Just Past Three in the Morning (2)
So here we were, in the waiting room at a local hospital. It was after four, it was sort of quiet. Us sitting in a line against one wall, these two guys, these strangers, sitting along a wall that intersected ours at a right angle. We were silent. We were painfully and obviously aware of them; and them of us. Strangers, sure; but we were part of the same narrative, all tangled up in the same event. Packed in soft awkwardness.
I broke the silence, because somebody had to, and anyway it was crawling along my skin, making my forearms itch. “Hey, we owe your buddy, for saving Penny like that.”
One of them said: “For trying to.”
“It could have been worse though, if he hadn't.”
The guy shrugged: “What else was he going to do?”
“Damsel in distress, right?”
Pretty, blond, fairy-sweet damsel. Just as well it wasn't me what dropped my lipstick. “Well, anyway, thanks.”
“They'll be all right.”
“The paramedic didn't think it was that bad... he said...”
Were we worried? I don't know. In the first instant we'd been panicked. We'd been racing over to Penny, shrieking her name. Fearing the worst because she wasn't moving and there was blood on her face. Then she'd started making noises, trying to move. Davey holding her down, telling her to stay still, not sure if she heard him or not. I'd looked up briefly and seen the two guys on either side of their friend. The guy was half-sitting, holding onto his leg, choking down his screams against clenched teeth. His face red with pain and effort, eyes large.
And then sirens.
And here we were.
I said in the end, “Look, I'm Heather. These guys are Savannah, Davey, Roger and Justin.”
“Yeah. Make something of it.”
I held up my hands. “Never, it's charming.”
“Heather, like the countryside, and thatched roofs, and history.” He was trying to be nice, or flirt, or smooth the edges off 'make something of it.'
“Something like that.”
“Savannah: like the African savannah, with zebras and lions and shit.” He was warming to his theme.
Davey interrupted: “What've you got for Davey?”
Pigsy shrugged: “I've got something for Roger.”
Roger flirt-pouted, fluttered his eyelashes: “I'll bet you do.”
Savannah nudged him. “You so can't pull that off.”
Randall started singing quietly: “.... he's talking to Davey, who's still in the navy, and probably will be for life....”
“Touche.” Davey gives ground when it's earned.
Pigsy: “And he's Just In time.”
And that was us. A bunch of increasingly sober young(ish) folk, sitting around on plastic hospital chairs, killing time, making jokes, filling silence, while we waited to see what would happen to our friends. It was an article of faith amongst us that they were going to be okay. We clung to it. They'd both been breathing. When he could, the guy – they told us he was called Norton – had been talking, answering questions between grunts of pain, and ragged breaths. Penny was incoherent, but making noise, able to move a bit. These weren't a couple of people dying on a roadside, they were young, and just out for a bit of good time. Of course.... I mean of course... they were going to be all good...
Roger said, “Oh, fuck it, I'm hungry.”
Davey: “Yeah. Yeah, get us something.”
It would be polite. All things considered. I nudged Roger, indicating Pigsy and Randall.
“Uh, you guys. Want anything? There's a vending machine just across the hall.”
So we pigged out. Roger returning with corn chips and chocolate, roasted peanuts, some giant chocolate chip cookies. We feasted, we talked, a game of 'I Spy' got started up, followed by 'Twenty Questions'. And we waited.
It was nearly seven. The sky was red. A nurse came to fetch Norton's lot. Ten minutes later another nurse came for us. I thought I was pretty calm until that moment. Then I found myself with my breath held in my chest. There were questions about Penny's family – Over in Australia – Had we called them? – Yes, we had. - Coming? - No. Why? Did they need to come? - No, it wasn't like that, she was going to be okay, just right this way, following the arrows....
She didn't look so okay. She had a line taped into her wrist, a square bandage taped to her left temple, her face just starting to come up in bruises. She looked pale, her mascara smudged.
“Oh, Penny.” Savannah burst in there first.
The rest of us weren't that far behind.
“Sorry,” she said awkwardly.
“Oh, stop that.” I had my arms around her. “All we care about is you being okay.”
“I kinda ruined the night though.”
“Fuck that. But we were scared shitless.”
“Yeah,” Davey pushed in amongst all the girly hugging “Don't go doing that again, okay?”
She smiled weakly.
“No, really. Don't.”
“Did they call Mum..?”
“Is she freaking?”
“We played it down.”
“I gotta call her. I do don't I...? My phone?”
“They've got it safe. I don't know, can you use it in here?”
Penny looked tired. She was probably drugged up on painkillers. She looked as if she was drifting, a kind of sea-sick, dizzy look. It was in her voice too. It might not make her Mum feel all that much better to hear from her.
That's why I said: “Call her in the morning, eh? When you feel better. We've totally reassured her. Justin made it sound really trivial.” Somehow, without lying, or even really misleading, he had made it sound as if it weren't that big of a deal, just a bit of drunken tom-foolery, and we'd all be making fun of her for it later...
…. maybe. Not soon though. It disturbed me more than I was prepared for, seeing her like that. My insides felt liquefied. I felt like I needed to fold her up in my arms and keep her there. Like she was a child. My child even. And I think the guys felt it even harder – some sort of chivalry trip or whatever.
We stayed while they gave her more morphine. We stayed while we watched her falling asleep. Like we'd told the nurse, no family here, just her Mum and her brother over in Australia. So we drew straws to choose shifts, to make sure there'd be someone here all the time for at least the next few days. It was broad daylight and we were all exhausted.
I ran into Pigsy in the carpark, walking out into blinding sunlight.
“He okay?” I asked.
“Sort of. Um... he'll be fine. Just his leg, they're talking about a bad break. I think he's kinda hurting a bit now.”
“I feel guilty.”
“Not your fault. Or that girl's. Don't let her feel bad. It's just what anyone would do right? If they see someone in immediate shit like that. She's okay too, right?”
“Yeah. Cuts and concussion, a few bruises. She probably feels like crap, but I think she'll come right.”
“It wasn't her fault. Seriously.”
“Things just happen sometimes.”
“Exactly. Make sure she knows.”
We parted ways on the street, the smells of fresh baking and petrol fumes wafting along towards us. He waved as he crossed the road towards the bus stop.