Muddled Daze

Chapter 1 - Heaven and Hell (extract)

“Dead… I suppose I must be dead.”

“Don’t be a numbskull. If you’re dead you wouldn’t know you were dead would you?”

“How do you know? I might do. Nobody actually knows what it’s like. This might be it. The definitive deadness. Anyway if I’m not dead what am I? This is certainly not what I remember of being alive.”

“There. That proves my point. The very fact that you can remember what it is like to be alive means you’re not really dead.”

“Ha! Well explain to me why I‘ve no feelings at all in my body. No pain, no pleasure, no nothing at all.”

“Don’t you mean ‘nothing at all’? ‘No nothing at all’ would be a feeling of some kind would it not?”

“Now you’re splitting hairs. I can’t feel. I can’t see. I can’t hear. I can’t even smell anything.”

“But you’re thinking clearly.”

“Oh my God! I’ve just realised. I’m in hell. Condemned forever to think, disembodied from all senses.”

“Sounds like heaven to me. Just consider. You can imagine anything you like and there are no consequences. No judgement. No comeback. No nagging. You can imagine being engaged in multiple obscene acts with several members of the Royal Family at once and nobody can touch you for it. Well not unless you want them to, that is.”

“Do dead people sleep?” was the last thought he had before he slipped back into a deep coma.

Anthea looked at him with intense irritation and scratched an angry pimple on her nose. She rearranged herself on the dark red vinyl chair with a slight squelching sound, her unshaved legs snagging against her thick tights. She turned to watch the nurse swish into the room, brandishing a thermometer and a professional smile.

“Do they ever come round? I mean he’s been three weeks with scarcely a flicker.”

“Oh I’m sure there’s every chance he will, but sometimes it can take months, even years.”

“Oh thanks for the reassurance. Years. I can’t stand much more of this. It hardly seems worth bothering any more. I mean, he didn’t take much notice of me before but now I don’t know where I stand.”

“You must be patient. Even if he doesn’t respond to your visits, subconsciously he may be able to sense your presence, hear your voice. You may be helping him without realising it.”

“Hmm... Do you think he’ll be normal if he comes round?”

“They are often as right as rain but it is difficult to tell – even for the experts. You’d better have another talk with the consultant.”

“How the hell am I supposed to do that? He’s never available. The only time I see him, he swans past like God in a hurry, daring you to ask a stupid question so he can patronise you with a worldly smile. Thanks, but no thanks.”

“Oh, he’s not that bad really. Just terribly busy. Can I get you a cup of tea?”

“No, ta. If he doesn’t come round pronto I’m going to get me some alternative male company.”

Having used the mirror in the hospital toilets and camouflaged the offending spot, Anthea marched into the lounge bar of the Parrot with a determined air. Despite the heavy pall of tobacco smoke swirling around under the Victorian-style brass lamps, there were only three people in the bar. Two ne’er-do-wells playing snooker and Bernard. Bernard was puffing on a cigar and nursing an empty pint glass. He appeared to be counting the number of repeats in the flock wallpaper.

“Bernard, fancy seeing you in here. How you doing?”

“I’m in here every night and I’m all right. Just thirsty.”

“Can I get you a pint then? I could do with a friendly chat with someone.”

“A pint of best – but I don’t do chat. I’m a bloke”.

“Well, I’ll chat to you then. Pint of best bitter for Bernard, Jim, and a large vodka tonic for me, no ice.”

“Where’s your friend then? I’ve not seen him in here for weeks.”

She took a large slug of vodka and looked at him. “’Him’. Ray you mean? He’s off with the fairies. Perhaps for good.”

“What, he’s a queer? A gay boy?”

“No. He’s sparko. In a coma. Has been for weeks.”

“No – you don’t say. Car accident? Drugs?”

“A pineapple fell on his head.”

“You taking the piss?”

“No, but it is a long story and I don’t want to talk about it. Get me another drink – a large one – and just let’s have some fun. I’m fed up with being a brave bedside accessory.”

Time seemed suspended in the harsh lighting of the hospital ward. Sounds of whirring machinery and muffled voices. Smells of uneaten meals and troubled bowel movements mingled with antiseptic and polish. The new shift of nurses were tending their charges, handing out drugs, checking monitoring equipment and dispensing words of encouragement where hope was slender.

Nurse Jacobs leant over the supine form that slept on peacefully, her hair hanging disgracefully over her face.

“Graham, Graham. Can you hear me? Mr. Sunshine it is time for your bed bath.”

The body in front of her began to stir.

“Graham, Graham.”

The stirrings stopped and the regular, but shallow, breathing resumed as if it had been a wrong number. Nurse Jacobs completed her task with dispassionate efficiency and was tidying the counterpane as a dishevelled woman approached the bed clasping a capacious shopping bag.

“Any signs of life yet, Nurse?”

“He is, well, alive, but no, he hasn’t come around yet, Mrs Sunshine. He did stir a bit when I spoke to him so it is possible he can hear something.”

“Gray, Gray. It’s your mum. I’ve brought you some of your favourite sandwiches. Peanut butter and marmalade, thick cut.”

Getting zero reaction she turned to Nurse Jacobs.

“Every day I make his favourite sandwiches and every day I have to throw them away. Is there another patient who’d appreciate them? My dog won’t touch them. And to think it’s all because of one of those newfangled digiphonic radios or whatever they call them.”

“Whatever do you mean Mrs. Sunshine, it’s all because of a radio?”

“Well if it hadn’t been for the radio he wouldn’t have thought he was late and he’d have gone to watch the football match as planned.”

“Why? Did they give the wrong time on the radio?”

“No, it was the right time but he thought it was wrong.”

“Mrs. Sunshine, you’ve lost me completely.”

“You see it was a hire car and he didn’t realise it had digiphonic.”

“What is digiphonic?”

“Well, I’m not sure it’s actually digiphonic but it’s something like that. You see it updates the time automatically.”

“Why was that a problem?”

“Well the clocks had gone forward the night before and when Gray saw the time he added an hour on and thought to himself, ‘I must have overslept. No point in going to the match now because it will nearly be finished by the time I get there.’ He didn’t realise the car had digiphonics and had already added the hour on for him. In fact he’d added two hours on instead of the one. If it hadn’t been for that he’d be all right now, not just vegetating in this bed.”

“I see, Mrs. Sunshine, I see. If you will excuse me I need to attend urgently to Mr. Short’s enema.”

With that she turned and clipped off down to the other end of the ward.


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Muddled Daze