A Visit to the Hospital

Or where The Story might start…

Since gangrene took the neighbour, we’ve been relocated to the private side room. Now, visiting hours have been relaxed, no-one checks my protective clothing and I’m left unsupervised. Good. I leave the mask off. I want to kiss. I want to smell. I want skin contact. It’s a visceral thing. It’s also March, and today it’s unseasonably stifling. Oh, and the air-conditioning has broken down. I open the windows as far as they’ll go. Not very. Are they worried he might jump? Now, that would be a miracle. Not the one being prayed for so fervently, though. Me? I’d like to see him fly. And away, wherever that is. I pull the top sheet down on the bed and then lean over and switch off the radio. The aural wallpaper ceases and the silence announces my arrival. I’m dressed for the season, not the temperature, and kitted out suitably-suffocatingly. I perch on the windowsill and try to breathe before I speak by leaning over the window vent. There’s a breeze, there’s a view. I start by talking about the weather, of course. That explains the changes I’ve made in the room. Then, a phone rings, it’s mine and it’s not even supposed to be there. Technically, I’m not either. No-one comes to complain. It’s a small victory for me. I apologise for the interruption and then take the call. It’s from someone who says his name is Joe. We briefly introduce ourselves. The tone is businesslike yet friendly. Joe tells me he’s heard The Story so far and is on his way to join in by collecting my belongings. He gives me a precise day and time. I give him a precise address. I know he’ll be true to his word (and so he is). The call ends with me smiling, I explain why. There’s a jug of water on the bedside table, I pour myself a glass and sit down on the edge of the bed. Now, I’m talking local politics, then I’m talking family politics and that’s today’s update completed. I apply cologne, remove the monitors, and lie down on the bed. There’s room as I, too, am disappearing – I have the choice, he doesn’t. I actually want to pass unnoticed. I reach over, pull the book from my bag and the marker from the book, and start reading aloud. I know I have an audience, no-one else here believes it. Though it has been weeks since anyone told me non ti sente signora. Now? They almost humour la bionda naturale (there’s a tinta, but she’s in another part of The Story). Almost. Anyway, they know I’m leaving soon. I also know that as soon as I start to read I’ll feel. The numbness I need to function will leave. The pain I need to heal will arrive. I’m furious and powerless and forlorn and so much else. Inside I scream incoherently, outwardly I read calmly. I read knowing that there’s no-one to read to me. I’m on the last few pages and, when done, it’s time to say goodbye. I close the book and lie a couple of minutes in silence, listening to the steady breathing, watching the closed eyelids, feeling the clammy warmth from the bony flesh. At first, I’d joke: He always sleeps when I read! Last night, though, I was introduced to a physiotherapist. She told me: He knows it’s you, so he’s relaxed. That made today even harder. But there is no limit to anguish. I don’t look to see where it stops. Because I can’t; see. I’m as blind as him. That’s that. I peel myself away, get up, reattach the monitors and switch the radio back on. I turn the top sheet back up. I pack my bag. As I leave the room, I turn around and say it – goodbye. It’s been exactly two months since he last looked at me. This is to be my last look. My eyes linger last on his once fluid-smooth hands, today lying spastic dry-rigid on the bed. He’s clinging on for grim death.

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