Safe (1)

It is a heavy door, with wired glass through which I spy on you. I don’t recognise the pyjama-jacket you are wearing. Your leg, broken in seven places, has been pierced through the ankle with a metal bolt and the leg hauled up in a cat’s cradle of weights and wires. The parts of you that aren’t broken have been tidied away under knife-edge sheets, and a grey blanket with two red stripes.

We find a stack of plastic chairs in a corner and arrange ourselves around your bedside. I try not to look at your ankle, but again and again my eyes are drawn to the entrance and exit points of that bolt. The holes are ragged, larger than what goes through them. The brown is blood, the yellow iodine. It’s meaty and messy; not like crucifixion paintings. I think of Leonardo, and how much he would have enjoyed sketching this scene, especially the pulleys.

It’s a men-only ward. The man in the bed next to yours was a lorry-driver, then he crashed his lorry on the M60. He seems to have told you his life story. Did you tell him yours?

You are smiling; jovial, even. I guess this place reminds you of National Service and those nissen huts in Lincolnshire in 1940-something; the wind inserting itself into every crack; the cheap beds with their singing springs; the coal stove that was never adequate to warm you all. They woke you at five in the morning to shout ‘Stand by your beds!’ and ever since you have woken at 5 a.m. You were safe, in those days.

What else do I have in this old tin box of memories? Ah yes, another window, the one behind your head. We are sitting there trying to invent more things to say, or rather my mother is. I’m just sitting, watching that square of sky as it turns from violet to indigo to navy and stars emerge in it. There is a half-finished bottle of Lucozade on the cabinet beside your bed. And flowers. Purple. I don’t know what they are but they don’t look at all happy. There’s water in a jug with a pop-up lid next to a smeary glass. You are tethered, temporarily.

The door trundles closed behind us. It has one of those pneumatic closing mechanisms. I make a final check on you through the wire mesh. The smile has dropped off your face. You are biting your fingernails. I catch you, being lonely.

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