Authors: Marianne Kavanagh
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he waiting room was painted off-white. There were blue plastic chairs all the way round, their backs against the walls. In one corner, two women surrounded by shopping bags, heads close together, were whispering.
It was the kind of room that made you feel you were in the wrong place.
Kim was sitting by the window. Her blond hair was sticking up in tufts.
He sat down. Hospitals are always hot. But he didn't take off his jacket in case it looked like he was assuming something. Like a welcome. “Any news?”
She shook her head.
The whispering in the corner got louder. One of the women shifted her weight and a Tesco bag fell sideways, gaping open. Harry could see pizza boxes and a liter carton of milk. He said, “Can I get you something?”
She looked up. Someone had pressed inky thumbprints beneath her eyes.
He said, “You look terrible.”
She wore black jeans, as usual, but her T-shirt was faded. You
could just make out the stencil of a grinning face and
! in red letters. He said, “I meant you look tired.”
She didn't reply.
“Do you want me to get you some coffee?”
After a while, he said, “Tea?”
“Harry, shut up.” Her voice was so loud that one of the women in the corner looked up. “I wouldn't have rung you if I thought you were going to sit there wittering all night.”
Harry said slowly, “I'm glad you did, though.”
She slumped, defeated. “I thought you ought to know.”
Both women were staring at them now. We have become a TV drama, thought Harry. A bit of hospital entertainment for a Sunday night. He flashed them a brilliant smile to shame them, and they dropped their eyes. One of them righted the Tesco bag and moved it closer to her chair.
For a while, no one in the room spoke at all. Harry wanted to ask more questions. He wanted to take off his jacket. He wanted to get some coffeeâideally from the kind of machine that promised a double espresso. But he was unable to move. He felt like a fly in a web, all bundled up in sticky silk.
The door opened. A woman in a blue tunic and trousers glanced round. Kim went white and sat up straight.
“Don't get up,” said the woman. “I just wanted to let you know that we're all done. I'm going off duty now, so I won't see you again until tomorrow. If you're still here then.”
“What's happening?” said Harry.
“Are you a relative?”
“No, he's not,” said Kim.
Harry read the name badge. Dr. Annan.
“He's a friend,” said Kim, after a pause.
Harry shot her a quick glance.
The doctor said, “No change. We have to let the drugs do their work.”
“How long before we know?” said Kim.
“I can't tell you, I'm sorry. It's just a matter of waiting.”
Update over. Harry couldn't believe that Kim was letting her go. They watched the doctor walk out of the room, and Harry's need to know more was so strong that he almost shouted out. But he had no right to demand information. He had no right to anything. He felt the two women in the corner watching him. They had been listening to every word. “It's wonderful, isn't it?” he said in a loud voice, addressing them both. “The National Health Service. Such dedicated staff.”
They looked away.
“But she's good,” said Kim.
“I didn't say she wasn't.”
He thought she was going to argue. The old Kim would have. Dived in to deliver a lecture on the public ownership of essential services. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. But she said nothing.
“So what now?” said Harry.
“We wait.” Her eyes had no expression. “Or at least I wait. You can do what you like.”
“You can go in if you want. It's the bed on the left.”
“Are you coming?”
She looked so small and defenseless, sitting there in the bland chair against the blank wall. It didn't suit her. Kim was a fighter. He said, “I could go home and get some stuff for you. A change of clothes?”
She shook her head. But he understood that. If life is shit, a clean pair of jeans isn't going to help. And she'd never cared much about the way she looked anyway. It was Eva who cared, with her long hippie skirts and beads and trailing scarves. Harry swallowed. “Do you want me to ring anyone?”
“Your mother?” He could almost hear her voice.
I've never been very good with illness. I find it so draining.
“I rang her this morning. She can't come.”
Harry nodded. He wouldn't have expected anything else.
She looked at him as if he were stupid. “Why would I want you to ring my father?”
Because he's family. And that's what you do at a time like this. You gather people around who might help. Even if you haven't seen them for years. “What about Jake?”
Kim stood up so suddenly, the chair jumped. “Harry, if you don't shut up, I'm going to find somewhere else to sit, OK? This is not some mess that needs you to barge in and take control. I've done everything that has to be done. I rang you because I thought I should. But I don't need you. I'm fine on my own.”
She was shaking.
After a while, she sat down. But she kept her head turned
towards the window, although you couldn't see anythingâtrees, red buses, ambulancesâbecause of the white slatted blinds.
Harry felt in his jacket pocket for his phone. “I'm going outside. I'll be back later.”
If she heard, she gave no sign.
In the corridor, which smelt of warm disinfectant, Harryâin his City suit, handmade, cashmereâleant back against the wall. The hopelessness made his body feel light, his bones hollow.
â¢Â Â â¢Â Â â¢
Kim felt sick. The effort of standing up to Harry had swallowed the last bit of energy she had. She wished she had something in her pocket to eatâan old packet of mints, some chocolate. But she had nothing. She didn't even have any cash in her purse. That would have been something he could have helped with. He always had money. Notes folded over in thick wads, ready to be peeled off and spent.
“That your boyfriend?” said one of the women in the corner. They were both staring at her.
Kim shook her head.
“I wouldn't say no to him,” said the bigger one. Her hair was pulled back so tight that the skin on her forehead was smooth and shiny. She wore gold hoop earrings.
Both the women laughed.
“He looks like that actor off the telly,” said the woman with the earrings to her friend. “The Italian one who's always smiling. You know.” She turned back to Kim. “So who is he, then?”
Kim realized she was shivering. She ran her hands up and down her arms.
“You all right?”
Kim hugged her arms closer.
“It's the waiting. That's what it is. It gets to you. We've been here since three. And now they're taking blood from him.” She shuddered. “I can't do blood. I've never been any good at blood.”
Leave me alone. Please leave me alone. I can't think about anything but not thinking.
The door opened. A nurse in a blue uniform stood at the threshold. Kim's heart missed a beat. But the nurse looked over at the women in the corner. “You can come through now.”
There was the kerfuffle of finding coats and hoisting bags onto shoulders. As they left, the woman who'd been doing all the talking looked over at Kim and nodded. “I hope it goes all right for you.”
The door slammed shut. Kim was alone again.
Except, as usual, Harry was around somewhere. Harry was always around somewhere.
Kim put her head in her hands.