huts 5 (rewrite)
The office is too warm. I sit squelched and sweating under the pall of Wullie the Poles’s Senoir Service, nose buried in files, eyes shifting sideways. He stands at the door and offers one final piece of advice before he departs. He’s an undemonstrative man, but his mouth lathers as he gestures at the phone on his desk as if it’s an unexploded bomb. ‘Don’t answer the phone if it rings. That way the bastards think we’re busy. And if it’s important they’ll call back. And if it’s not important then they shouldn’t be wasting our time.’
He points at the phone, blunt fingers in the shape of a gun. Final warning.
‘Don’t touch it.’
I nod in agreement. He’s impatient to get away. I’d grown up knowing nobody ever came to the Glenboig hospital and in the last two day nobody care to our ward. ‘But what you want me to say if anybody comes?’ I don’t mean to sound like a sappy little boy, but that’s just the way it comes out of my lips.
‘Tell the bastards nothing.’ Wullie the Pole’s face grows dim and goes galloping in a forest of darkness. He makes a dismissive and violent gesture that ends in the sound of a throat being slit.
I tune the radio on the shelf facing me from violins that crawl about inside your head, to something sugar-sweet on Radio 1. Telegram Sam blares out. I sit down again a different person, crown myself king of the swivel chair, in a dazzle of all I survey. Close my eyes and relax.
The phone rings once and my eyes flicker open. There’s drool at the corner of my mouth and I’m not sure what or where I am. I snatch a look at the clock, Wullie the Pole has been away almost an hour. It keeps ringing. I watch it like a cat with a mouse under its paw. Then it rings on and off, testing me to breaking point. I’m not wired up to deal with the world of landlines and phones the way they do in American movies. For the first time that day I wish that Wullie the Pole is here. I look out the office window into the corridor for answers, feel hemmed in and shaken loose as if I’m in a testube. I bite on my lower lip, let it ring for exactly fifteen rings, working myself up, so that when it hits the sixteenth ding I’m ready and pick up the receiver.
‘Halllllo,’ I stammer.
The foreign tone of a call box is in my ear, a strange grumbling human and mechanical, and a hissing sound that could be one or the other until the coin drops.
‘Boy.’Wullie the Pole distinctive accent is on the other end of the line, ‘I told you not to answer the phone.' His tone sounds slurred and angry, the way it always does. ‘Give out the mid-morning meds,’ he pauses and coughs, a dry hack, into the receiver. ‘The key is in the drawer and has a yellow tag around it.’
My tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth. ‘I can’t,’ I whisper. ‘I can’t.’ Tears well in my eyes. ‘I don’t know what to do’.
‘Don’t be such a little prick. It’s not as if you can do any harm that’s not already been done.’ Wullie the Pole rhymes off a quick-fire list of who is to get what. He suffers another more prolonged coughing fit. ‘Just ask Mikey’ and adds in a gruffier voice, ‘And what did I tell you again about answering the phone?’
I hear the hissing discontinued sound, but I’m not even sure he’s hung up. Imagine him searching his pockets in a stuffy phone box for more coins to call again and harangue me. I stay perched in my seat for about fifteen minutes waiting not to answer the phone.
My hands are shaking. The desk drawer offers no resistance and slides open. I cling more firmly to the notion that Mikey knows what to do and he’ll be able to help me. I learned from his records Mikey, or Michael Gannon to give him his proper name, is one of the more high functioning patients. Like most of the others he’d never been anywhere else but Glenboig Hospital. He’d been brought from another maternity ward as a baby suffering from spaticity and hypertonia and he’d attended Glenboig Hospital School. Slick pomaded hair but he’s going a bit bald now, an old man. He’d been there when it operated as a working farm during the war, with the patients as the only labour force. They’d about two football park sized greenhouses then, which also grew plants. Some of the staff in the village had the loveliest gardens. And he’d been in almost every ward, apart from those that they kept for the real veggies, who never got out of their specially made beds, coffins, they never left from cradle to grave. And he’d never been in the wards where they kept the chronic bed-wetters and biters and the fighters either. I shake my head at the idea of him being in the challenging behaviour ward.
I find Mikey where I expect to find him. He’s fully dressed in his brown corduroy suit, silk tie knotted, half lying down and half sitting up in his bed. The room's stuffy with the stink of clogged ashtrays and the sourdough smell of old socks and old men fermenting in the heat. But that’s just the way it is since I’d taken on many of his duties. He doesn’t even seem to be doing anything, just looking out of the window. He looks over my shoulder. We both know that Wullie the Pole doesn’t let you lie on the beds during the day. He uses his elbows to gets up.
‘What is it?’ he asks gently.
‘It’s the meds. I’ve to give out the meds, but I don’t know what to do,’ I spit it all out in a rush of words.
‘No problem.’ His smile and easy manner reassures me. I hand him the keys and he dances ahead to get the med trolley out of the cage. He lets me push it into the middle of the ward, the dining room, in the same way that I’d seen Wullie the Pole doing it. The few patients not at work, or on a regular treatment programme elsewhere in the hospital, are in the telly room next door milling aimlessly around in their eternal scratching for fags.
Mikey flicks open the chart with a practice movement, stands reading over my shoulder, to keep me right. Joyce Mulgrew is first. I shout her name and she answers my call, mutters into view, dragging her bad leg behind her. Like many of the patients she’s had her hair done recently by the hairdressers in the hospital. It appears to be screwed into her head, ring-pull by ring-pull. It flits between the generic description of perm and something more sinister. I see from the plastic covered sheets she’s to get 200mgs, Diazepam. Mikey’s ahead of me and hands me a bottle from the bottom of the trolley and hold up two fingers. I wrestle open the top, dry mouthed. Nervously tap two tablets into my hand. Joyce watches me with her one good eye.
But it’s Mikey appraising my performance.
‘Don’t worry so much,’ he laughs. ‘Ease off, you could hand Cyclops a rubber duck and it wouldn’t make any difference to her.’
Joyce moans like a pregnant cow when excited, but that’s normal for her. I hand her two tablets. She slaps them into her mouth. But a tablets sticks to the white fungus ringing her lips. Mikey quickly passes her a drink of water from the plastic cup. But too late. The tablet drops from her mouth and falls between her breasts.
I’m not sure what to do, whether just to kid on I’ve not noticed, or stick a hand down between her substantial patterned cleavage and retrieve the fouled tablet.
I turn my head and look to Michel for guidance.
‘Just give her another one.’ He shakes his head and adds another piece of advice. ‘And don’t tap the tablets into the palms of your hands. These things are toxic. Tap them out onto the plastic white lid of the bottle and drop them into her hand’.
‘What about the one that I’ve lost? Don’t I need to count them or something?’
He screws up his face and looks at me if I'm daft.
‘Just mark it on the sheet that she’s been given her medication.’ Michael taps a finger on the yellow sheet hanging on the clipboard at the side of the trolley. He’s more upbeat. ‘X marks the spot.’
The other patients are more straightforward after that mishap.