Cara had never been a patient person; in any respect.
Now, she brought colour back to her cheeks with forceful tugs, bit the paleness from her mouth until red blistered her lips. She watched the clock, she waited. As she ran her fingers through her hair, she listened to the wail of a siren close by, to the indistinct clatter of trolleys and footsteps beyond the door.
Still she watched the clock, she waited.
‘How’s the patient?’ The doctor appeared at quarter-to-four.
She shrugged and smiled. ‘Oh, you know, bored, lonely.’
‘Not got anyone coming to see you today?’
‘Actually my brother Ben’s coming.’ She sat up a little straighter. ‘He should be here any minute.’
The doctor nodded. ‘I look forward to meeting him.’
‘Oh, I don’t think that’s a good idea.’
‘I mean, doctors, hospitals, they freak Ben out.’ Her gaze shifted to the photograph on the side table; to the boy, awkward and timid within the silver frame. ‘And I’d hate for him to think I was actually, you know, ill.’
Behind his clipboard, the doctor raised his eyebrows. Cara didn’t notice, her eyes had moved back to the clock.
At four fifteen she started to fidget. It was unlike him to be late. Outside, a wall of cloud had begun to fracture and break and she imagined Ben standing below in the feeble cracks of sunshine, gazing up at the concrete structure, apprehensive of what he might find inside. Beneath the starched sheets, her dormant legs moved reluctantly. She bit her lip.
The tiled floor was cold against her feet. She lifted the unbearable weight of her own body onto legs that had scarcely been used for months. Bones cracked. Joints creaked. Her hands gripped the metal railing that ran the sides of the bed, but it was baby steps that took her to the window.
Her breathing was laboured. It was the only thing she could hear. With trembling arms she leant against the pane of glass, searching for a familiar face on the street; she couldn’t see him, she couldn’t see anything. In front of her, her reflection began to spin and blur and she watched as her pink cheeks began to whiten, her lips draining of colour.
By four thirty, the effort of movement had become nauseating. She dragged her limp body back to bed. Her lids were heavy, her mouth dry. The doctor returned.
‘You should have stayed in bed, Cara,’ was his assertion.
‘Can’t,’ was her answer.
He sighed. ‘Have a rest, have a sleep and if your brother arrives, I’ll make sure he sees you.’
She tried to shake her head; if Ben came and she was asleep, she wouldn’t be able to mask the ominous bleep of the machines or distract him from the stench of disinfectant in the air. If he came and she was asleep, he would see the fragility of her body, sense the desperateness of her pain. If he came and she was asleep, she wouldn’t be able to hide it; he would know. She was dying.