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.
Bay 4, Ward 6.
There were patients up and out of bed everywhere. Staff Nurse Alice 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 Alice was running on that last reserve of adrenaline. The kind of adrenaline which emerges, only to those who have forced their body to smash through the great wall of fatigue, and have nothing left to cover but 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 the form of an almighty blow to the back of 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.
‘Shit! What the FUCK was that!?’ she heard her own voice yell out, before any chance for professional boundaries to impose their barrier to swearing and maintaining an essence of calm amidst a testing storm. 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.
‘Oh, bloody hell’ thought Alice to herself, and the floor. The problem was, that she should by now have been motivated by the sudden surge of adrenaline, which had taken hold, like it should, for the fully functioning human body. It was indeed there, coursing through her, as if powered by martyring Bee stings. That’s all it was though, all it had become since starting work as a Nurse, most strikingly, however, since starting on Ward 6, in particular. The ‘mad house’ as they all called it, or ‘purgatory’. 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.
Alice tried calling for help, she had one Support Worker, June, for the shift, and hoped to the heavens above that she’d be in a bay near enough to hear the cry for assistance, above the mewing of buzzers across the waking ward. As it happened, June was luckily near enough by, to have heard Alice’s call.
In the middle of a slow shuffle, June appeared, moving between bay three, and the patient toilets, arm in arm with a patient in the middle of the corridor, helping her to the toilet. 80-year-old Beatrice was armed with a Zimmer frame, and this was useful for more than just the one reason, of mobilising. June treacherously removed her interlinking arm from Beatrice’s, and managed a split second side jump to the right, leaving Beatrice heading onwards with the momentum of her body supported by the shape and physics of the frame. Beatrice didn’t fall- she kept upright and moving forward, which was the miracle needed to enable June to run to Alice’s assistance in bay four.
‘We’ll have to pull the curtain back across, quickly!’ June observed with an edge of mania whipping up the octaves of her vocal chords. By this time, Alice had used the bedside chair to hurl her bottom half up. The morning meds hung balanced, and resting on a nearby seat. Alice moved determinably, elbows kept supported by the chair arms, knees protesting against the injustice of forcing a torso upright again. Toby was in full swing, and ‘Reg’, who was to Toby, the mugger before his swinging punches, in the altered reality, which had been projected by Toby’s mental state, into the room. Mr. Skindle, or ‘Bill’, was beginning to dance with his own chair, in an attempt to dodge the unsettling volume of sounds confronting him.
‘You get that side, and try to push him back down in the direction of his seat!’ Alice instructed. June obeyed, and using contortionist’s manoevuers, she swished the curtain between Toby and Bill’s beds with her right hand, whilst using her left knee and leg to curtail the flailing Bill from leaving the safety net of the chair.
In that moment, June made a quick decision- the scenario was indeed lively enough to warrant pressing Bill’s bedside buzzer, to illuminate yet another dull orange bulb with its yawning howl, in the hope that there would be at least one other nurse able to see and respond. At the very least, June still had a patient mid-journey to the toilet, and with seconds having passed, anything could have happened to Beatrice’s balance by now. If not to help us stop Toby, she considered, then at least just to take over helping Beatrice to the toilet and back to her bed, next door, uninjured.
‘Are you alright?’ Beatrice suddenly remembered to ask. ‘I’ll be alright when Reg has been sedated, and Toby stops bleeding. You need to try and grab Faye or someone to give me a hand. I’m going to have to fill out a Datix, whenever on Earth I have the time, after running all these IVs.’
Alice continued elaborating to June. ‘That actually really hurt, Bea. Can you run and get Faye or even one of the bloody doctors to come in here, ASAP!?’ Alice almost choked on her own sentence, but with relief, it was already starting to drift away. She could confirm she’d heard herself speak the words. ‘Did that sentence come out in my voice?’; she shuddered in confusion. ‘I think it did, I can hear the words again in my mind like an echo. The echo is my own voice, I’m sure of it…’
June could only hope that Beatrice was managing to stay in charge of gravity, and its increasingly sporadic pattern of abundance, which commonly afflicted many of these patients, not to mention the staff. She took one look down and immediately grabbed any pillow she could find, to slip under Toby’s head as the blood spread, almost tranquilly, across the white slip. She observed Toby’s respirations. ‘Fast, at least twenty-four per minute, at best guess. Colour….’ Here at last, came the justification to act. The colour had drained from Toby’s cheeks, like an artist’s canvas of pinks, crimsons, and greys; as if hit by sudden tragic flooding. This had cruelly afflicted the rich canvas, until it became not an art but a dishcloth; wrung out, the colours were dripping; pale greys and ruptured reds wept outwards and down. Paler and paler. Then glass eyes rolled skywards, and to the left. As if fixed on a hallucination only the fading patient could see.
She pulled herself into action, yanked the red emergency buzzer away from the wall, and the wail of the alarm caused carnage, and some rhythm to be found within an unknown quantity of footsteps, drumming their way down the corridor, louder and closer by the second.
‘What’s happened!?’ exclaimed Jessica, one of the nurses on shift who had been up in the side rooms all the while.
‘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.
‘Right, I mean anyone could find themselves in this car listening to radio, and thinking, why am I in America! How did I get here, did I just drive? Did I just DRIVE to America?? And that’d send anyone crackers, thinking they’d somehow managed to drive through the entire Atlantic, to make it across to New bloody York, without even realising. It’d fuck anyone’s head up, that. They need to keep it in a British accent, so people don’t start thinking England’s gone and slipped down to the States right under their noses.’
‘Right.’ Toby replied, trying to end the matter. The last thing he could care for today, was the audible and involuntary unravelling of one of his brother’s un-hinged rants about matters so Philosophical, they had to be unhealthy. Toby knew not of any other soul in the world, who could get so carried away- genuinely swept off the landscape of reason and into the distortion of those splintering eyes, of Picasso’s Weeping Woman. He had always felt a strangely sad kind of pride, for his younger brother, who had been born into this world three weeks early, already with an imagination so feral it would blister the heart and mind of their mother.
While it would indeed be interesting, Toby reflected, to venture into the caverns of Michael’s mind for a day, just to see what was actually going on in there, he certainly didn’t fancy having to navigate through his real life behind such a strange screen. Besides, where were the radio presenters who spoke in their more familiar Welsh accent? It was a question Toby snuffed out as quickly as it had floated into his mind. He had not the energy to think about questions, and the like.
‘You’re so… so, s-s-s’ Toby began to respond, but couldn’t find the words to fit.
‘Just, I don’t know. Complex. Like a calculator. I never had any kind of clue how the damn things managed to magically summon up digits that were always, always correct, mathematically. But they did. Your mind reminds me of a calculator, Michael. Blasted mystery plastic thing, with its blasted weird ability to, just know.’ Toby regretted that he’d ended the observation with such a positive, definite conclusion. He didn’t want to think that all the endless stories, headaches and conjecture of Michael’s theories were comparable to a calculator. The thought that these non-linear tracks of mind drivel, which grew like Bindweed from between the teeth of his own brother, could be anything as solid and true as a number, was positively hurtful.
They continued the journey, past the point of the cobbled road and into the bends of city buildings, in silence. The part of the journey over the cobbled roads was too noisy to speak over comfortably, anyway. Soon enough they’d get used to the drumroll sounds, they would loiter in the ear like shallow puddles- background noise- as he focused on the steering. The buckaroo. Just had to get through it, and then the road would suddenly hush; ‘shhhhhhh’, it would go, just like a mother. The road would answer, reassured, quiet. And smooth. Horizons were opened and the journey was awake.
You can look at the scene from a greater perspective, so imagine you drop in on this scene while you loom over a large, formidable and ultimately playful map. The map is blue and green, and it is punctuated by dashes of white, here and there. Sometimes this white is bigger than elsewhere, sometimes the white seems to ripen with sheer abundance of having something continuously added to it, constantly. So that it gains weight, and then strangely becomes lilac, into purple, graduating onwards into navy blue, before becoming indistinguishable from the deeply blue sea.
There are many scenes just like this, for you to investigate and zoom in on, but as it happens, this is the spot that charmed your eyes and begged to be amplified, via a magnifying glass. The details have already spoken for themselves, but you can see Toby’s car right there, suspended it seems, on a horizontal string, which connects one side of the sky to another. It is the road, to them, but to you, you can see and feel, you can even smell and hear, the depth of that bubble around them. The hills are so green, the sky is so white, it seems like the blue bits are the clouds, but you know from your perspective that the cloud is only a dot. Upon a green, textured and wavering scene.