Nurse Michelle popped her head round the door.
¬Sorry to break up the party, the police are quite anxious to have a word with Declan. I’m going to have to ask you to leave. You can visit again this afternoon if you want to.
:Any idea how long he’s going to be in here, love?
¬Well, we’ll ask the physios to have a go at standing him, and if he can stand up on his own and walk unaided, it could be later on tomorrow or the day after. We need to get the catheter out and make sure he can get to the loo on his own. Might try that today, even, it’s not good to have it in too long. He’s had several bangs to the head which need an eye for the next twenty four hours in any case. Is there anyone at home to look after him?
>He live on his own.
:I live downstairs. He won’t be on his own.
¬Well that’s great, should speed it all up if there’s going to be someone around when he goes home. I’m going to send the policeman in now. Declan, do you want anyone with you?
:Of course, love, as if I’m going anywhere!
>I guess that mean we are not wanted. We will be back, Declan. Be careful with yourself.
~Bye Dec. Chin up – oh, but mind the stitches. See you soon, yeah?
And so it was just Rose and me. She gently took my injured hand and gave it the tiniest squeeze.
‘Thnks Ruhz. Yohr graat.’
:Oh love, I was worried when I didn’t hear from you all day yesterday. I wondered if it had all gone like you thought it would, and you’d gone off doing something silly. I was so relieved when I saw you on the news. When you didn’t come back, I thought you must have gone out celebrating. Ah love, look at you. I can’t believe someone would do this to you.
‘Dint I call yuh?’
I’d certainly meant to, but couldn’t remember doing it.
:No, love. I left you a couple of messages.
:Oh love, don’t worry about it, I’m just glad you’ve still got your job. I hope all this –
She indicated my battered body.
: – doesn’t affect things with your club.
Hadn’t considered that. Put it to the back of my mind as something to worry about later. Had enough going on just now. Rose brushed my hair back from my forehead. I had a sudden memory from my childhood of my mum doing exactly the same when I was ill or upset. It was a bit overwhelming.
:What about your visitors, though, love, your Jay and Beth and little Calum, I was that pleased for you. How about that?
Now they were gone it all felt unreal again, and I could easily have doubted they had been here, if it wasn’t for the dinosaur magazine lying on top of the cupboard by the bed.
‘Cahn bliehve ih. Hahpy.’
:I’m happy for you, love, they seem lovely, obviously care a lot about you. Did Jay say he stayed here all night with you?
‘Thihnk so. Wahs ouh of ih. Noh hehr when I wohk up.’
:I expect he had to go and get a bit of sleep, or a bit of breakfast. I’m glad I met them.
A knock on the door.
¬Declan, this is DI Johnson. He just wants to ask a few questions. Are you up to it m’dear?
¬OK. DI Johnson, Declan’s speech is not that clear due to his facial injuries. He is also on a lot of pain medication. Don’t tire him out, please.
ϙUnderstood. Hello there. OK if I sit down?
He took a notebook out of his pocket, and began asking me about the previous evening. I wasn’t much help. Barely being able to talk aside, I couldn’t remember leaving the club, and nothing of the attack, except the boot coming towards me. It was difficult for me to take in exactly what had happened to me, let alone remembering. Everything from late afternoon and evening was foggy, vague and jumbled. I remembered watching the game, and bits and pieces of the press conference but everything after that was a blur.
DI Johnson picked up a plastic bag he had placed on a chair when he came in. It was a mess of broken bits, the remains of a mobile phone.
ϙDoes this look familiar?
ϙIs it yours?
He held the bag closer to my face. There wasn’t much left, I really couldn’t tell; my phone was pretty nondescript, just black, no fancy cover. If it had been smashed, it could well look like this bag of bits.
ϙOK. No problem, it is rather mangled. Can you tell us your number? We might be able to check, if there’s enough left of it.
I couldn’t remember the number, but Rose had it on her phone, and she told him.
ϙWas anyone expecting you to be out in the car park at that time? It would have been sometime around seven o’clock, that’s when you were seen leaving the bar.
I kept telling him, it was all a haze. I suppose he had to ask, but it wasn’t jogging my memory at all.
ϙCan’t remember any arrangements with anyone?
He asked a few more details: people I could remember talking to, phone calls or texts I could remember. I really struggled to recall anything useful.
ϙAnyone you can think of who may have wanted to hurt you?
Only about ten thousand Raiders fans.
ϙOK, I’ll leave it there. I may come back if anything turns up on the phone. And if you remember anything else at all, however small, please contact me. Here’s my card.
I was pretty exhausted. It had been wonderful – amazing – to see everyone, but I was seriously flagging now. I closed my eyes and drifted away.
Dreaming. I am standing surrounded by people, everyone I know and care about. They start to walk away, in different directions. I can fly. I fly above them and watch them go. The higher I fly, the easier it is to watch everyone at the same time.
True to his word, Jay was back early enough the next morning that he could sort me out. I wasn’t any more pleasant to him than I had been to Ian, although Jay wasn’t as prepared to put up with it.
‘What the fuck’s the matter with you, Matty? You’re not making this easy, you know.’
‘Sohry if meh bein ihl is suhch an incohvehience.’
‘You know I didn’t mean that. You can help a bit, is all I meant. Try pushing with your arms, at least.’
‘Why dih yuh cahcel Sahly?’
‘Yehsday, sohm blohk cahm.’
‘What, the agency?’
He took my silence as a yes.
‘I didn’t cancel her, I didn’t ask for her, I thought you’d prefer a bloke to wash your bits and pieces.’
‘He wahs shih.’
‘Sorry, mate. I didn’t know you had a preference, although maybe I should have guessed you’d rather have a woman’s hands on your balls.’
He’d hit a nerve, unintentionally. There had been absolutely no stirrings from my balls or any other part of my male anatomy since … I couldn’t really remember. Since Carrie left me, certainly. I’d expected to be at least mildly turned on when Sally washed me, but there had been nothing, and it felt wrong.
‘What is it then? I’m not quite sure what I’ve done.’
You’ve just walked all over me without even asking me, is what you’ve done, you’ve just assumed I don’t have an opinion, or rather you’ve guessed what that opinion is, and now you’ve just second guessed it. But I didn’t have the strength, the breath or the courage to say it all.
It sounded petulant, even to me.
‘Sorry, mate, I’ll remember next time, but I don’t think we’ll need to use them again, we’re not planning on going away again any time soon. Oh, Beth went shopping and got you something, should make life a bit easier for you.’
He went out of the room, and came back in with a cup. It was made of plastic and had a lid with a spout. It looked like something you gave a two year old to drink juice out of. I looked at it with disgust
‘Wha the fuck’s tha?’
‘So you don’t spill so much tea. We’re going to have to buy a new bed if you drop much more.’
‘No Tohtenham ohns left?’
I was actually close to tears, but tried to make light of it, as if having a football team’s logo emblazoned on a baby cup would somehow make it more manly. All the hope that Sally had given me for a quick recovery dribbled away.
‘Ha ha, I don’t think so. Maybe we can get you a sticker, if you’re a good boy.’
And that was the root of it, really, the fact that Jay could joke about me being a child and getting a sticker, when I actually felt like a child, like everyone made decisions around me but not with me. He still thought I was his little brother. Well, I was still his little brother, but I wasn’t still twelve, he wasn’t still the boss of me. Oh, that sounded like I was still twelve.
Then, as always happened, I reminded myself that he had given up his job, his fucking job, and uprooted his family from Devon to come and live in shitty Stafford, although admittedly the nice part, so he could look after me. And I kept my thoughts to myself and drank out of the cup, because it was the least I could do not to spill tea on the bed and break it.
I came to, gradually, later. Rose was asleep in the armchair by my bed. Did a quick check of my moving parts. Seemed slightly easier, although trying to move set up a chorus of protests from various areas. My mouth felt more a part of me, and I could open my eyes further, although my head was pounding. Couldn’t move my right arm, which was plastered all the way up and ended in the stabbing, tearing pain of a broken collar bone. Tried the left arm. Managed to move it, but my hand was swollen and bruised, and the little finger had a splint and bandage on it, so wiggling any of my fingers was difficult and painful. My elbow bent a bit more than it had this morning. Tried moving my head from side to side. That hurt a lot, and sent shooting pains down my neck, shoulders and back. Moved toes, feet and legs. It hurt, and they were stiff, but everything seemed to work. It also tugged on the tube for my pee, which felt really weird. I wasn’t quite sure what it was or how it was attached, but I decided I wanted it removed as soon as possible.
Thought I might try getting out of bed. I was already in a semi-sitting position, propped up with pillows and the mattress, which had been raised at an angle. I tried sitting more upright, so I would be able to swing my legs over the side. It was slow, painful progress. Every tiny movement set off sharp digs, pulls and stabs from stitches, bruises, broken bones. It was almost like being beaten up all over again.
I had just about pulled myself up into a more upright position when Rose woke up with a start. She looked disoriented for a few seconds, then looked over at me. Frowned.
:What on earth are you up to, love?
‘Neeto gerrouof here.’
:No arguments from me there, love, but if you fall flat on that big ugly broken nose of yours, you’ll be staying for several more days at least, and that’s a fact. You’re woozy on painkillers, only have half a working arm, and who knows if your legs will even stand you up properly. Wait for a nurse to get here, at least, so you can have some proper supervision. Please, Declan. I can see you’re about to argue with me and do it your own way. I don’t think I could bear it if you hurt yourself again. Please.
Unable to go against her pleading, I flopped back on the pillows. That hurt too.
‘Ahsk nuhrse foh meh?’
Rose paused, considering.
:Alright, I’ll go and find someone. Promise me you won’t try it while I’m out the room.
While she was gone, I tried limbering up by moving as many bits of me as I could. If I got used to how much pain there was going to be before I actually did anything, I might be able to push through it. I had done it in games and in training before, not to this extent, but knew that I had the capacity to ignore pain to achieve a goal. After a while, Rose returned.
:They’ll come and help you in a bit, I think they’re dishing out pills at the moment. Think you can wait?
:Anything you want? There’s a little shop downstairs, sells papers, drinks, everything. You missed lunch, they brought something then took it away again.
:Half past two.
I had been asleep for several hours. I was really thirsty.
:OK, love. Anything particular?
I tried a cheeky grin.
:In your dreams. Anything doable?
:Right you are, love, I’ll be back in a tick.
Rose hurried out, and I drifted into a doze again. Before I could sleep too deeply, there was a knock on the door. Nurse Michelle. Seemingly the front of house for the Summers function.
¬You have a visitor, if you’re up to it.
She turned round to someone behind her.
¬What’s your name please?
My pulse rate had shot up; I suddenly remembered Rose’s throwaway comment about my newly restored status at the club being affected by my injuries. Thought about feigning sleep, but that was only postponing it, and he already knew I was awake. Don walked in and sat on the chair by the bed.
-Hello Declan. You actually look better than you did last night, although that’s not saying much. How are you?
‘Pruhty shit. Yuh wuhr hehr?’
-I came as soon as Jay rang me last night. You were out for the count though. Do you have any idea who did this?
-Have you spoken to the police?
‘Yuh. Noh much tuh tell. Cahn member.’
-Oh, well, maybe something will come back, these things can take time. Would you –
The door opened, and Rose came back in carrying a bag that seemed full of more than just apple juice. She stopped when she saw Don, who stood up and held out his hand in greeting. Rose ignored it.
-Hello, Don Barker.
:Rose. Who are you?
-I’m Declan’s boss.
Don paused so Rose could tell him who she was. She was returning no such favour. There was a silence. I caved.
‘Ruhz is guhd fruhnd. Joos?’
:Oh, yes, love, here you go.
She emptied the slushie cup, and poured some juice into it. Put the straw in the cup. Held it up to my mouth. I sipped. Heaven.
:Got a few more bits in case you’re hungry. Can’t go missing your lunch. So, Mr Barker, is Declan keeping his job?
‘Ruhz! Bluhdy hell!’
-You’re quite direct aren’t you! Fair enough. Yes, Declan will be keeping his job. We’ve got a place for him, all the rehab he’ll need, we’ll keep our end of the bargain if he keeps his.
I sank back with relief. Rose patted my hand.
:Well you wouldn’t have asked, would you love? Best get things out in the open, I say.
Don looked like something had just occurred to him.
-Are you the lady who lives in Declan’s building?
Rose looked wary.
-Ah, I’ve heard a lot about you from Nico. He credits you with keeping Declan together, helping him through the last few weeks, making sure he turned things round so he could stay at Raiders.
:I didn’t have much to do with it –
‘Bolluhks. Cuhdn’t huv dun it wuthout yuh.’
:Well, we’ve helped each other over the past few weeks I suppose. Declan is a lovely lad, he’s been a bit sad and mixed up. Needs someone who understands.
-Well, I think you could be right there. Declan, I’ve spoken at length to Nico and Jay, who are both very worried about you, not just because of this attack, but your state of mind. I’m glad you seem to have mended some bridges with Jay. As part of your rehab, we’d like you to make contact with a psychologist who helps out at the club from time to time. I think there are lots of issues you could sort out that might prevent anything similar happening again.
Rose looked at me.
:Oh love that sounds grand. Someone proper to talk to, get it all off your chest.
Talking about all my shit to a stranger was the last thing I wanted to be doing.
:I know, love, but I can only do mam chat. Doesn’t solve much. Not like a professional. You can still chat to me, I can still stick my oar in. Why don’t you do this as well?
I really didn’t like the thought of a psychologist, but I wasn’t being given much of a choice.
Rose wasn’t finished sticking her oar in today.
:This rehab you mentioned. Do you have physios?
-Yes, the club have several physios, we’ll devise the best prog –
:Are they available today?
-Er… it’s their day off … why do you ask?
:Well, Declan can’t go home until a physio says he can stand up without falling flat on his face. Any chance yours could come down and give him the once over? Might speed things up a bit.
Don laughed again.
-It hadn’t occurred to me. Is he up to going home so soon?
:I think he wants to try, if he can, right love?
‘Yeh. Need tuh gerrouof here.
-OK then, I’ll see if I can contact someone. I’ll have to go outside to use my phone. Back in a minute.
Don shut the door behind him as I left, and I turned to look at Rose.
‘Ruhz, yuhr tehrible.’
:Sticking up for you, that’s all. You’d still be here next Christmas if we did things your way.
:You’re welcome, love.
Rose showed me the contents of her carrier bag. She seemed to have brought every type of junk food the shop could possibly have sold. Sandwiches, crisps, a nutty energy bar, a pork pie, chocolate. I couldn’t remember the last time I ate – was it lunchtime yesterday? What day was today?
‘Ruhz, what day issit?’
‘Seehms long tihm ago.’
:What does love?
:Well a lot’s happened, hasn’t it. Who’d have thought yesterday morning, when you could hardly speak for thinking it was the end of the world, that you’d have your job back and your family back? How are you now, love? I mean, in yourself. It’s obvious the outside of you’s not up to much at the moment, but when I dropped you off yesterday morning, I was that worried. Now, you seem different, like, I don’t know, a weight’s lifted off.
I didn’t really have the right words to explain the difference between yesterday morning and now. I’d been falling apart, but somehow, despite everything that had happened, I had been glued back together by keeping my job and finding my family.
: I’m glad to hear it. You’ve been beaten black and blue into the bargain, mind, you’re bound to be feeling a bit out of it. All those knocks to the head aren’t helping either. Oh, love, I wish you could remember what happened. What if they have another go?
:Well the state you’re in, they’d have no trouble finishing the job, so ten out of ten for bravery, but nothing for common sense. Anyway, what do you fancy out of this lot?
I looked at the pile of food Rose had bought. Didn’t think I’d be able to manage most of it – chewing was a bit beyond me right now, crisps would lacerate and rub salt in too many wounds, nuts too crunchy –
Rose broke off a square and put it in my mouth. I hadn’t realised how hungry I was. As the chocolate melted on my tongue, my mouth filled with saliva, and I became aware of how empty my stomach was. It let out a rumble. Rose gave me a look.
:When did you last eat?
‘Carn member. Lunch yessday?’
:Oh love, what do these people do all day in here? You need sustenance. Try some of this other stuff.
‘Too hard. Carn chew.’
Rose looked stricken.
:I’m sorry, love, I didn’t think. Crisps, what am I like? Right, I’m going to find some proper food if I have to raid the kitchens myself. Assuming these places still have kitchens. Be back in a tick.
And she was off again.
Jay was sitting in the chair by the bed later, doing some paperwork on his knee as I dozed.
‘Soh wha’s stohry wih the adolehscent?’
Jay looked up, frowning slightly.
‘Yeh. Muhm said bihg rihft, then yehsday ahl behter?’
‘Well I suppose that’s a very short way of saying it.’
He sighed. ‘Really? Could take a while.’
It was something of a novelty, Jay having more than five words to say to me at a time, and I wanted to encourage it while it was on offer.
‘Sehm tuh hahv tihm on my hahnds befohr I ruhsh off tuh my nehxt appoihment. Kehp trahk if I nohd ohf, thogh.’
‘OK then. Weren’t we just off to Portugal last time you were down?’
‘Jesus, where do I start? A lot of it we didn’t know till later, but I’ll do my best. Everything was going great, Dec had turned into a good kid, did what he was told, worked hard. Then when we came back from holiday, he was like a different person, he sulked in his room, didn’t talk, ate his meals at different times to us.’
I thought back to how Dec had been last time I saw him, how open he was, how different from the sullen uncommunicative teenager I’d always seen before.
‘Wha was ih?’
Jay told me the long, involved tale of Dec’s indiscretions, misdemeanours and misfortunes, which included some kind of fraud, some kind of theft and some kind of accidental death. Above all, it involved Dec not telling anyone about any of it.
‘I didn’t find out about any of this until, well it all came out on the same day, about an hour after Mum called me and told me she’d found you on the floor of your bathroom.’
‘Yeah, well, it wasn’t the best day. By then, he’d moved out, been gone a couple of months, and we hardly saw him, or spoke to him, so the last thing I needed was being landed with all his shit when I just wanted to get up here and see what was going on with you. I was seriously angry, and I told him we were done with him. Then I handed in my notice at Raiders and we were off.’
I’d had no idea how traumatic it had been, and swore again to give Jay an easier time about everything. It would probably last half an hour, but at least I’d sworn it.
‘Buh wha now?’
‘Well, in-between there was a lot of other shit. Do you know Nico?’
I shrugged, not being able to summon the thinking power to trawl through Jay’s rugby-mates contact list.
‘He’s one of the Raiders players. Him and his wife – oh, you know Lis?’
‘Yeah, Jesus, don’t blurt that out in front of Beth though, it doesn’t get mentioned. Anyway, Nico and Lis decided to take Dec under their wing a bit. They told us, but we didn’t want to know, didn’t want to be involved. And Cal got hold of my phone and called Dec while we were out visiting you one time, and I tore him off a strip and probably caused him some kind of emotional trauma. And Cal ran away from the hotel when we were back down in Devon.’
‘Did she tell you Dec found him?’
‘So it’s been a bit of an action-packed few months, all told.’
Jay’s eyes softened, and he reached over and ruffled my hair.
‘Don’t be yampy Matty, sometimes you have to do what you have to do.’
‘Buh Muhm said ih’s ahl hahpy now.’
I was getting tired, taking all this in, but I wanted to hear the end. I wanted something else to focus on apart from my bloody woes.
‘I wouldn’t say happy exactly, but yeah, something’s happened that’s changed things. Dec was – he’s been beaten up, glassed and kicked in the car park at Raiders. I found him.’
‘Yeah. I didn’t know it was him though, just tripped over this bloke, looked down, shitloads of blood, like splattered up the side of a car and running across the ground. This bloke, Jesus, his face was just blood, glass all over the place, his clothes were all cut; you could see gashes through them. He was kind of mumbling, but he stopped after a bit. I got Beth to call an ambulance, and had to stay with him while it came, but then we were still going to come back up here. The police wouldn’t let me go, though, until they’d talked to me, and they kept me bloody ages. Cal was getting seriously bored, we were waiting in one of the suites at Raiders with nothing to do. Then they finally came and talked to us, and asked if I knew the victim. I said I didn’t recognise him, but neither would his mother, so they asked if I knew Declan Summers, and then it twigged. The bloke I’d found on the ground, with his face smashed in, was Dec. Jesus, I was nearly sick. I’m sorry, mate, but I just needed to go to the hospital and make sure he was OK.’
‘Yeah, you could say that. It was weird, though. The night before last, sorry, I’m not telling this very well, God, was it only Friday? Well, Raiders got docked a ton of points because of the passport thing. We were staying with Nico and Lis, and I had a feeling Dec’s name would get a mention, I mean, it was his passport all the fuss was about. I’d said to Beth, beforehand, you’re sure they’re not going to want to talk about Dec, because Lis had been making these ‘maybe you don’t know the whole story’ noises, and I didn’t want to know.
That seemed about right. Jay was never one for facing a confrontation head on.
‘Nico was out when we got there on Friday evening, but when he came back he said he knew we didn’t want to hear it, but Dec was seriously disturbed, like mentally unwell, like the points thing had unhinged him somehow. It worried me, hearing that, and me and Beth talked into the small hours about whether we’d made a mistake cutting him out like we had. Cal really missed him, and so did we, I guess. Anyway, I went to the hospital as soon as I found out, and he was lying there, face all swollen and bruised, stitches everywhere you looked, they broke his fucking arm in three places, nearly broke his jaw.’
Jay’s own jaw tightened as he spoke, and I could see how much it had affected him, how much it was still affecting him to tell the tale.
‘He was medicated up to his eyeballs, so he was virtually unconscious, but I just wanted to be there when he woke up, so he had someone with him. But it took a long time, and while I was sat there waiting, I just realised that we were OK now. We’d been in this bad place, but things were OK. It might take a bit of talking, but we’d get there, things could get back to how they’d been.’
‘Soh is heh cohming tuh lihv up hehr?’
‘Oh fuck knows, Matty, I highly doubt it. We haven’t even talked to him properly, he can hardly speak his face is such a mess. He’s so Raiders, I doubt he’d give it up, and I don’t think he should if things work out for him. Haven’t really got the room, either, although I could always do without my office I suppose. We might ask him up for Christmas, though, if he’s well enough, see how things go.’
I looked at the Christmas tree sparkling in the corner of the room, lights flashing. Cal had been so excited about it being December that he’d apparently wanted a tree in every room as soon as they moved in, but had had to compromise with one in the living room and one in my room.
I hadn’t given Christmas much thought. It was going to be a weird time. Last year I’d been in New York with Carrie, and the world was mine. This year the world had kicked my arse, and it owned me instead. One teenager more or less wouldn’t make much difference to me in life’s grand scheme.
‘You won’t have to see much of him, if he comes.’
The square of chocolate had melted and slipped smoothly down my throat, but had hardly touched my awakened hunger. I looked longingly at the opened bar that Rose had left on the top of the cupboard. Surely if I was really careful, and did it really slowly, I could just twist round and reach it? My bruised hand wasn’t working great, but I only needed to break a bit off. It wouldn’t take much. Surely.
I inched my legs to the side of the bed. If I could get my legs over the side, the momentum would lift me up into a sitting position on the side of the bed, wouldn’t it? Little by little I moved my left leg nearer to the edge of the mattress. My heel eventually hung over the edge. I moved my right leg next to it. Shoved the left foot with the right and both feet were dangling in space, pulling painfully on all sorts of aches and pains. Feeling the twist in my spine, I braced myself with my left elbow, which didn’t seem to want to bend completely, and gave an almighty heave to push both legs over the side. The combined push of my arm and my legs did indeed manage to sit me up over the side of the bed, but it hurt a lot.
Breathing heavily, and waiting for the throbbing to subside, I sat wondering if a bite of chocolate was worth it. Couldn’t see any way back now. My feet didn’t reach the floor, and there was no way I would be able to get my legs back onto the bed. The bed seemed to be some kind of automatic high-low thing; it was at its highest setting and the controls were nowhere to be seen. The gap between my feet and the floor was only a few inches, but it felt insurmountable, as although my legs were the least injured part of me, I wasn’t sure of them.
Rather than plunging into the relatively unknown, I decided to edge my way along the bed until I was close enough to reach the chocolate. This was more easily thought than done, as I only had one arm to brace myself with, and at the end of that was a bruised hand with a broken finger. The other arm was heavy with plaster, and with every movement I felt the ends of my collar bone scraping together, and the thump of my pounding headache . So, slow progress.
Finally I thought I was close enough to try reaching. I was going to have to stretch forwards and sideways, and possibly twist my hips to the left a little bit.
I’m not sure what happened. I was doing it all really carefully, but all of a sudden my arse was in mid-air, followed shortly by the rest of me, and I was on my way to the floor.
I tried to grab hold of the bed to save myself, but only succeeded in catching my fingers in the sheet and painfully wrenching my right shoulder. My head hit the cupboard, which rocked, and sent the vase of flowers to the floor, where it smashed next to me, closely followed by Cal’s bottle of blackcurrant, the jug of water and the carton of apple juice. The stand with the drip hanging from it started to wobble.
As I hit the floor, everything that had been cut, scraped, broken, bruised or otherwise damaged, protested this new mistreatment. All at once, in a huge burst of pain. I shrieked. The drip stand fell on top of me and the tube was pulled from my arm. Something had happened to the pee bag, which had been strapped to my leg, and it was leaking piss all over me and the floor; something unmentionable seemed to have happened to the tube. I couldn’t move.
I started to cry – big, baby, shocked, hurt tears. Too much to handle. I half expected someone to come running, but no one came. Couldn’t shout. Couldn’t reach the alarm call button. Could only hope Rose would be back soon. Lay there, getting cold, feeling water, blackcurrant, apple juice and piss soaking into my pyjamas. Sniffed back tears.
In time, to my great relief, the door opened. I was in the wrong position to see who it was, but I didn’t care.
A pair of feet wearing brown Chukkas was right by my head. I looked up the legs and beyond, and saw Big. He stood looking at me with a stunned expression.
°Shit, Captain, I’ll go and get someone.
He ran out of the room and returned quickly with a couple of nurses. They positioned themselves beside me, exclaiming, picking bits of broken vase off my face, standing the drip back up, checking me over. Apart from the indignity of the piss, and the entire situation, I didn’t seem to have sustained further damage.
°Anything I can do?
Big moved close to me again, and something about the combination of his boots and the broken glass caused a flashback.
I was on the ground in the car park again, seeing a brown booted foot coming towards my face.
Back on the floor in the hospital, I flinched away from the nurses, and tried to curl into a ball, crying out in agony as everything hurt all over again. For a short time every stab of pain felt like a punch or kick.
*Hey, hey, steady now, Declan, it’s OK, take it easy. You’re OK. Can you tell us what happened?
*Maybe you’d better come back to see your friend later?
°Sure thing. OK.
I heard the door close.
*Where’s this blood coming from? I thought it was all blackcurrant, but he’s bleeding here, look, and here. The cannula has come out and I think he’s pulled some stitches. And I think he’s pulled on the catheter tube. We’d better get the doctor to check him over before we try and move him.
One of them left. Rose chose this moment to make her re-entrance.
:Oh my – what’s happened? Declan?
She bent down, pushing the nurse, who was trying to check my pulse, out of the way.
:What have you done?
‘Wanted choclat. Sohry.’
:I told you I was going to find you something. You promised me you wouldn’t try on your own.
:What’s he done to himself? Where’s all this blood coming from?
Rose sounded panicked.
*It’s not blood, it’s Ribena. We’re going to get the doctor to have a look. It doesn’t look like he’s made anything any worse, apart from pulling a few stitches, and a bit of a problem with the catheter. That’s going to hurt for a bit. Declan, I’m going to try to sit you up. You need to get out of these wet things before it ruins your plaster cast. Can you help at all?
I could barely lift my shoulders off the ground, but I did that and felt her arms go underneath, slowly levering me onto her knees, and from there, bit by bit, into a sitting position, leaning back against her. In another lifetime I would have been embarrassed or maybe even enjoyed it but didn’t have the energy for either, and it was so painful.
*Okay, any chance you could lean forwards and support yourself?
Gave it a go. Managed it.
*Great stuff. Right, lets get that top off. Er, are you his mum?
:No love, just a friend.
*Maybe you’d like to wait outside?
:Hm. Well just until he’s changed, then I’m coming back in. OK Declan?
The nurse took off my top and wiped me down with some disposable cloths that seemed to be kept in the bedside cupboard.
*Have you got any fresh pyjamas? Let’s have a look – oh, here.
I’d forgotten about the ones that Beth had brought earlier. The nurse pulled the clean shirt over my head, handling the plastered arm with skill and tying the hem of it out of the way of my soaking bottoms.
*Hmm, changing your lower half is going to be a bit more tricky, don’t really want to do that on the floor with all this glass and liquid. We need to get you back on the bed, it’ll need more than just me, and we need to have a bit of a clear up. I’ll get your friend to come and wait while I get someone to help me.
Rose came back in, and knelt down beside me.
‘Mind yohr clothes.’
:Don’t you worry about me. It’s you we need to worry about, love.
She started to pick up the larger bits of glass and put them in an empty carrier bag.
:What are we going to do with you? I’d say your stubborn streak is going to get you into trouble, but it already has so many times it’s not really worth saying. Bet you gave yourself a bit of shock, love. Were you trying to stand up?
‘Noh. Fell off bed. Too high. Cuhdn’t reach’
:So did you even get the chocolate in the end?
I started to laugh, an edge of hysteria.
:And look, here it is.
Rose picked up the chocolate bar from somewhere on the floor. It dripped purpley yellow droplets.
:I’d guess you don’t want any of it now?
This also struck me as very funny, and I laughed again. It was very close to weeping. I got myself under control with an effort.
The nurses returned, with a white-coated doctor in tow. He had a quick look in my swollen eyes, checked some reflexes, prodded, poked, asked a few questions, restitched the busted stitches, gave me the all clear, and got the nurses to remove the catheter tube completely, with Rose asked to briefly leave the room again while they did so.
*You’ll have another large bruise on your gluteus maximus – that’s your backside – to add to your collection, but I don’t think you’ve broken anything else.
*So lets have a go at getting you back into bed. We could use a hoist, but how about having a go using those legs? Oh! The glass has been cleared up.
:I did the big bits, but there’ll still be some slivers in the water there. Careful where you’re kneeling –
The door opened again. Don.
*You can’t come in, sir.
-What’s going on?
*Please wait outside.
:Declan’s had a bit of a tumble. I’ll fill you in.
Rose left with Don. The nurses had a discussion about the best way to get me off the floor. They didn’t seem too confident, and were starting to err on the side of a hoist. Didn’t fancy that.
‘Lemme try, plehs.’
*It’s not as simple as that. We don’t want you falling again. You were lucky just now, but you’ve got plenty of injuries as it is –
The door opened.
-Can I have a word? I’ve got two of my physios on the way. They don’t know Declan’s had a fall, but maybe they could help get him back into bed and have a look at his mobility at the same time? Two birds with one stone? They’re literally on their way, should be here any time.
The nurses looked at each other over the top of my head. One shrugged, the other nodded.
*What do you think, Declan? Can you wait a few minutes? We can get a towel for you to sit on.
Undignified doesn’t even begin to describe the wait for Pete and Janie, the Raiders physios, to arrive. Sat on a folded up towel, in a purple puddle of piss, while people cleared up around me, cold, feeling very foolish, hurting everywhere, while Rose and Don attempted small talk with the nurse who remained with me, was not an experience I would rush to repeat.
I huddled as small as I could, feeling conspicuous, helpless and stupid. I was sure I was more mobile than everyone was making out, but their protective instincts were in full flight, and I wasn’t allowed to move. I almost wished I’d agreed to the hoist, although I wasn’t quite sure what it was and suspected it would involve me dangling in mid-air somehow.
When Pete and Janie finally arrived, I nearly wept with relief, and was incredibly grateful for their no-nonsense attitude. Don filled them in with the latest developments. They knelt beside me and gave me the once over, carefully moving all my joints to check range of movement, ignoring what they were kneeling in and my soaking pyjama bottoms.
$Blimey, Declan, you look like you’ve been in a fight with the front row. Just stretch your arm out to here … great.
£Can you bend your left knee? Good … and your right one … great. OK, what I suggest is using your quads and knees, which seem in fairly good shape compared to the rest of you, to try standing. We’ll be behind you supporting – you’ve got some tender areas on your back, we’ll do our best but it might hurt a bit.
£Good lad. OK then …
Working together, they supported me and guided me slowly to my feet. I could do most of it myself, ignored the pain, wobbled a bit and was glad of their arms holding me steady. The audience of Rose, Don and the nurse made me self-conscious, but I tried to put it out of my mind so I could concentrate on walking. After the initial burst of pain from falling, I had started to feel more physically with-it, and was determined to show them all I could do it.
$Well done, Dec. OK, would someone like to get rid of that towel and mop up the rest of this water? Not a good idea for any of us to slip just now.
The nurse had the mop and bucket ready, and made short work of the remaining mess. She also dried it off with the towel and some paper sheets she had brought from somewhere.
£OK Declan, we’re going to let go just for a few seconds and see how you manage standing unsupported. Ready?
£After three …
I stood, unsupported, like I’d been sure I would be able to. Felt great. A bit wobbly, but managed it all on my own, ignoring all the pain as an irrelevant annoyance. Result.
£OK Declan, great stuff, we’re still here. We’re going to try a little walk. Up for that?
£This is the easy bit. We’ll have you doing weights in a week or so, you’ll wish you’d stayed in bed …
Pete and Janie supported me again as I took a few steps, then slowly let go. I felt like a complete novice, as if I’d never walked before. This time yesterday I hadn’t given a thought to how my legs worked, now it was taking all my concentration. I started walking. One foot in front of the other. Bloody hurt, didn’t care. I could walk. I could go home. I wobbled to the door. Turned round on my own. Wobbled back to the bed, where the nurse had put another towel. Sat down. Looked at everyone watching me. Grinned a stupid grin.
Got a round of applause. Felt ridiculously proud of myself. The nurse looked at Pete and Janie.
*So what’s the verdict? He has to stay in tonight, but how about tomorrow?
£Well I don’t know about you, Janie, but I think he just needs a bit of practice and he’ll be fine. With all these other injuries, it’s going to take a bit of adjusting, but Declan’s strong, and he can compensate. Keep on trying, Dec, you’ll get your balance and start to feel what you can do and what you can’t. Just watch that right arm, it might throw you off. And, listen to me, do not push yourself too hard.
Janie nodded her agreement.
$If you can get your own physios to sign off first thing tomorrow, I think going home would do him the world of good.
:Oh love, that’s great.
$I’ll email them when I get back, and ring them first thing.
*OK, we need to change Declan’s pyjama bottoms. Everyone out, now.
Once everyone had gone, the nurse changed my pyjama bottoms and gave me a quick wash. She was young and pretty, and this time I quite enjoyed it. She helped me get back into bed, and I managed most of it myself, maybe leaning on her a little more than was strictly necessary. She showed me how to use the controls to lift the bed up and down, and change the position of the mattress, explaining that it was on the high setting earlier to make it easier to care for me on the bed. Now I was obviously more mobile and independent, I could stay down low and get in and out as I wanted.
*I don’t think we’ll put the catheter back in –
*– but you’ll need to get to the loo yourself. If you need any help, press the button here. If you see any blood in your pee, let us know straight away. Alright, all done here I think. Shall I send your friends back in?
Rose sat down, pulling her chair next to the bed.
:Your boss and those physios have gone. They said they’re going to email and talk to the hospital physios first thing. I don’t know, they seemed to think you’ll be up and about in no time.
:Oh love, have you seen yourself?
:You’re covered in bruises, plaster casts, stitches. You need to take it easy.
‘Need tuh get moving.’
:That’s what they said. You rugby players are a tough lot, although some might call it stupid.
She tutted and shook her head.
:Listen, love, I’ve been having a think. Rather than going home to your flat, with the stairs and being on your own and that, how about starting off with me in my spare room? I’d keep an eye on you, keep you out of trouble, make sure –
It sounded like the best thing anyone had ever suggested. I really wanted to get out of this bed, out of this room, go home, but to be honest, my flat didn’t feel like home. There was no one there, nothing there, and I’d spent far too much of my time there being in a dark place. Staying with Rose might just help me to get properly back on my feet, in more ways than one.
:Oh love, that’s grand. I thought you were going to argue –
My stomach gave out a large rumble.
:Oh my – I totally forgot your soup! I put it down somewhere when I came in, seeing you on the floor was a bit of a shock. Do you know there’s no kitchen here? One of the nurses gave me her tin of soup, she was going to microwave it for her tea. Lovely girl, she was. Where did I put it, now?
She looked around and located the bowl on the windowsill.
:Stone cold, not that I’m surprised. Shall I heat it up again?
She hurried off again. I lay back and closed my eyes, the day’s events so far had drained me. I had no idea of the time, it must be late afternoon. Drifted for a while before Rose returned with a steaming bowl.
:It’s cream of chicken, would you believe, do you remember that day when you had it with me? Want me to feed it to you?
‘No thanks, I’ll try.’
:OK love, here’s that plastic spoon we used for your slushie. I’ll just give it a rinse.
Eating with my left hand would have been a bit of a challenge under normal circumstances, but the swelling together with a splinted little finger added an extra dimension of difficulty. I spilled a lot down my chin and on the bedclothes. Rose was on mopping stand by and soon put a towel down my front to catch the drips.
:Well I think this will need a bit of practice, love. Maybe we should avoid soup for a while. How is it?
I finished the bowl, lay back on the pillows and sighed. I had a lot going round my head, today seemed to have lasted forever. Needed some head space.
‘Rose, goh home.’
:No, love, you’re alright, I’ll stay as long as you need me.
‘Plehs, go home.’
She opened her mouth to argue, thought twice, closed her mouth and nodded to herself.
:Well maybe I could be getting on with a few things. You’ll be alright?
:Shall I come back tomorrow? You’ll need someone to fetch you home.
:You look done in. Shall I ask them to stop visitors for now?
:Alright, then, love, I’ll leave you to it. Behave yourself. Call me when there’s any news about going home.
She squeezed my arm and left the room. I let out a breath I hadn’t realised I was holding. Today had been a crazy day, preceded by two equally crazy days. Starting with the build up to and aftermath of the points deduction on Friday, through the ups and downs of what I could remember of Saturday, I had woken up in hospital today, with some fairly serious injuries. I had learned to talk. Jay, Beth and Cal had visited me; we were going to be OK. I had been visited by the police. I had nearly wrecked my chances of a recovery by falling out of bed. I had learned to walk. I had some pretty amazing people looking out for me. My head was swimming. Nearly forgot I was a worthless piece of shit. Nearly.
By far the most significant item on that list was the visit from Jay, Beth and Cal. I knew I still had a long way to go with them, things were still tentative and fragile, and Jay’s news about Matt made me feel even worse about the way I had behaved, but to know they still cared about me was enormous. I spent a long time dwelling on that. Smiled a lot.
A few less welcome thoughts intruded, including my flashbacks while on the floor. Up until then I hadn’t remembered anything about what happened in the car park, but now bits and pieces kept popping into my head. Nothing substantial, and nothing I would have any confidence in telling anyone. Just flashes – images which set off corresponding pains all over my body. The brown boot heading towards my face continued to haunt me, and this in particular started a hearty throb in my broken nose.
I had time to start to wonder who had attacked me. There was a pretty long list of people who would be justified in holding a grudge – Raiders fans, people I had hassled for loans, players whose careers and prospects I had damaged with the points deduction – but I couldn’t come up with anyone I knew personally who I thought would beat me up, slash my face, break my bones. Who even knew if it was connected? I had no memory of it, and nobody seemed to have witnessed it. Maybe I got into an argument or a fight in the car park about something totally random. Saturday had been a pretty full on day, it wouldn’t have taken much to push my buttons – although it had been years since I’d felt the need to throw my fists around to make a point. I tried to force my memory but it remained stubbornly blank.