Tag Archives: hospital

XV

these days are best spent watching in

seated silence, benches placed, rows

angled outside of wards. From here

we can be, look –

-ing through, for the sick to be seen

 

there on their sides, evidence of the human:

footprints and hands by vials of god

while children sleep to ignore insides

 

a hospital, an aching room, these

dishes multiply themselves as walls

sweat slowly on christmas day with

 

lessons learned for all of us


First draft of a second (half a) chapter of Floodlands

Floodlands

 Chapter II

Elsewhere in the hospital, one of the patients was clambering against the chipped plasterboard of the hospital walls. Her hands were a mess; a collection of gnawed chicken joints heaving with gristle and tiny growths, all wrapped in a loose skin of iodine dipped newspaper cuttings, each page telling some old, typical tragedy. She kept her wrists and elbows in contact with the skirting which ran along the floor, and her hair trailed over the warped parquet beneath her knees. She was saying something to herself, reminding her fingers of the rules of a game. The other patients could continue their endless marathons of invisible chess, she would mutter. Her game was the real thing. All she had to do was join herself with the plaster, there were plenty enough holes and gaps, giant stratified spaces where the textures had been chipped away by sharp hips and rubbing wrists. She just had to find the one that would let her in. It couldn’t be far away now… She had almost found it, just a couple of days ago. Her head had been pushed against the underside of a windowframe, and she could feel the heat passed down through the glass and into the whitewash, into her dry cheeks. There had been a space, a small gateway through which she thought she saw two stone heads, an eternity apart… if only she could fit through, she could begin the second stage and move closer to home. All she had to do was contort herself in, and then run, and run and run…

She dipped underneath a woman leaning at a stiff forty-five degree angle against the sides of the room, her feet almost a metre in front of the back of her head. As she jostled against the kneepits of this rigid human ladder, all rungs of ribs and the stink of perspired barbituate, she was overcome with some small sense of ecstacy. Here was a sign, she sighed. The angle, the passing beneath thin thighs, the shadow of another cast perfectly onto her back for a second or two – all such things were symbolic and perfect, part of the plan, the greater game. Two huge faces were waiting for her touch – just a graze with her nails would be enough, and the shape above her now was just like their shape, she could perceive home in this moment. It would be so easy. The feeling washed over her like a euphoria, an ending.

This sensation, however, passed quickly and was certainly not picked up by the other woman, whose gaze was fixed solidly onto the handle of a door in front of her, an old brass grotesque which curled in upon itself in a way which was currently being perceived as both coquettish and threatening. It had been communicating with her and the ghosts of her sisters for the past two and a half hours, and so she barely noticed the awkward shuffling beneath her. A pounding on the tiles and the scrape of broken nails on glass – another patient hurled herself passed them, and they looked up to see a rare sighting of the female lycanthrope on one of her lunar days, running away from sodium lightglares and itching at the lupine hair she could feel scratching away on the inside of her skin. She didn’t even see the other two, and couldn’t hear the muttering which followed our crawling patient as she kept herself pinned to the base of the wall, propelling herself down the corridor by her scabbed and clicking knees. Somewhere, there had to be a gap large enough…

The rest of the corridors were completely empty. Somewhere, a girl was talking. A shaft of sunlight was splitting a room in two, and a hundred pairs of ears sweated together as they listened.

The heat continued in pulsing waves which carried its own passover and madness. The sun was unaware of any women shuffling, staring or shrieking beneath its nauseating influence as it inched its way across the empty sky above the hospital. Unaware, but constantly perceived by both the animate, the inanimate and the insane. Roof tiles retracted, split and fell onto parched ground. The lake waters continued their resigned retreated, and the offspring of the inbred life within flipped and gasped their slowly shrinking limbs on the crackling earth, reducing their own birthing pools to a writhing mass of incest and mucus, of shedding scales and brittle bones. Windows curled in their frames, walls groaned beneath the weight of their own gathered dust and twisting stanchions, and the women clawed at their flaking skin beneath ceiling fans turning uselessly above them. In her wood-lined office, Angela, the clammy, fattened matriach of the hospital, lay back in her seat and fanned herself slowly with gathering of greasy papers clutched in her huge fingers. They were covered in stamps and seals, scribbled on and blackened out, modified and edited to the extent that the original text had been lost some time ago, merely the shadow of the initial intention remained, a handful of consonants beneath half an inch of whitener and blotted ink. The name at the top was untouched, however, and Veronika’s face peered out from a small grey photograph stapled to the corner, her eyes drawn forever to the white borders of the image. Angela coughed, twice, dryly – her lungs were suffering from both the heat and the massive weight of her sticky bosom, and she continued to turn the pages of the old, old book which sat open on her desk. The writing angered her, and each sentence was a stinging slap to her conditioning of rationality, of order and the accepted timestream of the regimes she had devoted her professional life to. What angered her even more, however, was happening a few hundred metres away, down the parched corridors of the hospital and in the leisure sanctum, the humid central room which oversaw the gaping eyes and impossible games. Veronika was speaking, the relative silence, the pause in alarms and running feet detectable from even this distance confirmed this, and Petra, the newcomer, had clearly failed in her initial duties to silence her.

Petra had indeed failed. She had set off after leaving Angela’s office to locate the sedatives she believed she would require, but on arrival at the dispensary room she was met with hundreds upon hundreds of looming and towering shelves; leech jars filled with clear liquids and stoppered with rotting corkwood rattled above the door, racks of test tubes with labels written in the language of the old country – but not her old country – stretched out into the sweaty gloom. To her left were the barbituates, their acrid odour escaping from badly sealed lids, and the opiates were arranged in some impossibly confusing system of potency to her right. The view was dizzying, it stretched on for years, around unseen corners. The bottles reflected what little light there was in thin waves, and most appeared to be empty and clambered with dust and congealed fluid. This task could and should wait, she decided. She sensed that Angela would not care if Veronika had been dosed with enough morphine to stun the entire contents of the lake outside the windows, but even in here, this forgotten institution, some sense of her own decency remained and so the nurse walked to the central area to witness the patient she was supposed to be medicating. She had been listening to Veronika speak directly to her for forty-five minutes now, and her ramblings had been so far fascinating in tone, but ultimately unrailed and unravelled, a yarn which took no direction. There had been references, numerous references to ice, and snow, a fat mother, a wetnurse, but these were intercut with words nobody in the room could understand and long, drawn out moans and moments of stillness and silence. The audience remained rapt and transfixed throughout, and Petra was unable to resist giving her full attention –  any thoughts of sedating this sad-eyed, pallid orator had escaped her completely, as had the memory and fear of chastisement from her superiors. Petra looked around her. Three other matrons were staring dumbly and directly at the new nurse – she simultaneously began to wonder if they could speak at all and  to sense that this lecture was unusual, that her arrival had somehow provoked a shift. She was, for now at least, rendered speechless.

„I never killed a man” Veronika repeated, again staring at the nurse in front of her, eyes unmoving and fingers splayed out before her, a blind girl unaware that she could see. „Anyway, your home is in my book. And I remember every word, if I try. Let me tell you about your town”

 

Somewhere down a wavering corridor, through a set of shivering mirages, Angela turned a page, and checked to see that her door was locked. An echo danced towards her office, it was the sound of Veronika clearing her throat, of a hundred patients listening expectantly.

„Towards the end, a girl disappeared. She packed very little, this they knew, for little was taken from her quarters. An old sealskin bag, a few scarves, possibly some dried meats taken from the end of summer’s shelves somewhere. Her bed was left neatly rearranged, the furs were folded onto each other as was her habit in the mornings, except this was not a morning, no… not this far north. The winter ensures that the mornings never come, not until something is appeased, something is begged for. Only night, occasionally twilight. The herring boats go south each hour, and some of them might glimpse the edges of a new day in the far distance, but they know it will be many months before they can bring one back with them. Still, the birds gather around their masts, screaming their demands and taking their sacrifice. Up there, all is symbol, all is sacred. The ghosts of dead men swim alongside the scraping hulls, exchanging limbs for fins, breath for breath of a different kind. The stars are not stars, rather something quite different. Trees are spoken of in hushed tones, and rarely seen at all.”

Veronika kneeled forwards, and touched her forehead to the floor. Petra moved to stand up, to say something. There was a sensation within her that this was deeply unfair – that she should speak out. That she had heard and lived all this before, and how could a patient interred for seven years so far make these claims? She must have been barely a child upon entry to the hospital, for despite the lines in her face and the patches missing from her scalp, she was surely only in her early twenties. Veronika raised herself again, and once more looked at Petra. The nurse could only look down, and hold her tongue as best she could. „All the time in the world…”, she told herself.

„Morning didn’t come, and there was one who wished it never would. For her past held secrets, and one morning she was afraid she would have to speak them. And secrets can drive even the hardest mind to madness, can make even the strongest legs flee beyond the forests…”

 

Petra stood up. „Stop it”, she said, quietly. „Please, stop saying these things.” A hundred hands flicked away her pleas as the audience returned their eyes to the rocking girl, and behind her, Petra could sense the silent swaying of the matrons, their backs clammy from the glare of the windows.

In her chamber, hidden from the sunlight, Angela was looking over the penultimate chapter of the book she had taken into her collection, seven years ago. She had read it dozens of times before, each time resisting the urge to tear it up, or burn it, or spit on the old ink with the last of the moisture which remained in her mouth. Of all the parts of this text, this section was the most story-like, had some sense of a narrative. Not that any of it made any sense, she thought, as she gripped the sallow and flaking paper in her fingers. The chapter opened with the description of a nurse, a savage sort of nurse in a savage sort of land. All were by now aware of the types of people who dwelled north of the borders, Angela repeated to herself. And all knew what a nurse was, and regimes may rise or fall, but patients need to be kept and silenced – the world must be shielded from the mad and the dying, or at least they must shield themselves from the world. The newly born must be cleansed properly of the bloodshed and the vile fluids which coughed them into existence before being allowed to step into the society which would mould them. Everybody knew this, she said, as she read on. She read to herself aloud:

„The nurse scratched at her worn knuckles. They carried the remainder of the coal dust she had been dabbing on the incisions she’d made on and inside her patient, and it coated her fingertips, leaving a black and irridescent stain over the backs of her hands which now swung crookedly at her sides. “There, there’”, she muttered. “There, there”. A deeply gutteral snarl was emitted from the misshapen form on the ground. Pregnancy within the royal household, way up here in the north, was never an attractive or miraculous process. The ceilings were slick and hanging with the condensation of burnt seal fat, the cadence of winter with its blood and sunless skies were an infection which couldn’t help but crawl its way between the cracks in the blubberlined window frames, and the pulsating belly which carried an heir seemed not so much a symbol of life but a reminder of the inevitability of the struggle to maintain it. Little did all three of them know that a story was approaching fast, pulled by dogs and heralded by a growing fervour amongst the people of the settlement. Still, within this room, a nightmare of its own was unfurling between clawmarked thighs and coalblackened knuckles. The room continued to grimly sweat and gag, and the fires which had burned for hours were reaching their sad zenith as they spat towards their end. The nurse clapped her hands above the hearth, and thousands upon thousands of carbon granules fell to join their source, or ignited for a moment in the heat which still hovered above the embers, falling away, or upwards, or nowhere. Exhausted and resigned, she released a rattling sigh as her knees crackled and rustled with her squatting.”

Angela could hear the words falling from her fleshy lips, and they disgusted her. Here was a tale of an uncultured land, a household unshaped by regime and the changes of regime. A place without the merits of history, without institutions such as hers. Outside, the ivy fell in agreement, its battle with the dry heat coming to a toppling end as it crumbled away from the walls. Not so far away, Veronika was continuing the story, and Petra grew increasingly sickened.  Her soft voice meandered down the corridors, was carried on motes and platelets of dust.

„…It had been a long night, the reeking miasma of burning skin and heather was aching her lungs and her joints were dull and throbbing rhythmically with her old heart. She needed to lie down and continue her efforts in a few hours, of this there was little question, and the stool which numbed her hind quarters groaned in agreement. The patient continued to lie on the piled and matted pelts, a huge, bloated specimen of a woman, belly creaking and undulating on the ground, the imprints of tiny hands and feet within clearly visible, punching and stretching beneath the taut drumskin of a vast stomach. The woman was barely human in this state; she barked and groaned and flopped vastly across the floor, amniotic fluids and blood coagulating on her thighs. A child was coming, and all the nurse could do now was watch as a portent began to spill across the floor…”


Béla

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For Baltic-blooded fingertips and beauty from the snow and rain.

 

 

“I could teach you all the songs of the coal-daughters of Arkhangelsk, if I wished.”

 

She rocked back on her heels, the pale blue smock pooled around her calves as she observed the quick, black eyes of the women watching her. The young patient flexed her bare toes, coughed dryly, and wrapped a stray lock of hair around a forefinger before speaking. Silence filled the room.

 

“I could show you how their hands trace leaf patterns across the breasts of dead men, or how their fingernails chip in the springtime, leaving jagged ridges on mahogany fingers.”

 

She spoke for a very long time, occasionally pulling at her sleeves or wiping a bead of sweat from her eyelashes.

 

“I could show you, if you sat awhile and watched, the dances of the heirs of Vasco Da Gama; those strange contortionist rituals that portray in miniscule rhythmic detail the barefooted footsteps their ancestor walked, from Porto to Calicut, only to be shunned with his bibles and beads so long ago. It’s all here, in my head. I learnt these movements and a thousand more when the wall collapsed ten years ago, when the people of the two cycles started mixing freely, started speaking in one language again after so many generations apart.”

 

With her monologue complete, her offers ignored, the young woman slumped back against the whitewashed wall and returned her gaze to the dry, cracked flooring of the hospital. Her audience of patients muttered among themselves and busied their hands with dog-eared playing cards, with backgammon and knucklebones. The combined clattering of dice and ivory against polished rosewood and ebony produced murmuring vibrations that fluttered through the plastering with inertia, echoing around unfortunate heads and gathering beneath the fingernails of the insane. The wards of Balaton hospital were sweating, clawing with dehydration and maddening closeness. This June had been one of the hottest anybody in Keszthely could remember, the streets shimmered and kicked up dust and motes in hacking vortexes around the slippers of the women; in the distance, Hévízi Gyógy-tó, the great lake of Western Hungary, looked parched and pallid, its dark waters grasping at its own boundaries with cracked tendrils and rasping, lapping breaths.

 

The grey, lumbering matrons of Balaton had begun their rounds, serving out the porridges and pills that made up the diets of the hammocked and straightjacketed women, their heavy feet and lidded eyes avoiding contact with the moaning patients that passed their days in the open cells and old, high fenced gardens in this forgotten corner of the Hungarian lowlands. Their presence was met with wide eyes, incomprehensible babbling, crooked fingers and arched backs; all was routine, all was normality beneath the flat ceiling. All, that is, except for one of the patients; Béla, whose startling lucidity, whose daily lectures and lyrical nonsense caused a sense of unease among even the most hardened matrons. The other patients would gather around her at eleven o’clock each day and sit cross legged, disciplesque, as she spoke her ravings with her soft voice, rocking backwards and forwards on her heels. She would talk for up to an hour each day, reciting half-histories, semi-truths and quasi-myths of when the Hungarian people were Magyar, not Slavic or Soviet; the nomadic central Asian wanderers who settled around the great rivers of Eastern Europe over a thousand years ago. She spoke at length of the man she claimed to be her grandfather; the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, who came to Balatonfǜred in Western Hungary in 1927 and astonished crowds and gathered followers through his eloquent command of the original Indo-European language in the most delicate, almost magical ways. Béla would speak animatedly of the Portuguese explorers who travelled east, of rivers that once encircled the globe, of their connections with the Scythians and Serbs, the Huns and the Tatars, the oldest and noblest of peoples. Once a month, Béla would speak in tongues, in old languages forgotten by all but dry, ancient academics in the dejected libraries of Buda. Occasional words would stumble from her lips, and doctors from Serbia, Slovakia, Croatia and Austria would visit on these days with linguists to record the presence of Sanskrit and Aramaic in her ramblings. For an hour each and every day, Béla was impossible to ignore; she would deliver her impossible sermon, and then spin on her heels and face the chipped walls, sitting in shivering silence for an entire twenty-four hour period before beginning her peculiarity once more. Matrons and nurses who were new to the establishment would discuss her condition with excitement and in hushed tones, comparing her to saintly figures, fakirs and clairvoyants; but after the heavy and dusty miasma of Balaton hospital had entered their bloodstream by a process of relentless repetition and droning osmosis, they would become content to simply join the humming masses that gathered around her at eleven o’clock each day, and listen with their jaded ears to the mysteries that poured forth from her thin and emaciated lips.

 

                                                *                      *                      *

 

Petra was relatively new to Balaton hospital. She had studied for her nursing qualification in a small college in the region of Transdanubia, and had accepted the position of medicine distributor at the hospital soon afterwards. To her, Keszthely seemed much like the other small towns of Hungary, the same fields and peddlers and strangely positive contradiction of the soviet hangover that was evident throughout the country, contrasting heavily with the burgeoning tourist trade of Budapest that many were claiming to be a second golden age for the city (only this time attracting not the prodigious sons of great artists and composers but plane-loads of testosterone fuelled stag parties). Keszthely had its own vibrancy, brought about by location and the adaptability of its denizens. Religion was seeping back into the lives of the formerly repressed, and the sweltering heat of the summer had spread a little panic among the farming communities that stretched away from the bays and the great lakes. Despite the new changes and the flurrying of the field-masters, the outside world apparently ceases to exist the moment one steps through the iron gates of Balaton hospital for women of mental disturbance.

 

Petra’s first week of work had frightened her; despite her training and respectful, courteous disposition, she found herself unable to deny the nightmarish quality of the cells, the eerie looming presence of the electro-shock therapy wing and the coasting beds with shackles rusted onto their fenders. She would walk silently through the linoleum corridors, handing out rainbows of capsules to each of the lank-haired, sad eyed women who swayed in the mildewed doorways and stared at their feet. The hospital was filthy; there was no possible way to ignore the fact that Balaton was a decrepit, crumbling mass that posed as a healthcare establishment. The asylum was a relic of a unenlightened age, forgotten by agents of sanitary standardisation and largely ignored by local authorities; the water system was infested with flukes and flatworms, the chipped, cracked plaster walls housed innumerable many-legged creatures and lice were a constant source of irritation, raised welts on the scalps of the patients were routinely lanced and daubed with iodine, with no thought given to the route of the cankers themselves.

 

Petra first heard Béla’s name mentioned on her second morning of work, after walking into one of the many dank and heaving administrative offices that were situated near the gatehouse. Angela, the hospitals head matron, was shouting down an old, ivory coloured telephone to somebody, her fat hands slamming repeatedly with frustration onto a mahogany table, scattering biros and sample pots, ring binders and flow charts. Over and over again, the obese matriarch of the asylum was fumingly reiterating that one of the patients, Béla, was not to be released from her course of medication for at least another seven years; that her condition had shown no signs of improvement and that her lying had become pathological, obsessive and damaging to the other patients. Somebody was giving her books, she said. Somebody had to be giving her history books, encyclopaedias, poetry and classical works; somebody was attempting to usurp the authority of the sisters on the ward. There was no possible way that a disgusting urchin like Béla, a disgraced, clinically insane and potentially dangerous girl from the mountains could have access to the vocabulary, let alone the information that she spouted each morning, and that the conspirers would be crushed. The sweat pouring from Angela’s rage-contorted face was running from the mouthpiece of the telephone as she repeated herself over and over again to the receiver, anger rippling through the fat on her arms as she gesticulated wildly and slapped away nurses who were milling around her with papers to sign and slips to authorise. After an almost identical occurrence a few days later, Petra left the office and walked hurriedly to the bland-walled communal area of the hospital where the clicking of knucklebones and slamming of backgammon chips could be heard ricocheting off the stones, drowning out the ever present humming and moaning of women, alone behind doors. It was two minutes to eleven, and silence was falling like pebbles in a barrel as the patients took their places, sitting cross legged in a semi-circle around a crouched, small female figure hunched against the far wall.

 

“We are called Balkan, but we are not Balkan. We are called Slavs, but never were we Slavic. Our people originated far beyond the borders of these fractured states, our forefathers wandered the Siberian foothills, the Thar desert of Rajasthan, the banks of the mighty Volga – of which the Danube that laps at our feet is a mere devotee, a weeping tributary – once rang with the songs of the Magyar, and were pounded into shape with the dances of the women who led the people across the continent.” Béla paused in her oration and looked up at Petra, her face frozen as if possessed. A hum, a deep vibration started somewhere in the depths of her lungs and tricked from the speakers lips, seeming to pierce the listeners’ skin and invoke a trance-like aura in the dust-flecked air. A breath, deep and purposeful, and then the sermon continued, as Petra found herself sitting on the uneven stone floor. “Your grandparents, the people of Keszthely at the beginning of the twentieth century, they thought Rabindranath Tagore was a foreigner, a man of exotic virtue and eastern mystery. They saw his words as undecipherable poetry and hailed him as a poet, an oddity, albeit a much loved one. Indeed, isn’t there a promenade alongside the springs at Gyógy Tér that bears his name? Your forefathers accepted his presence when so many people of these states would not, and yet they never realised why. My grandfather was of the same blood as yours, he danced the same dances and supped at the same waters, his bloodline stretches back from the forests of Bengal to the very cradle of Indo-Europe and his people, my people, your people are one and the same.” A pause allowed Petra to break her gaze from Béla’s rocking form, and she saw the patients of Balaton hospital silent, rapt, sitting meditatively around this medical curiosity who was incapable of conversation and showed signs of distress and terror at the smallest movements, at any confrontation, and yet for one hour a day accepted the mantle of messiah for the mentally unsound. Petra pulled a notepad from her uniform and began to take notes, but a hand appeared on hers and gently, almost reverently removed the item from her grasp. The patient, who placed the paper on the ground, looked up at Petra and simply shook her head and gestured towards Béla, who was drawing another deep breath and preparing to speak once more. The nurse complied, put away her pen and returned her gaze to the speaker.

 

“Walls came down a decade ago. Walls came down, and language changed; we all began to speak alike. This was the first part of the greatest change that is yet to fully manifest, the circle of generational difference is approaching completeness, almost a thousand years since the Magyar settled on the Danube. Walls came down, and they call us mad, call us by races and creeds we do not recognise, do not need. Not Balkan. Not Slavic. I can show you the dances that were revered by the wolf runners of Schwartzwald, the songs that were sung to greet the apostles on the cape of India. The Carthaginians were young and weak when our tongues were raising mountains, and giant men still walked on Albion when the Magyar stood at their finest.” Béla shut her eyes, turned on her heels and faced the wall, as if she were a figure mounted on the great clock on the town hall at Pécs, clock-work, operated by tiny golden cogs from Switzerland, awoken at the eleventh hour by a single penny falling into place. The room awoke from its trance, and clattering, humming, moaning and the pitter-patter of bare feet on cracked floor filled the dry and choking air.

 

Petra stood up, smoothed her overalls and walked over to the now silent woman who faced the corner of the room. She was, she reasoned, only a few years younger than this patient, who could not have been much older than twenty-five. Her file stated that this was her tenth year within Balaton – she must have been little more than a child when she was brought here; the other nurses spoke of how she was found wandering the streets of Keszthely, babbling incomprehensively and scratching pictograms into any flat surface she could get her hands on. There were rumours that Angela was terrified of her, that Béla somehow used to walk into the locked bedroom of the head matron’s quarters in the dead of night and stand at the foot of the bed, whispering and staring at the sleeping bulk of the nurse until she would wake in a cold sweat and scream at the teenage girl, beating her with her fat forearms.

 

Béla visibly stiffened as Petra approached her from behind, her body trembling and hunching closely into a foetal position. The nurse stepped back; painfully aware of the intense and distressing effect her presence was having upon this patient. Could what Angela had said be true? Was a nurse supplying a patient with books and knowledge? The idea was impossible; nobody could even approach this woman, let alone converse with her or exchange items. Petra hung her head and walked away from the shaking ball of nervous murmuring that filled the corner of the communal room, resigning herself to the same curious apathy that possessed her colleagues in the face of an apparent miracle.

 

The sun continued to beat down on the town of Keszthely as the pills and porridge were ladled into identical receptacles, and many more days passed with many similar sermons delivered by the young woman, interrupted by only one hour of nonsensical babbling, the sincerity of which passed a chill through the hearts of all that heard it – here was language in its rawest, wildest state, pure, untamed and meta-expressive in its roundness, its seeming oldness and the disquieting calm of its delivery. The apathy towards Béla that had taken root in Petra was momentarily dislodged as the hour drew to a close, and as the girl turned on her heels to face the wall as she had done at noon each day for ten years and eighty days, the nurse sat beside her and faced the plaster in the manner of the patient. Petra shut her eyes, pulled herself into a ball and mimicked Béla’s pose, remaining that way in silence for a long time, her thoughts turning inward. It felt to the young nurse as though years had passed since her days studying nursing in Transdanubia, since the passion to help and heal had first driven her in the direction of hospital employment. This asylum was a dying institution; that was assured. Béla was its youngest patient by far, and no new patients had been admitted since her arrival. When would its doors be closed for the last time? Would they have to wait until the last of the women had faded, rattling breath in plaster-dust and porridge, before putting the building to rest? Petra could feel the pen in her breast pocket pushing hard against stomach – her torso was contracted with her foetal positioning – and she was growing uncomfortable. As she placed her hands on the ground to help her stand up, a soft voice emerged from the woman to her left, coming from Béla’s mouth, but sounding remarkably different from the faraway, assured orators tone that she usually carried. This was a gentle voice, a friendly voice without the edge of darkened sincerity it carried less than an hour before “It isn’t true what they say about me, you know”. Her head turned, and Petra saw the dark eyes of the patient look into her own, a smile playing on her lips. “I never wandered the streets of Keszthely, speaking in tongues and running with dogs. I wasn’t brought to this hospital by anyone but myself. I have a job to do, I do it well, and I am almost done.” No more was said, and the nurse nodded her head, stood up, and returned to her sleeping quarters to take her lunch, to prepare herself for the afternoon’s duties.

 

It was on the eleventh hour of the day that followed that the first rain came to Keszthely. Silence had once again filled the communal hall of Balaton, and silence continued for an entire hour. Béla was nowhere to be seen, and her audience sat in respectful, tranquil anticipation until noon, at which point they dealt their dog-eared playing cards and shook their dice in the cups and resumed their humming and moaning and bickering. The same thing occurred the next day, and the one after that, as the rain drummed hard on the flat roof above them and the head matron locked herself in her study. One by one, the nurses walked to the corner of the room and ran their fingers over the space of flooring once occupied by the youngest, the last of Balaton Hospital’s patients, a space where the stone was smooth and glossy amongst the rough, uneven surface that surrounded it, and bore the imprints of two small feet.


Parts and Parcels

There is much, much more of this to come and I’m going to try and stick with it this time, instead of writing a beginning and losing faith like I normally do. Many thanks go to the lovely, if slightly perverse denizens of The Choke for their myriad childhood stories involving impossible memories, it was massively appreciated. Benjiva EDIT 13/08/08: Instead of creating a new post for this story every day, I have simply been updating this original post and extending what has been written, as I think serialising this story will confuse both myself, and you also, gentle reader. So don’t accuse me of not writing something every day as promised…I am! I have no idea what this story is about yet. Some sort of Gnostic parable I think. Anyway, keep reading, its going to get good soon.

EDIT 21-aug-2008 This is still a work in progress! Keep checking to read the next installment.

Memories are hitting me in the face like bricks, spraying bitter dust through my hair and raising vicious welts under my eyes. How did I get here?

I can remember… I remember some sort of impact, a sharp pain and immense weight crushing the side of my body. I remember seeing the street from a strange angle, feeling like an insect looking down at the world from the underside of some roof guttering, and then feeling weightlessness as I flew, free from my body for a few brief seconds before hitting the puddled concrete like a collapsing pillar dragging down the temple walls. I remember tasting rainwater, tar, then blood and what felt like death on my tongue. I remember seeing the paint on the house above me, in minute, incredible detail (every crack in the brushwork, each microscopic growth of lichen and mould) for half a second. Then red. Then black. Then white.

There had been some sort of an accident, and I had been hurt. I cannot tell how long I have been asleep for… I cannot tell if I am still asleep. I feel no pain, apart from the dull aching at the back of my eyeballs when I attempt to let some light into my head. Quickly forcing my eyelids open, I brace myself for more stabbing agonies and confusion, but they do not come. I see… I see that I am in a dark room, on a bed, in a hospital ward. The mattress beneath my bare thighs is rubbery to touch, the ever-present antiseptic green and mouthwash pink are easily distinguishable even in this dull gloom. I shiver involuntarily as a draught hits my body, and I notice just how thin I have become; ribs jutting forward out of my chest, arms looking like nothing more than pathetic mechanical offcuts, emaciated pistons for a broken engine. I study my hands; they are clean, and softer than I remember them being. My hands look good.

“Hello?” I call into the room. My voice sounds bizarre; it takes me a couple of seconds to realise why; If I have been asleep for as long as I suspect, I’ve simply become so used to only hearing the voice inside my head, my dream monologues, my everyday commentary. No one replies, but through the window I can hear the drone of traffic (this affirms I am not back in London, thank god. London has its own steady, indeterminable hum all of its own, once heard, never quite forgotten), the swishing of tyres against miles of wet tarmac. Snaking its way through the pounding of rubber on concrete, a melody is being carried on a penny whistle, some sweet flute battling to be heard in the miasma of the urban. I try to sit up, to no avail. My arm is bound on one side, and I cannot feel it. The other arm has a sickening mess of tubes coming out of it, clambering for attention into my veins and being vomited out of a clean slit above my wrist. My finger traces the route of one such pipe to a box with a button on it, labelled ‘morphine’, which I press, and return to a painless, heavy, poppyfield-filled sleep.

This time I dream, and I dream well. I am walking home, whistling, dodging cracked eggshells that spread around my feet, and the clouds of moths that form around my head and then disperse, like starlings massing in the autumn or a shoal of fish confounding a predator. My attention is dragged to a drain that lies a few feet ahead of me, and I watch, transfixed, hypnotised, as a line of ants emerges one by one and begins a harshly synchronised, regimented march down the road towards my home. I find myself unable to do anything but walk in time with them, my heavy footfalls matching their millions of legs striking the soil, which has become soft and lush and green. I am staring at my feet, staring at the disappearing road beneath them, and it is only a matter of seconds before I am outside my door fumbling for my keys like I do every single day. As I push metal through metal and begin to twist this tiny knife, my eye darts to the side and sees a vivid orange splash on the outer wall of my house. A painting has appeared in the past few seconds, the paint is still wet, and it runs along the cracks and drips onto windowsills and awnings. An enormous man (or woman) adorns the entire side of the building, his/her body split down the middle, with snakes stretching either side into the huge gaping hands that govern them. The legs are muscular, sinewy. A gash splits the figures in two, separating and blending the sexes, and this laceration is an appalling, hungry red that… that becomes something else if you tilt your head to one side. I shift my perspective slightly, step back and quickly realise what I thought was a space between the separating bodies is merely a crest on a rooster, and the serpents are feathers, the head an egg. The painting suddenly looks nothing like an androgyne holding two snakes, and I laugh at myself for thinking that it ever did, for not seeing that what I had thought was highly detailed leg muscle is merely reflections falling off of irridescent feathers.  Looking now, It is quite clearly a fowl being born from an egg, fully grown and stretching its wings to a rising sun. Symbols surround the beak that hangs open, and, as I blink I see the double figure once again, before it disappears. Still laughing quietly to myself, I turn back to the front door and fall over a man curled up on the doorstep, asleep at my feet. A breif moment of panic as I feel myself weightless once again, waiting for the agony of impact and the blackout, but it does not come. I merely stumble like a fool, with legs like misshapen paper-clips before landing numbly on my knees next to his head.

The man is old, and his beard is long, woven in plaits and filled with moss and snail shells. As he untangles himself from his foetal position, I see that he is clothed almost entirely in old velvets, a patchwork menagerie of antique fabrics swaddle his form. Looking up at me, he lets loose a thick, heavy cough, and then stands up so quickly I step backwards in fear and surprise. Flies swarm in his eyes, and my view is briefly blanketed by the moths that have returned to dance around my face, billowing inwards and outwards, the dust on their wings falling onto my lips and eyelashes. The man, now standing tall on my doorstep grabs my shoulders firmly, opens his mouth with its cracked lips and gold dust and shouts, screams one word whilst his gaze fixes me to the wall.

“ABRAXAS!”

I wake up suddenly, and harsh, grey light is pouring through the window onto my bed. My eyes ache with dehydration, and the tangled tubes and wires spilling over my fingertips have numbed my arm, and as the blood returns to my weakened veins, the heat and heaviness slightly sickens me as the word ‘Abraxas’ continues to echo inside my head. Rolling onto my side to get a better view of the room I find myself in, I see a row of beds identical to mine stretching in an unbroken line. They are all empty, apart from mine, and one other.

The boy has his back to me, and is breathing with a low, thin rattle that sounds painful. I watch him turn his body onto its side in a complicated series of shuffles, and pull the over-starched sheets down below his chest, so they fold and wrap and bundle around his waist, covering his small legs and feet. He can’t be any older than ten or eleven. I wonder what is wrong with him, why he would be placed in this empty ward, this empty hospital, with me. Whilst his eyes remain closed, I study him carefully. The boy’s skin is black, a deep, intense, jet black that would look magnificent if it weren’t for the greyish pallor his illness or condition was obviously forcing onto his body. There must be a fascinating story behind his parentage, his family tree must circumnambulate the earth; for his face held traces of many different ethnicities, a global melting pot forced into two eyes, a nose and a mouth. A cough suddenly erupts from the bottom of his lungs, and his chin is thrust upwards while his eyes remain shut. I watch his upper body rack itself and contort in his sleep, and I see that his throat is a startling blueish-violet colour, so clear against the black I momentarily doubt my senses. But no, there it is again; this unlikely hue stains the front of his neck, a solid, bruising streak tracing its way from his chin, down his oesophagus to his clavicle. I feel unkind for staring, and try to distract my eyes from this bizarre marking. I look down toward his feet, and see that one of them is turned inwards at am agonising looking angle, and has many flies busying themselves on it. Another harsh, dry sounding cough, and the boys eyes spring open and fix immediately on mine. I quickly shut them, ashamed, and pretend to be asleep.More hacking and spluttering burns dryly from the child’s pigmented throat, and then the coughing ceases, and the boy returns to his restful, rattling slumber.

I think I have fallen asleep again, I cannot tell for sure. Asleep or not, I am beginning to grow concerned about the numbness in most of my body, the amount of time that has passed since I entered the hospital, who had brought me here and what had happened. If I could move (which I cannot), I would get up, enquire as to what is going on. The morphine has thankfully killed my appetite, and some contraption and another assortment of tubes is apparantly making sure I do not die of thirst (despite my mouth being dry and cracked), but surely soon I will be brought food, water, an explanation? Perhaps I have been forgotten. Perhaps something catastrophic has happened, the outside world is changed completely, and I am alone, with this child, trapped in a sunlit cell. Perhaps only a few hours have passed since the accident, and I am delirious from medication. Or in a coma.

Nonetheless, I look up to see the child sitting crosslegged, his gaze falling onto my frame. I look back at him, and he has none of my foolish shame, he does not look away.

“My name is Chris. I was here when you arrived, and I will be here when you are gone. You have been in that bed, grunting and moaning for a week now. They fixed you. You were a mess.” His tone is alarming frank, his voice high in pitch, innocent and adrogynous as any other child’s.

“What happened to me?” I ask, quietly. My vision is beginning to blur again slightly, the wings of the moths are dancing at the peripheries of my vision.

“You fell.”

“I was… I was asleep. I had so many dreams; I can’t even tell if I’m still dreaming now. This is such a confusing place…I don’t understand why I haven’t seen anybody else, I mean, where are the doctors? Who is tending to me? Who is going to feed me?”

The boy blinks once, slowly. Purposefully. He lifts his hands to his head and teases a finger through his matted, black hair, and smiles at me.

“The staff here have done their job for now. I watched them; they worked solidly for over a day to keep you breathing. They set up the machine to keep you alive and to feed you. They gave you this bed, next to the window, and they gave you the drugs to dull the bruising, to help you sleep.”

I am frustrated, and I start shouting.

“And how long will I have to lie here? How long will I have to go without food for? I need to speak to someone who knows what is going on.”

The child is clearly upset, offended. He uncrosses his legs and turns over to sleep, again flashing me the strange colour on his throat as he lets loose another long run of spluttering coughs. My tirade has exhausted me, and I lie back awkwardly, the opiate numbness and crooked joints causing me difficulty in finding a comfortable position. I hear Chris’s voice escape from beneath the sheet he has pulled over his face.

“You complain about lack of food, and yet are you even hungry?”

 

 

 

 

 


Augment

I’ll write more of this tomorrow, too tired tonight EDIT 13/08/08 I know this isn’t a particularly good or interesting entry, but I wanted to start writing a story that takes place in a hospital ward (see the entry from 12/08/08 ‘Parts and Parcels’) and thought I should have some practice in writing about a medical situation. That doesn’t really excuse this weak and pointless descriptive writing exercise, but such things are what I started this blog for…

I lean backwards, my head coming to rest on a shiny, plastic pillow. Breathing deeply, I take in the surroundings; walls painted that disquieting antiseptic blue, vicious looking scalpels, hungry blades with edges so thin as to cause no pain as they slice through skin and muscle, fat and matter. The bed beneath my bare thighs is cold, but I know soon the plastic will grow sticky and humid beneath the inside of my knees.
I never know what to do with my arms. To leave them hanging over the side would look morbid, they would swing like dead rushes beneath me, but I cannot cross them over my chest, nor do I have room to hold them close to my ribs. I cannot worry about such matters; the light has been switched on over my face, and the white, surgical glow blinds me momentarily. Grey and purple motes swim in my retina, and for the first time today I feel a heavy rush of nausea, rising in my stomach like an ecstatic glow, a sickening vibration.
A few muttered words, and the mask slips over my nose and mouth. A cold, metallic taste is breathed in deeply, and I can feel it spread out around my body, down each vein, into each tiny capillary. I cannot move my consciousness away from my lungs, my chest. It’s as if I have never really known how to breathe before, have never paid the slightest bit of attention to this most basic of functions for existence. I cannot help but be strangely aware of every muscle contracting and relaxing, forever in the solid, steady rhythm I have carried my entire life. In, out.
I am told to count down from ten, and already I can feel the anaesthetic falling into me. I am nothing but a tiny pendulum in an enormous clock tower, run on a complex series of minute cogs, all turning away from each other. The tension of springs has loosened each second since my birth, gradually eroding until one day, I know, there will be no tightness, no release. The elasticity can only stretch so far before it falls, limp and lifeless as a dead polymer pulled from a tube. The pendulum was swinging furiously with clockwork adrenaline, and now it slows, each zenith is agonising in its descent, pulling my eyelids over my face like sodden blankets, like mud.
The swinging ceases, and I sleep.