I lay in the bed in the hospital on the hill. From my window I could see the expanse of countryside below me stretching to the very edges of the horizon, peppered occasionally by small fluffy clouds with legs. I fancied I had been born here, seven years ago, in a fit of squeezing and blood loss and crying. I fancied also that I could remember this introduction to the world: hills and sheep and cheap orange juice, kicked from the dinner tray, spilled all over the maternity ward floor. Disastrous and beautiful.
To my left the windowsill beneath this picturesque scene was adorned with books: children’s hospital books, of different sizes and colours. The title ’13 O’Clock’ drew my attention. A paradox to a 7 year old; a clock that reached 13? Decadent, interesting. To my right 12 junior doctors smiled at me with a romanticised patheticism. I wondered if they’d ever heard of a clock that had reached 13. They would see many after me, but today I was one of their firsts. One of a hundred thousand… though it always hurts the first time. Their white coats, rugged clipboards and bespeckled faces were the very height of nineties medical fashion. Later they’d retire into the staff room and fuck each other until the windowsills were dripping with sweat. My windowsill was covered with books.
I lay in my white vest and pants and wondered at the marvel of the hospital. I had been here before, but never to be seen, to be treated. It was an adventure. The orange streetlamps had glistened in the window on the drive, the faint hum of Queen fading into the distance with every frantic turn. Here my bed was my ship, the junior doctors my crew. They took notes not on my medical requirements, but on how to drive a harpoon into a giant octopus’s eye. Their smiles were not of apparent total disinterest, but instead had developed from years of seafaring and general exploration. Their smiles were of the weary and battle-hallowed, and I was to trust them with my life.
They stuck needles in the back of my hand and drew my blood every hour, on the hour. My parents offered me Pepsi that tasted like blood, and kept me waiting with promises of Christmas Eve. The night bought with it majesty and darkness; the x-ray screens would grow dim and then bright with the passing of time. In the morning my Father asked if I should like to read a book. Picking ’13 O’Clock’ from the windowsill, the excitement caused my vision to swim, and my heart to begin screaming yes. But with the defiant perseverance of a seven year old waiting in the hospital, I abruptly found my mouth mumbling no.
Reading would hurt my eyes, tire my brain, I said, swell my heart, relieve the ache of my illness. This was my ship and I was it’s captain, I would sacrifice my joy for the sake of my crew. I didn’t think I was ill, not really, but the promise of blood Pepsi for every minute I lay in my vest was too alluring. My sacrifice would gain their respect and loyalty. I would refuse to read but consume their attention willingly.
We returned the book to the windowsill.
Thus, years later it would be proven not be the thousands of needles which would penetrate my flesh, nor the blood tests which blackened the ends of my fingers which were found the most painful. The quiet acceptance of a lifetime of the strange would be acceptable by comparison to the ache of the book long lost, a regret at the futility of a seven year olds logic, punished by the sadness of a lifetime. I had stood proudly upon my ship as it had sank to the bottom of a lake filled with blood Pepsi. 14 years later I remain, drowning leisurely.
The streetlamps had glistened on the drive home. They did not shine as brightly as before.