The Waiting Room

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Platform Three

“Paul.” This one I do hear.

“Paul.” It’s Paul the white haired man. He is stood over me. “Your chair, it’s arrived,” he gestures to the table with his left hand and offers me his right. I hesitantly take it, but don’t pull on it. Paul looks old and tired.

I walk towards the table, Paul to his desk. The girls have given up on their chairs and are playing on the floor. As I walk over they don’t look up. I smile at the top of their heads.

I turn to see two new chairs. The kind you would see in an old people’s home. Floral patterns of red and yellow roses and birds. They have high straight backs with tall arms to enclose the patient and extra thick cushions to prevent pins and needles.

I sit in the one furthest from the girls play zone. It’s more comfortable than it looks.

The magazine is in front of me, back on the table. I look at it for a few moments before picking it up.

There are five names on its white cover, hand written in red ink.

No pictures.

No titles.

The date is in the top left hand corner, it looks embarrassed to be there. I notice the first two names have the same surname. ‘Lilly’

‘Marie Anne Lilly’ and ‘Rose Lilly’ I say the names under my breath before reading them out loud.

“Marie Anne, Rose?” The twins look up and this time smile. Perhaps because I know their names they don’t see me as a stranger. “My name is Paul,” I say with a smile in return.

“We know,” they reply in unison, they laugh at his. “We went to school with someone named Paul,” said the one closest.

I note that the last sentence was said in the past. They look at me for a response. I feel awkward talking to them unattended.

“How old are you?” I ask, rushed.

“I’m five years two months and three days,” said the closest one confidently. A serious tone resonates through her young voice.

“And I’m five years two months and two and a half days,” said the younger one by half a day, smiling to herself at the accuracy of her age.

I think about asking why they are here without an adult but I thought at being five as not being able to answer that question so I stare at the table, hoping they will turn their attention back to playing. I pick up the magazine and sit back in the chair. The girls continue to play.

I think of my five year old. Thomas. I don’t know his days, or even his months off being six years old. I’m sure if I knew what the date was today then I could work it out. I had a good mind for mathematics. I just needed one figure to work off. In the last six months I had been living off my own calendar, counting down, 5 months, 15 weeks, 89 days, 88 days, 67 days, 50 days, and then one day, tomorrow, today.

I look back at the two girls. They seem in control, alone and happy. I wouldn’t leave Thomas alone like this though. Maybe white robed Paul is their guardian.

I read the next name on the cover under my breath. ‘Maureen Howard.’ As I say her name a small wind ruffles the pages. Again I don’t feel the breeze and no hair on the girls heads moves from it.

I try to open the pages but they are sealed. Not like in a plastic cover, but actually all together, like it’s a flat piece of slate or plank of wood. It’s not very heavy and I’m confused by it. As I turn it over I see white robed Paul walking towards me. His gaze is upon what I’m holding. He reaches out for the magazine with that same smile. The laughter lines at his eyes handsome and friendly. I hand it over, sheepishly, as if being told off by a school teacher. He nods his thanks and takes it from me.

Standing over me he opens the magazine with ease, the pages falling freely over his left arm, he flicks through it. He stops and reads, studying a page. I’m too embarrassed to look up so instead I stare at the girls.

Marie-Anne is clothing her doll in a new blue dress whilst Rose makes tea in a small tea pot. Her doll is sat at a small round table complete with small cups and saucers. Marie-Anne finishes dressing hers and sits her doll down opposite her twin sisters.

Paul closes the magazine and gives it back to me with the smile and walks away. I lay it on my lap, too self conscious to open it so soon. I continue to watch the girls. They don’t talk to each other but instinctively know what the other is going to do. It’s like a mime show.

I look at the magazine cover again. I turn it over and look at the blank white back cover.

I attempt again to open it and it falls open onto an empty white page. I immediately notice the background is the same pattern as the wall paper. Petals are falling from a tree.

As I sift through it towards the back I notice the leaves are moving. I stop the page. The leaves are still. As I turn the page again they continue to flutter down the pages. Like a flick book. The same as they fall from the tree on the walls. I smile at this simple pleasure.

Turning the pages towards the back of the magazine, they are all blank. I close it and hold it up at arm’s length.

Laying it on my lap again I open the front cover. On the first page is a time. Written in exactly the middle of the page, in a child’s handwriting it says 08:12. Turning the page over I’m faced with a photograph of each twin.

Marie-Anne is on the left looking serious, the older one. Rose has a cheeky smile, as if she’s just done something to a pet. With this look you can’t punish her.

A date stamped below states their birthdates, age, weight and date of death.

Before I get chance to take this information in I feel a hand on my left shoulder. Paul is stood above me. I look round to see the girls sat on the chairs, a satchel each at their feet. They are looking at me. The toys have all gone, where I don’t know.

Looking up at Paul I see he is dressed in a black suit, complete with flat cap. A long silver whistle hangs over his shoulders on a thick chain. He pats my shoulder affectionately and walks to the girls.

The yellow glow I had noticed earlier in the distance was now a hundred yards away.

Paul, carrying the two satchels walks behind his desk. He checks his pocket watch against something written in his book. With one more stare in my direction he smiles and walks into the distance, the girls at his feet.

They stop at where the light shines from and as I watch a brighter light appears. A silhouette masked the light. I can make out a tall silhouette of an adult against the brighter light. It then shrinks, kneeling to embrace the children. The huddled group move away toward the light, encompassing it and swallowing its heat. The brighter light fades. The yellow glow fades and Paul is at his desk, dressed again in white. The green lamp shines brighter than ever.

I wanted to ask what happened but instead I turn the page of the magazine still on my lap.

Another time sits centrally in the next page. The style of the writing is written in old English. It looked like it was written with a quill in a shaky hand. The time reads 09:26

Staring back at me are the bright eyes of an elderly lady. She has grey curly hair as if set in rollers this morning and a smile to indicate she is happy to see you. I read the stamp under her picture. Mrs. Maureen Arthur Howard, born 1914, aged 96, height 5ft, the weight had been left blank, I didn’t know why. I read on, date of death...

“Some people say it was twenty years ago.” A voice interrupts my concentration, for a moment I think it’s the picture itself. I’m then startled as a soft hand rests on my arm.

“That’s when my Arthur went,” the face tells me from the page, looking at me with that smile. “Almost to the day,” thinking pause, “if only I’d held on for 18 more days we would have passed on the same day. We were born on the same day you see, people always said we would die on the same day too.” She tells me this practiced line. I suddenly imagine her struggling to the mirror in her bathroom to see her own facial features as she completes it. Then she sighs and leans back in her chair, looking off into the distance, misty eyed ‘and cut’-routine over. I expect she wants a performance review. The chair is the same one as I’m sat in.

“Maureen?” I ask gently, to myself more than to my new neighbour.

“Oh, please call me Maud.” Again the smile and the return of her hand onto my arm. “No-one has called me Maureen for, oh I don’t know how long. Even Paul called me Maud. He didn’t have any of my pie though. Do you want some, apple and rhubarb, you do look hungry, and my Arthur asked me to bring him some. Along with a new jumper, what with all my outings though I didn’t have the time look.” I did look, and I noticed she was knitting. It looked remarkably like a jumper, I could make out an arm, the hole in the neck was very small and a single petal rested on the breast. It looked like it was ready to fit an infant. I didn’t say anything but smiled in return.

“Go on help yourself, Paul isn’t it? Paul did say but I do get confused. I forget my own name some of the time. If people didn’t shout at me I’m sure I would you know. I’ll try to remember love, you’ll have to ask Paul for a plate though, and a fork, come to think of it. They don’t let you bring sharp objects these days do they, or toothpaste. Found that quite odd, I mean what can you do with a tube of Colgate? Oh, I’d like to see that.” She looks off into the distance smiling to herself. She turns back to face me.

“Rob a bank with toothpaste, eh! I know people use bananas but if you’re going to use something out the bathroom, I think a hairdryer would be better, as a weapon, don’t you?” She asks. Not really wanting an answer she continues, “mind you it takes all sorts.”

“Do you know there are no toilets up here?” Maud asks after no silence.

I was starting to get a little annoyed with all the talking. I had never been a good listener. Even what I did hear I never paid much attention to.

I always did the talking, commanding, deciding and demanding.

My kids were good kids. They did what they were told, listened to me when I spoke. I’m reminded now of how I never told them stories. Sure I read to them. ‘Wind in the willows’ ‘Spiderman’ Thomas was even starting to read to me. He had all the Mr. Men books from my mother.

My mother. When was the last time I heard her say anything?

Actually listened?

She had to tell me three times that my dad, her husband, Thomas’s grandfather had cancer. That he would be dead in a few weeks, that he had been having treatment for two years. Two years, and now two weeks to live!

Why hadn’t they told me?

“Oh, we have, many times.” My mother would say brave but tearfully.

“And why didn’t Susan know?” I would demand. Trying angrily to recruit her on to my team

“She did know,” my mum would sigh, continuing as not to offend. “Susan comes by twice a week with the kids. She has done from week one of having Thomas. You are our son Paul, but it has felt that you married into this family rather than that lovely wife of yours. Of course we love you.” She would say before giving me chance to argue, holding my head in both hands. She has to reach up, kissing my chin on tip toe. “You’re just like your father, he only wanted the best for us, just like his father, and unless you change young Thomas will be just the same.” Still now saying the name Thomas gives my mother a lump in her throat.

I had named him thinking it would be in memory, not thinking of the effects it would bear on my parents.

I had heard all this before, or rather I had been told it before, I couldn’t remember listening and hearing myself in those accusations.

I would dutifully mumble a reply that I would change, and my mother would give an unconvincing smile and continue the washing up.

Two weeks!

We left them that day my mother and father. My mother waving from the garden and dad lying in front of the TV in his make shift bed. He looked happy. We had had a good day. He had played with his grand kids, telling Thomas of his own childhood.

We had drunk a good bottle of wine. He had eaten what he loved, although he said the treatment had taken his tongue away. He meant his taste but he liked the joke, and would open his mouth to show Thomas hiding his tongue behind his teeth. Real teeth: a full set of real teeth.

My mother said “It has taken his hearing,” and my dad playing on that would shout, “your mother says it’s taken my hearing,” and we laughed, joked about times passed, about what Thomas wants to be when he grows up, discussed the new family that had moved in two doors down, with their loud music and noisy cars. We had even joked about death, said we would be back tomorrow.

Tomorrow never came for my dad.

Thomas’s grandfather, my mother’s husband.

Mr. Jeffery Thomas Johnson died that evening in front of the 10 o’clock news. My mother rang, saying he hated the news, always depressing, that’s what killed him. He didn’t want to watch that badness that surrounds us all the time, the evil in the world.

The wrongness and injustice, we knew she was talking about the wrongness and injustice of her husband, my father, being taken away, when the minor celebrities on at 10:00pm every night would live on corrupt. She never watched the news again, or TV as far as I knew.

“That’s right love, no more toilets for us, eh!” Maureen revived me from my thoughts. She reminded me of my mother in some ways.

That point in life when you don’t know when you’ll be visited again so you talk continuously. I often wondered if people like that ever stopped, even when they were alone. Did it matter that no-one was there: always talking to stop them from going insane.

Its Maureen’s giggle that eventually brings me back to the now.

I notice opposite us another chair had appeared. A large leather recliner complete with beer cans and bags of crisps. I smile at Maud to show I had heard something and slowly reach out for the magazine to see who would be joining us, but Paul, white robed, white haired, eyes too young for his face Paul, took it for under my hand. With that smile he holds it close to his chest and walks off.

“Lovely man Paul.” remarked Maud quietly, more to herself than to me. She knew I wasn’t listening. I felt guilty that I wasn’t putting into this relationship I now found myself in.

“Shall I get us some plates then?” I asked sounding rather more cheery that I thought I would.

“Yes, that would be lovely. And forks, I’m sure Arthur won’t mind.”

I walk towards the desk. In the distance is the yellow glow I had noticed before. It is small, almost a pin head, but so intense against its completely white background it stood out like a halo.

Approaching the desk I saw Paul’s hands were in exactly the same place as when I arrived. Right hand reaching out scanning the page whilst his left hand holds the pen, poised as if ready to write something.

I noticed three of the names had faded where they had earlier been highlighted. Only two remained. I realised they were the ones written on the magazine. We were excepting two more people today. One soon I guess as the chair was already here.

As I glance along the desk a reflection from the lamp shade caught my eye.

I looked round to see a dresser placed opposite where I stood. I hadn’t notice it before. Had it always been there? I walk over to it and look along its length, it didn’t seem to end.

Stood at its left hand edge as far as I can see, it ran on forever. On top there were rows of side plates, knives, forks and spoons, spoons of all shapes and sizes. It was one of the larger spoons that had caught my attention. It winked at me now as I stand here, staring down at it.

I started to walk along the dresser’s length.

More plates, more knives, more forks, more spoons of every size.

I carry on walking, faster, I’m jogging, I’m now running, and this is silly I think as a big smile creeps across my face, the dresser at my side the whole time. I imagine I’m in a race. I’m wearing red shorts and a white top. Running shoes a size to big. They had been my brothers. I’m in the lead. I can hear the shouts as I gain on the rope across the end of the track. I’m smiling. I look left to see my mother and father, clapping and cheering, I’m over. I’m face down in the grass my shoe is in a rabbit hole. I’ve sprained my ankle.

I feel a hand on my face. I feel my fingers being wrapped into a fist and unwrapped again, I hear Thomas whispering the words to Mr. Tickle very slowly. My eyes are tight shut.

*****

Morphine was once a drug given to alcoholics in the belief it was less of an antisocial addiction. Susan remembers reading about this in class. Being taught how it can become addictive and remembers when she first started learning about all the things in her profession, how scared of them all she was.

Her mind is walking all over the place, racing with all the scenarios in the world, all the consequences, all the horrible sleepless nights that she or her new friend will be having.

She laughs to herself now as she remembers taking some morphine home and her and Paul, her boyfriend then, trying it out for laughs.

Paul’s friends John and Nick would come over too. John was always afraid. Not having put a foot wrong his whole life he didn’t want to start. He would always claim that he wanted to try it but was scared he wouldn’t be able to stop. He would leave the room as we started. Not going far though, he would be our emergency vehicle if needed.

On the other hand Nick would always take a little too much. It got to a point where Susan couldn’t have any herself, in case she was needed to resuscitate Nick. He would claim his tolerance was higher because he smoked so much. After this happened a second time we didn’t invite Nick over.

He went a bit AWOL sometime after this. It was hard to forgive myself thinking that I had helped Nick onto a path of drugs. Paul had reassured me that I hadn’t introduced one of his best friends to a life of narcotics.

But now I am faced with exactly that. The skinny attractive women at the end of our road, was requesting an introduction. The straight laced mother of two wanted out. The only thing she had done wrong was open her legs one too many times, all too easily. She had never smoked. Drank only ever sensibly but was about to undergo a life changing personal battle with herself.

I remember being on the ward when someone had been brought along unconscious from an overdose. It occurs more often than you would care to believe. The family or a group of fellow users always accompany the body.

More people come to see the drama unfold in that small pocket of time than an infant on a long stay in the children’s ward.

It’s frightening, one of the most frightening things on duty.

The silence.

The breath held of all those watching. It can last hours sometimes. Like the whole hospital knows someone’s life is in the balance and if they breathe out too loudly, if they sneeze, if they make any noise, the patient will be no more.

What makes it even worse is the false hope, a half cry of joy in what someone thinks is a glimmer of hope, movement, an eyelid, a hand twitch, a muscle spasm. Like a contagious flu the cry of joy is magnified tenfold by the drama seekers, then like it started it ends, suddenly dropping to silence again, then there is the momentary pause, as if a child was just breathing in to let out a good cry, this length of pause tells you if it was a false hope, or if in fact the cause is lost.

The wailing is uncontrollable and each person takes it personally as if the deceased did it to spite them individually, no one takes the personal thoughts of the dead into account. Everyone has their own account of how it happened and by the time the mourners leave and arrive home the story will have been grown.

Like my own story keeps growing.

I ask myself again ‘What am I doing?’

I was sure that one bottle would be enough for such a light person. But knowing the consequence if one wasn’t enough I had helped myself to a second bottle. Getting hold of it had been easier than I had thought. I didn’t even get questioned being in the labs in my wet rain coat.

The news had spread of my Husband through my co-workers. Derrick the ‘lab rat’ probably thought I was looking for somewhere to rest, somewhere away from the hustle and bustle of the hospital and all its visitors and noise. Derrick the lab attendant is a nerdy simple type. I played along with it, crying into his shoulder.

I sit at Pauls bedside trying to compose myself. Trying to think what he would do. He had been a rebel once, trying everything I could get my hands on. Always knowing when he had had enough.

Would he allow me to help? He would go off the rails if he found out.

I can’t help but think of the two daughters. They had walked hand in hand with Thomas to the door when I had called him from their party. We were the first to leave and the party bags had not been made up. The twin’s mother had insisted that we wait a minute but I had called Thomas regardless.

Finding his coat in the pile at the bottom of the stairs, the girls held on to him as I tried to put his coat around him. They both kissed him good bye and held him that second longer so that their mother could arrange the bags. As the mother handed Thomas his bag of goodies the girls ran back into the room to play with all the other children.

We left sharply to silence.

I suddenly remember shopping with Paul in the local supermarket. I was wearing his boxer shorts and shoes, whilst he wore my pink thong and high heels. We were as high as kites. We had been politely asked to leave by the management. Walking out to a tremendous applause we were only encouraged for further rebellious behaviour.

That never came.

A police investigation of Paul’s flat had found the empty drug bottles. He had never told of how he got them. It had saved Susan from being thrown out of college with a criminal record.

Now he was lying in front of her, where was the justice she thought? Maybe karma worked in mysterious ways.

Susan wasn’t superstitious. Fate took control of her thoughts.

She remembers her father. He would have given the women the morphine in pure daylight.

“If that be her wish, who are we to stand in the way?” He would always turn a question asked into a question of his own. Making you think for yourself, he wouldn’t let you leave until we had discussed all the possibilities.

The questions she had asked her father were trivial to the scale of this one, yet she still hears his soft tones replying the same as if it had been a question about dessert. His voice was soft reassuring and full of confidence.

I had asked him on his death bed, ‘where do dead people go?’ The room was full of his friends and relatives. He had many admirers. All of them were making small talk and paying condolences to my mother. When I asked this question everybody tuned in to hear the answer.

The answer was simple, one I didn’t understand as a young innocent child, but learnt to accept as life took hold of my journey on this planet.

He simply smiled and replied ‘you’ll find out one day won’t you?’ and with a moment’s pause he smiled ‘and we’ll hold hands again.’ With this he took my hand and braved a smile. I could see the tears in his eyes. I can still see the tears in his eyes, and always his smile.

I feel the tears in my own eyes now. I have accepted my husband might have brain damage, may even die.

This thought brings back a certain amount of consciousness as my father’s smile brings me back to the moment.

Nothing has changed in the room.

The machines breathe their own music. The beep beep beep makes me think the whole room is reversing, travelling back in time to the events of this morning. Going back to the breakfast table and pouring coffee.

I hear Thomas talk at the table in my dreams, then realise it is not in my dream. He is showing Jessie a picture in his book. Hearing them laugh brings me back.

I think of Katherine, a grown mother losing her own child, one of the biggest injustices that can ever occur.

‘What if I decide to help my new friend?’

‘Would it tip the balance for my husband’s recovery?’

These questions I need to ask. Who can I ask?

I play with the bottles underneath the lining of my waterproof coat. Slowly turning them against each other like Chinese stress balls.

I wipe a tear that comes to my eye with my free hand. I blink away another and reach for Paul’s hand lying dormant alongside him. “I love you Paul,” whispered and another tear cuffed away.

My children are happy reading and playing. I walk out of the room without looking at them.

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