The group of long coats passing down the hospital corridors on a night before Christmas carried no flowers. The nurses who spotted them decided they could only be visiting one patient. It had to be the one with the smashed wrist, acquired after climbing up a drainpipe that had given way and cast him down by a dark basement door, below the steep stone steps to the main entrance of the block.
One of the nurses brought in a plate of triangular ham sandwiches for the patient’s tea. The inhabitants of the coats sat on and around his bed. He shared the room on the ward with a couple of elderly men in bathrobes who wandered in and out.
The pair seemed to be looking for something, in the background, as the patient recounted what had happened to his wired-up wrist, as the eyes on and around the bed watched the good hand find the barest two triangles of bread, lay them out face up, and then methodically extract all the ham triangles from the others in order to stick them in between those two.
“They use industrial butter in here,” he explained.
Then he got one of the visitors to pour a soft drink into a plastic cup in order to wash that one thick triangle down. When finally allowed liquids after the operation, he’d polished off a couple of two-litre bottles of lemonade in the space of fifteen minutes.
Next a female visitor entered. Space was made for her at the foot of the bed. His girlfriend revealed she had told his father the truth – it had been her window over the ledge by which the drainpipe had given way – but the patient in the bed equably rationalized this confession. Damage done, there was nothing he could do about it now.
“Oh, it’s OK. I’m sure if somebody didn’t tell him he would have smelled a rather large rodent.”
The elderly men in the background were by now beginning to get a little agitated. They were looking for something.
“What’s wrong with those two?” whispered one of the visitors.
“They’re looking for the remote. They want to watch Glenroe.”
Watching the Sunday night soap was a simple pleasure, not to be missed.
“Eh, have you any notion where it is?”
“I’m sitting on it.”
The patient explained the apparent meanness of this concealment in a further murmur.
“At seven this morning the guy on the left there decided to empty his colostomy bag.”
Heads recoiled from the bed in distaste.
“While I was having my egg.”