school photos 46
Lying adrift on the smoothed-out hospital corners, fingers intertwined, a basket supporting my head, my hands created a frown in the plumped order of the yellowing cover of the pillow. The wall-mounted radiator, near the window, had been fixed more securely to the wall, sputtered out wilting heat. I yawned, tired of being tired, longing for the outside air. A single light bulb hung off- centre, someone had looped two knots in the cord, a practice at suicide. The light played with a shadow in the corner, overlapping with the dimming twilight of the single window. Darkness outside reflected darkness inside the ward and creeped up the far-away wall. I was determined not to think about Janine. Her mind games were driving me bonkers. I wasn’t sure anymore if I loved her, or even liked her, or if there was any difference between the two. My feet were getting cold as I’d taken my socks off. I’d become lazy, wriggling my bum to scratch it rather than move. My armpits reeked of hospital decay. The skin on my arms and my fingers were growing flabby. I was rotting from the inside out. I stroked my hair, a matted Brillo pad backwards and forwards while trying to figure things. The problem was the more I never thought about her the more I did. She was like one of those Japanese knotweed plants that rooted itself under buildings and pulled them down wormhole by wormhole. I tried to be logical and think of the pros and cons of finishing with her, but all I could think about was my hard on.
Karen the SEN banged in the door. Her breasts had seemed to grow bigger since I’d last seen her, warring jellos under her white blouse, wobbling and unsure of the outcome, as she waddled over and looked down at me.
‘Williams wants to see you.’ Her voice had an edge to it, I wasn’t quite sure what or why.
I lifted one knee over the other, hiding my crotch.
‘Hurry up then.’ She flicked sweat from her forehead, before turning and toddling towards the door.
I waited for the door to close before I sprung up from the bed, pulling my denims up, rearranging the lime-green Adidas top in a baggy formation around my midriff, giving a final sniff at my armpits before opening the door.
Janine was standing outside her room, smoking a Silk Cut and leaning against the wall. I wasn’t sure if she was waiting for me, but when she smiled a cat-like smile I grinned back.
‘Jesus, ugly people, and ugly fat people in particular, give me such a headache.’ She motioned towards Karen, who was standing beside the pool room waiting for me. ‘You’d think she’d do something with herself, but you know what?’ She took another draw, 'if she did she wouldn’t be working here’. Her eyes met mine, challenging me to disagree. But I just shrugged and she filled the gap between us with smoke. ‘Consultants in the medical wards want a hard-on, not a headache -- that’s why they get rid of those with such thick necks, the butch and the bitches. They’re perfect for psychiatric training. In future, check it out.’
Karen began walking backwards to meet us.
‘Have fun,’ said Janine. Her eyes were oceanic blue. I thought I saw the future in them. She could see me. Only me. It was as if the ward was a shoebox tipped up sideways and emptied out and there was only us. Shapes brightened and dissolved. A shadow in the corridor flapped and waved its wings at me and there was a buzzing in my ears and snatches of a nursery rhyme played with my head. I stumbled and she held onto my arm.
‘I’ll not be long,’ I promised, sauntering towards Karen.
Mr William’s room door was left ajar. Karen nudged it further open and stepped aside. He half squatted above his chair and put out a hand for me to shake, as if we’ve not met before. He stunk of fags and wheezed like an accordion when he sat down again, but there was a clean cold-washed tang to him, as if he was an animal that came out only at night. He shuffled paper, creating a space on his desk and seemed nervous. ‘Take a seat.’
I squeezed past him and sat facing him. My heart was beating faster and my hands waxy as lemons and I wasn't sure why. I glanced up. Jocky the burly care assistant was loitering at the door beside Karen.
He launched straight in. ‘I got a bit of sad news from home.’
A shadow touched his arm, his mouth was working, but he vanished bit by bit into the darkness. As he talked his body begun to waver at the edges. It was as if someone had taken my life apart, polished bits of it, stacked other bits like Lego blocks one on top of the others, put it back together and said it was finished. I already knew what he was going to say and I was falling, falling into nothingness.