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2020:Hindsight 7

The Tale of the Dying Consultant


The Saturday after TFF Friday, there I lay, not ten feet from where I am now, on the cold, cold floor of this old Warfield church; one of the impromptu evacuation centres, set up by a process of random selection the previous evening. Of course people had tried to phone for ambulances, but there were no phones, so others had driven to the hospital for help, but there was no help to be had. The hospital was full, the ambulances were out, ferrying the dying and the dead, but with no where to take them and no medicine to give them and no doctors to attend to them. It was like the worst Friday night in casualty there ever was, and it was never ending. The beds were full, the wards were full, the corridors were full, even the staff quarters and the gardenerís cottage was full. Sorry, go away.

So I was driven around for three hours to five different hospitals, using up suddenly precious fuel. But the story was always the same. Eventually we came back to the old neighborhood. I was too far-gone to even appear to make sense. I should have said, "Take me home and put me in my own bed. At least I can die in peace in my own room. Not in the back of a Volvo Estate, in a pool of liquid detergent and milk and someone elseís blood." But I didnít say that. I was at best semi-conscious, and my throat was as swollen as my ankles, from screaming and crying and cursing. I could hardly breathe between my sobs and I could hardly see between my tears.

We hit a minor traffic jam on the way into the village and eventually came to a harassed policeman trying to direct the traffic. At the time he seemed like a big, perhaps slightly tubby, dark-blue beacon of hope. In retrospect he was a small black crab playing King Cnut against the high tides of winter, waiting to be washed away and dashed on the rocks of disaster as that long killer season took him and his kind away. He was the last policeman I ever saw.

He directed my exhausted but unscathed driver to the old stone church. There was still room at this particular inn, so between them the Engineer, who was driving, and the Policeman, who was misdirecting, moved me and my two companions out of the back of the Volvo and into the church. This proved the last straw for me. There being no stretchers, they carried me, feet dangling, from the car to the church. It hurt.

I remember only three other things about that evening. I remember screaming "My legs! My legs!", as they hauled me through the little graveyard beside the church. I remember thinking "Oh God, please donít let me die here!" and at almost the same time thinking, "Oh God, please let me die here!" I remember them laying me out on a now long gone pew. Unable to help myself, I slid off onto the floor below, jolting even more agony into my ankles. I thought it was impossible to feel more pain, and then I did. They tried to lift me back on to the pew again, but I screamed hoarsely for them to stop, to leave me alone, to get the fucking Jesus Christ out of this bastarding church and leave me to die in fucking peace.

Eventually they got the message. They left me to lie on the cold hard floor, instead of the cold hard bench. The chill eventually numbed my legs and my arse and my back and my neck and my head. And my ankles. The chill lessened the pain, and I kind of believe now that the cold saved me in the end. Otherwise the pain would have left me insane. OK, so maybe it did leave me insane, but youíre reading this thing, not me. If you want to read the ramblings of a man twenty years mad, thatís your look-out.

They put my two travelling companions on the pews above me and went off to get help, or find some more injured, or have a fry-up. To be honest I donít know where they went, but they never came back. Of my two companions from the Volvo, one was already quite dead. He moaned about it a lot throughout the night.

Iíd never been close to a dead person before. I had no idea that they creaked and groaned and sighed and smelled so much. As they stiffen and decay, all sorts of internal gases and fluids find there way out. This already-dead guy had a bad chest wound that kept gurgling away to itself, and his neck wound emitted some strange whistles, creaks and rattles. Where the rest of the strange corporeal noises, smells and oozes came from I refuse to speculate. I talked to him for several hours, trying to keep his already stiff pecker up. My frozen one had all but vanished but I was gamely trying to keep it up too. It wasnít until after he emitted one extra long, extra deep, extra smelly, sigh that I stirred myself to reach up and comfort him. I found he was already as cold as the stone floor I lay on, and just as stiff. Iíd been talking to a bloody corpse for three hours. That just about made my day.

Strange! I said I remembered only three things about that evening, but I find I have given you three whole paragraphs on what I felt and what I did and what I saw. I clearly remember much more than I remember remembering. Writing things down must be a form of catharsis. But then, Ďshit a scarí is also a form of catharsis. I just thought Iíd point that out.

The other guy, on the pew directly above me, made never a sound, and I thought he might be gone too. I checked and he wasnít, though he was on his way. He had a silver spear in his chest, and he kept dripping on my chest, so that was the only bit of me that stayed warm. Unfortunately, what with his blood dripping on me and the mess from the back of the Volvo, by the next morning I must have looked like a spear-carrier from Reservoir Dogs.

When, late in the day, the first medical person arrived, she took one look at me, swallowed her spew, and wrote me off as a corpse. She turned to the dead dude beside me, and, rather inanely I thought, felt for a pulse in what resembled nothing more than a stiff, white, leg of lamb from the freezers at Iceland.

"Heís croaked", I croaked.

She whirled around, scared and bewildered. She was very young, and had just completed her first year at medical college. She knew how to take a temperature and a pulse, put on a Band-aid, and dissect a brain. She was very nice, and very pretty, and worse than nothing, and died on my cross five months later, from hunger and despair and a broken spirit and a broken heart. I still miss her.

Her eyes settled on the Dying Consultant. "What did you say?" she said, to the man with the silver spear in his chest, who really was a spear-carrier.

"He didnít say anything. I said ĎHeís croakedí, and he has." I said.

"Youíre still alive." says she.

"Obviously!" says I.

"And youíre able to speak?" she says, unbelievingly.

"Yes", say I, patiently.

"ButÖbutÖ.youíre not moving your lips." Confusedly.

"I think youíll find that I am." Vehemently.

She knelt down and put her ear to the Dying Consultants face.

"Please talk to me again!" Plaintively.

"He canít talk, heís unconscious!" I said, exasperatedly.

"Who said that?" Alarmedly.

"What!" Angrily.

"Who said that?" Repetitively.

"I did!" Unbelievingly.

It was like being caught in one of Haroldís plays, where no one knows whoís saying what to who, or why. At this point she went extremely pale, even though she was already extremely pale, and her eye-lids began to flutter in an ĎIím-about-to-faintí sort of way.

"Donít faint." I said, compassionately.

"Who said that?" Awe-struckfully

"Listen! Letís not go round that roundabout again. The guy whoís chest you are leaning on, the one with the silver spear in it, is, not surprisingly, unconscious. The guy whoís pulse you just took is stone dead. He has passed away. He is an ex-parrot. I on the other hand, though temporarily unable to move, am quite able to speak, and am more or less alive." Assertively.

Having, at long last, caught on to the fact that it was the bloody and motionless corpse under the pews that was talking to her, she knelt down and looked at me, for the first time. She really was very pretty, and I thought "Aha! Here comes the love interest." But alas it wasnít to be.

"I thought you were dead!" Plaintively.

"So did I." Amicably.

"But youíre allÖÖyouíre allÖÖ.red!" Wrenchingly.

"Better red than dead." Light-heartedly.

"But youíve lost so much blood." Concernedly.

"Nope!" Tolerantly.

"Listen youíve lost a lot of blood and youíre obviously delirious, so the first thing we need to do isÖehÖ.What we need to do isÖ.eh?" Semi-professionally.

"Nope" Affectionately.

"Eh?" Hopelessly-lostfully.

"Listen princess." I said, finding that helping her was helping me. "I am really not too badly hurt. A shelf fell on me and bust up my ankles. I canít move my feet. I canít feel them either, but that is probably because I canít feel a goddamn thing, because I am frozen stiff. But I am quite happy with that, because otherwise I think I would be in bloody agony. If I appear lucid and normal, believe me it is only because I canít feel anything, I canít move anything, and I am coming down from an adrenaline high. Now of my two buddies here, the one with the frozen meat complexion is dead, and has been dead all night. I would suggest getting rid of him, except itís probably colder here than anywhere outside a proper morgue, so we might as well leave him be until we have to. The other guy is still alive, or was until very recently. But heís been dripping on me all night. Thatís why I look in a bad way, while he actually is in a bad way. All I need right now is some water and some warmth. He needs blood, and someone to remove that silver spear."

I carefully refrained from observing that by leaning on his chest to listen to him talking, which he wasnít, she had squeezed out just a little more of his remaining blood, and could well have squeezed out just a little more of his remaining life. I was trying to instill in her a confidence and an optimism which I absolutely didnít share, but I needed someone to help me, and I hoped that if I helped her, then that would help her to help me, in a John Lennon/Paul McCartney kind of way. She wasnít much help. But, she kept us both alive. For a while.

I woke up again early that evening, with fire in my eyes and fire in my ankles and fire in my belly. The Dying Consultant was also awake, and moaning, resting on an old mattress borrowed from a local house, under some blankets from the same place. He was cleaned and bandaged, and watered and comforted, and the spear still stuck out from between his ribs because no-one was brave enough or deft enough or daft enough to pull it out. I was sitting in a well-sprung, wooden-framed, slightly old-fashioned arm-chair, wrapped in a brightly coloured duvet, with my heavily wrapped ankles supported on a small pouffe which was itself resting on several small stacks of hymn books to raise it to the right height. The pouffe was made from cream and scarlet leather, my ankles were bound by a pair of peach and gold curtains, my duvet cover was a bright floral pattern of greens and yellows and browns. The chair itself was a deep and meaty chintz. Gates, it must have been a disgusting sight, but it was warm and comfortable and only medium agony.

My eyes were full of fire because Iíd been crying for four hours before I went to sleep and I still had my lenses in. Judging from the duvet, I had continued crying in my sleep. My eyes were red raw and the duvet soggy and salty to the taste, as I discovered when I bit it to stop from screaming again. The problem was that, as I thawed, I was pounced upon by more pain then I had until recently imagined imagining. It was disgusting. New bits of me would slowly wake up to a mind-expanding new pain experience, in Technicolour and Surround-sound. A whole new IMAX experience of vomit-inducing pain, and terror and despair.

My ankles were full of fire, and they were swollen to three times their normal size. It felt like every single bone in my ankles had been smashed to pieces, but this was only because, as I discovered later, every single bone in my ankles had been smashed to pieces.

My belly was full of fire, but for two completely different reasons. The first of these was the curry I had at lunch time. It was a TESCO, special-offer, low-calorie, ready in twenty minutes Vindaloo, with poppadom and sweet-spicy pickle. Now I am not and never was a great curry fiend. At any other time and place this would have been way too hot and spicy for me. But I was starving and that was all I was offered. It came from the house next door, The Rectory, though the Rector didnít live there anymore, and I presumed that it had been liberated from TESCO the previous day, thawed overnight, (Unlike me.) and someone thought theyíd better cook it up before it went too far off.

By this time their were six of us in the church, including the corpse, and some old wife, whom I was to come to know well, brought round a tray of piping-hot TV dinners, straight out of the microwave. They were all Vindaloo, but then the lootersí choice had been somewhat restricted. Having no choice at all, and having not eaten for a day and a half, and because no-one else was fit to eat anything, I wolfed them all down voraciously.

Not a good idea. They burned my mouth and my throat on the way down. My lips were numb and my eyes were streaming once again. At least it kept my mind off my ankles. Then the trouble really began. I burped ferociously, farted fiercely and sighed flatulently. If the curry had burned on the way in, it burned even more as it attempted to blast its way out through my intestines and colon and all those other disgusting purply bits that Iíd seen scattered around the car-park the day before. I hadnít seen my own disgusting purply bits scattered around the car park, you understand. Theyíd belonged, to other people, though it now felt that mine were trying to go join them.

Also, the other reason for the fire in my belly, I desperately needed to go. And I mean desPerately, with a capital P. I hadnít been for more than 24-hours, which I wouldnít have believed possible until I tried it. But my bladder and my bowels had by now had quite enough, thank you very much. It was time to go. DEFINITELY, time to go.

I couldnít move, but I was damn sure I wasnít going to go where I was. Not in my nice clean duvet and my nice chintzy armchair. I called out to attract someoneís attention but there was no one mobile around. The Pretty Medical Student was off somewhere, looking like Florence Nightingale and acting like Florence from the Magic Roundabout. I think she was looking for someone to do a lobotomy on. She knew about the brain.

The only one who stirred in the still and still cold church, was the Dying Consultant. I didnít know at the time of course, that he was a dying consultant, I only knew that he was dying. The fact that he was a consultant came as a bit of a shock when he told me later, but I tried not to hold it against him, as he let me know his view of what had happened to civilisation. And how. And why. And why and how it was all his fault. Which in fact it clearly absolutely bloody-well was.

He eyed me with blood shot eyes, as I squirmed about gently, trying to loosen the bonds of my well-wrapped duvet while not loosening my not quite so well tied down bowels. It seemed likely to me that he had more blood in his eyes then everywhere else in his body, but, as most of the rest had dripped out over me, I refrained from making any comment in that direction.

"Way rahrr yoog own" he slurred drunkenly. Well, he wasnít drunk, but he sounded like it. Lack of blood, and therefore oxygen, to the brain has that effect apparently. Having slowly filtered out the meaning of his interrogative, I told him that I needed a pee and whatever else, and I was going to find the toilet.

"Our side. Bah kov wreck tree wall."

Sifting backwards from the word Ďwallí I worked out two things. There was no inside toilet, it was outside, against the Rectory wall. I also gathered that he knew the church and its surroundings, and that he was therefore probably a local. He was. While I lived in the main village, about two miles away, he lived right next door to the church, in the Bungalow. He became the unwitting donor of many of my books, though not the SF collection, and many of the CDs. He was well-known locally, or so they thought: he was the last one we bothered to bury. (Sorry, they bothered to bury. I was knee deep in knackered ankles.) I said thanks, but I thought "Shit!" I didnít think I could travel very far, and I didnít think I would enjoy it if I did. I was right.

I discovered that the only way I could move, was backwards, on my arse, trailing my broken feet behind me. I could lean back on my arms, elbows bent, then straighten them out and pull myself level with my hands. I would then pause to let the wave of nauseating pain pass up my legs, through my knotted bowels and bloated bladder, giving them an unpleasant and dignity-threatening tweak, up through my Vindaloo-ravaged trachea, until it more or less came to a burping blockage behind my gritted teeth. Average progress - about ten feet a minute. Also I had to keep on craning my neck around to see where I was going, which hurt my left foot if I looked over my right shoulder and vice versa. By vice versa I do not mean that it hurt my right shoulder if I looked over my left foot, I meanÖÖOh! Work it out for yourself.

Eventually I got to the main door from the church hall, which fortunately opened inwards to the little anti-porch. All I had to do was lean against it and it swung gently open. I was beginning to get hopeful, but the outer door proved to be a real bugger: big, heavy, oaken, studded, wrought iron-hinged, and inward swinging.

"Bloody Bastarding Bastard Bastard." I swore at it, vehemently and with feeling, if not with a great deal of creativity. I was beginning to leak, and I knew I was running out of time and sphincter control. After a few hapless, hopeless, helpless minutes of trying to get the door open from the ground, I managed to push myself upright, onto my knees. Praying position. I reached the door handle, prayed that they hadnít locked us in, and pulled. The door swung open. I thanked Gates as I fell through it, splaying out across the threshold, shrieking out the new wave of pain, and leaking just a little bit more. After a time I raised my head and looked around. On the other side of the graveyard, against the rectory wall, roughly 500 miles away, was the outhouse.

It might just as well have been in Edinburgh. Fifty yards or so, I guessed. That would have taken me about quarter of an hour, by which time I would probably have been unconscious from the pain, and would mostly have leaked away anyway. I despaired, until I saw, not ten feet away, along the wall of the church, a drain hole into which several down-pipes ran from the gutters around the eaves of the church. I made a slow dash for it, inched to within a few feet, loosened my trousers and Ys, slid backwards out of them, positioned myself over the grating of the drain, and relaxed.

Bliss! Perfection! Heaven on Earth! If Youíre Happy and you Know it Clap your Hands! I reached Nirvana, and Nirvana reached me. After a full five minutes of released tension, enjoying the savage yet satisfying rectal burn that only a deep-frozen Vindaloo can bring, I prepared to sort myself out. No paper! NO paper? NO PAPER!!!

I couldnít believe it. How stupid could one man be? How could I have been so idiotic? OK, I had been on my way to a bona-fide bog, but as soon as I had decided to divert to the drain a little alarm should have gone off. "You have no paper!" it should have said, "You have no paper!" Fortunately, now that I had loosened up a little and got my brain back in gear, I saw that an answer was to hand. Not literally of course.

Leaving my clothes around my knees I maneuvered away from the drain, oriented myself, pushed myself backwards for just a few feet, and sat on the lovely, fresh, cold, ticklish grass. I squirmed luxuriously, inched forwards and backwards a few times until I was satisfied the job was complete, and set about doing myself up. I donít know if you have ever tried this technique, but it is simple and effective. It is also soothing after a spicy meal. Not that we have spices anymore, but I remember the sweet coolness of curried ass on grass. Great!

I still use that drain every day, because the latrines are too far away. It must go down to a deep soak-away, because it never gets clogged and rarely smells, except if we have a long dry spell in the summer. When I use it now, I always make sure I take my wiper with me, but I still sometimes use the grass, if thereís no one around to see. It feels slightly kinky and naughtily perverted. You should try it some time.

Much relieved I hoiked myself backwards into the church again. Wrestled with the doors again. Endured the pain again, though it seemed lessened now. I almost whistled as I dragged myself backwards towards my chair. I was just puzzling about how I was going to reposition myself and wrap myself up as warm and comfortable as I had been, when I heard a wheezing behind me. I half turned. It was the Dying Consultant, still with the silver spear in his side. He was looking at me sideways, his breathing laboured and harsh. Feebly, he raised his hand and beckoned me towards him. I hesitated, asking myself how much good could I be to him in my crippled condition. Still, he had tried to do me a favour, telling me about the out-house. Even though I hadnít made it, I was beholden to him, and he was a dying man. You canít argue with a dying man.

I turned around and made my way over to him as he lay on the mattress beside the cold gray wall. I lay down on my back beside him, so I could turn my face and look into his eyes. He seemed to have grown weaker and shorter of breath, his face was stained and lined and off-white, like an old trainer. I looked down at the spear sticking out of his side. The wound had been carefully bound, but packed, curiously enough, with packets of deep-frozen oven-ready chips, now mostly thawed. He whispered something which I couldnít hear. I squirmed closer and put my ears towards his lips. Three times he whispered to me.

"Eye knee tog O2!" "Eye knee tog O2!!" "Eye knee tog O2!!!"

Eventually I pieced it together. I sat up, all too abruptly for my poor abused ankles, and looked down at him in pity and dread. What could I do for him? How could I help him? I didnít know what, but I knew I had to do something. I knew his pain. I shared his misery. He needed to go too.

Later that same evening real relief arrived. Proper medical relief that is, in the shape of the Pretty Medical Student and a real life doctor. Or so I thought. As they entered, they wrinkled their noses at the somewhat fetid and fecund fecal festival of noisome nastiness. To wit, a pewter christening bowl and an ancient stone font, mostly full of shit, piss, vomit and pus. I had been a busy boy since sorting myself out at the drain.

Feeling altogether friskier, I had dragged myself with gay abandon about the church, seeking alternatives. Having more or less exhausted those alternatives to be found at floor level, I turned my thoughts somewhat higher and, on investigating the font, found the necessary materiel; namely the font itself and the shallow bowl which normally filled its stone basin. Taking the one from the other, I succeeded in positioning the salver more or less accurately under the Dying Consultant, and then transferring the unsavoury contents to the font itself. I considered trying to take the mess outside, but the idea of getting it through the doorways seemed both unappealing and unlikely. The font was a lot nearer.

Moving him about to get the bowl in position, had worried me, and it clearly worried him. In the end though we managed it without too much pain, and when I had settled him back I noticed the silver spear had actually eased out by nearly two inches. I could tell from the smear of black blood and greenish slime that damply coated it. It wasnít actually a spear of course, it was a length of chrome shelf-trim from a refrigeration unit in TESCO. It still had a little sticker on it saying "Shop at TESCO Ė Every Little Helps." It didnít look very helpful to me, but I didnít want to say anything about it. The Dying Consultant (Iíll just call him DC I think. We were getting pretty chummy by this time, as you do.) caught my glance however, so I said, "How long have you had that in there then?"

"Too bloody long" said he, with unwonted vigour and apparent sobriety.

"You sound a lot better now though."

"When you levered me up to put me on the pot, I felt something sort of give and sort of slide, and immediately I could breathe a lot better. Iíve been lying here with my bowels and my bladder emptying and my lungs filling for the first time in forever. Thank you. Thank You!"

"De nada, Compadre" I said, in my best Clint Eastwood, "How much more do you think is still in there?" Meaning the spear.

"I have no idea, I canít feel where it ends." He looked at me, looking deep into my eyes. I looked at him, looking shallow into his. We looked at each other and I looked away first, mostly because Iíd spilt some shit on the curtains. (Round my ankles, remember.)

"Er? Would you like me to try and take it out for you perhaps?" I inquired, doubtfully. "Or should we wait for the Doctor to arrive?" I said, sounding cheerful and positive and looking as if I expected the doctor any minute now.

"What bloody doctor? Any sensible doctor will be holed up somewhere safe and secure by now, and demanding his fees in food and petrol. We wonít get any bloody doctor here, unless someone manages to kidnap one quickly." He was rattling away ten to the dozen now that he had got his breathing system back on line. I started asking him what he meant about the doctors and kidnapping, but he interrupted me and said "Never mind that now, we can talk about it later. I want you to pull the rest of this bloody pig-sticker out of my side."

I hesitated, moved, hesitated again, sidled, paused for another bit of hesitation, andÖÖÖ "Bloody well come on", he roared, softly. He obviously wasnít up to his normal full throated roar, and this attempt made him cough and the coughing made him wince, and the wincing made him breathe more slowly. "Listen," he said, much more softly, "I can feel this thing sawing away at something inside me. I donít know if Iíll live with it out, but I sure as hell am not going to live with it in. I canít reach it myself without twisting my ribs and cutting some more, so youíll have to take it out. Iíll relax and you pull. And have a bandage ready."

So I pulled it out, and cleaned out the hole as best I could and covered it with some nice clean shit-free curtains and bound his chest with some material ripped from his blanket, got rid of the unfrozen chips, and I laid him down to rest. He was silent throughout the procedure, so I knew it hurt a lot. But he seemed easier when the last of it came out, the last five inches, from deep in his chest. Silently too, he lay back down when I had bound him, and he seemed to pass away very quickly. Then he started to snore. A low, bass, snarling rumble, with a slight gurgle at the end. Gates! He was a noisy bastard. I went around, on my arse, to offer my services to the other inmates of the church. One of them took up the offer of my port-a-loo service, and thanked me in a low whisper. He had a bad gash on his stomach, and it hurt him to move. But he did move, and he did move, and there was blood in the bowl when he finished. I didnít tell him or show him but I think he knew from my silence. The third guy was still unconscious; gray and still, but still breathing. He never woke up. The fourth, a middle-aged woman, was already dead, I couldnít tell how or why.

So there we were; two corpses, the gray man, the bleeding man, DC and myself, when the doctor arrived a few hours later. He checked us out, replacing some bandages, giving some instructions, tutting and tsking and sounding professional. The Pretty Medical Student and a couple of others cleaned the place up, and opened the window, and took the shit out, and the corpses, and plumped our pillows and fed us again; bread and fish fingers this time, loaves and fishes. The doctor tutted and tsked extra loudly over DC, examined the spear, looked over at me, shook his head, took off the bandages, shook his head some more, swabbed the wound with whisky, poured some powder on it and re-wrapped it. He talked to DC quietly and earnestly for a few minutes, patted his shoulder in a friendly manner, and came over to me.

"Shouldnít I have pulled it out then Doc?" I said, nodding at the metal spike he carried.

"Someone had to. I donít reckon itíll matter much." was all he would say. He unwrapped my ankles and examined them gingerly. They were swollen and grazed and almost black, with interesting shades of yellow, blue and violet just beginning to appear. He mumbled to himself as he poked about, obviously trying not to hurt me, but managing to nonetheless. I gritted my teeth and said nothing. The only word I could make out was Ďsmithereensí, which didnít sound particularly encouraging. He got some cold water from outside and put wet cloths on my ankles, wrapping them firmly and telling me that I should do the same, at least twice a day.

"So whatís the verdict, Doc.íí I asked in a jaunty, carefree, Ironside-ish manner.

His reply was rather less jolly.

"If you spend six months in a major hospital with the best surgeons and bone-men and physios, you might just walk on these feet again. Barring that, Iím afraid your feet are permanently disconnected from your legs. The muscles are mostly intact, but what theyíre attached to is mostly loose. Iím afraid you will never dance again. Also, without major reconstructive surgery, you wonít be able to walk on them even if they do stiffen up and set. The geometry will be all wrong. Son, if you were a horse Iíd have to shoot you."

I couldnít recall off-hand which movie that line came from, but I was gladdened by the fact that he was entering into the spirit of things. I was also trying to avoid thinking about the sentence he had just passed on me.

"So, which hospital would you recommend?" I ventured. He stood up and looked around at the walls and the ceiling and the arched windows. He shrugged, raised his hands in frustration and said, "Take your pick son, take your pick." He walked out.

"What did he mean by that?" I asked the Dying Consultant.

"I think he meant that this is it. If you want something else youíll have to go find it yourself."

I leaned back and sighed a heavy sigh. "But what has happened to it all. All the Hospitals and all the doctors and nurses. We only had that one big problem out at TESCO. Why am I not in a hospital right now? And you too!"

"Iím too tired to explain it to you right now, but tomorrow, I hope, I will tell you what I think has happened. Also we can try to find out how bad itís got already. At least weíve still got power."

"The electricity? Why should we have problems with the electricity?"

He laughed gently. "Iím afraid it wonít last long, but letís talk about it tomorrow, in the cold light of day. I really am tired, and my chest hurts."

I lay back and relaxed. I was tired and my whole body ached from my exertions. My ankles throbbed dully, but no worse than before. Just as I began to doze, I thought of something which almost raised a smile.

"Well, you were wrong about one thing anyway." Grunt from DC. "You were wrong about us not getting a doctor. Only a few hours later one turns up, large as life and twice as ugly, to check us out and give us succour, to mop our fevered brows and to make us feel better, even if we donít. He seems OK. Interesting bed-side manner."

There was a funny strangled sound from the other side of the room. I thought he was choking or dying or being sick or something, but it gradually burgeoned into a long and wheezy laugh. Between gasps he choked out, "Succour! Succour! Youíre the only sucker around here. Thatís no bloody doctor, thatís our bloody Vet. He really does shoot horses!" and he chuckled himself gently to sleep. I on the other hand sat staring at the roof beams of the ancient church, thinking of angels and angles and Anglo-Saxons. Trying desperately not to think about useless legs and no hospitals. But, again, I cried myself to sleep.

In the morning, the Pretty Medical Student came back and tended to our various needs. We are getting to know her pretty well by now, but I feel that to call her PMS would be overly familiar and somewhat unkind, so Iíll just call her Nursey, after the character from Blackadder, whom she didnít even slightly resemble. She fed, watered and tidied us up, but when I mentioned the requirement for toilet facilities she blanched and blushed at the same time, which looked as peculiar as it sounds, and fled. Fortunately she had gone to get the Vet and he helped us all out. He looked grim at the outpourings from the man with the stomach wound, and pulled Nursey to one side. I donít know what they said, but it didnít much matter, because he died that evening, without saying a word.

"So tell me what you think has been happening." I said to DC, when they had all gone off to fight their other battles.

So he did.

We sat and talked for most of that day and most of the next, and off-and-on for several days after that. At first his voice was strong and he could sit up and even move a little bit, but as the days went past he slowly worsened again until, in the end, he looked gray and gaunt and his voice was barely a whisper. He had a blackish foam at the sides of his mouth, and his breath rattled in his chest.

I obviously canít remember now everything he said, but here is the gist of it. Some of his words still haunt me, and I have used them. Some of the words are my own interpretations and reflect my understanding of what he said and what he meant and what he didnít say and what he didnít mean. Virtually all of what he said was speculation, because he couldnít KNOW what had actually happened. But he was very confident and very assured and very vehement. I believed him.

Most of the light-hearted interjections are mine, he was deadly serious.


Copyright © Jock Howson 1999

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