22. Hold on we’re going home

In which Cal uses a fire engine as a listening device, and Dec discovers that bad news hasn’t finished with him yet.

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Cal

Once we got back, I showed Uncle Matty my fire engine, and made a road in his room so I could put out lots of fires. I did a lot of listening while I was playing – Uncle Matty’s room was good for being able to hear when Mum or Dad were on the phone, and sometimes I could just kind of go and hang about outside the room they were in, and sometimes I would hear things, and even understand what they were about.

So when I heard Mum talking to Rose, I drove my fire engine into the hall and wheeled it up and down outside the living room where Mum and Dad were both sitting on the couch. The phone was on speaker, so they could both hear, and although I didn’t understand everything, it seemed like Rose had been helping Dec, and that Dec had been sad, and had missed Mum and Dad and me. Rose asked if we were going to go and visit Dec again, and I held my breath so I could hear what they said.

‘Oh Rose, I don’t think we can at the moment. Matty’s got to be our priority, he needs both of us here. This weekend was too hard on James’s mum.’

‘Oh, well, I’m sure he’ll understand, love. He’s that happy that you came to see him, though.’

‘I know. Do you know when they’re likely to let him go home?’

‘He’s hoping for tomorrow.’

Tomorrow?

‘He had a little walk, and his physios think he’ll be OK. He’s coming back to me for a little while.’

‘Oh, well, that sounds great. Are you OK with that?’

‘Yes, love, I’m looking forward to it, actually. I’m good at looking after people.’

‘Rose, we won’t be able to get down there for a while, but we might ask Dec up here for Christmas, if he’s well enough.’

I nearly jumped up and cheered when Dad said this, but I stayed quietly on the floor in the hall.

‘Oh love, that would be tidy. I’d been wondering what to do – I was going to go to my sister’s, she’s in Wales, but I was going to cancel, go in the New Year when he’s more settled.’

‘Well we don’t want to mess you about, we haven’t decided for definite. And he might not want to come.’

I heard Rose snort.

‘I don’t think that’s very likely, do you, love? Just let me know.’

‘Thanks, Rose. You’ve been amazing. Please keep in touch; I know Dec’s not likely to tell us how he’s really feeling, he likes his independence, so it would be great if you could let us know what’s what.’

‘Of course, love. As soon as I know what’s going on, I’ll give you a call. I’m going back to see him tomorrow morning anyway. You take care, loves, and remember I’m on the end of the phone.’

‘Thanks, Rose.’

‘Yes, thanks Rose, for everything.’

‘Bye, love.’

I stayed outside the room with my fire engine, because Mum and Dad were talking to each other now.

‘That feels better.’

‘I know. Where did he find her?’

‘Nico says she lives downstairs, but I don’t know how Dec knows her apart from that. She’s a weight off my mind, though, James. Matty was alright this weekend, but I really don’t want to leave him again until he’s stronger.’

‘No. He was a right grumpy git about the bloke from the agency, had a go at me for cancelling the woman.’

‘Yeah, Carol said he got on really well with Sally, but hardly looked at Ian. Maybe we should have talked to him about it.’

‘We didn’t get much of a chance, did we.’

‘I suppose not. So, I did the test.’

I wondered what test Mum had done. I had spelling tests at school, but Mum knew all her spellings, and was good at sums as well. And I’d been with her all day; we’d been to the supermarket, and Boots, and then we’d had sandwiches for lunch, then Mum had done some washing while I played in Uncle Matty’s room, then we’d made some fairy cakes, and then Dad had come back from watching his rugby team and we’d had dinner, and then it was now, and she hadn’t done anything that looked like it was a test.

‘And …?’

There was a silence, and I couldn’t tell what was going on, but Dad suddenly gasped.

‘Really?’

‘Yes.’

‘Oh my God, Beth. Oh my God. Fanbloodytastic.’

There was more silence, and what sounded like kissing.

‘We can’t say anything, though, not for a while. It’s not far along. Oh but James, I can’t help being excited. I’ve wanted this for so long.’

We’ve wanted this. Neither of us wanted Cal to be an only child. I’ve always seen him with a brother or sister.’

I was rooted to the spot, trying really hard to make sense of what they were saying. It sounded like happy things, things that they were both pleased about, and I wanted to be pleased and happy too. I didn’t want to let them know I’d been listening, but I couldn’t stay out of the room any longer. I pushed my fire engine up to the doorway and rolled it through into the living room.

Mum and Dad were cuddling on the sofa, and they turned towards me as I came in. I made some fire engine noises for added effect.

‘Cal! Where did you come from, sweetheart?’

‘From Uncle Matty’s room. Can I choose?’

‘What do you want to choose, mate?’

‘Can I choose a brother or a sister? I want a brother, so he can play football with me.’

Mum and Dad looked at each other, and then at me.

‘Cal, did you hear what Daddy and me just said?’

‘Yes, about me having a brother or a sister. Daniel Glover is having a sister, but I want a brother.’

‘OK, come here a minute, sweetheart.’

Mum held her arms out to me, and I got up and went over to her, to be scooped up onto her lap. She held me tightly and talked into my ear. Not quietly like she was whispering, but like she really wanted me to listen.

‘Cal, this is very important. Daddy and I might be having a brother, or a sister, for you, but it’s a secret. It’s Top Secret, like Spy Kids. You can’t tell anyone, not Granny, not Uncle Matty, not anyone. Do you think you can keep a secret for a little while? Until we know for sure? Just for a few weeks?’

I nodded. Having a brother would be exciting, and it would be hard not to tell, especially if I could beat Daniel Glover’s sister with a brother, but as long as I didn’t have to keep the secret forever, I would probably be able to do it.

I was a little hazy on how you got brothers, but Owen Little’s brother, who was ten and knew a lot, said that sometimes people chose brothers and sisters, it was called dopted or something. Maybe Mum and Dad were going to choose a brother for me, in which case I was glad I’d said I wanted a brother, so they knew.

‘Good boy.’

‘Yeah, nice one mate.’

Dad put his hand up so I could high five him, and then he snuggled up so he was cuddling me and Mum at the same time. I felt very happy, being snuggly with them both, and then I remembered the other thing I’d heard that had made me happy. But if I said I’d heard it, they’d know I’d been listening for quite a long time, so I said it as if I’d just had an idea.

‘Mummy, how will Santa know where Dec’s house is?’

‘Well, Santa knows where everyone’s house is.’

‘Yes, but what if he thinks Dec’s house is here, and brings his presents here?’

‘Well, that would be terrible, sweetheart, but Santa doesn’t make mistakes like that.’

‘But what if he does?’

‘Hmm. It sounds like you might have a plan.’

‘Yes. If Dec is here on Christmas, then Santa will know where to bring his presents.’

I felt Mum and Dad look at each other over the top of my head. Then I felt Dad shrug.

‘Would you like Dec to be here for Christmas, mate?’

‘Yes.’

I couldn’t believe how well my plan had worked. They’d totally fallen for it. I was so sneaky.

‘He can sleep in Daddy’s office, I suppose.’

‘Oh, but I want him to sleep under me, in my bottom bed.’

Mum laughed. ‘You have given this some thought, haven’t you. Are you sure, Cal? Dec is messy, and he goes to bed quite late, and –’

‘I’m sure, Mummy.’

‘Alright then. Would you like to ask him when we talk to him?’

‘When?’

‘I’m not sure, it will have to be when he gets home.’

‘But that might be tomorrow.’

Oh. I’d given it away now. Mum laughed again and squeezed me tight.

‘Oh Cal. You’re my best little spy. Come on, sweetheart, it’s time for bed. Let’s go and get your PJs on.’

Dec

The day wore on, the light faded and I started to doze. Weird half-dreams mingling with semi-wakefulness gave me a strange feeling of floating. People came in, asked me questions, I assume I replied, faces came and went, felt my pulse, took my temperature, gave me pills, gave me dinner.

In one particularly bizarre lucid dream, Big stared down at me. I opened my eyes fully, a bit shaken, but he wasn’t there, and the room was now completely dark. I could see a light from the door, which wasn’t quite shut. Couldn’t hear any sounds, even distant voices or footsteps. I felt very alone, and a bit freaked out. Still a bit spacey. Very much wanted to talk to someone, anyone, just to feel a bit more real. Thought about getting out of bed. Pete had said I needed to practise walking, and I hadn’t even stood up since the physios left. Thought some more about getting out of bed. My experiences of the afternoon made me cautious, but I wanted company more. There must be someone around somewhere. And I really needed to pee.

I began the process of getting out of bed. Found the remote control by feel, and checked the bed was as low as it would go. Sat the mattress up. Swung my legs over the side, so much easier than last time I tried. Feet touched the floor. Result. Tried to find a lamp, as it really was dark, but hadn’t noticed where it was or where to switch it on. Braced knees and thighs. Tentatively leaned my left arm on the cupboard. Deep breath. Stood up. Swayed gently in the dark. Stayed upright. Remembered Pete’s instructions: left, right, left, right. Started with my left leg, easy. Made it to the door and out into the corridor. Looked both ways. Some kind of front desk to my left. Shuffled along to it. Nobody there.

‘Hello?’

Nothing. Looked for a bell or buzzer or something. Nothing easily identifiable. Looked up and down the corridor. Where was everyone? Saw a sign saying ‘Toilet’. Well that was a start.

Made it inside, lifted the lid, aimed – tricky using semi-working left hand – peed. Stung a bit, the result of pulling on the tube earlier. No blood. Another result.

Heard voices. Someone was around, somewhere. Shuffled to the door. Looked out into the corridor. A couple of nurses standing near my door looking concerned. They noticed me and looked relieved. One of them hurried over to me.

*Declan! We wondered where you’d got to.

‘Needed a pee.’

*You managed on your own OK?

‘Yeah, no worries.’

I sounded more confident than I felt.

*Well that’s great. Is there anything you need?

‘Wha time issit?’

She checked an upside down watch on her tunic.

*Two thirty, give or take.

‘In the morning?’

*Yes, lovey, it’s the middle of the night. Bit disoriented?

‘Been ‘sleep a lot.’

*It’s been a funny old day for you by all accounts. Maybe back to bed and sleep properly, start again tomorrow?

‘OK. Felt weird on my own.’

*I’m not surprised. Would you like some company for a bit? Till you drop off?

‘Please.’

She walked back with me, watched as I manoeuvred myself back into bed, then sat in the chair.

*Do you want to chat, or sleep?

‘Sleep if I can.’

*OK lovey, I’ll stay for a bit, happy to talk if you feel like it.

‘Thanks.’

I felt a lot more concrete with someone with me, less insubstantial. I was also very pleased with myself for making it to the toilet on my own. Eyelids soon drooped and I slept properly.

Dreaming. I am flying. Trying to catch someone, just out of my reach. They are wearing brown boots. Nearly catch up with them …

…woke up. The patch of sky I could see through the window was blue, and it seemed to be sunny. I could hear noises from beyond the door; voices, clatters, some kind of cleaning machine. I had no idea what time it was, but the world was obviously awake. So were my stomach and my bladder.

After last night’s success, I decided I would take another trip down the corridor. Repeated the moves that had got me out of bed and on my feet the night before. Incredible that something so simple, that I usually did without thinking every day of my life, could make me so cautious and (when successful) so proud of myself.

Wandered out of the room and down the corridor to the toilet. While I peed, I noticed a mirror above the sink. Hadn’t actually seen the face that had launched a thousand tears yet. About time I gave it a look.

With some nervousness, I shuffled over to the mirror. I kept my eyes down, then slowly raised them. I had expected some bruising and swelling, but I hadn’t expected something out of a horror film. I hardly recognised any of my features. My eyes were swallowed up in a mess of puffy purple. The rest of my face was swollen and reddened or bruised. There was a big graze on my forehead. There was a large plastic guard taped over my nose, which seemed twice its normal size. There was a long row of stitches reaching from my scalp down by the side of my right eye to my cheek. The hair had been shaved away around the beginning of the scar, highlighting its vividness. There was a shorter row of stitches above my top lip, and another row touched the left corner of my mouth. My lips were distended and discoloured. The bruising extended in patches around my neck into the collar of my shirt.

It was pretty shocking. I wasn’t surprised Beth, Rose and Lisa had cried; I was close to tears myself. I leaned on the sink with my left hand, feeling sick. I realised for the first time what had happened to me, and how lucky I had been. I knew there were more stitches elsewhere – I had seen some on my legs, and knew I had pulled some in my back when I fell yesterday. I also had broken bones. I could have lost an eye, or had a fractured skull, or bled to death. Someone had wanted to do that to me. My legs wobbled, and I had to lean heavily on the sink. There was a knock on the door.

¬Declan, are you in there?

It was a well-timed Nurse Michelle.

‘Yeah.’

¬Are you OK?

‘Not sure.’

¬Shall I come in?

‘Yeah.’

I heard the sound of the lock, the door opened, and she came in. I started to sag at the sink.

¬What’s up, feeling a bit wobbly?

‘Yeah. Jus saw myself. Bit of a mess, aren’t I?’

¬Oh, I didn’t realise. Had nobody showed you a mirror? Bit of a shock, I expect. Here, come and sit on the loo for a bit.

She helped me over, shut the lid and supported me while I lowered myself down. I leaned forwards, breathing heavily.

¬Better?

‘Mm.’

¬Good job I came looking for you. A couple of your friends have popped in, your bed was empty, Sheila told me you came for a wander up here last night, so I thought I’d come and find you. What shall I tell them?

‘Who issit?’

¬Two lads about your age, what did they say their names were? Ben and David, I think.

Big and DivDav? I vaguely remembered Big being around at some point yesterday after I fell off the bed. Hadn’t seen DivDav for quite a while, unless he’d cropped up in the missing hours of Saturday. Didn’t feel too presentable, and now I knew what I looked like, I was self-conscious.

¬I’ve told them the physios are coming up soon, so they can’t have long, if that’s any help. Are they good friends?

I shrugged. It was difficult to evaluate my friendships in light of everything that had happened recently.

¬I can get them to come back another time if you like.

No, I wanted to see them. Things wouldn’t get back to normal until I began facing everything. Had to start somewhere.

‘No, s’okay.’

¬How are you feeling? Need a few more minutes?

I nodded.

¬Alright then. I’ll let them in to your room, you sit there for a bit till you feel like wandering down. I’ll be at the desk – give me a shout if you need me.

She left the bathroom and I heard the lock turn from outside. A few deep breaths; nausea started to subside. Stood up. Avoided looking in the mirror again. Opened the door and walked down the corridor, catching Michelle’s eye at the desk and giving her a left-handed thumbs up.

The door to my room was open, and I could hear voices I recognised. I got to the door and walked in. Big and DivDav were sitting in the two chairs by the bed. They stopped talking and stood up when I entered the room.

%Holy shit! Sorry, Captain, Big said you were … but I didn’t realise … holy shit. What the fuck … what happened?

‘Can’t ‘member.’

I walked to the bed and sat down on it. Big and DivDav sat back down on the chairs.

°Still no luck with your memory?

‘Not yet. Thanks for coming.’

%No problem, mate. I feel terrible, you were out there because of me, weren’t you?

‘Can’t ‘member.’

%Oh, course. How are you feeling?

‘Better than yessday.’

°Well that’s good I suppose. It all looks pretty painful.

This stilted conversation was almost as painful.

‘Been fucking agony, actually. Bit better now. Jus saw my face. Could get a part in Evil fucking Dead. Got physio inna minute.’

This felt like the most words I had uttered in one go for a long time, but it made me feel more normal to talk to them like I usually would, rather than exchanging polite sympathies.

%Yeah, that nurse said, we won’t stay, mate, just wanted to see how you are. And, er, I wanted to apologise for how I was, you know, before. Would have done on Saturday night, but … you know. I was well pissed off, tried phoning, texting, went into the club to find you. Missed all the fuss with the ambulance and that.

I didn’t really know what Dav was talking about, the jumble from Saturday afternoon and evening still not resolving itself. Decided to focus on his apology.

‘No worries. Thanks. Means a lot.’

%Er, don’t know if you know, Raiders aren’t keeping me on.

It rang a vague bell, but I shook my head, surprised and sad for Dav.

‘Nah mate. Sorry.’

%Yeah, well, I had a feeling. Think I kind of took it out on you when things started going your way again, you know, being allowed back to training and that. Felt unfair. I was a bit of a knob. Sorry.

°Come on, Dav, we all played our part. Doesn’t look like Cap holds a grudge.

Wasn’t sure if that was true; DivDav had been particularly instrumental in making a lot of the last few weeks truly miserable. But his apology couldn’t have been easy, I was still pretty much a worthless piece of shit after all, they were calling me Captain again, and I decided I had no room in me for grudges.

‘Nah mate. S’okay. Been a knob too.’

°Know what, when you’re more up to it, we should get everyone together for a night out. Or in. Get fucking wasted.

‘Great idea.’

%Yeah, great. When are you out of here?

‘Hope today.’

%Give you a bell, then.

°Probably have to wait till his phone’s back in commission.

‘Keep in touch, then.’

°Will do. Dav, we’d better go, that nurse’ll be on the warpath if we stay too long.

They stood up. I did too, just took a little longer. There was some awkwardness while we decided how to say goodbye – couldn’t shake hands, hugs cost too many man points, in the end both gave me a light punch on the shoulder.

%Take care of yourself, mate.

°See you soon.

I watched them leave. Noticed that DivDav was wearing brown desert boots.

The physios must have been waiting outside, as they knocked on the door immediately. I sat back down on the edge of the bed. They went through virtually the same routine that Pete and Janie had the day before, and came to the same conclusion.

*You’re a bit stiff, that’s just the bruises, but nothing that time and moving around won’t see to. I think you’re good to go. We’ll leave you to make your arrangements. Nice to meet you.

And quick as that they were gone. I was elated, but unsure what to do next. I couldn’t contact anyone as my phone was in small pieces in some police station. Decided a chat with Nurse Michelle was on the cards. I wandered down the corridor to where she was sitting in front of a computer. She told me I could go as soon as I’d been checked by a doctor and got a supply of painkillers, then she helped me out by finding Rose’s number, and dialling it for me, as my fingers were still having trouble working difficult things like buttons on phones.

:Hello?

‘S’Declan.’

:Oh hello love! I wondered if I might hear from you this morning. Have you seen the physio?

‘Yeah, I can go home.’

:Oh love, that’s grand. Any idea when?

‘Got to sort meds and see doc.’

:OK love, I’ll be there as soon as I can, will you be able to get in my car?

‘Find a way. Thanks Rose.’

:You’re welcome love. Won’t be long.

She disconnected, and I imagined her rushing about tidying up, straightening cushions, making sure everything was just so for her guest, who wouldn’t notice any of it. Smiled to myself.

¬All sorted then m’dear?

‘On her way. Might have to wait for me.’

¬I don’t think she’ll mind. She seems very fond of you. Relative is she?

‘No, good friend.’

¬Lucky you. OK, I’ll sort out all the official stuff, you go back to your room and I’ll sort some breakfast for you too. Oh look, here’s another one of your friends.

I turned round. Nico was walking down the corridor, smiling widely.

>Declan, I see you are well and charming the nurses – ha, is beautiful Michelle. Hello. Declan, this is better than yesterday. You look good. No, you look horrible still, but from yesterday you look good. Every day you are better, by next week you will be number one handsome man, or maybe number two. I am still number one.

Nico’s self-confidence was, as ever, unshakeable.

‘Going home.’

>Today?

‘Yeah.’

>This is good news. I hear you fall yesterday, I worry.

‘I’m OK.’

>I see this. You talk much better, you walk, increible. I go to match reviews, I can not stay, but I am happy to see this. You call me later?

‘No phone.’

>Huh. You go home to your flat?

‘Rose’s.’

>Huh, is good. I call her later and talk to you. Declan, I am so happy to see you so better. I see you soon.

He gave me a quick hug and walked back down the corridor, not before blowing a kiss to Michelle.

¬He really is something else. Is he always so full on?

‘Pretty much.’

¬OK, m’dear, back to your room with you, breakfast is on its way, you wait for Rose. What do you want me to tell visitors? Is it OK for them to come in?

‘S’kay.’

¬Right then, off you go.

No other visitors were forthcoming, hardly surprising as they would all be on their way to the club for the Monday morning analysis of Saturday’s match. That would be why Big and Dav had been so early.

I ate my breakfast as well as I could with my mangled left hand. Scrambled egg and toast, not too difficult. Rose arrived just as I was finishing a mug of tea, holding it precariously with a couple of fingers in my left hand.

:Oh love, you look heaps better. Still a bit of a sight, but there’s a spark about you now. I was so worried yesterday. Have you been for another walk like you were told to?

‘Went to the loo. Twice.’

:There’s grand, love, how did you manage? Not with the loo, thanks, but with the walking.

‘Good.’

:And your talking’s much better. No need for little Calum to tell us what you’re saying. Such a difference from yesterday. You really are made of strong stuff, aren’t you love.

I thought about my wobble when faced with my reflection. Not much strong stuff on display there.

‘Saw my face.’

:Oh love, hadn’t you seen yourself before?

I shook my head.

:Bit of a shock I expect.

I nodded.

:Well, it probably looks worse than it is. Wait till the stitches are out, and the swelling goes down. You’ll be fine. Might have some scars to tell a story about – girls like a bit of a story, especially if it makes you look tough but vulnerable. Right, love, what’s going on with this doctor? Do I need to go and hurry him up?

‘Yeah.’

So off she went to cause some trouble on my behalf. I sat back against the pillows and listened to her voice drifting down the corridor. Occasionally I could hear Michelle try to get a word in, but mostly Rose was talking. Felt a bit sorry for the medical staff, they didn’t really stand a chance. Not sorry enough to do anything about it, because Rose was making sure I was going the fuck home. After a while there was silence. Footsteps. Rose returned. She had a glint in her eye.

:By, those doctors are slippery devils. Trying to say they had a clinic or something. He’ll be here in ten minutes. Or there’ll be trouble.

‘Thanks.’

:Have you got anything you need to pack up? What happened to your clothes?

‘Don’t know.’

:Honest, what are they thinking, sending you home without clothes? You can’t go home in your pyjamas, love.

‘Bloody well will though.’

:I’m going to find out. And what about all your stuff – keys, phone, what happened to all that?

‘Don’t know.’

:Right, wait here, love.

As if I was going anywhere, but I did start to wonder what had happened to everything, although I knew about my phone, more or less. Couldn’t remember if I’d had my keys with me or not. Bit of a problem if not, couldn’t get into my flat for clothes or anything. Suspected the clothes I was wearing on Saturday, my Raiders training kit, had been ruined, probably cut off and severely bled onto at the very least. I’d had a kit bag, which I’d put the clothes I’d worn to the ground in. My keys must be in there; I always put them in my pocket. Couldn’t remember where I’d left the bag. The holes in my memory weren’t being filled in, except in tiny flashes at odd times, and it was very frustrating.

Rose came back after a while. She had little news.

:Apparently everything you came in with would be in this cupboard, apart from your clothes, which they had to throw away, shoes too. Let’s have a look in here.

She opened the cupboard door. There was nothing inside apart from a pack of wipes and Cal’s dinosaur magazine, which had been soaked in the falling out of bed event yesterday, and whose pages were stuck together.

:Well that settles that. No keys, no phone – oh, that policeman had your phone, didn’t he. One mystery solved then. Any ideas where your keys are?

I shrugged.

‘Could be at the club. Had kit bag. Don’t know where.’

:Hmm, maybe we could call someone? Have you got the club number, or what about Nico, maybe he could look?

‘Numbers were on phone.’

:Oh you youngsters, nobody remembers things these days, rely too much on bits of kit to do the remembering, you do. OK, let’s think. How did you remember my number this morning?

‘Nurses had it.’

:OK then, love, let’s see if they’ve got anyone else’s then.

Off she went again, on another mission.

Not having my phone was going to be a real pain. I stored all my contacts there, I don’t think I’d ever written anyone’s details down. I was going to be seriously out of touch while I got everything sorted.

Rose came back looking pleased with herself.

:I got hold of Nico. He gave me his number the other day, I forgot it would be on my phone. He’s going to look for your bag after his meeting. If he finds it, at least you’ll have some clothes, even if your keys aren’t there. I’m going to ring the landlord, ask if they can get you a spare. We’ll get you sorted, love, now all we need is for that doctor to turn up. Let’s see if we can grab a cuppa while we’re waiting.

Off she went again, in search of tea. I was starting to get a bit fidgety. Never had been very good at just waiting. Now I was feeling more alert, I just wanted to go. I’d walk naked to Rose’s car if that was the only way to do it, didn’t really care if I had to go barefoot in my pyjamas.

Rose came back after a while, two mugs of tea balanced in one hand, holding her phone to her ear in the other. I was pretty sure she wasn’t supposed to be using her phone in here, but wasn’t about to tell her.

:I see, well, we’ll sort something out, don’t worry … no, no, love, sounds like you’re best off throwing it away … thanks for looking, can’t have been very nice … alright, love, talk to you later.

She hung up. Looked at me. Put the mugs on top of the cabinet.

‘Well, love, you’ve got some good friends and some rotten enemies. That was Nico. He found your bag, it was in an office, but some disgusting pig had used it as a toilet. No keys. He’s throwing it all away. Who’d do that to you, love?

DivDav for a start, he’d done something similar before, to my clothes at any rate. I thought we’d made up this morning, now I didn’t quite know how to take his apology. I kept silent and shrugged, hiding my dismay.

:Right then, I need to contact the landlord and get you another key. We need to get you some clothes so you can leave here decent. And some shoes. I’ll ring him now, maybe he’ll let me in to fetch you something. Has that doctor been by yet?

‘No.’

:Right, something else to chase up then.

The morning wore on with one frustrating delay after another. Rose managed to contact Tony, the landlord, who, after talking to me, agreed to go with Rose to pick up some clothes and trainers from my flat. The doctor visited me, and signed off on my discharge, but only once the pharmacy had made up my prescription for painkillers. Apparently the pharmacy were very busy and would get to my prescription when they could.

Cal

And then, with one thing and another, I didn’t really think about having a brother for a long time, because it was nearly Christmas, and I had written a list, but I needed to sort out Optimus Prime. I had wanted to put him on my list to Santa, but Dec had said he would get me one for my birthday, before it all went wrong. If I put Optimus Prime on my list to Santa, and then Dec remembered and gave me a late birthday present, I would have two, and I would rather have a Grimlock and an Optimus Prime than two Optimus Primes. I needed to talk to Dec so I could sort it out.

The next day, Mum had texts and phone calls all day from Rose, who told her that Dec was coming out of hospital and going to live with Rose for a while. We were going to call Dec and I was going to ask him to come to live with us for Christmas, and I would be able to ask him about Santa.

Mum made me practise what I was going to say, even though I didn’t need to practise to talk to Dec. She said because he’d been in hospital, and had been sad, we had to be careful with him, and so I practised like she told me.

Dec

More waiting. Lunchtime came. Cheese sandwiches. Chewing seemed to be back on the agenda. Rose reappeared, quite a long time after I’d expected her back. She looked worried.

:Sorry I’ve been so long, love. Bit of a problem with your flat. The door was open when we got there, it’s all a bit of a mess. Same thing that’s happened with your bag. Smelt foul. All over your clothes, bed, sofa, everything. They smashed stuff up, your plates and food and that, your telly too. About the only thing in your flat worth breaking. Tony’s called the police, and he’s staying till they arrive, then he’s going to call someone out to clean it all up. Are you sure your keys were in your bag?

‘Can’t really remember. In my jeans pocket?’

:Then probably the person who did your bag got your keys and let themselves in. I don’t know, love, I just don’t understand it. Anyway, I’ve called in at the supermarket and got you some clothes. Had to guess your size, might be a bit big, but better that than too small. Not the trendiest either.

She waved a carrier bag in my direction.

‘Shit, Rose, my flat?’

My brain had just caught up with what she had said.

:Oh, I’m sorry, love, shouldn’t have just blurted it out.

‘All my stuff?’

She sat by the bed and took my hand.

:Sorry love, all over your clothes, there just wasn’t anything I could bring.

‘Got nothing left … nothing.’

I almost couldn’t breathe, just the latest in a long line of indignities and insults. I was starting to think that even if I was a worthless piece of shit, I still didn’t deserve all this. Whenever things started to get a bit better, something new would come along and take it all away again. I could barely get my head round what must have gone on in my flat while I wasn’t there, that someone would just go in and …

:Oh, love, I never thought of it like that. We’ll get you new stuff. Better than this stuff, I’ll go out later.

‘Not the point. My home, my fucking stuff. And your fucking stuff. Your telly. Too much.’

I was angry, furious. Felt completely powerless to do anything about it.

:I’m sorry love, so sorry. It’ll all be cleaned up soon, once the police have finished. And I don’t want you worrying about my telly, it was really old. Here, put these things on, see if they fit, I’ve got trainers too, look –

I was breathing heavily, trying hard to keep my anger under control. Didn’t want to think about Rose’s bag of clothes. Wanted to smash things. Didn’t want Rose in the line of fire. Didn’t think I should really smash things in a hospital either. Several deep breaths later, just about pushed it far enough down. Rose was looking at me with concern.

:This has really upset you, hasn’t it, love.

‘Yeah. Fucking bastards.’

:Well, I think that’s what they wanted, to get under your skin. Don’t let them win. I can see how angry it’s made you, try to put that somewhere and use it later. Deal with this, focus on getting home with me, use being angry to fuel something else, getting better, working on getting fit again. I know it’s hard, you want to punch someone I expect. It’s not fair, not after everything that’s happened to you. Just use it, don’t let it use you.

‘Fuck. Fuck! You’re right. Sorry. Wise old Rose. Fucking, fucking hell.’

A few more deep breaths. A few more fucks. Still wanted to smash things, deep down somewhere, but much less likely to do it right now.

:Less of the ‘old’, you. And I’ll let you off the language in the circumstances. Good job little Calum’s not here, he wouldn’t believe his ears.

A tap on the door. Nurse Michelle.

¬Everything alright in here? Mind keeping the noise down a bit? I know you’re feeling better but we’ve got other sick people here and everything.

:Sorry, love, Declan’s just had a bit of a shock. Think he’s OK now.

‘Sorry.’

¬Well, OK, just as long as everything’s alright. We’ve just had word from the pharmacy, they’re sending your meds up, it’s all OK for you to leave, whenever you want.

:Oh that’s grand. I think we’re almost set, you just need to get changed. Alright now, love?

‘Kay.’

She put the bag of clothes on the bed.

:I’ll wait outside, come and get me.

I got changed as quickly as I could; my plastered right arm gave me some difficulty, both getting my pyjama shirt off and the new one on. Pulling trousers up was tricky too, although thankfully Rose had chosen tracksuit bottoms with no zip or buttons. She had neglected to get underpants, something I was quite pleased about as the thought of her pondering boxers versus briefs, and exactly what she thought my size was, was somewhere I didn’t really want to visit. No socks either, but the trainers were a good enough fit and had Velcro fastenings, although it was hard to bend down to reach, and my fingers didn’t grip very well.

After a struggle, a lot of pain and a ‘fuck’ or two, I was finally ready – sweating, a bit dishevelled and in need of a good scrubbing in many areas, but ready to go. I picked up the pyjamas and put them in the bag. It was amazing how difficult simple actions like that were with only a few working fingers, and two arms that didn’t really bend properly. Refused to get frustrated. Managed it in the end. Left the room and found Rose in the corridor.

:Here you are, I was just about to send a search party. Having trouble, love?

‘A bit. Diddit though.’

:Well done, love. You show ’em. Let’s go then.

So we did, picking up the pills from Michelle on the desk as we went. Slow progress, but I walked all the way to the outside on my own. Lots of looks from people, some sideways glances, some open-mouthed staring. I suppose I was a bit of a sight with my bruises, stitches and swollen face, but I stared everyone down from behind my puffy eyelids. Rose fussed and twittered, telling me every ten seconds to

:Be careful, love.

:Mind the door, love.

:Don’t go so fast, love, you might trip over.

:Are you sure you don’t want a wheelchair, love?

:Watch that little boy, love …

I let her get on with it, mostly ignored her, concentrating on one foot in front of the other and not banging into anything. The main entrance seemed miles away, but it arrived eventually. I sped up as I approached, couldn’t wait for the outside. It felt like I had been here for weeks, instead of less than forty eight hours. Finally through the doors, I stopped and breathed in fresh air.

Author: 00dreams00

Human of several decades experience. Full time employment, part-time enjoyment. Searching for the fountain of youth in the sure knowledge that it will be full of beer cans and dog piss. Plan B is the fountain of age, which will be found next to a comfy chair with the TV remote in easy reach.

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