Rehearsals for the forthcoming pantomime - yes I know it's nearly half way through March, but this is Southwick - are reaching a peak. Hope we don't peak too soon. This is my first time back with the group for about five or six years and I must say, I'm having a great time. The show is on 22nd to 24th March and after that my Tuesdays and Thursdays will be my own again.
Thought I'd let you see the next chapter of the novel early this week:
The morning light saw Karen slipping out of bed. She got dressed in the bathroom and quietly left the house, the front door closing behind her mutely echoing the feeling of relief she felt.
Karen yawned and looked around the half-empty bus, wondering what this day would bring. She was dressed self consciously in her new uniform. The other passengers were either engrossed in reading their newspapers, or dozing against the windows. When she changed buses in Fareham, the Highclere bus was full to bursting with nurses. She recognised Marion, and the smile Karen gave as she passed her to sit in the back seat next to Linda was rewarded with a glare.
'Drank too much last night,' Linda groaned. 'Just went to the Social Club for a few and one thing led to another. You'll have to come over next time you're on a late.’
'I don't know if I can,' Karen said. ‘I need to get the bus.’
'You could stay for an hour,' Linda said. 'Just get the ten o'clock instead of the nine.'
'I'll have to speak to my husband.' As soon as she said it, Karen realised how stupid she sounded.
'Well, the offer's there,' said Linda. 'I’ve got a room in the hostel, so if you want to stay over any time, you can. I just went back to my Mum’s last night to pick up my washing. She lives in Stubbington.'
'Oh, I don't think I could ever stay,' said Karen. 'But thanks for the offer anyway.'
They walked together down those same corridors that had been so long and empty only the day before. Today they were filled with men and women in uniform, laughing and chatting to each other on their way to work. They soon reached the ward door which Linda opened to the airless silence of the early morning in Camberley Ward.
Mike was waiting for the group of staff to pour themselves a cup of tea. Karen sat on the edge of her seat, wondering what the day would bring.
'Well Karen,' Mike said. 'Your first proper day today. Just follow the others and you'll be fine.' He indicated around the room. 'You know Dorothy, Linda and Marion, and this is John, one of our students. You can work with Dorothy this morning. Linda, you work with Marion. John, you can help me in here for a while. There's plenty of paperwork to be done.'
Karen sat with the others. There seemed to be an awful lot of tea to be drunk in this work. She glanced at John. 'Looks more like a builder or a plumber than a nurse,' she thought, mulling over the idea that it takes all sorts to do this.
Dorothy and the others started to get up.
'Come on, Karen,' said Dorothy. 'We'll be left with the worst ones if we don't get a move on.' She pushed her way past Linda and was out of the door. Karen hurried to catch her up. ‘Run down to the bathroom and fetch the skips for the dirty sheets. I’ll make a start on Rosie and Gwen.’
Two hours later the staff gathered at one of the dining tables. Karen’s back ached. Dorothy lit a cigarette. She offered one to Karen.
'No thanks,' said Karen. 'I stopped smoking a few months ago.'
'Lucky you,' said Dorothy. 'I can't really afford it, but I don't get many pleasures these days.'
One of the cleaners came out of the kitchen carrying a plate laden with thickly buttered toast. The easy banter which soon was bouncing to and fro made Karen feel at home in their company.
'Did you see that Rebecca in the Social Club last night, Mandy?' Linda was saying to one of the young cleaners. 'She was with Steve. You know, that porter on the male side.'
'He's married isn't he?' asked Mandy.
'Probably,' said Linda. 'That Rebecca doesn't care when she's had a few drinks.'
'What about that Anita, then,' said Mandy. 'Did you see what she was wearing?'
'I'd never get away with a skirt that short,' said Linda.
'I wouldn't want to!' said Mandy.
'Yeah, you're only jealous,' Mike interjected. 'Just because your legs are short and fat.'
'Oi!' said Mandy. 'Don't be so cheeky!'
And so it went on. Karen had no idea who they were talking about and hoped that she wasn't to become the focus of their mirth when she wasn't there.
'What about you, Karen?' the other cleaner was asking. 'You got a boyfriend?'
'I'm married.' Karen felt herself blush.
'You're a bit young aren't you?' Janet, a thin woman dressed in green overalls with a twinkle in her eye was old enough to be Karen's mother.
'I'm twenty three,' Karen said. 'Not that young really.'
'You should be out enjoying yourself at that age,' insisted Janet.
Karen smiled. 'Why do people always think I'm too young?' she thought but a part of her wondered if Janet was right.
'Time to get on,' Dorothy pushed herself up from the seat. 'I'm going down to the laundry room for some dresses I sent for mending last week. Will you be alright on your own for a bit Karen?'
'Yes, of course,' Karen said with a confidence she didn't feel.
'Be back in a while then,' said Dorothy, and she marched off towards the door, keys jangling.
Karen didn't know why she'd felt drawn towards this room. It was near the end of the long gallery, further than she'd been before. The door was unlocked so she supposed that it was alright to go in without Dorothy. Evelyn's name was written in black pen on a card on the door. Curiosity overcame Karen's fears as she entered the room. The woman lay curled on her bed like a foetus, her eyes tightly closed against any intrusion into her world.
'Hello, Evelyn,' Karen said. 'Are you going to get up this morning?'
Evelyn's answer was to tense herself up into a tighter ball, like a hedge-hog being sniffed at by an inquisitive dog.
Karen reached down and gently touched Evelyn's shoulder.
It was as though her hand had been a burning flame as Evelyn flew up like a coiled spring, screaming, her talons reaching out to scratch at Karen’s face.
'Oh, my God! Oh shit!' Karen flew backwards towards the still open doorway and somehow managed to get through the door in time to slam it shut behind herself. She ran straight into Mike who was passing by at that precise moment.
'Woah! You alright?’ He held her by the arms to steady her.
Karen suddenly felt silly standing there like that, with Evelyn glaring at her through the window of her door and Mike holding onto her as though she was one of his patients.
'I'm fine,' she said, shrugging him off. She took a step backwards. 'I just had a bit of a fright.'
'Evelyn's just a bit weird around new staff sometimes. You have to get to know her and she'll be fine with you. She's hardly spoken a word in years. It's a sad story but no more than any of the others in here. You can read her notes if you want.'
Karen looked back at the door.
‘Don’t worry. She’ll calm down. Just leave her alone for a while.’
He led her off towards the office and pulled the notes out of the filing cabinet with a flourish.
'There you go,' he said. 'Makes interesting reading. Anything else you want to know, just ask.'
Karen gripped the notes in her hand to stop them shaking. She tried to calm her heartbeat, feeling an idiot for reacting so violently to what was nothing really. She opened the notes and spread the pages out on the desk in front of her.
Admission date: nineteen fifty.
'The year I was born,' she thought.
A crash and a cacophony of voices brought herself back to the present. Hesitating for only a moment, she headed down the long gallery towards the noise. Linda and Marion were running in the same direction.
'It's Evelyn,' shouted Linda.
As they reached the room, Marion and Linda both flew through the doorway. Evelyn was screaming whilst Mike and John were wrestling with another woman who was struggling and thrashing at them. Marion immediately grabbed Evelyn from behind and pulled her onto the bed. Linda held her legs.
'Shut up!' Marion yelled at Evelyn. 'Stop kicking, you bitch!'
Karen stood - paralysed.
'Get out of the way!' Mike shouted.
Karen leapt out of the way, feeling completely useless as they dragged the other woman into a nearby room.
'Karen,' Mike was shouting at her now. 'Get in here and give us a hand. Hold onto her while I get the drugs sorted.’
Karen was terrified. She hesitated for just one moment before taking hold of Gloria’s arm.
'Don't worry,' Mike said. 'Just hold on. I'll be back in a couple of minutes.' He was gone before Karen could protest.
John was talking to the woman. 'Now calm down, Gloria,' he said. 'It's alright.'
But it wasn't alright. Gloria was struggling, kicking at them both and trying to sink her teeth into Karen's arm. John twisted Gloria’s other arm tighter. She opened her mouth wide and screamed. Her legs thrashed out just missing John's groin. He laughed, jumping backwards, without releasing his strong grip on her.
'You'll do yourself an injury if you keep on like this,' he said. 'Now settle down.' He was shouting at Karen now. 'Hold on!' Karen held on.
She was trying to resist the urge to laugh hysterically when Mike returned with a glass syringe, the long needle glinting in the morning sunlight. Karen's eyes stung as the smell of Paraldehyde hit her senses. Gloria's struggles returned with a force as she realised what was to come.
'Marion,' Mike called. 'Get in here and give us a hand.'
Marion appeared in the doorway.
'Hold her down Karen,' he instructed. 'Marion, you take her legs. Now turn her over so I can get this in.'
Gloria was flipped onto her stomach without ceremony. Her dress had ridden up to her waist. Mike pulled her pants down with one hand. With the other he jabbed the syringe into her buttock and injected the drug into her body without hesitation. He stood up.
'Don't let her go yet,' he said. 'Just keep her there until the drug kicks in. I'll be back in a bit.'
The three of them were left holding on to Gloria who'd finally subsided into a sobbing heavy weight, all the fight gone from her. John was stroking her hair soothingly.
'You'll be alright now, Gloria,' he said.
Marion sucked air through her teeth. Her face was inches from Karen's as she grinned. 'How do you like it here now, eh?' she laughed.
Karen said nothing. She was still shaking, wondering what was going to happen next. Gloria was still half-naked. 'Can't we cover her up a bit?' she finally asked.
'Come on Gloria, let's get you under the covers.' It was John who helped get her into bed.
Mike's head appeared round the door.
'All settled?' he asked. 'She'll sleep it off in a couple of hours.'
They left the room one at a time, Mike finally locking the door behind them as he stepped back into the corridor.
'You alright?' he asked the others.
'Just need a cuppa,' Marion said. 'I'll make some tea.' She walked away towards the kitchen.
'Is Evelyn alright?' Karen asked.
'Sure,' Mike said. 'That Gloria has it in for her. Don't know why, but I told you she was evil, didn't I?'
As they passed Evelyn's room Karen glanced in. The woman was hunched up on the bed, but as Karen stood there Evelyn looked up and their eyes met. She stared mutely at Karen, her eyes wide and black. No flicker of a smile, no emotion showing in her face at all. Karen shuddered and walked back to the office.
This should keep you going over the weekend.
We should be quite busy this weekend, it's our son's thirteenth birthday early next week!