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In The Midnight Lands

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7. At home with the flu this morning.



WHY ARE hospitals so bright inside? What are they afraid of losing?

hospital corridor cartoonised resize

That day the light, neutered of warmth and goodness, cast from long rectangular bulbs in the ceiling and gleamed by glossy walls and linoleum floors, felt like the clinch of a sterile sun.

I walked with squeaking footsteps down narrow corridors coagulating with stuffy air. The smell of disinfectant strong, but not strong enough to mask the miasma of corruption, of steel and blood, death and decay spilling from the rooms passing to my left and right.

Some of the doors were open, and I caught brief glimpses of the intimate tableaus inside. Patients: lost, white, hunched, hacking, in pain; visitors: hushed, numb, horrified, blind; workers: loud, cheery, oblivious, putting in their nine-to-five.

Nurses, looking harried, hustled past or sat at stations behind piles of folders, dressed in unripe greens and blues. I knew they did a tough job well, but - still, I couldn't help the prickle I felt in their presence, the sense of remnants remained, the end-of-timers they'd helped usher to other worlds.

From one I got directions to my sister’s ward and room.

I hurried on, squeaking.

Earlier in the day my aunt had called to say Ginny was in hospital. My sister had been battling the flu for the past few weeks, one of those on-again-off-again health problems she always seemed to have. I hadn’t paid much attention, other than to send a few emails to check in.

That was until my aunt called. Hospitals meant something more serious; it snapped me out of self; sent me off in search, rattling down those antiseptic halls.

Ginny I found on the second floor, at the far end of a tubular and cream room. She lay in a folded-up bed plumped with pillows, obscured from others by a half-pulled green curtain.

She looked pale - more than an aspect of the light or the shapeless white gown she wore - her freckles prominent, brown eyes bright, face framed by loose, dark hair.

A thin cord ran from her nose to a whispering machine at her side. Into one arm’s vein, an IV dripped. I registered all this in the ten steps it took to reach her side. Registered also my first pangs of unease.

Ginny looked like she needed to be in hospital.

"Hiya," I said with forced cheer as she spotted me and made the effort to sit up. "I come bearing gifts."

I took the seat next to her and fished out some X-Men anthologies I'd brought. Ginny liked comics and the movies, crafts and the family. She had a great sense of humour and we laughed a lot. I never felt judged in her presence.

She thanked me, took them, flicked through a few pages, and then set them aside.

"So how you feeling?"

"Not the best," she answered in a far-away voice. She tucked a stray piece of fringe behind one ear as she thought it over, then said, "I ache, and it's like it's all over, Izz. Like it's in my bones or something. And now I can feel these weird lumps across my stomach.” She indicated where they were, a disquieted look on her face. She made me feel them.

"Aw, Gin." I didn't know what else to say.

We sat looking at each other.

"What do the doctors think?" I finally asked.

She sighed. "Some sort of obscure virus, but they're not sure. They're pumping me full of antibiotics and giving me painkillers every hour. Hopefully it will all start to kick in soon."

"Gin—" that lack of words again. "I . . . I should have known. Come to see you sooner." I was the only one in the family living nearby but I had not seen her in weeks.

Ginny fluttered her hand. "I didn't know. I was at home with the flu this morning. Weird, ay?"

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