The only glow their bedded eyes, without colour, just another pale fire set to sleep. No mewings echo from their neighbour, keep clammed shut, a field of linear cells. Clock snaps to the appointed hour, some look up, but it’s only disappointment calling late: ‘She won’t come tonight’ the tired ranks decide. So faceless spheres sink in thought, suppressing desire against the mattress to dream idle of naked patricide; wanting, any way now, to be released.
Then at six, an hour before the next day shift, the young ones slide up. A soft padding, barely audible with the heels removed but that straight gait’s clear – the students are in charge. All spheres glow, awake in their beds from eager glimpse of flesh and allure of crooked smile; anything to remind them of being human and alive. Each one gazes flat from row of yearning stares, another potential Apollo desperate to be used. Lips push forward to meet lips, hinted insolence veering on a sneer but they maintain form, neat and delicate, so drawn as to be feminine but with vain promise of a superman. Their soft fronds ivy-hung, parted or swept in minute waves tapering out to punkish spikes, a stab at modernity, though no gels are allowed. At the temple head they verge on grimace, holding back that burning frown of youth, some smouldering attempt but in truth, limp the light that flickers. Snaking veins pulse under marble tissue as occasional blues shine to give growing mark of intent.
Trade cigarettes for a shave, morphine samplers for quickening touches, eager flourishes (sensuality implied, only). The young ones indulge themselves, slip into further gears of submission turning body to cheap tricks snaring their control, the patient must always come first. Soon grow heady at the mere hint of promise, up on their elbows leering lucky. Sweet natures crushed under that sickly feeling, their rich body odours soon mingle to a sense of trapped death.
Touch young inner thigh, it tingles with worn hands tired from scrubbing dead cells, washing in cracked sinks and with constant peeling and pulling of gloves, unfeeling compounded by absent lovers. So removed, no contact for a week; it gets harder to count those years without light. Their grip quickens at the thought and those buried gushes come eagerly – she pink in the cheeks, pretending not to care or enjoy, basking in the reversal of service: pleasure happens when she says, and only when. But always coo-coo too much disappointment when it comes, keeps them keener for longer, quick to go again. Each party quietly decides they are in charge. Nurse keeps her head, the patient’s relaxed, forever in repose. As long as we get what we want, nevermind who’s playing who.
She remembers how it felt to make him feel, to impress pleasure on someone else, good enough to repeat, missing those sharp glances caught mid-exchange. A quick-cruel pinch of vital flesh going pinky under the squeeze, he smiles, winces, somewhere in-between, a near-conclusion, she eases him down, marking pressure points with strolling fingers, body maps lifted straight from matte-dull texts of endless anatomy, finally found a way to use.
Walks over finest muscle to make it quiver at salient points just enough tenderness from feather stroke of her tips, pressure of her paws feeling out soft-hard tapered lines…then relaxed. In fleeting seconds she wanders out to the boy in bed, ready at the receiving end of love and caring, no matter how it’s dissected, with sudden flexes eyes flicker soft to the back of the skull, coo-cooing whispers at the back of the neck, tell him everything will be alright, next time.
At the edge and watch him hover there. Those seconds of waiting just before, just one more, so close to dying. Too much, too young; they were born to lose. She throws him contraband wipes aloe-enriched for those more sensitive, brandishing cursive Saudi labels, fallen away from a nowhere juncture off the Guildford exchange. Wretched, ecstatic he sweats it off. She’s leaving; in deep breaths, slowly he wipes himself down. The nurses claim their winnings from the underhand race.
Nurses hover before lights out, the articulated division built ready-for-use, insert here, same as me. Pencil shadows spindle over the near corpses, flit by tapered fingers along the angular frame, ugly hull of scuttled boat, tugging strands at bed-head lean in close to touching but it’s just a word, softly placed, some dirty unseemly gesture enough to trigger Kafka’s blush. Only takes a little intensity to force the stoic, but not too far; so easy to break the one you love. She smiles final as they breathe so frozen: to me you are a work of art, held precious in the palm.
Adam Steiner used to be a cleaner/driver/admin-bitch in various NHS institutions until his last hospital was closed down. He is currently finishing his first novel, Politics of the Asylum, to be published by Silhouette Press. Follow him on Twitter: @BurndtOutWard