It's not my fault
Paul and Mary Lewis had a final look at their eighteen-year-old son through the heavy plate glass window. Or rather, Paul did. Mary was too busy crying, her face buried in a tissue.
'I can't bear it,' she muttered indistinctly. Paul put his arm around his wife and drew her in closer.
'I know, love,' he said softly. 'But Simon will be well cared for here. They have the best psychiatrists. They'll get to the root of Simon's problems. And then, just think -we'll have him home again. Hold on to that, Mary.'
'Yes,' Dr Ian Carter, who was standing right next to them. 'Whilst every case is different, we are best placed here to deal with our patients. And I have every faith Simon's troubles can be treated.' He smiled reassuringly at the couple.
The doctor noted the strained expressions on the parents' faces. The father, his face grey and tired and the mother, tear stained. Dr Carter sighed inwardly. He had seen other cases like this - well, no two cases were identical, of course - but he had every confidence in his and his team's ability to deal with this young man. Simon Lewis's madness would be treated. Dr Carter was as sure of that as he was of the sun rising the next morning.
So sure was he, that Dr Carter was heard to whistle as he joined his colleague, Dr Williams, for Simon Lewis's first psychiatric session. Dr Carter's face wore a broad smile as he entered the brightly lit room.
'Well, well. And good morning, Simon.How are you feeling? Did you sleep well?'
Simon mumbled something, He felt terrible. Nor had he slept a wink last night. There had been strange noises from elsewhere in this place. Nor could he forget the despair of seeing his parents leave him in this dreadful place. He wasn't mad. Nor was he guilty. But how to convince these doctors of that. He was horribly afraid of being here for a long, long time.
'All right,' Dr Carter said brightly. 'Dr Williams, shall we begin?'
Dr Williams nodded at his colleague. the turned to Simon. 'Well, young man, perhaps you'd like to start by telling us what happened that night?'
'How can I?' came the sullen reply. 'I didn't do anything.'
'Come now.' The frown on Dr William's face grew deeper. 'You were caught red-handed right outside your friend's house, petrol can in hand. Inside, the entire family died in the fireball you started. Denial of these facts will do you no good whatsoever.'
Simon ground his hands in his lap. Tears were pricking at his eyes, but he was damned if he was going to cry in front of these two men. 'I'm sorry,' he murmured.
'Sorry you killed them?'
'I'm sorry they're dead. And that I'm here. But I didn't kill them.'
'Then how do you explain your presence there with the petrol can?'
'I can't.' Actually, Simon had, but no-one had believed him. Why should these two be any different? He hung his head and fiddled with his sweatshirt cuffs.
Dr Carter tried a different tack. 'So what do you remember?' his voice was gentle.
Simon shrugged. 'Not much. I'd been out, at the leisure centre. Using a few weights in the gym. Then I wandered the streets for a while. The next thing I know, I'm standing there, petrol can in hand. Fire engines everywhere and the police yelling at me to put the can down and my hands up. And now I'm here, certified a loon. Or so you say and you want me to tell you I did it.' He looked balefully at the two doctors.
'In complete denial,' Williams said to Carter later as they had a coffee in the staff canteen. 'He's guilty all right. There's no doubt about that.'
'Indeed.' Carter dunked a biscuit in his coffee. 'Tell me, do you think Simon Lewis can be treated?'
'Give it time. The boy's not going anywhere.'
'That he's not,' Carter smiled.
Simon had his next session with the doctors two days later. 'Tell us how you you knew the Steadman family.' Dr Carter already knew - it was all in his notes, but he wanted to hear it in the boy's own words.
'Why?' Simon asked sullenly. Two pairs of eyes regarded him thoughtfully. Simon sighed. 'Okay, Martin was an old school friend. We hung out together. Played football. That sort of thing.'
'And then?' Dr Williams prompted when the silence had drawn out a little.
Simon shrugged. 'It all changed when Martin got married.' Two pairs of eyes stared at him. 'It wasn't like that,' Simon cried. 'I'm not gay.'
'But you were jealous?' Dr Carter prompted. 'Of having to share your friend with his wife.'
'No! We were good mates. I started hanging out at their place. Julie didn't seem to mind.'
'And how did you get on with her?'
Simon stared at Dr Williams. 'Okay. We didn't talk much. So I'd go round, or they'd come to my place. Couldn't do that after the twins were born though.'
Dr Williams consulted his notes. 'Jane and Sara, six months old.'
'I have to ask.' Dr Carter leaned forward. 'Did you love Martin? Was he more than just a friend to you?'
'No! I already told you, I'm not gay.' Two pairs of eyes regarded him solemnly. Simon slumped in his hard plastic chair. Why couldn't these wankers see he simply missed his best mate? Simon fiddled with his cuffs. Perhaps Julie had been jealous and wanted her husband to spend more time with her and the babies. But Simon had no other friends. What was wrong with wanting to see the only person who liked having him around?
'You were angry that your friend got married? You thought his wife and children took Martin away from you? So you decided to remove them permanently, didn't you Simon?'
Simon sighed. All this had been gone over and over again in court. 'Martin did suggest I spend less time at his place, that's true,' he said. 'But I didn't kill them. i didn't do it,' he added stubbornly.
Dr Carter wrote up his notes later. "Patient (Simon Lewis) still stubbornly refusing to face up to reality. The patient has been a loner all his life. At school, he never joined in activities, or made friends (see attached notes) until he met Martin Steadman. All indications show that Martin tried to end the friendship more than once. The patient told me quite vehemently that he is not gay. I believe him, although he has never had a girlfriend. Patient still refuses to speak to myself or Dr W. Next session with patient in two days."
'Simon, I'd like to show you this.' Dr Carter withdrew something from a file and handed it to Simon. It was a photograph. Simon gazed at it, but made no reaction to the image he saw. Dr Carter thought he could see a tear form at the corner of Simon's eye. He remained silent, waiting for Simon to speak.
'It's not what you think,' Simon said at last.
'What do you think I'm thinking? the doctor asked. Again there was a long silence.
'You think I'm coming on to Julie. That's what the photo looks like.'
Well, Doctor Carter thought as he looked at the photo, it certainly looked like Simon was flirting with Julie Steadman. But the doctor had studied the photo many times. And the more he thought about it, the more it looked like Julie was kissing Simon and not the other way around. Was that what Simon meant? That he was the passive, innocent one? 'Who took the photo?' he asked.
Simon shrugged. 'Julie. With her phone. Martin was out at work. I'd called round one day to bring back a book I'd borrowed. All of a sudden, Julie was kissing me, even though the babies were in the playpen just in the next room. I was nervous, thought it was wrong. I was trying to push her off, when we suddenly fell on the sofa. Julie was laughing. All of a sudden, she picked up her phone and took the picture. She then jumped up and wiping her mouth, she said, "There, Martin is sure to throw you out now. Spend far too much time here, you do. Maybe this time, you'll get the message and leave us alone." I was horrified. Practically begged her to delete the photo. But she wouldn't listen and threw me out.' Simon hung his head.
'And then?' Dr Carter prompted. They were getting closer to the nub of the story.'Martin didn't react how I'd hoped,' Simon said. His hands were beating a drum on his knees. 'Julie showed him the photo, but instead of getting angry with me or Julie, Martin laughed. Thought it funny. Except-'
'Go on,' the doctor urged.
'There was a funny look in his eyes. Martin bundled me out of the house. On the doorstep, he shouted at me to just go, leave and never come back. His voice was loud enough for the neighbour, a Mrs Evans or something, to hear. She's a right gossip.'
The doctor nodded. Mrs Evans' testimony had been fairly damming about Simon. 'So what did you do then?' he asked.
Simon shrugged. 'I wandered around for a while. Didn't go home, though a text from my mum asked me to get back. Tea on the table or something.' Simon had roamed the streets, past the gym. On an impulse he went in and used an apparatus or two. No patience for that. Nor could he bear his parents sympathetic eyes or his mother's worried face every time she looked at him. For hours and hours, Simon walked the streets. His only friend had thrown him out. Where would he go now, what would he do, Simon thought. Martin had been the only person who'd never laughed at him, never criticised him, never made fun of him. Martin couldn't throw him out. Simon decided, he would go back and make it up with his only friend.
It was dark by the time he reached Martin and Julie's house. Cutting down an alley, Simon accessed their back garden and crept up to the back door. He peered in the kitchen window. Julie was tidying up. in five minutes, she'd finished and left the room. Shortly, Martin came in, an empty glass in his hand. Simon tapped on the door. Martin jumped, but opened the back door. 'What are you doing here?' Martin asked. His voice was slurred. He'd clearly been drinking quite a bit.
'Don't be cross with me,' Simon begged.
'I've had enough of you.' Martin lunged at Simon, who stood back in alarm, causing Martin to fall over onto the grass. At that moment, Julie came and gave a cry of alarm. She helped her husband to his feet. No easy task, given he'd clearly drunk a bit.
'Just go,' Julie hissed at Simon. This was the weirdest bit. The three of them began an argument, all conducted in whispers. Perhaps Martin and Julie were afraid of waking the twins, or perhaps of alerting Mrs Evans. In the end, Julie and an angry, drunk Martin hauled Simon towards the front door. Simon resisted as best he could, but that seemed to enrage Martin even more.
'I want you out of my house and my life,' he shouted. Then, shockingly, he picked up a can that sloshed with some liquid. Opening the cap, he began to flick liquid n onto the carpet. The stench of petrol was very strong.
'Martin, no!' said a horrified Julie.
'I'm sick of that sad bastard coming round here every day,' Martin slurred. He glared at his wife. 'He's got no friends except me. And he expects me to help him out all the fucking time. I've had enough.' Martin tossed the empty can aside and reached for his lighter.
'No, Martin,' Simon cried.
'Think of me and the children,' Julie implored. 'I'm sorry about the picture. It was only supposed to be a joke. Don't do this, Martin. Please.'
Her pleas fell on deaf ears. With Julie sobbing by now, Martin picked up the can and shoved it into Simon's hands. It was only then that Simon registered that Martin was wearing gloves. He marched Simon to the door. Julie was shrieking by now and hiccuping through her tears. Simon was shouting too. Between them, they were making a hell of a lot of noise.
Martin flung open the front door. Simon reached his hands out, can still in hand. 'Martin, please don't do this,' he said, terrified. 'Nothing's that bad.'
'Everything's that bad in this world with you, you miserable little toss-pot,' Martin snarled. At that same moment, he flicked the lighter and dropped it to the floor. With the other hand, he slammed the front door shut, so hard it rattled.
'Sorry, what was that?' Simon blinked and looked at Dr Carter. He was back in that drab little interview room.
'The neighbour, Mrs Evans.' Dr Carter held up some papers. It was a hard copy of her evidence.
'That old witch,' Simon muttered.
'I beg your pardon?'
'As I was saying,' Dr Carter said heavily. 'Her evidence is very strong and reliable. Her testimony reveals you were often at the house. Most days, in fact. On the night of the incident, she heard raised voices. The walls of those terrace house are pretty thin, I understand. A few minutes later, she saw you leave the house, empty petrol can in hand. Mrs Evans saw you reach out. The next thing, the house was ablaze. There was absolutely no chance of getting the people in that house out alive. All were burnt to death.'
'I tell you I did't do it,' Simon repeated. 'It's not my fault.'
Dr Carter sighed heavily as he wrote up his report. When Paul and Mary Lewis came to his office on their next visit, Dr Carter read from his notes. 'I am sorry to say that your son is in complete denial of his guilt. His persistence in asserting his innocence is intractable and it is my professional opinion that he will never recover from his madness. It is also my professional opinion that he never be released from this secure mental unit.'
A desperately sad Paul Lewis led his weeping wife away.
© 2017 Alice Dancer