You Are Not Alone

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You are not alone

 The old lady lay crumpled in her hospital bed.  Her neck bent forward, the tip of her nose almost resting on the swing-across table.  All she’d had was a bite of her sandwich before nodding off.

Someone came and took the sandwich away.  The old lady didn’t notice, she continued to sleep.

Visitors came, gathered around beds, laughed and joked, ate chocolates, fetched and carried for their loved ones.

The old lady roused herself, fluffy white hair dishevelled on her shrunken skull, her eyes made a weary survey of the ward, barely able to keep them open her head slumped forward again.

A son reached forward to kiss his mother’s cheek, a niece held a cup to her aunt’s lips, a daughter tucked a fresh nightie into her mother’s bedside cupboard, a grandchild pushed a lovingly scrawled picture beneath his grandma’s nose.

A plump woman in a grey uniform called out to the old lady.  “Cup of tea?”

Her red eyes opened, she nodded and smiled.

“Sugar?”

The old lady smiled the same smile.

Visitors noted the time on the large clock on the wall at the end of the ward, gathered carrier bags, kissed cheeks, promised to be back soon and departed.

The old lady watched them go.  Her head slumped to one side, her mouth fell open showing a few yellowed teeth.

Time passed.

The curtain swished shut around her bed, she woke to see two doctors standing by her side.  The older of the two men gave her a bright cheery smile.  “Hello Mrs Abbott, how are you today?”

The old lady’s eyes stared at him, unseeingly.  “Alright.”

“Jolly good.  Can we examine you?”

A short while later the curtains swished open and the men marched away.

Teatime came.  The old lady opened her eyes to see a bowl of soup steaming on the swing-across table.  She lifted her hand from beneath the covers, sought out the spoon placed next to the bowl, dipped it into the soup, raised the spoon and tried to deliver the soup to her mouth.  Her shaky hand spilt orange liquid all over the bedcovers.  She stared at the mess a moment, put the spoon back on the table and shut her eyes.

The old lady heard the footsteps of visitors arriving, their voices noisy and friendly.  She heard other patients calling out ‘hello’ in greeting.  She opened her eyes, the soup had gone, only stains on her nightdress remained.  For a while she watched as the visitors sat on the beds of the patients, played word games, brushed hair, stroked hands, wiped lips.

The nurse came.  “Just need to check your blood pressure Edie.”

Edie held out a bruised arm.

“You got any children Edie?”

Edie shook her head.

Night fell.

The visitors left, blowing kisses, waving, promising to return.

At eleven the lights went out.  The ward lit only by the white lights in the corridor. Edie sat herself up a bit and started to fiddle with her hands, her lips moved and her brow creased with concentration.  Her fingers looped imaginary thread through imaginary material.  She murmured to herself.

As the sun rose and flickered through the blinds, Edie fell back to slumber.  Someone slapped a bowl of cornflakes swimming in milk onto the swing-across table.  Edie briefly opened her eyes and groaned.  A few minutes later her fingers reached for the spoon, dipped it into the bowl, lifted it to her mouth.  The spoon grazed her cheek spilling milk and golden flakes of corn down her chin.  She chewed at nothing for a while, then tried again only to gain the same result.

“You need any help Edie?”  A nurse stood at the end of her bed.

Edie smiled.  The nurse left, promising she’d be back ‘in a minute’ to help Edie.

Twenty minutes passed.  Edie fell asleep.  The bowl disappeared. The nurse had been distracted by someone ‘needing the loo.’

The morning passed in a haze.  People staggered by Edie’s bed on sticks, nurses took blood, dispensed pills, wheeled people to the bathroom, wrote on files.

At lunchtime a plate of roast chicken with vegetables and a glass of orange juice were placed on the swing-across table.  Edie opened her eyes.  She liked chicken.  She gathered up the knife and fork and tried to cut into the white meat.  Her arms felt weak, her wrists flopped down, her fingers ached with effort.  The knife dropped into the gravy splashing it over her nightdress and onto the blanket.  Edie groaned.  She lay down the knife and fork and picked up a carrot between her forefinger and thumb and tried to shove it between her lips.  She chewed for a bit then nodded off.

When Edie woke up, the plate of roast chicken had gone and a mound of red jelly flanked by bright yellow custard had taken its place.  Edie reached for the spoon, lifted it into the bowl, pushed the jelly around, then gave up as weariness overtook her.

The visitors woke her up.  A child screamed for its toy, a woman with a loud voice laughed hysterically at a man telling jokes.  Teenagers nodded their heads, white blobs stuck in their earholes.

Through the window, Edie could see grey swathes of rain.  Her lips trembled and she began to cry.  Lightening ripped open a gash in the greyness; the white light followed by a massive rumble.  The visitors stared through the window too.  Edie cried harder.

One of the visitors noticed Edie crying and came over.  “Hey, don’t be afraid, it’s only thunder.”

Edie stared at the unknown face a moment.  “Is there thunder?”

“Oh,” said the visitor, “I thought you were crying because of the thunder.  What’s the matter?”

Edie shook her head, “I don’t know where I’m going to stay tonight.”

The visitor thought for a moment.  “You’re safe, you’re in hospital, you have people all around you.  You are not alone, don’t be afraid.”

Edie nodded her head but still tears rolled down her face.

 

Short story by Petra Kidd © 2013

Also by Petra Kidd

The Eight of Swords

The Putsi

What Lurks Beneath

Author: Petra Kidd

Norfolk UK is my home, I live in Norwich by the River Wensum where everyday there is something different to see and learn. I feel a big affinity with the river as I grew up in Cambridge, another great river city. My childhood and teens involved many walks along the Cam where we would watch 'The Bumps,' raft races and as we grew older we enjoyed adventures on our punting pub crawls. Growing up in a multi cultural university city definitely influenced my reading choices, I am a big fan of Japanese fiction, love French literature and enjoy Shakespeare. As a young teen I entertained myself with Jilly Cooper and Dick Francis and then became quite obsessed with Henri Charriere's Papillon. At school all I cared about was English, Art and French, in that exact order. When I finished with school I went to live and work in Greece for a wonderful year before returning to study English Literature and Sociology. At this point I read more classics like the Wyf of Bath, Wuthering Heights and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man plus poets such as Wilfred Owen. My first UK full time job was with Heffer's Paperbacks where I devoured several books at a time, excited by the fact I could borrow what I liked. Bizarrely for me I remember reading The Zurich Axioms, I have no interest in the stock markets but it had me gripped. I can't remember why I picked it up but I have never forgotten it. Heffers introduced me to so many authors, via their books and sometimes in person. It was here I learned about all the genres, it fascinated me that science fiction and horror were so popular, I tried reading it all. Aside from writing letters, it didn't really ever occur to me to write anything myself for many years as I worked my way through a variety of interesting and varied jobs. Then on a visit to the London Aquarium I became struck by an idea so powerful I sat down and wrote my first novel. It went nowhere as really I wrote it because I wanted to. I wrote another novel and again, didn't have the persistance or determination to take it further, I simply enjoyed the process of writing and my characters. Then years later another idea struck me and during a severe bout of Pleurisy where I couldn't do anything physical for months, I wrote the Eight of Swords and The Putsi. This time I published them as ebooks and they became pretty popular. When I fully recovered, I had to concentrate on my business and looking after my mother who has various health issues and the writing went adrift again for many years until 2020 when the Coronavirus pandemic hit the world. March 2020 I moved to my apartment alongside the Wensum to live alone for the first time ever. During the first lockdown I began to write a diary and then the idea for a new set of short stories came to me and in February 2021 they will be published. The Covid-19 Pandemic is not simply a scary virus, it is a historical time and here we are trying to live through it. To many it will feel like a punishment but to me as a writer, in some ways, it came as a gift. Please stay as safe and as well as you can. I hope to entertain you with my stories as we all try to get through this together, even though we are apart. Petra

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