Hospital visit (2009)

Idiot smiles in chins slick with drool.

A bag of sagging flesh ambles along the corridor. She is bruised and bloated like some grotesque beaten beast. Staples run from temple to temple like a rail line.

I visit a skeleton. Arthritic joints curl fingers into claws. They clutch at me urgently.

The Roman Catholic chaplaincy has come and gone. They left a pamphlet full of prayer and promise. Death is obviously near but god, if he is here, is more subtle. I cannot apprehend him. Perhaps the others can.

Words fill the air, the innocuous ‘secondary’, the arcane ‘metastasised’.

‘Cancer’ echoes in the room or in my mind. The word haunts like a spectre. Every other word exists in the long shadow it casts.

A nurse brings afternoon tea. White with sugar. It is drunk through a straw with glacial precision.

My boy saves me. Soon he will be two. He is life amidst death. He is irrepressible – indomitable. He is an incarnation of oblivious joy. He climbs over the deathbeds like they are play equipment in the park.

Then he is tired and saves us all.

“He is tired.”

Excuses are made. Cheeks are kissed: his round and plump; hers dry and wrinkled.

We shuffle out with guilt inflecting our relief.

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