George suffered from schizophrenia for years before an official diagnosis was made. It changed him completely. I could no longer recognise my husband. And after he was dismissed from psychiatric care, it only got worse. For months he stayed home, ate very little, if at all, ignored the doctor’s orders. He just walked around, none of his usual fervour colouring his face or brightening his eyes. And always mumbling to himself. The doctors all told me there was little I could do. Make sure he’s taking his medicine, is all they said. And I did. I always made sure. But it drained the life from him. Maybe he was having less delusions, and hearing less voices, but he was only a shell of himself. I was starting to wonder who I’d fallen in love with. Was this who he truly was? Who he was meant to be?
But just when things seemed to be at their worst, after a particularly bad bout when George had spent weeks in bed, I woke up one day to the smell of syrup and vanilla. My husband, the one I had married all those years ago, was flipping pancakes with that same stupid grin he’d worn the first day I met him. His voice was even, eyes bright, and there was a flush to his cheeks that almost brought me to tears. He looked alive. And after that, all seemed right. He never spoke of things that weren’t there, never told me anyone was following us, or introduced himself as somebody else. Life had picked back up. We could get back into our routine. The doctors said he was making marvellous progress, that appointments would be less frequent. At last. I could finally breathe. My husband had come back to me.
The night was warm, both George and I were on break, and I was chopping vegetables for a salad, mum chatting and scrolling on her phone in front of me.
“And that’s when I said he has to get with the times, or shrivel up and die,” she said, fixing her glasses on the bridge of her nose, eyes still on her phone. “Honestly, your father is so old-fashioned, I feel like I’m married to a corpse.”
I chuckled. “You know dad. He’s never been great at change. If he could still travel by horse and carriage he would.”
Mum scoffed. “You’re lucky. You picked a smart one. One that understands change means progress.”
“I am lucky,” I smiled.
“Where is George anyway?” she asked, shutting off her phone, and picking a tomato wedge from the bowl.
I gestured with my knife. “In that shed. Like always.”
“Haven’t you ever wondered what he does in there?” she asked again, looking out the kitchen window to the light in the tiny window of the shed.
“No,” I shrugged. “He’s probably changing the world.” I focused on chopping the cucumber for a moment, but a thought started niggling at me. I didn’t know what he did in there. And he was never one to talk about it. I shook my head. I was being paranoid. It was just his office. Nothing strange about that. I caught mum’s eye, and she raised her brows. I put the knife down, drying my hands on a towel. She watched me. “Uh, I’m going to call George for dinner. Excuse me a minute.”
Throwing the towel on the benchtop, I dashed outside, hesitating outside the door of the shed. It had been a while since I’d been inside. And I told myself I’d find nothing remiss. But my hands were being stubborn and wouldn’t budge from my side. I steeled myself, taking a deep breath, and knocked on the door. I waited a moment, two, until I heard a cough.
“Yes?” George’s voice answered. I released my breath. It was his voice. Even and sure.
I opened the door, heart light, but froze in the doorway.
The shed was a mess. Papers littered the floor. Stacks teetered high, and pens were scattered everywhere. The board on the back was covered in scribbles, undecipherable to me. And in the middle of the room sat George, cross-legged on the floor, back hunched, surrounded by pages, poring over the one before him.
“George?” I said, voice hoarse. A rock sat in my throat.
My husband turned to face me, an expression I’d never seen before plastered on his face.
“Ellie,” he said, chin trembling. “They’ve found me.”