Preview: DRY Out!

Chapter 1

His heart skipped a beat as he ran to the ward, panicking that his patient may have missed several.  Tom had not been qualified long enough to have learnt how to change the negative emotion of a cardiac arrest call into a positive one; how, like the explorer, to transform the fear of death into the drive to overcome a challenge.  Nevertheless, his prognosis was good; like most young doctors, he would no doubt feel a lot better as soon as he began to realise that the impending death belonged to someone else and not him.

In Tom’s opinion, a cardiac arrest call was an inconvenient medical advance that developed from two unconnected discoveries.  The first was that it was possible to drag someone out of the jaws of death when the heart stopped.  The second was a technological development that allowed a caller to contact a doctor urgently via a precursor to the mobile telephone.  The device was affectionately known as a “bleep” because, when activated, it made a noise that could just about be described as a bleep, particularly to the deaf or illiterate.......

Chapter 2

Miles Ferguson awoke early as usual and began his daily morning ritual.  First, turn exactly forty-five degrees to the left, whilst retaining the lower back and buttocks on the bed, and examine the clock, positioned at a forty-five degree angle to the front edge of the bedside table, clock face towards the bed.  Second, confirm that waking has occurred, importantly without alarm, at 6:00 a.m. precisely.  Third, lie back with head positioned exactly in the centre of the pillow, straighten down pyjama top and pull down sleeves.  Fourth, pull up duvet to just below the chin.  Fifth, worry that one is developing obsessive-compulsive disorder, albeit a mild form.  Sixth, mentally scan the planned activities for the day, in order from first to last.  Seventh, and this was always the one he hated most, run through the planned contingency plans just in case the events of Mental Activity Six fail to run according to plan (perish the thought!).  Eighth, be sure that the activities of the day are correctly organised according to time available.  Nineth, be concerned that, if one does have obsessive-compulsive disorder, it may not be a mild form.  Tenth, get out of bed............

Chapter 5

..........“I have your medicines for you, Stella,” said Jane.

“I can’t breathe,” said Mrs. Stansfield “and, Jane, don’t call me Stella.  I am Mrs. Stansfield.”  Jane was trying to decide whether she had the heart to point out that she was Staff Nurse Brothers and not Jane when Mrs. Stansfield interrupted her thoughts:

“I can’t breathe and, Jane, don’t call me Stella.  I am Mrs. Stansfield.”

“Yes, I think I know that,” said Jane.  “Let’s concentrate on the breathing.”

“I’ve got to,” said Stella.  “Otherwise I can’t breathe.”

“When did it start?” asked Jane. “You came in with back pain so this is new.”

“After breakfast.”

“What did you have for breakfast?”

“Egg and sausage.  I told the fat lady with the food that maybe I should have the omelette because I’d had reactions, shall I say, to sausage in the past that had required me to change virtually all my clothes - well, those below the waist, anyway.  But the fat lady said I would probably be all right because our sausage was home grown and, anyway, she didn’t have any more omelette.  Apparently, everyone on the previous ward had chosen omelette because it was Easter and no-one had brought them Easter eggs.  The omelette was the best substitute.  I think they had all planned it in advance of arrival of the fat lady with the food.”

A corpulent lady with a round, ruddy face thrust her head and the top half of her body around the curtain separating Mrs. Stansfield’s bed from the one adjacent.

“I beg your pardon!” exclaimed Doreen. “We provided Cadbury’s chocolate mini-eggs with the dessert, a tradition started by Elsie when management cut her funding so that she couldn’t give Terry’s All Gold luxury eggs to each and every patient, as she had done for I don’t know how many years.  Except diabetics, of course - we were warned about that; they got sugar-free oatcakes.  But Stella didn’t want a dessert so she got no mini-eggs.  That’s probably why she wanted omelette but there was none left.”

“I can’t breathe,” said Mrs. Stansfield, “and, Doris, don’t call me Stella.  I am Mrs. Stansfield.”

“I am Doreen, yes, but also Mrs. Fowler!” cried Doreen, eyes bulging and face reddening even more noticeably.  “Elsie would never have tolerated this!”

“Is that Elsie, otherwise known as Mrs. Barker?” asked Jane.

“I’ve got no time for this,” blurted Doreen.  “I’ve got the sick to feed.”  She stormed off, cheddar cheese and pickle sandwich in hand...........

Chapter 8

Elsie was adding the final touches to the Cupcake-Carrying Competition.  The twenty individual cakes lay on a wooden work surface running the length of the room opposite the window that overlooked the Crazy Golf.  Although she knew from experience that invariably some people backed out at the last minute, she did not like to rely on the fact and so had prepared one cake for everyone that had signed up.  She would probably be left with three or four spare cakes at the end but, as usual, that would be no bad thing because she would be able to eat them herself.  Her time spent working in hospital had taught her that many illnesses arise from malnutrition and she was determined not to fall victim to that condition herself.

The cakes matched perfectly in their rich, pink fondant icing and the bright red sparkles arranged in the shape of a heart.  She felt pleased that she had achieved a perfect colour match to her pink chiffon, red sequined dress, displayed in readiness for the event on a hanger nearby...............

.............. The judge closed his eyes but changed none of the rest of his posture.  Fiona fell silent, being familiar with the personal characteristics of His Honour after several appearances before him, dating from the Crown v EggsAmple Omelette Company trial.  In his summing up of the evidence for and against the prosecution’s case in that trial that the Company had contravened the Protection of Birds Act 1954 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 in the use of wild birds’ eggs for their bespoke range of omelettes, he had closed his eyes four times.  The five-second pause that followed each of these ocular events had seemed like a lifetime and she was seriously worried that the jury’s attention would wane and they would lose the critical thread of the legal argument.  She remembered that, by the fourth bout of eye closure, one of the jurors was checking her nails; another was counting the notes in his wallet and a third was eyeing up a particularly attractive juror two seats to his right, observations that seemed to provide support for her concerns.........

Chapter 10

.......Over the food, Miles successfully steered the conversation away from Doreen’s analysis of the probable toxic components of each of the Indian dishes to the subject of the charity day, which was, he pointed out, the main point of their meeting.  However, their concentration was broken abruptly.

“Good evening, Miss Forthright!  Sorry I’m late.  You lot must be her assistants.”

Turning to look over his left shoulder, Tom was confronted by a shortish fellow with prominent abdomen and round ruddy face but strangely delicate skin.  His blond hair was thinning and wispy.  His hands, which were held out in front of him, palm upwards, in a gesture of greeting, were shaking slightly.  His expression could only be described as a fixed leer.  He could easily have been mistaken for the proprietor of some sleazy local nightclub.  However, Fiona came to his rescue.

“Mr. Stevens!  I didn’t expect you to turn up.”  She turned to her colleagues and made formal introductions, explaining that Mr. Stevens was the gentleman of whom she had spoken previously and who was, as part of his community service, to act as master of ceremonies at the forthcoming charity day.  She had not thought to mention that she had asked him along that evening because he was, by reputation, something of an expert in unreliability.

“Oh, you say the cutest things, Miss F,” said Mr. Stevens.  “Call me Ted!”

His right hand reached behind him to the adjacent table for a chair, which he swung forwards, dragging the two hind legs across the wooden restaurant floor as he did so.  The high-pitched screech that resulted caused a demure, mousey-haired lady to his right to mutter a stifled scream and put both hands to her face..........

Chapter 11

“Morning folks! How are you all?” he shouted.  Bending forwards, and not waiting for a reply, he continued with more volume: “I said, ‘How are you all?’  Yes, how are you all?”  He laughed.  Nobody replied.

“Glad to hear it!” said Ted.  “Now, today’s going to be the best day of your life!  Some of you may know the Royal Oxford Hospital just by passing it on your way to the public loos in St. Giles; others may have been incarcerated within its walls with some deadly disease which hopefully you did not pass on to others; and some may have fond memories of the place because one of your relatives died here.  Whatever the reason, it’s great to have you here!”

“Today, everything you spend will go to charity.  Well, as long as it’s spent here!”  He laughed again.  “ I cannot speak for what you may spend later on university scarves, high tea at the Randolph or frilly panties from Marks and Spencer but hopefully, by the time you have given me - us - all your money, you won’t be able to afford any of those.”  He leaned back, moved his hands to his hips and guffawed.  “Aren’t we having fun?”...

........Tom, Miles and Jane were carrying out final checks before deciding whether to allow him home or to admit him to a hospital ward.  After they had explained their plan of action, the man offered his opinion on it:

“I’m not going into that hospital!” he spluttered.  “People die in there!”  He did not seem comforted when Miles pointed out that people die in nearly every hospital, if not, in fact, literally every one.

“I’ve heard lots of stories,” he continued.  “I heard of one man who went in with nothing whatsoever the matter with him and came out a cabbage.”

“Why did he go in if there was nothing the matter with him?” asked Tom.

“Don’t ask me!” said the man.  “I expect his doctor suggested it.”  Miles sensed Tom’s next line of enquiry, concerning the reason why his doctor would suggest hospital admission if there was nothing wrong with him, and stopped him before he could speak.

“Don’t marvel too much at the logic,” he whispered.  “What is even more remarkable is the genetic transformation that took place on the ward.  I’ve never come across a human to cabbage mutation before.  I think it should be researched.”  Tom was able to stifle his laughter only by burying his head into his left sleeve and snorting, a process which unfortunately carried the side effect of covering a sizeable area of the material with nasal secretion.  Jane came to the rescue with a handful of tissues.

“Thank you,” said Tom.  “Is that part of your first-aid kit?”

“What makes you think such a thing?” said Jane, bright-eyed.  “Don’t you know that women carry around bagfuls of tissues to provide emergency treatment to their mascara, lipgloss, tendency to tears and children’s incontinence?”

“Very funny,” said Tom.

“I thought so,” said Jane...........

Chapter 13

“We have reserved our special table for you,” said Giuseppe, “over in the alcove under the Venetian clock.  Have you been here before?”

“Yes,” said Miles, taking off his beige cashmere overcoat with dark brown velvet lapels and handing it to Giuseppe’s female assistant who, apparently, was called Maria.  “However, not since it was refurbished,” he added, gazing about him.

“You will see a big difference,” said Giuseppe, with a forced grin.  “Over the last three months, we have revolutionised this restaurant and brought a total new Italian influence.  This is San Lorenzo’s as the Italians would have it!  The north wall, over to my left, is The Drunkenness of Noah by Bellini; the south wall, to my right, is Young Sick Bacchus by Caravaggio; and the east wall in front of us is The Last Supper by Da Vinci.

“Perfect choice of subjects for a restaurant,” said Miles.

Oblivious to Miles’ sarcasm, Giuseppe continued: “And the west wall behind us is a fully equipped bar, containing all the Italians’ classic drinks including Chianti, Guinness and Foster’s lager.”

Fiona whispered to Miles that she was no expert but believed that, yes, Chianti was Italian but Guinness was Irish and Foster’s was Australian.  Giuseppe overheard.

“Exactly, senorita!  And we, who come from Florence, love the Irish and Australians as much as we do our neighbours in Naples.”

“Which is not much,” said Miles to Fiona.  “The North and South of Italy should never have been unified.”

“Unification of Italy in the nineteenth century.  It took for ever,” said Tom, arriving from behind.

So clever, thought Jane, by his side.........

.......Miles explained that another of the gardeners had told him that, if he ever wanted to use any part of the Blenheim grounds, the gardener felt sure that he would be able to swing it with the Head of Household by way of thanks.  He stressed, however, that it was unlikely that the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough could be persuaded to allow use of their private lavatory so some sort of portaloo would be required for the duration of the visit.

“Weren’t they given the house as a reward for their help at the Battle of Portaloo?” said Ted, with the usual outward expression of amusement.

“Do you mean Waterloo?” said Doreen, effectively killing the joke stone dead.

“No, strangely enough it was the Battle of Blenheim,” said Miles, adding to the murderous act.

Gerry remarked that he had once visited Blenheim and taken a tour of the public rooms.  He noticed that there were many fine objects on display, some surprisingly close to the visitors’ passageway.  He wondered if the staff would allow them to take a private tour of the house on the charity day.  Miles announced that all valuables were supervised by an elaborate security system.........

    C    © Harvey Sagar 2013