Vinnie came to on a Thursday afternoon. He didn’t know this, however. It could’ve been a Monday morning for all he was aware. He had no idea how long he’d been out, but he instantly sensed it must’ve been a long time. And it was obvious to him that he was in a hospital. He couldn’t move much, but he didn’t feel any pain. That would come later.
There were four beds in the room, arranged in opposing pairs, but only two of them were occupied – Vinnie’s and the one directly opposite. The guy in that bed looked like he was well out of it. He was clearly younger than Vinnie, and had the same heavy-duty brace around his neck. Various bits of plaster cast covered most of his body, and all the bits that weren’t covered had serious bruising. There were tubes and wires everywhere.
Nurses fussed around from time to time. They were mostly young, mostly foreign. Vinnie noticed that the younger and more foreign they were, the friendlier they were. One was particularly sweet, and reminded him of a girl he’d had a thing for at school, apart from being foreign, of course.
“What happened?” he asked the doctor, who was also foreign. “I don’t remember anything.”
“You were at work,” she told him. “You’d climbed up onto a leaking machine to try and fix it. But the fumes made you pass out, and you fell.”
“That was a bit stupid,” he said.
“It probably isn’t the way you’re supposed to do things,” she said, smiling, a warmth in her voice he wasn’t sure he deserved.
Visitors came, but they mostly just got upset, leaving Vinnie more relieved when they departed. They brought him useless things, things you’d need two working arms for – magazines, bananas. Danny brought him a Rubik’s Cube, but he knew that was a joke. Days blurred into one another. He lost count of them. He would fall asleep not knowing if he was falling asleep, losing consciousness or dying. Other hospital staff buzzed in and out like flies, took readings, attended to him, chatted.
And all the while, the guy across from Vinnie lay there inert. You could’ve thought he was dead. Had everyone forgotten about him? Could only Vinnie see him? Was he really even there?
When the woman came, she crossed the room incredibly slowly, tentatively, like she was frightened to approach. She paid Vinnie no attention at all. She was young, quite glamorous, almost too much so for visiting someone in hospital. Her hair was all done up, and her make-up fresh, like she was going for a night out. She looked good, Vinnie thought. She wore a long, expensive-looking coat, and shoes that stabbed at the floor as she walked.
She pulled up a chair and sat by the bed opposite, her back to Vinnie. She bowed her head, like she was praying. Perhaps she was. He could hear no words.
Vinnie had no idea how long she stayed like that. Just like days, minutes and seconds were starting to become meaningless. He was on the verge of drifting off to wherever it was he went, when she rose from the chair and flicked off the light switch. She kissed the guy as close as she could get to his mouth. There was no response Vinnie could see, though it was gloomier in the room now, with only pale light filtering in under the blinds.
She hitched up her coat, slid off her knickers – appearing not to be wearing much else under there – and stuffed them into one of the pockets. She moved the guy’s right leg – which wasn’t covered completely in plaster – out towards the side, then climbed on, straddling and settling herself down onto his exposed foot. It took her a few moments of adjustment to get the position she was looking for, but once there, she began to rock gently to and fro, never hurried, never frantic. Vinnie could hear her breathing, but the room was so quiet he could hear almost anything. There was a shudder, and a series of noises on the edge of being groans, before she climbed off the bed and straightened herself out.
She left the room much more purposefully than she’d entered it, but only once she’d unplugged the ventilator, and – for good measure – every other machine surrounding the bed.
Vinnie watched in silence before drifting off to sleep.