She’s just sitting there. Frozen. I swear she hasn’t blinked in the last twenty minutes, her eyes just resting on his torso, staring through, at the scars beneath the blanket.
They took him away for a brain scan about an hour ago; she hid her eyes as he was taken. That was the point where she picked up his hospital charts and questioned me about how they were supposed to read, what they were supposed to mean. I couldn’t tell her. Alex was the one who had qualified as the radiographer; he was the one who worked 9-5 at a hospital. I said it without thinking; she hid her eyes again and got up to ‘get a drink’. I didn’t go after her, she needed time alone, and she needed something to take her mind from it.
He was back before she returned, lying still on the bed, looking more uncomfortable than I had ever seen anyone look. She starts as she returns; surprised he is back already, but also annoyed that he isn’t awake. She groans almost inaudibly and falls back into the chair beside his bed that I have occupied for the forty minutes she was away.
“Where did you go?” I’m almost too afraid to ask.
“I walked halfway to the shops. And back.” Of course she did. Where else would she go?
“Did you buy anything?”
“No.” We’re back to the one word answers.
“Do you want me to get you anything?”
“Do you have a br-” almost crossed the line. I have got to remember that she’s a little tetchy at the moment. Well, we all are, but… Cal a little more than most.
“Don’t.” she says, her voice cracking again, “J-just don’t.”
“Sorry Cal.” I say; casting my eyes quickly over Alex then looking out of the doorway, onto the opposite ward room. More than just a single casualty inhabit it, though I hear voices from inside there, (assuming the occupants are awake, unlike Alex) and listen to the quiet conversation they are holding.
“He’s a doctor? What happened to him though?”
“Dunno. He came in a couple of days ago. They rushed him through… gave him the room.”
“Has his wife…” I can’t catch that part of the conversation, and I look across at Calli. She doesn’t seem to have noticed.
“She’s the pretty one - the one with the big blue eyes that came past an hour ago, she‘s sitting with him now, look.”
“Isn’t she a little too… posh?” Posh? Calli? That’s a bit of an oversight. I have to go and shut them up. I stand up and make a quick excuse to Calli and cross the corridor.
“Eh hem, excuse me?” I knock on the door and ask to enter, “I couldn’t help hearing… Calli’s… my sister’s his wife. She’s not posh at all, and she’s… so worried about him.”
“Why? What happened?”
“They don’t think he’s going to make it.” I say, admitting it to myself as I admit it to these total strangers.
“And you don’t either, do you?” Her voice surprises me and, wide eyed and horrified, I turn on my heel to see her staring at me, “you should say these things aloud, Tom. At least tell him you’ve got no faith in his strength. Allow that.” with those two words ringing in my ears, I look down and she’s gone by the time I look back at the doorway.
She’s sitting back in the ward as I return. She doesn’t hear me, and if she does, she doesn’t react to my entrance. Her fingertips are lightly tracing the curve of his cheeks, then sliding across his face to touch his lips. She smiles at him and, even though she’s annoyed that he won’t respond, begins to tell him about the world around his hospital bed.
“There’s no way to tell if you can hear me, but I miss your smile. That’s a bit corny, but it’s true. It’s horrible to see you with your eyes closed all the time, with your arms flat… where I don’t know if you can even feel the things I’m feeling. You’re so… distant… it’s all gone, ridiculous, horrible. You aren’t supposed to be ill. You’re my doctor, my hero.” she groans impatiently and bows her head. “You can fix this in other people, Alex. Why’re you stuck here?”
*Past. Six Years Ago*
He rolled over and poked her through the sleeping bag. Her eyes didn’t open, so he bent over her and poked her in the stomach.
She jacknifed into a sitting position, yelping as she saw his eerily lit face, the half-dead night-light throwing his features into sharp relief.
“What is it?” she hissed, her eyes flashing around the dimly lit room. He poked her again for the fun of it. “I’m going back to sleep.” he grabbed her arm, shook his head, wide eyed, afraid.
“I heard something. Come with me?”
“You’re actually taking the Mickey?”
“No, seriously, I think somebody’s walking around downstairs.”
“Then go on your own! It’s bad enough you bring me here, now you make me-”
“Oh, for god’s sake, listen.” He put his hand over her mouth to shut her up and pointed down towards the wooden floorboards.
There was a definite creaking on the stairs.
Calli spat into his hand and he pulled away, disgusted, wiping his hands on her pyjama bottoms.
“You are mankey: you know that, don’t you?”
“Come on, get up if we’re going ghost hunting,” she whispered, standing up and pulling her pyjamas closer around her. The silk was loose on her body and he couldn’t help staring as she adjusted her top.
“If we’re going!” she muttered impatiently, raking a hand through her hair and picking up the torch. Alex rose as well, adjusting his T-shirt and finding his slippers.
Unconsciously, he found himself reaching for her hand as she undid the door and flashed the torch around.
The room was almost perfectly still; the only lights were those streaming in from the high windows and the bulb of Calli’s torch. Both chinks of light threw spooky shadows across the walls, the falling dust making it seem as though it was snowing, even though it was mid-June.
Calli handed Alex the torch and leaned on the banister.
“Off you go.” Her grin was imaginable, even if he couldn’t make out her face.
“What? Can’t I… wont you…?”
“Alex, either we sleep or we search. Whatever. I’ll watch you search from here if you don’t mind - moral support more than literally being there.”
He rolled his eyes and tried to look brave.
“I don’t wanna leave you on your own. If something happens, I don’t want you hurt… I’m still traini-” he saw the expression on her face. “I don’t wanna go on my own,” he conceded, she grinned, and pushed him forward a little way.
“You’ve got the torch. You’ll be fine. Nothing‘ll happen,” she looked away, laughing and flapped her hands to encourage him to move. He looked back at her and grinned stupidly as he started down the stairs.
He took them slowly, making a joke of it at first, then, finding the fear that engulfed him to be overwhelming, he started to creep down the stairs as quietly as he could.
She watched the light of the torch flash around the lower floor, hearing his footsteps creaking around was more of a reassurance than anything else. It didn’t make her scared, she never realised she could be on her own.
There was a crash and a shout as the torch cut out and clattered to the floor. Her hand clenched around the banister, her mind wanting to fight against the sudden darkness. She tried to fight the fear that was coursing through her. It wasn’t working.
“Alex, Alex are you OK?” she refused to let go of the balcony rail as she shouted his name, “Alex!” she jumped out of her skin as there was a groan, “Alex!” In spite of herself, she raced down the stairs and squinted around to find the torch in the darkness, “Alex, what happened?” she said, falling to her knees as she found him and grabbed his arm.
“Alex, are you alright?” she repeated, shaking him to wake him up. He groaned loudly, his eyes fluttering open. “What happened? Where’d the torch go?” she questioned quickly, her heart racing.
“Torch, what torch?”
“Don’t mess about Alex, you know what torch.” she looked up, feeling a pair of eyes upon her. “Who’s there?”
“Cal, Cal, where are you?” it was Alex’s voice, but he was lying in front of her, wasn’t he?
“Alex? Alex? Have you got the torch?” She shouted, “Where are you?”
“Cal, Wake Up!”
She jolted as she felt his hand on her forehead; her head was aching, confusion blurring her vision.
“Cal, babe, you were shouting in your sleep.” he said, not moving his hand, “I knew you should’ve stayed at home, I knew we shouldn’t have come.”
“I’m OK, I’m fine…”
“Give me your hand.” she held it out and felt him take her pulse, “you’re breathing so quickly, it’s small wonder your pulse is racing.”
“You’re on holiday, stop being a doctor for the weekend.”
“You’re my wife. I have to be your hero. What else am I going to do? Let you scream in your sleep? I‘ll never get any shut-eye if I leave you there,” he paused and grinned, finally moving his hand from her forehead to gently touch her cheek, “Why were you screaming? Were you having nightmares again?”
She looked down at the bed at her feet, the bedcovers tucked beneath her legs, stretched out across the mattress. She couldn’t keep it from him, not when those nightmares were the only thing that Alex had ever truly had ‘sleepless nights’ about. Those nightmares had almost destroyed their relationship, hell, the actual event had almost managed to split them up.
“Yeah. It was Wordsley Manor again. It keeps coming back, over and over…” he put his arms around her and squeezed her tight.
“It’s OK, it’s fine, it’s fine - I’m here c’mon. Look, come on… we can just sit here…” she nodded and Alex pulled her across him so she was leaning against him. She pulled her pyjama top across her, closer to her body and grinned.
They spent the next ten minutes in that perfect moment, Alex drawing spirals on Calli’s shoulder with the tips of his finger, neither of them daring to say a word.