huts (rewrite) part 3
Wullie the Pole wheels a trolley into the space between the doors of the kitchen and dining hall. The tables are set out for breakfast, but the hatch in the kitchen is shut. Men line up for their meds in the same way they line up for a shave. Women are given more leeway. He’s courtlier in manner, deferential even in the way he addresses them. Lotions and potions and pills. Patients are still yawning and tired. Wullie the Pole points and has me running up and down the hallway and into the telly room where the smokers are the defining feature, gathering like gulls in a grey haze of smoke in clusters of wipe-free seats pulled close with high backs along the wall with a bank of windows providing natural light. In comparison to the men it’s a noisy affair and the clatter and flapping of slipper on the tiled floor as they come and go, leaving to go back to their rooms or the toilets add to it. Some of the patients sidle up and hang onto my arm, try to attract my attention with moon eyes, but they seem innocent, with a lack of guile. But I’m on the clock. I look the other way, for the patient the queen bee, a fat woman with a bee-hive hair that doesn’t looks as if she doesn’t need medication, and fling a name at her. ‘Marian Glace,’ I say. She taps her chest.
‘That’s me love,’ she says. ‘You new here?’
‘Aye.’ I hand her the medication. She spills a spoonful down her throat and makes a face at its bitterness and licks the back of the spoon with a lolling tongue and her massive chest thrust out of a yellow nylon nightie that needs to needle-point bead embroidery to emphasise the great divide.
‘Some of the girls will love you,’ she says.
Behind her another women grunts as she laughs. I fly back to the med trolley.
After the rush of morning meds and bustle of breakfast Peaheid sweeps food and crumbs that founds its way onto the floor out of the dining room along the corridor past the office window. If she keeps going she’ll end past the women’s bedrooms and up in the fields outside and I think that might not be too bad a thing and I might join her. Wullie the Pole swivels his padded chair, leans across. A British National Formulary sits on top of the filing cabinet, beside it a wire mesh tray with a miscellany of different coloured papers and letter. A Tennent’s ashtray half-full with foul smelling douts weighs it down. Wullie the Pole has an almost identical one on the desk beside him. He takes a drag of his fag and slides open the bottom drawer on its runners. ‘Learn about the patients. Then you’ll know a bit about something. Learn what medication they take. ’ I lean across the desk and lift one of the stacked side-polyester chairs, press its tubular frame against the window and squish my feet under the desk, knocking against the waste-paper bin which makes a ringing noise. He leans back smoking Capstan Full Strength and listening to some kind of opera music on the radio, also at Full Strength. Finally, after some mad woman had screamed her guts out, he hands me a hospital record with blunt fingertips. Someone’s life between two flaps of cardboard, brown wrapping paper and loose leaves held together with paperclips and red loose cotton ties with silver metal tips. I angle the dip of my body so I’m a shadow presence and take up only a fraction of the desk. But I’m take up time. Wullie the Pole’s stands up, shuffles sideways and skim around the other side of the desk and stands beside the empty tree of the coatrack at the door. He grunts a warning that’ll he be back soon, and adds a parting shot before leaving. ‘What ward they came from and where they work. Don’t let them fuck you about and you’ll be fine.’
I cover over the delight in my face by looking at my feet. Reading a dull stack of files is my idea of fun. I’m dimly aware of the flicker and fleshy flash of patients in the corridor passing by the office window. Peaheid’s official name I see from the records is Maureen Ramsay. The typed parts on thin sheets are easiest to read. She was born with microcephaly, delivered in the maternity wards and left by her fifteen-year-old mother Annie Ramsay. There’s a report from The Edinburgh Institute of Vocational Guidance annotated by a charge nurse George McKay, 6th August 1961. It reads: ' Rh positive. I have also conducted a full general physical examination and her hymen is still intact. Maureen shows clear signs of feeble-mindedness. Her long-term care should continue at Glenboig hospital where under guidance she can be given a range of physical tasks suitable for high-to-low grade patients.’
I wasn’t sure what kind of contagious illness a hymen was, wasn’t even sure if she knew her name was Maureen. I’d passed her a few times, but never thought to speak to her. I look through the window and along the corridor for clues. Her companion laughs, bending over slightly, crystallising the moment my heart’s compass buckles in the presence of brutal beauty. I can’t breathe. Salt and sated are my eyes and my body’s hunger leaving behind the stones of babyhood. She tilts her head, and checks me out with exotic indigo coloured eyes. My mouth falls open. I fall into her gaze, cheekbones taut as chains and a weave of hair so thick and oil-black it seems a wetland when dry. About five-feet. My eyes travel up and down her lithe little body like an insect crawling up and down a ladder. It’s hard not to stare, not to jump up out of the chair, not to renounce all thoughts of adulthood and run up and touch her to see if she is real. She gives Peaheid a fraternal pat on the shoulder, says something to make her smile and walks past the window. Wullie the Pole is coming the other way. She looks up at him. His face breaks into a crooked boyish grin and he reaches for his keys. I want her to stay and he’s letting her go. I waste no time, rifling through the files for her records and have them sitting on my lap as I rifle through her life.