tilted my chin with a forefinger. “I think that what you witnessed was Cassie finally re-united with her beloved husband. The only way she knew how. In death. Don’t they say love transcends death?  I believe she has been with her husband since the accident, at least her spirit has. After all, where do people go while in a coma? Is it sleep? Do they cease to exist? The brain stops functioning? Who knows. But at least for Cassie I believe this has a happy ending.”

Postscript:  Maurice and I were married a year later. Now we’ve been together almost forty years.

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