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Keith stood and waited for the doors to creak, they seemed to take forever to open. The first smells mixed up and drifted through his nostrils, they were forming a potent mix of floor cleaner and human misery, he wondered if all hospitals had this smell; where ever you went in the world, hospitals smelt the same, just like the McDonalds ethic.
He began taking steps down the corridor, the further in he got the more he felt the need to get away and the only way to combat this was to make his steps quicker and bolder. As he past a group of nurses crowded round a patient they looked at him an smiled, he was getting used to this, it seemed all nurses are trained in the sympathy smile, one reserved only for patients and relatives.
On several occasions he would watch the way they moved and interacted with each other, and this in his opinion was very different. He didn’t blame them for this change in behaviour, like anyone in a stressful job they needed a release; Keith knew there was no way he could do their job so was thankful for their presence during his difficult time.
Keith could understand how people could get lost in here, just become another victim to their surroundings. He had trouble remembering where to go; many times a helpful patient would direct him or sometimes just wander around. The hospital seemed like a giant cartoon background, the ones where after a few seconds it keeps repeating itself; it reminded him of Road Runner and how he seemed to speed past the same rock and cactus every few seconds.
‘This place is one giant cartoon!’ he said to himself. Keith welcomed these precious few minutes of distraction because at least he didn’t have to admit to the nightmare that was unfolding in front of his eyes.
‘You’d think I would know where I was going.’ He had been here a few times already but he still wasn’t familiar.
‘Perhaps you only get to know this place if you have been visiting for a long time.’
Keith kept himself form blurting this out loud; he really didn’t want to think about that scenario. Instead the doctor’s words kept repeating themselves around his brain, it was as if they doing continual laps trying to outdo one another. He tried to shake them away but still the words persisted.
‘The next few days are critical.’
‘The next few days are critical.’
‘The next few days are critical.’
Concentrating on the words, Keith quickened his pace until he was standing parallel to the door. He quickly twisted the knob and forced himself through, not knowing what to expect. The sight that greeted him was the same, nothing had changed since he was last standing here a few hours ago.
Keith tried to kid himself by thinking that he would walk in and Daniel would be awake, alert and energetic. He imagined Daniel would be flirting with the nurses and engaging in banter with the doctors or anyone else who would pass his room. He was waiting for him to ask for some beer, thinking it wouldn’t harm if Keith could get it past reception.
But it wasn’t like that; Daniel was still connected to what seemed like millions of tubes. The heart monitor was still making funny little beeps that Keith couldn’t understand. His chest felt heavy as he looked at Daniel’s frail body being moved and cajoled by machinery. Keith began crying, he tried to hold onto the tears, tried to stay composed, but inside he was a broken man who cried himself to sleep hugging the pillow and wishing for Daniel’s breath on his cheek.
‘Hi Hon.’ Keith walked over to Daniel and stroked his hair and kissed him on the forehead.
‘Look I know you like being stubborn, but babe, I need you to come back from wherever you are, I need you here with me.’
Keith took a deep breath and squeezed Daniel’s hand.
‘The doctors told me that if I talk to you that maybe you could hear me. Anyway you need to wake up because we have to introduce you to your nephew. God, can you believe it! Jenny finally gave birth! Felt like it was gonna take forever. I went to see him and he is gorgeous, must get his good looks from your side of the family.’
He wiped his eyes in a hard motion like he was trying to wipe them away forever.
‘Oh what else has been happening? Well Emma got her promotion at work! I was so happy for her, if anyone deserved it she did.’
Suddenly the door opened, Keith was so engrossed in his thoughts that it made him jump. The nurse pulled back slightly trying not to scare him.
‘Sorry love, just need to do some routine checks.’
‘Sure, look Daniel the nurse is here.’ Keith felt naked and vulnerable with someone else in the room.
‘Please call me Sandra and Just carry on like I wasn’t here.’
Keith pushed his negative thoughts to the side and carried on talking.
‘I tell you what, when you get out of here I gonna take you to New York! Yeah I know, bet you think I am just saying this so you’ll wake up, but I promise I am gonna take you.’
Sandra’s movements and actions distracted him, she began poking and sticking things in Daniel, which he didn’t understand. Keith became agitated, worried that she was hurting Daniel when all he wanted to do was protect him. The tears started again, Keith began crying and wailing, trying to push his pain as far from this place.
‘Why couldn’t I protect you! Why! It’s not fair!’
‘Hey come on darling, come here.’ Sandra cradled Keith in her arms.
‘I was there, why didn’t I stop it!’
‘I’m sure you did all you could, you were lucky that you weren’t hurt badly.’
‘But I could have done something.’
Sandra looked into his eyes; her conviction told Keith she was deadly serious about his behaviour that night. She felt like she knew him anyway; the papers carried the story all week and it angered her that the attacker had not been found.
‘Now you listen to me, you did the best you could, who knows what anyone would do in that situation. You need to be strong for Daniel; he needs you now.’
Keith resumed his train of thought the great holiday they were going to take when Daniel was well.
‘Where was I? Oh yes, New York, well I’d thought we’d go in the winter, around Christmas time, do some shopping; maybe go on a horse ride round Central Park, you know how much you wanted to do that.’
Keith drew quick breath again.
‘Eh, you’d better wake up soon otherwise I’ll go instead!’ Sandra looked at Keith and smiled. He felt more relaxed, the friendly banter is something Daniel would be in the thick of and he knew that somewhere he was having a giggle.
Keith watched Sandra collect her bits and walk out the room, she made sure she closed the door, before she did she blew a kiss in their direction; Keith felt some much love in that kiss that it filled him with pride.
‘Daniel, that woman is wonderful, everyone is rooting for you to get better; you don’t want to disappoint your fans do you?’
Keith gazed directly into Daniel’s eyes and smiled. His stomach churned several times, he had not eaten for many hours. Something pushed up from his diaphragm and out through his throat. Keith didn’t know what it was but it felt bad, it was a feeling that came from deep inside his bones.
Suddenly Daniel’s eyes opened, but not in a good way, Keith could see this gazed was straight and non-directed and the pupils were fixed on the ceiling.
‘Daniel! Nurse!’ Keith smashed the button on the wall and a collection of sirens exploded in his ears. He dropped to his knees and began screaming.
‘Help me please!’
Suddenly a mass of doctors and nurses swamped the room, they forced Keith outside, he watched over their shoulders willing Daniel to live. A swirl of colours passed over Keith’s perspective and quickly picked him up. His eyes snapped open and he viewed his surroundings. It took him a few seconds to realise where he was. The coffee cups looked the same as before and the wall was still plastered with various copies of prints from famous painters.
Keith looked at the mushroom coloured curtains that looked like they hadn’t been open for a while. Suddenly a rush of calmness and tranquillity moved over him. It started at his head and began working it’s way down; it was almost like it was embracing him, letting him know everything was going to be ok. Keith smiled and closed his eyes, he pictured Daniel in his arms, he began caressing his face and Keith planted a kiss on his lips.
Keith was woken from his daydream by a sharp ringing of the phone. He composed himself and picked up the receiver.
‘Oh hello, is that Keith Jarman?’
‘Yes, how can I help.’
‘It about Daniel Smith. I’m afraid he passed away a few moments ago, I am so dreadfully sorry.’
‘Thank you for your kind words.’
‘Look Mr Jarman, would you like to come and see Daniel?’
‘No I think I will decline that request, I have already said goodbye.’
Keith replaced the receiver and grabbed Daniel’s blanket from the sofa and wrapped it round himself, he took a deep breath to smell him one more time.
‘Oh Daniel, my love, may you rest in peace wherever you may be.’
Keith closed his eyes and drifted asleep again, forgetting about the world outside.
Copyright David Mackeeg 2003