A bell rings. As if suddenly startled back into an on-going moment from his dream, Toby feels the surge of adrenaline sending his pounding chest into a fury, as he recalls he is in the middle of being robbed, again. What had him so distracted, he astonishes himself for allowing such a sheen of vulnerability to envelop him in a moment which requires the utmost attention. The immediate urgency of his situation regains supremacy of his immediate thoughts, naturally, yet the undercurrent of his mind smothers in a self- scolding pit of shame and anxiety, for what does it imply for one’s mind to slip away this easily?
He feels stubborn in his own self reassurance; ‘It never used to be like this, life has never taken so much effort to reign into focus before. The film reel of his life memories suggest nothing of having been anything other than sharp and responsive to circumstances, in fact he recalls been renowned for his quickness of mind, others would remark; ‘Toby’ll be right in there with his counter-strategies before the enemy even knows what they’re planning!’. So, when did this suddenly become a legend of his own reflection, rather than something taken for granted and thus never missed so urgently before?
But right now the musing was merely background music. The charcoal dusted fist of his assailant clenched dry and knotted into a twist which made it look like the man was holding two huge lumps of rugged coal in his hands, ready to smash them together into a flammable gong.
As for the robber, he existed and acted in man’s state of nature- the nasty, the brutish and the short, was in the driving seat. To cut to the chase, Toby knew that his opponent was catatonic enough to forget who he, and everyone else meant. What morality was worth. So indeed, the stranger made his moves towards knocking Toby to the ground (he missed), in pursuit of coin, drink, self-preservation and escape.
What could Toby realistically be expected to do? He retaliated, struck dumb by his own flash of red fury which anonymised the ‘fellow man’ before him. He struck out, punched and kicked and throttled. In sheer self-defence; immeasurably guilty yet locked into blind fury. Auto pilot.
Slam. Through a sheen, thick as a hospital curtain, Toby hit hard and cracked knuckles against the blindfolded skull of his attacker. It had been a stunning strike. Adrenaline fuelled, and knuckles resonating from the impact, Toby found darkness, and it swallowed him like a Slag landslide from the hilltops of the valleys.
All was black. But then it was sharp white, blue, beige. There was an incessant ringing in Toby’s ears- maybe from the adrenaline, the slap. Flashes of street lamp Orange hounded his peripheral vision, blinking into his eyes sporadically as though having just being lit, at the beginning of an evening. That indecisive period of the street blinkers- as though reluctant to rise from a daytime of slumber, ready for the night shift which lay ahead.
There were patients up and out of bed everywhere. Our nurse was tending to one of the three out of a possible ten bays allocated to her care that night, and all eight in this bay were up; demented by condition and frenzied by confusion and a full moon. It was about 5am, ten out of twelve and a half hours of the shift down, and our nurse was running on that last reserve of adrenaline which emerges only to those who have forced their body to smash through the great wall of fatigue, and have nothing left but to cover the final laps of the night’s obstacle course. She had energy enough to focus on beginning the drug rounds, alright. Somehow, the brain has magic tricks saved for enabling Olympic champions to pull through for Gold in the sport of endurance concentration.
Imagine then, the fallout which becomes the athlete who treads the tightrope for an outcome of the whole race, when unexpected flying obstacles are thrown into their track, causing a devastating fall which costs them the race. This happened in for form of an almighty blow to the back of Nurse Alice’s head. There was a sudden onset of an electrical thud to the base of her skull, followed by the feeling of a strangely refreshing coolness to the left cheek, and the world on its side. Which is certainly not where Alice had left it.
Suddenly she was cheek to cheek with the face of the cold floor, and there were red and white slipper socks dancing around her nose, as if threatening to kiss her. The confused chaos of startled patients, sung like two poorly tuned instruments; battling with the air, were above and around her like a sudden choir.
This ward had been nicknamed The ‘mad house’ by most, or ‘purgatory’ for others. Like the holding cell for those human shells; which were once the chariot within which consciousness and a person’s soul could ride.
Dementia, however, had somehow managed to capture fragments of a person before their body was necessarily ready to call it a day. As if memories- the essence of a person’s identity, sense of self and understanding of the world they were conscious in- were akin to Iron filings, and Dementia a terrible magnet. It would hover over the person, occasionally passing them by and sparing the fragments, but all too often, snatching up the Iron filings like an impossible black hole.
So a person was trapped in a kind of Purgatory, in this sense. Since they were no longer completely alive as themselves, but were not yet dead, their mind snorted away like dusty powder, bit by bit, just waiting to die so as to enable the pieces of mind to catch up and meet the rest.
Alice battled with the acknowledgement that she really, really, did not want to get up off that floor. To lay there horizontal, and just to sleep instead of stand, was such a convincing argument. Especially as the back of her skull began to burn with a sharp flame, where the blow had landed.
Above her, however, reality pressed on- surreal though it was- two out of six beds out of the bay were emptied of their contents, and the patients like the linen, sprayed out along the floor. The other beds were beginning to shuffle. Obscenities- muffled by the chewing of blankets and the burial of heads under pillows- were starting to pass between the beds, as though beds themselves had begun their own private conversation of curses among one another. The twist being that none of the beds were actually engaging in such a thing as a straightforward string of conversation with one another- they were all chattering to themselves, seemingly drunk.
There was medication to administer- drips needed attaching to flimsy cannulas. Bedside cabinets craved the turn of the key to release syrups, pills, tonics and false teeth. For no nurse was there ever such a fine reality known in the solace of the floor.
‘Attach pads’. The radio was annoying Toby’s brother, sat in the passenger seat of his older brother’s car. ‘Why is it speaking in an American accent!? It’s supposed to be British Broadcasting Company, not chuffin’ Brooklyn Bolton Canada!’
‘Canada is not part of America, Michael, you can’t use Canada for that. California. That’s American, call it Brooklyn Bolton California if you need to repurpose the BBC algorithm. To fit with the America thing, the wrong accent, like you say. I do agree with you though, I want to hear the weather forecast in my own British accent, where it’s actually relevant.’ Toby interjected.
For Toby, this was an entire new day, in another era. Where and how the transition from one scene to the next had taken place, it would be impossible to tell. It would also be completely irrelevant, for in this moment Toby lived, and sensed only the surroundings of this reality. The attempted robbery, prior to the new scene, had not even happened yet, not at this age. The here and the now was the truth, and that’s all there was to it.