Louise woke some time later. It was a sign of her improved cognitive performance, she thought, that she only wondered for a few seconds where she was.
She sat up slowly, her back and hip aching from both sleeping on a sofa and sleeping so hard that she had apparently never moved. There was a green and gold afghan spread over her, and a couple of lights on, one directly over Penelope’s table. Penelope had moved from the big screen to a small portable one, and was sitting under that light.
“Hungry?” Penelope said without turning. “Just switch that off, will you?”
Louise stretched over to fumble with the controls. “Starved. How long have I been out?”
“Just about twelve hours,” Penelope said.
“I haven’t slept that long since I was forty,” Louise said, rising to her feet. Her knees cracked, her hip popped, and her lower spine thumped sequentially like a xylophone. “I guess I really haven’t been getting any rest. Just enough to keep me from going crazy.”
“Now think about all the women who’ve been on Cog longer than you,” Penelope said, turning around finally to survey Louise. “Have they all gone off the cliffs of insanity and no one can tell because they’re old?”
Louise clutched her head. “There’s so much we just don’t know about how the registered patients are handled, and how much of this is a subtle conspiracy. I mean, I noticed the other day that my prescription is enough for six months, not the three months the doctor said he’d write for. That means that they somehow subverted the prescription?”
“There is so much bullshit flying around this whole thing that I wish I had an umbrella,” Penelope said, returning to her keyboard. “There’s soup on the stove and fresh bread soon to come out of the oven.”
Louise inhaled deeply, and was able to smell the bread finally. “I miss being able to smell like I did twenty years ago, I really do.”
“It happens,” Penelope said, or possibly she said “shit happens,” Louise wasn’t certain. In any case, Louise made for the kitchen and ladled herself out a bowl of chicken soup.
“Feel better?” Penelope said, looking at her as she sat at the table.
“I feel at least a year younger,” Louise said.
“You look it.”
“Thanks.” Louise concentrated on her soup for a while, at least until Penelope rolled into the kitchen and pulled the hot loaf from the oven. “Need a hand with anything?”
Penelope said, “Nope, but give it a few minutes to cool and you can help yourself, and me, if you’re inclined, to bread and butter.”
“Will do,” Louise said, and returned to her soup.
They sat in companionable silence, Louise eating slowly and thinking, mostly about Mick, Penelope typing in fast, hard bursts of inspiration.
After Louise had put her bowl in the dishwasher and brought them both hot bread, she said, “Do you have pen and paper around?”
Penelope waved at a small rolltop desk shoved into a corner of the room. Louise investigated, found what she needed, and returned to the table, where she embarked on a long letter to her niece Tanisa, full of as much as she could remember right then about her adventures with Mick.