THE TICKLING IN MY EAR makes me wake up, and I turn my head to see my sister smiling at me; she had been blowing on it to make me stir. I tried to arrange my face into a pleasant shape to greet her, but I was feeling somewhat grumpy. I sort of grunted a bit, and she handed me the glass of water from the multi-purpose over-the-bed stand thing; I drank and felt my dry throat loosen and lubricate. I handed the glass back to her, which she duly replaced, then asked me if I wanted more. I shook my head; no. I tried to shift in my seat, but there was too much general pain. The hospital chair was comfortable enough though – after all, I had dozed off again.
She asked me how I felt today and when I asked her how long it had been, she reminded me the accident was a week ago. The days blur into one long stream of nothing but ‘Now’ in here, especially without a TV – and the headphones for the radio hurt my ears. Besides, all there would be to listen to is a choice of inane and mindlessly cheerful deejays playing banal artificial music or unfeasibly deep-throated people cheerlessly – yet equally inanely – discussing the current mess and how we got here.
No thanks. Time for something genuinely cheerful. As my sister pulled another chair from across the ward, I got it together and told her how wonderful it had been to see Jan and Wayne yesterday – and how Wayne had pulled the curtain round and disappeared for a few minutes so Jan and I could… well… not all the way, but have a bit of fun, quietly. It was so good to see her, and I knew it was a fair distance from home, but… my sister nodded and asked me who I was talking about. Angrily, I told her; my wife and her nephew. She smiled indulgently and sort of stroked my cheek – somehow, that simple gesture made my anger… shift… into… then she was telling me I could do with a shave, and reached into the cabinet for the shaver and a small travelling mirror. She plugged the shaver into the socket behind me, pulled the table thing around and put the mirror on it and when I saw the reflection I screamed as the fire alarm went off – No… not the fire alarm… it’s my front doorbell. There’s knocking, too. WHAT!?
I groggily try to get up out of the chair, except that doesn’t work too well because I’d been sprawled on the sofa, so I fell on the floor heavily. The bell had stopped and there was a knocking, a pounding on the door. Ah, yes, I remember now. Crawling on hands and knees at first, then climbing upright using the arm of the sofa and the door, I tried to call out through a dry and sticky throat which was too dry to do anything with except breathe through. Finally at the front door, I opened it to the shared hallway between the flats in the converted grand old house. My neighbour was concerned when she heard the screaming. I told her I had fallen asleep on the remote control while watching a horror film on DVD… she smiled a bit, and we chatted for a few moments – my throat croaky and on fire with the effort… no, I always tremble like this when I wake up after I fall asleep without realising it. With a little laugh, she turned and went back into her own flat and I shut my door.
I staggered into the bathroom and fell to my knees in front of the toilet; retched wretchedly and repeatedly – and uselessly – into the bowl. Nothing there but air, I stood, my mouth tasting horrible and head pounding, and opened the cabinet over the sink. A couple of aspirin for the head, a swig of mouthwash for taste in my mouth… swirl and spit… a reflective smacking of the lips to check for minty freshness… good. Cap back on the bottle into the cabinet and close it – just about avoiding falling into the bath as my skin crawled and I recoiled in shock at the reflection. I managed to stifle this scream, though.
The face looking back at me from the mirror was my father.
It was gone in a flash, but not before the face became my features overlaid on his shrunken, wizened face, then as I am now; past middle-aged and greying at the temples. I turned on my heel and went back into the living room of my disgustingly untidy bachelor pad.