school photos 36
I expected more fuss to be made about absconding from the ward. A few of the nursing staff heed and hawed, when I’d arrived back and made stupid tut-tutt noises behind my back, as if I was a wean of five and not a grown man of nearly seventeen. From their faces I noticed listening was too much like work for them, clamped my lips shut, acted suitably chastised, and the natural law of hospital inertia re-asserted itself and brought me back into the bonkers brigade. A quick circuit of the ward, with long-term patients sucking on fags in the dayroom, and my borrowed uniform of T-shirt and denims were efficiently smoked as any bloater and my body bent and blended in like a shadow on the nicotine-tarred walls. Many of the patients remained stuck in the same seats and were locked into the same routines I’d left behind. But I hadn’t expected the room I’d previously occupied to be already filled by a stoop-shouldered woman that wouldn’t meet my eye.
The new sleeping quarters I’d been assigned seemed like a punishment. It had been cleared of a crazy dance of chairs with three legs and tables that tipped and dipped, but it was next door to the trombone of farting fumes and continual flushing of the communal toilets. The walls were a sickly mildew green and the radiator didn’t work, the window frame was lopsided and locked open about six inches, letting the wind whistle in. If I was being picky, there was no greenery and the view was of a soot-scarred wall of another madhouse and other wards. The loss of a room I could stomach, but the realisation Janine was not back in the ward sat less easily. One of my more practical plans was finding writing paper, an envelope, stamp and writing her a letter, but although I was sure I could have found my way back to the street and flat she lived in Partick, I didn’t pay any particular attention to her address. I sat in my room and thought and thought about what I’d done to upset her, but came up as empty as a bottle of Da’s Bell’s whisky at Hogmany.
As a consolation I’d sneaked into her room. Staff hadn’t cleared her everyday stuff away and it still felt lived in, haunted by the slightly sweet scent of perfumes and lotions. Checking out the neatly made bed with hospital corners, my cock stirred and grew in my denims. I bolted from her room and into the corridor.
After lunch I moped about the ward and dropped into his—and her—padded hospital chairs, the slow carousel of ward routine moving round about me. I’d even stashed my medication in a ball of toilet roll in the back denim pocket for Janine as a present and a memento, like Blackpool rock without the sticky bits, but found myself wondering if I should just pop them into my mouth and gulp them down so that the day without her, which stretched out, as if I was in some kind of Star Trek suspension and beamed down in iced droplets between alien planets, passed quickly.
I picked up the stub of a bookies pen and an old Daily Record someone had left lying aslant on the shiny floor beneath the four or five tables visitors sat round. It was folded neatly and the crossword section was face-up with the word ‘cleave’, four down, spelled out. I looked at the pointer for the clue and the answer marked in black biro didn’t make any sense. One seat up, two tables across from me, a grey-haired man rocked back and forth, the tic in his jaw working to a different rhythm and I snorted at the idea of crossword clues making sense in a place where nonsense was the argot language. Doodling around the edges of the newspaper and inking in adverts I created a cartoon world of the ward staff and patients and became so engrossed in the task that time speeded up.
Somebody on the right-hand side of my chair said something, startling and making me sit up straight, but it was difficult to make out what it was above the blare of the telly. I glanced up to see Myra, a State Enrolled Nurse that worked between different wards, leaning across, curtsying her body to get a better view of my etchings. My hand slid sideways and covered over a straggle-haired sketch of a Venus figurine with grotesquely extended buttocks and breast in case Myra thought she was being mocked.
‘Whit?’ I half-smiled, in what I hoped was a friendly way, but my cheeks flushed pink.
‘Mr Williams wants to see you.’
‘Whit does he want to see me for?’
She sighed, her eyes straying to the television in the corner of the room, and she answered in monotone. ‘Dunno. You absconded. He probably wants to make sure...’. A burst of dramatic music came from the screen and her voice trailed off. ‘Doesn’t matter. He wants to see you.’
Yawning, I got to my feet, stretched my arms behind my head, loosening the kinks in them. Meandering behind her through the dayroom in the direction of Mr Williams's office, we zig-zagged past old hands who had taken up hiding positions near the stucco-pillar. They peeked speculatively at me, their faces working out the equation of whether I was worth tapping for a fag.
They missed their chance.
Further along the corridor, isolated in the harsh wash of fluorescent light, Janine sloped her back against the Perspex window of the pool room. Her hair was tied tight back from her face and smoke rings clung to her face. She looked tired. I dropped back, out of step with Myra, but she didn’t seem to notice. My throat was choked as I edged in close enough to whiff Janine’s cheap scent, waiting for my brain to catch up with his body. I knew I sounded aggrieved and a bit stupid, but the words came tumbling out. ‘I thought you’d be already be here.’
She tightend her lips and chugged on the fliter of an Embassy Mild, before answering. ‘I am.’ Her eyes settled on my face, but she looked at me like a stranger.
Myra stood at the psychiatrist’s door, looking back at me.
‘You going to see Williams?’ asked Janine. Then she quietly whispered ‘just make something up about your family, your wee sisters. He eats things like that up.’
‘Right.’ My face buckled into a smile, glad of a newfound sympathy. ‘I’ll speak to you when I get back. Tell you how it went.’
She pooh-poohed, her ciggy cupped and burning down in her slender fingers, in a model pose of couldn’t care less.
I hurried away from her and towards Myra.