by Zoe Chater
It is 6am and the streets are dark and quiet. Starlings are squabbling over fresh worms, piercing the silence. In the main carpark of the hospital, a distressed young couple are vacating their car. They share worried glances as he unclasps the car seat that houses their screaming baby. Beyond the walls, there is no sense of time. Blue-tinged lights hum overhead and a perpetual flurry of staff fills the corridors. A nurse is scrutinising a patient’s care plan, her eyes dry and stinging.
A woman named Emma is following the blue stripe on the floor carefully, taking her back to her husband Tony’s ward. She is bringing him a stack of crossword puzzles to keep him occupied while he waits for surgery. He asked her to bring him something sweet. She has a Twix in her pocket but she thinks he isn’t allowed to eat it.
Tony is wearing a gown that has no back. He has not eaten or slept in 17 hours. Yesterday evening he refused the hospital food and now he is almost wishing he hadn’t. Almost. He catches sight of his wife and he is relieved. They will wait together there silently for hours and he won’t feel alone.
Tony is full of pain medication and is finding it hard to concentrate. He had a stabbing sensation in his lower back for months that just got worse until Emma rushed him to A and E. Yesterday, he and Emma found out why; he has “renal cell carcinoma”. He is having his kidney removed today.
It is 10.30am. All around the hospital, patients are whispering final sentiments to loved ones. “Take good care of my children.” “Never forget me.” “Promise that you will stay strong.” Tony unknowingly makes his last request. “Emma, will you bring my blue trousers?”
Emma understands. He wants better than his tatty jeans to come home in. The only problem is, in their 12 years of marriage she has never once seen him in a pair of blue trousers.
Back at home, she pulls items from their wardrobe, from drawers, from old boxes in the loft. She packs the car with every black pair she can find, in the hope that one of them is a subtle navy she hasn’t noticed. She packs his favourite brown corduroys just in case he changes his mind.
It is 12.30pm. Back at the hospital, Tony is uncomfortable. He doesn’t like hospitals. He doesn’t like being half naked and drowsy from morphine. The floral patterns on the curtains surrounding his bed are dancing and making him dizzy. In the day surgery unit, a surgeon is washing his hands methodically; nails to the palms, then fingers between fingers.
Emma, layers of clothing bundled into her arms, is following the blue stripe once again. As she approaches Tony she sees his face crumple softly. “I’m so sorry”, he is saying. It’s the drugs, the confusion. He misspoke before. He didn’t mean blue. He meant brown.
Zoe Chater is a secondary school physics teacher who likes to write fiction and poetry in her spare time.
Our Reader said:
This was a really interesting idea, and convincing story.