Part Two: Life
There was nothing, he was nothing. Vague shapes floated, disembodied in the void. Faint, from a great distance, the memory of existence faded in to replace that disembodied oblivion. Such sense of self came riding on a wave of pain, dull at first, a confusing sensation that could be barely registered. But as consciousness swarmed over the bulwark of his thought the pain was noticed and felt in its entirety.
As his mind broke up, out of the dark, smothering unconsciousness, the light brought a throbbing ache, an overwhelming mass of white-hot lines lacing his joints and muscles, growing in depth and sharpness until he screamed, and the pain continued to grow. His belly was a yawning chasm, a vacuum pulling agonizingly at the walls of his gut. Every muscle was wasted and twisted tight to cramp and scream, his eyes burned with the harsh glare of the lights, his lips were dry and badly chafed, his heart beat weakly and fluttered like a wounded butterfly behind the cage of his ribs.
Mark Camden opened his eyes with a great shuddering gasp of air. And a deep, primitive cry was torn out from the depths of his being,. All he knew was the agony in his fragile limbs, the deep ache of every atrophied muscle, the deep pain in his long-unused eyes. He couldn’t move his limbs, his neck, his body lay helpless in a cradle of agony.
His weak and inhuman cries brought people running to his bed with needles and drugs for it was all they had. The syringe sunk into his stalk of an arm and slowly, as the numbing drugs crawled through his tortured system, he fell back into the suffocating dark he had come from.
And so Mark lived, drifting helplessly in the dark depths of his wasted self. Occasionally breaking from those cold waters to his screaming flesh, and then drugs would swamp his synapses and the agony dulled for those brief instants of timeless drift. Wasted, his flesh rubbish and hurting, weak, helpless and alone, his only thoughts were of loss and despair.
Even, as time passed, the physical pain dulled; even then his mind was bent under the weight of that loss. All was over, all good was gone, life was pain and now an unending crawl on broken limbs awaited him. Now he remembered his life before, glimpses as seen through a fog, he remembered despair, depression. So long ago but clear now. Nothing was right; nothing was as it should be. Even healthy life was a distraction, filling existence with triviality to blind himself from the mind-wrenching tragedy of the imperfect world. Alcohol, women, friends and fun, all were loosely thrown veils over the truth of existence, successful for a time and then sensation failed, entertainment distracted no more and the pointlessness of existence drove him under into weeping and despair. Mark was broken and ended, his paradise lost. He had fallen, he had rescinded. And living was a cruel parody of what it had once been.
A room cluttered with the detritus of hurried rest. A full bin, dull white walls, a sink filled with unwashed mugs and teaspoons, the upright mugs spilling tea-flavoured tap water over their brim. Chairs lined a wall and a table in one corner, functional, the harsh white light from the strip above glaring from the laminated surface. Lockers opposite the chairs and a fridge by the sink. The personnel of the hospital used this room to change from their outdoor clothes. Clothing, money, mobile phones, coats and shoes filled the lockers. Uniforms hung on the walls.
Nothing meant anything to Angela, it should mean something she was sure, she knew this room, she knew it had a point to it, she just couldn’t seem to register such information. Sean had sat with her for a time until an emergency had dragged him back to the thronging bustle that filled the world outside the door. Now Helen sat beside her. Her hand was moving across Angela’s shoulders. She realised Helen was comforting her; it didn’t seem to be important.
Why was she sitting here, she dimly remembered bursting into tears as Sean had asked her if she was all right. She couldn’t answer him, she could only see that terrible wasted thing that had been a man. She didn’t know his name. The police had arrived; she remembered that Sean had told her that. Angela had worked automatically as the man was brought back in from where his assailant had dumped him in the car park as he had fled. She had brought the drip to where Sean and Doctor Richards were working on stabilizing him. Doctor Ullman was in a cubicle being checked over. They thought the blow to his stomach might have ruptured his intestine.
She had worked professionally until the man was taken away, the trolley with its fragile load disappearing into the lift with the two grim-faced porters. Sean had turned to her then and seen her face properly and spoken and then…Angela tried to stop crying, her face was against Helen’s chest, wetting her uniform with her tears. She tried to stop, but she just couldn’t.
The ‘On Call’ room. Empty and silent with a bed for those doctors that stayed in overnight to wait for the need that called them. The lights were off and Sean sat in the dark, staring at nothing. It was too much. Life shouldn’t be that way, even death shouldn’t be that way. Part of him wished the man had died in the car park, then at least he would be free. But now… he could not cry like Angela, maybe it would be better if he could. But he couldn’t and so he sat, locked into himself as Angela sat with her friends and let the emotions break against the shoulders of others.
Her friend Helen hadn’t seen the man; she hadn’t leant over him, smelling that stench as they fought to attach thin tubes to almost collapsed veins. So Helen could hold her and murmur words to her that comforted though Angela couldn’t hear them. Helen could tell her she was in shock, she just had to cry it out, she could even drive her home tonight and stay up with Angela as she vainly tried to explain in between wracking sobs why what had happened had shook her so much.
Helen could take Angela out to the pub during the week and even take a day off work to spend the day with her, to stop Angela moping. But Sean had nothing and he never had. So he sat and stared at a place just past the wall and tried to wrestle with what he had seen and failed and so hardened inside, some scar medicine could not heal callusing over within him. He wished briefly he had someone to cry with and realised that he didn’t and then, then he almost cried. But he forced back the fiery tears that tried to betray him. And he lay back on the bed and curled into a ball.
And Angela’s tears ended but the flood had washed things away inside her, the geography had changed. Helen’s words meant nothing, she hadn’t been there, she didn’t see those eyes, those pitiful sunken eyes and what lay within. Angela could not explain and she would never try but she knew, she felt. It had been terrible but it was an experience that had changed her, that made her look at life differently. Angela looked at the world and now it seemed distant. Life with its pleasures and its goals, its drives and ends seemed important but they were just veils hiding the truth.
It was a thought burned deep into her spirit and although after time as Angela forgot these thoughts, and these feelings lost their immediacy and faded as all feelings do, though such feelings died as she recovered from her shock and came back to work that deep knowledge remained. Something within her mind had shifted and things would now move along different paths.
Sean sat up, cursing himself for his weakness, for the pain he felt, it was undignified, he was a Doctor. What was he doing lying down when people needed his help? He cuffed the tears away and banished the thoughts that threatened to break him to the very bottom of his mind where they could do no harm. He stood up tall and marched out into the world again, holding his back straight and ignoring and forgetting all that he had seen. It was nothing, just a momentary weakness, just emotion, nothing real. He didn’t even take a day off work, what was the point of dwelling on something so stupid.
Over the week Angela spent away from work she thought of her life; friends and boyfriends gained, gathered and lost, hobbies and goals imagined, feverishly pursued and abandoned without a backward glance. She had gone through life with no attachments, no anchors, no roots. Her father’s house had been a place to sleep for her and little more, it had been since her mother died and her father had slipped into illness and been taken into hospital. The only thing she had persevered with had been her medical career, the only constant. But now that was shaken. If she couldn’t even cope with one emergency how could she keep being a nurse?
She worried about it and her scattered life. She had gained nothing lasting but what she now was, no past remained, and her future was likely to be the same; another house, another job, another man, another life and a past discarded and lost to memory. To be hated for its absence. She wanted something else, something more.
Angela saw Sean that week and tried to talk to him but he didn’t understand in the way she did. They grew closer though and he loved her for her attempts to explain the depths of her being to him and she cared for him and loved the small truths he allowed her to coax from beneath his hardened shell.
She told him of her innermost fears, she opened up to him like she had never done to anyone before, most people unable to imagine that any kind of fear or self-critique could exist behind Angela’s laughing, eager exterior. And the dark fears in her heart didn’t push Sean away but brought him closer But though they grew closer as men and women do he didn’t understand her shift of thought and the new decisions she felt herself making.
Although, as time passed and they talked long into the night Angela drew those feelings out from Sean that he had never dared allow himself to feel before. And he now remembered and admitted those rare black nights in his past of weeping and clutching his pillow and fighting to stop the tears, struggling to hide what he felt even from himself. But in Angela’s arms he could safely feel.
And then he spoke of what he had felt that morning after that wasted man was brought in. And the feelings such a life shattering experience brought, though too much for either to cope with on their own, shared became able to be borne.
“I talked to Hannah today.” Angela began one late night as they lay, warm and satisfied.
“What did she say?” Sean replied.
“She was okay with it. She seemed to understand.”
“I wish I did.”
Sean stared at the ceiling. Angela brushed a strand of hair from his face.
“I thought you did understand. You were there as well, you saw it”
She stopped talking, an image in her mind.
“I understand your feelings. I just don’t know why you want to transfer up to the wards. I saw him as well; hell I pumped his heart back to life. And yes, it shocked me.” He turned to her and stared into her eyes as she lay on her side facing him. “You know how much it shocked me”
He paused, unable to speak again of it now but both safe in the shared knowledge that it had been spoken before. The feelings were spoken now by their eyes as they met in each other’s gaze. She nodded, understanding. She moved her head softly, lips brushing his, her scent filling his senses, the rustle of skin against bedsheets, her hand on his arm.
“I just want to move. It’s complicated. I just…” Again words failed, useless to describe the landscape of emotion, urges and half-thought that filled her head as she tried to pin down why she had made the decision to transfer out of the Emergency ward. Sean could not understand this, Angela could not explain this. Her mind now thought along different lines and though Sean had felt the same as her, somehow he had remained the same.
“Won’t you miss…everyone?” The pause made Angela smile sweetly.
“You’re just upset that you won’t be able to pull me into a broom cupboard all the time.” She replied with a smile.
“I’ve never done that.” Indignation faded as the thought made him smile.
“It’s true though isn’t it?” She replied.
“Yeah I’ll miss working with you. But that’s not the point.” He tried to find reasons for his protests, “you’ve made friends here… you’re good at your job.”
“I’ll still see them,” she interrupted, “I’ll be good at my new job, I’ll still be a nurse.” She put her head against his shoulder, pressing closer to him along the length of their bodies. “I’ll still see you.” Her breath warm against him. He ran his hand along her side and kissed the top of her head. He had no more reasons to argue against her and he didn’t want to either.
It was late but he didn’t feel tired. His hand moved against the softness of her skin. His heart pounded as she shifted against him and raised her face to his and their lips met in a deep kiss and Angela moved against him
It was Mark that drew them both, though even they couldn’t know or interpret the muddled feelings that filled their minds. Angela especially felt drawn to him, her soft caring nature wanting to make him whole again. But more than that he had touched her life, not as a person but as a truth. A truth bigger than she understood or could ever understand.
Sean felt it too, curiosity a part of it but also something else. Something bigger than their lives, something greater, something that didn’t fit into the patterns and truths thrown up to explain the world around them. Such a thing had been glimpsed deep within them as Mark touched their lives. But now that thing was gone and all that was left was a man, crippled and broken in a hospital. Now those veils of senses and the physical world that had been so rudely thrown up were falling down again.
Sean had already forgotten what he had felt in his soul. But for Angela, more used to following her feelings, abstract and fleeting though they were, the urge towards the greater truth remained. Even though it was so incomprehensible to her. Towards Mark though she felt herself drawn in a way she did not understand. And though later such feelings would fade and die like Sean’s, this decision would keep her near until curiosity took their place.
It was the last Monday in June. Another blazing hot day, the azure sky seeming to shine with its own light, and the colours of the small gardens the wards looked out on were highlighted bright against the walls of the hospital.
Mark Camden didn’t see the bright sky or the plants beyond his window though. He was in a separate room, away from others. It had been easy to stabilize him, surprisingly easy, considering what he had been through. He now lay, alone, drifting in and out of consciousness and pain as the drugs drifted through his wasted system. Machines lay beside him, monitoring his fragile life, and his tired lungs were helped along by a softly, rhythmically hissing respirator.
A policeman was permanently stationed outside his room, purposely trying not to look at him as he drank his stale coffee from a paper cup. It would be weeks before Mark was well enough to answer any questions and the impatient police hovered incessantly around the ward, their fruitless investigations in the outside world and the accusing, horrified headlines fired out from the local newspapers every day only heightening their impatience.
Slowly the sedatives washed themselves from Mark’s tired mind. For the first time in five days he opened his eyes without screaming with pain. It was still there of course, but dulled by the drugs, able to be endured. It was still hard to breath, and he couldn’t move his wasted body yet. His too-big head lolled on his scrawny neck and he blinked against the harsh light of the room.
His eyes were dry and though he sobbed, crying at the pain and the loss of his life, his paradise that he had lived in for so very long; no tears came to his dry eyes. This was flesh, this was life. And he couldn’t bear it.