You have come to visit a person you thought you could grow to love – or already do love! – in hospital. He or she has been in a car accident, and has been unconscious for three days. No grapes, then. You enter the private ward – and discover that the bed is made and the room empty. You instantly fear the worst. You sit down in the visitor’s chair and are overcome with grief and regret. You sit here for a minute, looking at the room, and glancing out at the view of the city through the window.
And then, suddenly, your friend enters. He or she, having come out of the coma, has been for a bath. You are overcome with relief and joy. You sit and visit for a while.
Write this story without explaining your character’s feelings. Rather describe his or her surroundings and the view from the window from the perspective of your character. Show us how the ward and the hospital changes in his or her eyes as your character sits and visits and then leaves the hospital.
Write it in first or third person – but it’s a condition of this exercise that you write from the close perspective of your character, not as a neutral observer. 250 words
Winning entry – Robyn Porteus. We simply loved the way in which she used the “dead” man’s pants as a vehicle for her character’s emotional evolution.
A nurse’s face swims into focus. Her mouth moves. I can’t make out what she’s saying. I blink.
“If you need anything, just call,” she offers, slower, in an effort to save us both from embarrassment. I try to think of something, but cannot. She leaves.
The sickly green walls glow with memories of a variety of illnesses. The bed sheets lie in resemblance of limbs, tangled in unsavory ways. A pillow on the floor bears a stain that gives testimony to some unknown bodily liquid squirting from some unknown bodily part.
There, on the floor, lies a pair of pants. His pants. A flattened fraction of themselves, the pants wait for their owner to step into the tunnels of fabric and resume the normal way of things.
They don’t know. My friend, their owner – no, our friend, is gone. I walk over to them carefully, so as not to startle them. They must be uncertain in this forlorn place. I fold them slowly, and turn to lay them on the bed. I cling to them – and the memory of my friend – a moment longer, before…
“What are you doing?”
It can’t be. The pants begin to quiver with excitement. It’s our friend’s voice. I turn, blushing and unable to contain my grin. Passing my towel-clad friend his pants, I cannot resist and follow their lead. We hold an awkward but relieved embrace, the three of us.
All is right with the World.
With my friend, his pants, and me.
We’d also like to commend Helen Seals for some of her very telling details. We particularly admired this line: “His wet hair parted like Richie Rich…”
Hospital chairs are always hard, but Sarah sat anyway. Quiet emanated from the empty bed, she looked away. Beyond the red brick of the neighbouring block, she saw the Caribbean Sea and a lone woman sipping a pina colada on a bill board. She wanted that holiday. Away from the expectant mourners, where she would have to cry. Yes, she’d do that. She stood up to go.
Her heart stopped. Scott stood there in his striped flannel pyjamas his mother had given him. His wet hair parted like Richie Rich and his glasses slipping from his nose, same old Scott.
“I knew you’d be here.”
Sarah glanced back at the bed, ignoring her growing thirst for a pina colada.
“They said you had come to visit me. I told them, of course – cos you’re my girl.”
She jumped. His hand was warm and slightly damp on her arm. He herded her towards the window.
“This wasn’t how I wanted to do it.”
Sarah winced with him as he knelt.
“No Scott, it’s…”
“I love you and I want…”
He blinked at her. The sun caught the yellow purple pattern on his face. He had stopped for her. She looked back at the bill board. She chewed her lip.
“Not here. Let’s not rush something like… this.”
She let go of his hand and walked towards the door.
“Sarah. That night… you called me back to tell me something.”
She forced out a smile. “Just goodbye.”
Ramona Chetty’s piece, which she called Me and Mikey, was distinguished by its lovely voice, and the character that this voice conjures into magical existence!
The light hurts my eyes and I blink to make some go away. I look hard at the words and numbers. It spells, ‘Ward -11B’ again. Mikey’s bed is empty.
I sit in the sticky chair. The purple sky waits on the windowsill. The moms from the crooked flats are switching the lights on. Always over here the passage hmmms. Now it stomp-stomps. I press the inside button of my butterfly gown and spin.
Mikeyeee. The door makes a frame for him. He hugs me like a Christmas Barbie in a box and acts pain noises. His neck smells of home soap.
He shows me his sore shoulder. “You must see the other fella.” Mikey says a joke from his dad. I jis see goosies from my make- it- better fingers. I take the knot out from my pink doek. “Way cool, you look like a Klingon.” The cheese moon smiles at me from the window. One time we watched Star Trek in Mikey- thems giant T.V.
Mikey tells me how their car smashed a stop-sign in slomo. Then he plays with his Game Boy and ducks inside his eyes. I can make the tall iron leg with a wheel warm with my hands.
Nurse Nozi’s lollipop head is by the door. In the passage; I ask her if the clouds can also make a sheet on top of the stars plus a see-through curtain for my window, jis like in Mikey’s. Her pink lipstick mouth scolds my wandering legs.
We thought Nash Sprenger’s piece had some great details, which always enliven a piece of descriptive writing.
The cold hospital hallway seemed to promise doom. I made my way to where I knew she lay, slumber unending, slave to the grip of the coma.
Passing me, each white-coated hospital worker meant not saviour or helper, but were the ghosts that were there to send the dead home. Their shifting eyes looked to me and then away, they looked to be searching for the next supine human form, into which they no doubt longed to insert another tube. High above me in circuit, cold fluorescent lights glared, and outside her room, one flicked an endless Morse code in sonorous ticks. I stepped into a room that smelled of slow death.
The bed was vacant.
I went to the window where a grey day looked in. Bruised clouds lay heavy as if the Sun had been extinguished and this was the resulting smoke. From those bunched white things, I gleaned no comfort, and into them and away was where I longed to go – for she was gone.
But no, she came back in then, hair damp from the bath she’d just taken and I could feel a relieved grin spread across my face. I hugged her and she cried.
We sat then and talked. She remembered from the day of the collision, that we were on our way to the California County Fair, and at the memory, a fresh tear sprang and rolled a track to her chin.
When the Sun (still there, after all) had crept to just above the horizon, casting a warm setting beam onto her sick bed, I bode her fair well, promising to be back the next day.
I left the hospital room, then, barely noticing that the flickering light had stopped, and now glowed bright.
Frankie Francis book-ended her piece with wonderfully contrasting observations: The opening line: “I push through the blurred double glass doors of Ward 3.” And ends it with: “My old veldskoens feel like air as I exit through the crystal-clear glass swing doors.”
I push through the blurred double glass doors of Ward 3. Wasn’t it see-though yesterday?
The neat hospital-corners of crisp white sheets contrast starkly against the blood-red velvety petals of my Queen Teodolinda rose, standing forlornly in the centre of the bed trolley.
The curtain flutters desultory against the partly opened window, admitting wafts of morning mist, which mingles with antiseptic and bleach. Table Mountain sticks its peak momentarily between the clouds. The skyscrapers reach for eternity.
‘I’ll never touch alcohol again,’ I plead to my maker, re-living images of our canary-yellow wreck wrapped around the lamp post.
Wiping beads of perspiration from my quivering upper lip, I hear a familiar but muted voice that sends sensual shivers up my spine.
I look up into those loving azure-blue twinkling eyes, and shake my head in wonderment.
‘How do you like the plaster?’ She speaks. ‘The bone sheared off just below the ball joint. I hope I haven’t lost my marbles.’ She jokes, touching her bandaged head.
The nurse eases her onto the pristine bed, sheets crumpling under her weighty movements. I stroke her stray blond curls floating over the fluffy white pillows.
‘Oh! That’s bliss,’ she breathes in through a swollen gap in her front tooth, as I tenderly rub the balls of her feet with lavender oil. My elbow flies out, knocking over the rose’s jam-jar.
We both laugh at my clumsiness.
My old veldskoens feel like air as I exit through the crystal-clear glass swing doors.