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.
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.
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.
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
What Lurks Beneath