The Tongues of Men

A novel in redraft by Gabriel Smy

Excerpt 9

After New Year the Christmas decorations were still up on the ward: a small tree in reception and a cladding of greetings cards on the notice board. Davina arrived this time to find the woman asleep so she picked up the magazines from the floor and placed them back on the table. She filled the glass of water from the cooler in the hallway. She tried to look at the edition on top of the pile but kept reading words and scanning pictures without processing them, returning to the top to start again, expecting something to stick, burr-like, then giving up. She looked at the parrot picture above the bed for interest but met the same glossy indifference. She had glanced in that frame a hundred times before and still did not care what was in it. She walked the few steps to the window and surveyed the view.
Half of the prospect was taken by a facing hospital building, the other half by a sight across the city, both of which were made dark, almost silhouetted, by the white sky. A few windows in the building opposite were lit up, uncurtained little rectangles, a handful with people inside. In one ground floor window a cleaner or doctor, someone wearing a green scrub suit, sat at a desk and wrote. In a window higher up, nearer to her eye level, Davina saw a woman’s back, white, with only a thick, black band of bra strap to break the naked aspect. The woman reached back and unhooked it. The girl looked away. When she returned her gaze somebody else was drawing the bed curtain across. She noticed the strip light behind her reflected in the window.
Davina stepped back towards the bed and drank a little of the water. She drank half, then all, of the glass. She went into the hallway to refill it from the cooler. The male nurse was there, speaking quietly to a colleague. She walked past him, up to the desk, out of earshot.
‘Is it possible to choose which nurses look after someone?’ she asked the ward manager behind the counter, who was checking back between some notes and a monitor screen, only answering after several seconds.
‘What do you mean?’
‘If there was someone who a patient would rather not have change them and stuff – can a patient choose?’
‘No,’ said the manager, giving up on the screen and facing Davina squarely. ‘Unless the patient would like to do it herself. Have you any idea how busy we are? Never mind with Christmas leave and winter flu.’
‘What if I make a complaint?’
‘Do you wish to make a complaint?’
‘Well, that depends what happens if I make one.’
‘What happens,’ said the ward manager, ‘is my staff who should be caring for people like your friend end up doing more paperwork, being asked stupid questions in stupid meetings, and being taken away from the ward where I need them most. Usually, for absolutely nothing at all.’
The male nurse walked into the reception area and behind the counter to a box of files. She asked again, ‘Do you wish to make a complaint?’
‘Forget it,’ said Davina.
As she walked away the manager called after her:
‘You people come in with your baggage but we’re just trying to do our job.’
In the room the woman was moaning, her eyes flickering. Davina placed her hand on her bony shoulder and she woke up.
‘Oh God,’ she said.
‘It’s okay,’ said Davina.

From the first draft.


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