The day nurse pushed open the door with remarkable energy, considering she’d been on shift much longer than she had been contracted for. She perked up with a degree of anxiety as she saw what looked like a shadow hanging over the still prostrate figure of Alice Band, occupying the bed near the window. As the nurse, Enid Wretched, got fully through the door, it shut clumsily behind her, the shadow seemed to withdraw all of a start. It shrunk across the strangely dim room quickly reminding one of clouds drifting on a windy summer day, measuring time. Before Enid could fully meet and greet the shadow, it had gone without, it seemed, the need to open the door fully.
Enid gathered herself and went over to Alice but saw she was sleeping deeply still. Enid didn’t immediately observe that the saline solution tube was slightly askew on the patient’s arm. Enid also thought, on reflection that the shadow reminded her of someone she had seen on TV recently. She couldn’t think of a name but realised the feelings induced by the memory: anxiety and mild revulsion. She wondered how the visitor had gotten in as it was not regular visiting hours. Just then, the patient stirred.
“Has he gone?” Alice squeaked.
“Do you know who it was?” Enid responded.
“Yes, an old friend. I hadn’t seen him for a long time. I didn’t expect him to come. I wonder how he heard.”
Outside, the shadow was getting into a French-type vehicle – if there is such a thing considering how ‘international’ car manufacture is today – and rearranging two books on the passenger seat. The beeping of a mobile was a prelude to the rapping of fingers on the dashboard.
“Hi, it’s me.”
“Yes, I’ve seen her. She’s fine in the circumstances.”
A tut was followed by: “Don’t act like you care, you know why she’s there. And, more to the point, so do I. You were always careless and clumsy. But then that’s why I liked you so much.”
A slight whistle ran through pursed lips before interjecting:
“You got the envelope then. Good. How is that beautiful wife of yours. Good. I’ll be in touch.”…
“Who was that?”
“On your phone just now.”
“Oh, it was someone from the hospital. Alice is stabilised. We can go see her again.”
“We knew all that. Why did they contact you on your mobile?
“Well, it would be more expensive for them. It would have been easier and cheaper to call our landline.”
“Eh. I don’t know. Anyhow, she’s getting better.” Richard sputtered inconclusively.
“You didn’t seem that concerned the first visit.” Audrey chirped up.
“Eh. I was just shocked and a bit tired, is all.”
At that Richard went upstairs and thumbed an envelope with some trepidation. Furtively, Richard then slipped the envelope under the bed’s mattress. Audrey, for her part, set about readying herself to pick up their son. That evening they were sitting down together, for the first time in a long time. Not exactly together as he was at the table and she in the armchair. Also, within each singular mind, they were eons apart.
“What did you think of Alice’s family?” Audrey broke the uneasy silence.
“They seemed OK. Although the brother acted strangely.” Richard responded with some relief.
“You don’t expect a lad of his age to get quite so emotional over a sister.”
“What a ridiculous thing to say. Sometimes you can be so crass. Teenagers are full of emotions.” Audrey spat out.
Richard squirmed and rolled his eyes, looking for somewhere to hide. But he counter-attacked with: “Now who’s being ridiculous.”
A short silence ensued.
“And why is it so strange he should be so upset about his sister’s attempted suicide?”
“Well, boys of that age are so much more selfish.” Richard tendered sheepishly now.
“That’s nonsensical and unfair. Besides, I wish you had even half his emotional energy.” Audrey retorted. “Well, it seems Alice’s condition didn’t stir you at all. You only seemed to get stirred when that guy gave you that envelope. That’s the nearest you’ve come to emotion for years. Even then, it was more of fear than anything good.”
“Hold it. What’s brought this on. How long have you felt that I’m unemotional.?”
“Years actually. Ever since Charlie was born.”
“I’m going out.” Richard said as he made his way to the door.
“Yeah, I suppose you’ve got a point. You can still sulk like a teenager.” Audrey sniped from a distance.
“Bollocks.” Richard’s last parting shot was delivered from close to the door he was about to slam with all his frustration and gym-honed arm.
Luckily for her, Charlie was a remarkably heavy sleeper for his age; He didn’t stir. Audrey, feeling slightly smug but with just a hint of pity for her cowed Richard, unfolded the local rag. She began to read about a criminal case that both fascinated and disgusted her. It further tweaked her sadness over once more humiliating her watered-down spouse. She remembered wistfully the time he had gumption and could make her laugh with his wicked sense of humour.
It was a very clear night, with no atmosphere of intrigue or drama as Richard disappeared down the ornate staircase in to a somewhat Hobbit-like dwelling. The door opened as though the resident were expecting Richard. As the door closed, quietly, there was another sound heard on the road as the French-type vehicle moved off calmly. The crescent moon flashed a stream of light across the bonnet and lit up the driver, then the passenger half slumped in the back was scanned like a piece of meat in a supermarket.. (To be continued)