While he never felt sorry for himself, Karla had known from very early on in his life that should the worst have an opportunity to present itself, it would happen. It was one of those things he supposed happened to plenty of people, and not in the way that people said it did – that one only remembered the exceptionally bad times, and never the times where things conspired to go right for a change. Maybe that was the case for some people, but Karla knew that personally, for him, if something had the opportunity to go wrong, or to complicate itself, or even to simply be the worst case scenario for no other reason aside from the fact that it could, it would.
Therefore he was completely unsurprised when Tatiana grew to be the double of her mother, a small wisp of a thing who stared at him like an anguished ghost. If he were the kind of person to believe in the supernatural he might be worried that the girl was possessed by the spirit of her mother, and that she might be looking for revenge through her. It would explain why the girl was so mad; why she insisted on resisting every effort Karla made to keep her safe, to keep her in line, to keep her secret. She seemed adamant to undo all of his efforts, to scream their association from the rooftops, and to gather as bad a reputation as one could in these days: she stole, she slept around, she drank excessively, she hoarded food and valuables and amenities and kept them all for herself. She was selfish and aggressive and hedonistic, she was only interested in instant gratification and personal pleasure. She was everything that her mother might have become had Karla let her, with the exception that Karla didn’t have the heart to kill Tatiana or have anyone else do it, and somewhere in that strange mind of hers she knew it.
It was an awful weakness to have. On several occasions Karla had sincerely beaten himself up over it, and thought to himself that really he should have had the girl killed as well – surely it would have been kinder for her, seeing her now. As much as she seemed to delight in causing all this trouble for herself Karla could tell that her heart wasn’t in it; he had a spy’s eye for detail and he knew when somebody was faking, when they were hurting, when they were scared. Usually it helped him to home in on the one thing he could use to wield power over them but with Tatiana it was different – she was his own flesh and blood and while she looked like her mother it was his stubbornness and his stoic endurance that thwarted all of his efforts to gain control of her. Of course in the end it would be his own traits in her mother’s image that foiled him.
He didn’t make a habit of seeing her often. He certainly didn’t make a habit of showing himself at the various hospitals, police stations, and prisons that she so often found herself in. He wasn’t entirely sure what made him decide to see her – perhaps it was some instinct in him that warned him to remind himself thoroughly of her before making any major decisions, because the urge to see her always followed an episode of late night musings over why he hadn’t had her killed along with her mother. She had been a child then, certainly boisterous and opinionated, but in the way children were – Karla hadn’t thought she had believed a word of it, but apparently the behaviour had internalised and she was the same was as a grown woman. A shame, Karla thought. She was an incredibly beautiful girl; had she been sane Karla could have arranged a nice marriage for her, and with it a comfortable future. Perhaps if she hadn’t grown up with her mother’s incessant rebellious streak she would have grown to understand why Karla had done what he did, and then he could only guess at how things might have played out. They would have never been close, because that was simply not possible, but it certainly wouldn’t have ended up with the situation they were currently in: Tatiana, forcibly hospitalised again, and Karla, on another one of his clandestine trips to see her.
The hospital, thankfully, was one he had visited before. It made things less complicated as the staff present already had a cover story, and Karla’s reappearance only added to its authenticity. As expected, the hospital was a frightfully depressing place. No matter what time of the day, it was all dull greys and never anything more vibrant; everything seemed to blend into itself. The walls were thick and the hallways long, and any noise that managed to make it out of the wards died quickly, as though the building were a weight that smothered it immediately. It created an incredibly eerie effect where it was easy to sneak up on somebody; even Karla wouldn’t hear the squeak of a shoe on the floor or the creaking of a wheelchair until the owner was practically on top of him, and the knowledge of this always unnerved him, keeping him wound tightly, always on edge. The staff seemed to have been infected by the hospital’s atmosphere and moved around quickly, looking over their shoulders and always appearing to be in a state of recent fright. How they expected anybody to recover from anything in such a place, Karla did not know.
There was a part of him that felt immensely heavy whenever he was within the hospital. He wasn’t sure if it was sadness, or grief, or regret. Whatever it was, it was consistent from the moment he saw the place, from the knowledge that his daughter was forced to call it home. Logic quickly overruled him when he considered the fact that it was her own actions that had put her there – he had tried to warn her countless times and she always defied him – but he supposed he would never get rid of that initial revulsion to the place, and the ever growing urge to do anything to ensure Tatiana never had to see the inside of such a place ever again.
Tatiana didn’t seem surprised to see him. She barely reacted to his entrance into the room, staring straight ahead at the now closed door. She looked about as well as Karla could have hoped for. She was too skinny, her arms thin and her collarbones visible through the hospital gown, and her hair was unwashed, clinging to her face. There were dark shadows under her eyes, making their colour appear brighter and all the more like her mother’s. There was a shallow cut on her forehead, not serious enough to need stitches, but healing badly, no doubt due to Tatiana’s constant picking at it.
“How did you get that?” he asked her, sitting down beside the bed. She still didn’t look at him, nor did she answer. “The cut on your head. How did you get it?”
A long pause, and then she finally turned, looking at Karla as though somewhere in that pause she had forgotten he was there.
“What cut?” she asked. Her voice was husky, as though she had been crying or yelling or both.
“The one on your head,” Karla repeated. “Don’t misbehave, Tatiana. You know which cut. The one you have been picking.”
She reached up, brushing a finger against the scab, though she behaved for now, refraining from picking it.
“Nobody in here gave it to you, did they?” Karla asked. Tatiana shook her head. “Good. Did you get it when you were arrested?”
She screwed up her face in thought. “I think so.”
“Were you struggling, or did they hit you?”
“I fought. I didn’t want to come back here.”
That much was a relief. Karla had been preparing to make some visits to make it incredibly clear that such a thing wasn’t to happen again, but if it had been a case of unavoidable damage… he had seen how violently Tatiana could struggle, and it was surprising that a small cut was all she had to show for it.
“You know how you can avoid coming back here,” Karla said. Tatiana watched him as he lit up a cigarette – not strictly allowed, but smell travelled about as far as sound in this place.
“Can I have one?” Tatiana asked, for a moment taking Karla by surprise. She so seldom asked anything of him.
“Something tells me you’re not allowed,” he said, but he handed her one anyway, lighting it for her as she held it in her mouth. “Don’t make me regret that.”
“I’m not going to hurt myself or anything,” Tatiana said, rolling her eyes. “I just want a smoke. They won’t let me smoke in here, and they don’t let me see anyone who might give me a cigarette. It isn’t fair.”
“I don’t know what you expect,” Karla said. He had lost count of how many times they had had this conversation. “You act in such a wild way and then you are surprised when you end up arrested or in hospital. What do you expect, Tanya? Do you think people should just leave you alone, and let you be so wild? They can’t. You shouldn’t behave like that.”
“I’m not hurting anyone,” Tatiana said, pouting.
“You’re hurting yourself,” Karla told her firmly. “You’re hurting your reputation, you’re hurting your chances, and you’re hurting everybody who has to put up with you. You need to contribute. You can’t sit around all day doing whatever you like, getting into trouble, and making everybody else clean up all the mess.”
“They say I’m mad,” Tatiana said, blowing a trail of smoke up towards the ceiling. It was oddly high above them; like everything else, the smoke vanished before it got very far. “I can’t help it if I’m mad.”
“Then perhaps you should go to a madhouse,” Karla told her, and she looked at him sharply.
“You mean a place like this? Forever? I wouldn’t do it. I would kill myself.”
If the words hit hard, Karla didn’t show it. Tatiana looked almost annoyed that he barely reacted. He took a long drag from his cigarette and held the smoke in his lungs for a moment longer than usual, and then he breathed it out in a heavy sigh.
“Why do you say things like this? I thought you wanted to get out of this place. If they hear you talking about hurting yourself they’ll just keep you here longer.”
“And you told me I would have to live in a place like this permanently. So what does it matter?”
“You would go to a nicer place than this, Tanya. Somewhere far away, where you can do some thinking. Perhaps your head would clear then. You might realise some things.”
“You want to get rid of me.”
“I want you out of harm’s way.”
“You want to get rid of me!”
Tatiana looked so much like her mother when she was angry. Her eyes flashed in the same way; she held her mouth in the same little frown. Karla could almost imagine it was her, standing with her fists clenched by her sides as she stared up at him with that same expression, and not for the first time the memory made him feel heavy. Tatiana was probably a lost cause, just like her mother. Of course she would be. Really, he had expected nothing less.
There was something else in her look that had been absent from her mother’s eyes, though. Somewhere deep in them was a hardness, a grim determination that Karla knew came from himself. It did nothing to alleviate the heaviness he felt; if anything, it just confirmed his suspicions. He knew that brand of spiteful stubbornness. He knew just how durable it was.
“Why would I want to get rid of you?” he asked calmly. “We barely ever see one another and you have made it quite clear that you prefer it that way.”
“We don’t see one another but you’re always around,” Tatiana said quickly. She was speeding up in every way now, her words becoming faster, her drags on the cigarette becoming shorter and more rapid. “Even if I don’t see you, I know you’re around. That’s part of why they think I’m mad. You make me sound mad, when I try and talk about you. How you’re everywhere, how you have eyes everywhere. How you make people disappear. And not just my mother – I know you’ve done it to others as well. They just vanish, and nobody hears about them again, and if I ask people who knew them they’ll tell me they’ve never heard of them at all. But nobody believes me because it all sounds mad. But you’re there, and I know you are. You get me out of prison. You stop me from getting thrown in jail in the first place. Some weird man I’ve never seen before who isn’t even from the area shows up and speaks to the police and suddenly I’m free to go. The only time that doesn’t happen is when I’m in a place like this. A hospital. Is that why you want everybody to think I’m mad? So you can put me in here and nobody can get me out?”
For a moment Karla thought she was going to stub the cigarette out on her arm, but evidently some of what he had said earlier about a longer stay had sunk in. She jabbed it down on the bedside table instead, leaving a large burn in the wood, and then she left the cigarette defiantly on the table, in full view of any nurses who might check in on her. Karla, for his part, chose to drop the cigarette to the floor and press it out with his foot, kicking the butt under the bed.
“You are in here because you are deranged,” he said simply. “Not over me, no. That much is true, and considering you cannot keep your mouth shut for the life of you I am grateful every day that people assume it is another one of your delusions. It will stay that way. But that is not the only thing to acknowledge. What about everything else? You do not act as a sane young woman should.”
“And how should I act?” Tatiana snapped.
“You could do well to behave, for a start,” Karla told her.
“I’m not a child.”
“Obeying the law is not being a child. Neither is contributing to society and to your community. Sitting around drinking and whoring is much more childish.”
“You hate me.”
“I do not hate you.”
“Then why are you so cruel?”
“It is the truth, Tanya.”
If he hated her it would be easier. He could do away with her like he had done away with countless others, but of course it couldn’t be that simple. Even now, angry as he was, he could barely stand to see her so distressed, her hair everywhere and her eyes glistening.
“I’m worried about you,” he told her, after she remained silent.
“Why?” she asked, her voice quieter now. “You can just make people disappear. You can just get me out of anything. Why are you worried?”
“Because I can’t control everything, despite what you may think. What happens if you go home with the wrong person? What if he murders you? Rapes you? What if you do something so bad that my pulling the strings would be impossible, and you end up in a prison camp? I can’t protect you there. Nobody will, and if you act out there they will quite simply kill you. You are on a dangerous path and I don’t think you care in the slightest.”
“Why do you care?” Tatiana asked, sullen now. “It would be easier for you.”
“You know why I care,” Karla told her simply.
“My mother.” Tatiana sniffed. “Because you still love my mother, even though you killed her.”
Karla didn’t say anything.
“You kill the people you love, and you call me mad,” Tatiana said, giving a hollow laugh. “Maybe you don’t love me at all. Is that why I am still alive?”
“You’re being dramatic,” Karla said patiently.
“And you’re being impossible. Are all men like you? No, I don’t think they are. You can read most men. You can make them angry, at least. Even if they don’t cry, or they don’t tell you how they feel, they can get angry. But you don’t do anything. Sometimes I wonder if I’m normal and you’re the mad one.”
“Now you’re being antagonistic.” He stood up. “I will ensure that you get out of this place soon enough, but I will be in touch soon. I’m afraid that I cannot allow this to go on for any longer that it already has, and I will be making arrangements. In the meantime, I will ensure that somebody is keeping a close eye on you.”
“Why do you care?” she demanded again, but the fight had gone out of her tone and she looked utterly dejected. “You’re like a vengeful ghost. Haunting me all the time, never leaving me alone. What did I do?”
Karla thought he could say the same to her, but at least he had the mercy of being fully aware of what he had done.
“Before I go,” he said, avoiding the question, “is there anything I can do for you specifically? You know I would help you with anything, provided you make the decision to get your life on track.”
“I would only ask one thing,” Tatiana said, “But I doubt you would grant me it.”
“And what would that be?”
“That you just let me go mad in my own way.”
Karla gave the smallest of smiles.
“You would be correct.”