Hospitals are one of those places you don’t sleep for long. Like airports or something. There’s always some kind of weird noise waking you up. Trolleys wheeling by, machinery beeping pulses, that kind of thing. A couple of people are snoring loudly. I guess when you get used to the sounds it’s not a problem. The sun hasn’t been up long but a hospital, like an airport, doesn’t function with time. Means the sounds are always there.
Zed’s snoring loudly. It’s not annoying but it is pretty funny. Girls are always funny when they snore. With guys you kind of expect them to snore. It’s the same way you expect them to have hair on their legs. Girls can’t fart, belly laugh or belch and they have to get rid of all the hair that grows on them. Guys can pretty much do what they want and no one cares. It’s kind of cool when a girl does do something un-girly.
I wonder what else ma and Jess brought. I rummage through the dresser to see if there’s anything good. Socks, jocks, blah, yawn, boring. Underneath the under wear there’s something silver. It’s a portable DVD player. I take it out and rest it on my legs. I don’t open it. Either Jess brought this or ma did. If it’s ma the DVD will probably be awful. Okay...prayer time. I put my hands together under the sheets and whisper.
“Please Great Spirit...if you are there, let whatever DVD is in this player be cool.”
I visualise the DVD I want. I read somewhere that if you ask for something and visualise it the universe will make it happen. It might be complete bollocks but it’s not like I have anything else to do. I visualise myself watching a Die Hard film. 1, 3 or 4. I like Die Hard 2 but only at Christmas. I’m trying to visualise Bruce Willis saying “Yippie-ki-yay motherfucker”. I open the lid and there’s a blank DVD inside. The universe is being coy. I press the power button and the disk starts loading. It takes a long time, for a few seconds I think the disk might be scratched but eventually an image comes up. It’s about five episodes of Father Ted. Well played universe. This has got to be Jess’ work. If Father Ted doesn’t make you laugh you’re probably dead inside. Or a priest. By the time I’m into Speed 3 everyone in the ward is starting to wake up. Zed’s still snoring.
Ma and Jess walk through the ward doors. Whatever way the sun catches Jess’ face, it looks like she’s wearing her old nose ring. Just a trick of the light though, Jess hasn’t worn it in years. Her and ma used to bicker about that thing constantly. I’m not sure what it is about mothers and daughters but it’s like they’re in a constant power struggle. Years ago Jess admitted to me that she only got the ring to piss ma off. Problem was: with dad in the open jail the only person for ma to bitch to was me. Everyday I’d be there in my uniform eating cereal and ma would be all “It makes her look so...common”. I’d sit down to dinner and get the “She’s a pretty girl but that ring is ruining her face”. At one point ma even said “She’s going to get pregnant Alex, I just know it”. Ma isn’t a snob, not a mean one anyway, but she hates it if me or Jess show symptoms of ‘common-ness’. Tattoos, piercings, torn up clothes, crazy hair. Anything kind of punky. Funnily enough she was right about the pregnant thing. Ever since Jess had Roger she’s become a lot less ‘alternative’. They pull in chairs and ma starts closing the curtains.
“What are you doing ma?” Jess starts.
“I don’t want everyone looking at us.”
“All the people.”
Jess tuts and shakes her head. She moved back in with ma after she had Roger. Dad still had a bit of time left in jail and I was starting sixth year. I think they probably both needed each other more than they’d admit.
“How are you Alex?” Ma puts her hand on my arm as she says it.
“Yeah okay. Bit sore but I don’t think anything is seriously damaged.”
“Do you want to transfer to Ely? You’re still on the card.”
“Nah, I’m grand here. Shouldn’t be in too much longer.”
“But the private hospital would have much better staff, better food. This place isn’t great.”
She kind of frowns and shakes her head when she says the last bit. I see Jess turn to her. Here we go.
“They all have doctorates!”
“Ely is better Jess. Why have the card if we’re not going to use it?”
“Really ma, thanks but I’m fine here.”
“Don’t call me ‘ma’ Alex. ‘Laura’ or ‘mam’.”
This is probably why ma pulled the curtains. She hates if anyone sees the family in anything but a photo-shopped kind of way. See I figured out early how to handle ma. Just make it seem like she’s right or at least that you agree.
“Mam I’m nearly better. I’d say they’ll be sending me home soon anyway. It’d be nice in Ely but probably more bother than it’s worth you know?”
“If you think so Alex.”
“So did you like the DVD. I put on the funniest episodes. They’re all funny though.” Jess says.
“Yeah it’s deadly. The racism one is hilarious!”
“Alex keep your voice down. There’s a coloured woman over there.”
Jess starts doing bits from the episode.
“Should we all be racists now father? The farm takes up most of me day and at night I just like a cup of tea.”
“Good for you Father. As long as I get a go at the Greek’s. Sure they invented gayness!” I add.
Me and Jess are pissing ourselves laughing now. I can see ma getting wound up but it’s just making things funnier. She gets up and says she’s going to get some tea. Jess waits until we hear ma’s steps down the corridor and takes some Xanax out of her bag.
“Here I got some off Hooper. Don’t take any if they give you any meds in here okay.”
“Yeah, no worries. I’m actually doing better than I thought in here. Not getting too bad you know.”
We’ve broken the mood. I ask Jess about Roger and we go over the usual trivialities but the laughter’s gone. Just regular brother-sister talk now. The curtain pulls back. Ma is standing there. She doesn’t notice me sliding the Xanex behind the pillow.
“Jess could you give your brother and myself a moment?”
“I just want to talk to Alex alone for a second. There’s a coffee machine near the entrance.” Ma hands Jess some coins.
“I have money ma!”
“Mam. Go on give your brother and I a minute.”
Jess walks through the green curtains. She doesn’t have a whole lot of money. She’s not working now but it’s not like ma and dad make her pay rent. Ma doesn’t mean to undermine her or anything. It’s actually ma’s way of being nice. When we were kids ma would always play with us. She was really caring and huggy and stuff. When we got older and didn’t want hugs it was like she didn’t know how to treat us anymore. Jess and ma argue a lot but it’s over bullshit. When the chips are down our mother’s always the one that bails us out.
“I haven’t seen much of you recently Alex.”
“No, I’ve been busy doing stuff I guess.”
“I want you to move back home for awhile.”
I can almost hear that flat line sound. Like my heart has just stopped or something. I go to say something but ma cuts me off.
“I’m not going to pay your rent anymore. Move home until you’re ready to go back to college. That’s it.”
“Laura. I can’t go back home. All my stuff is...”
“I’ll move it while you’re here. Alex I know there’s plenty you’re not telling me. Fine. But I’m not going to sit back and watch you throw the rest of your life away.”
“I’m not throwing, I’m just...”
“Remember Jess after the baby?”
“Yeah but it’s not the same I’m...”
“Please Alex. The worry between you, Jess and your father is killing me.”
Shield breach. Ma never ever lets on that she’s worrying. The last thing I want to do is move home but I know she’s not joking about the rent. Whatever about the money, I don’t want to be another problem for her. Besides she’s got a point. I can’t keep going the way I am. I take a breath in and hold it for a second.
“Okay. Yeah. But you have to let me call you ma.”
Ma doesn’t realise I’m joking for a few seconds. She smiles and ruffles my hair. I feel like I’m a kid again. Jess comes back in and we shoot the breeze for a while longer. Back to the trivialities. By about eleven they decide to leave and ma draws the curtains back. I don’t feel it until they’re both gone. I can’t move home. They won’t understand when I can’t leave the house. Ma will call the mental or something. They’ll put me in a straight jacket and everyone will forget about me. I reach under the pillow to pop out a couple of Xanax. I throw them into my mouth but can’t find any water. I dry swallow. My throat feels everything.
By the time Zed stops snoring I’m starting to chill out. The calm off a sedative is strange. The fear is there, you can feel it behind your eyes but you don’t care. Knowing that it’s there but can’t get you is reassuring. The first time I ever took a Xanax I thought “That’s it I’m cured.” I went to the doctor. Not the family one, a guy who didn’t know me. I told him I couldn’t calm down and he just handed me a prescription. It was way too easy. He didn’t even suggest therapy. He just gave me a piece of paper with Xanax written on it and said “Might need to take more than one.” So I head to the pharmacy, hand over the paper and that’s it. Just over a fiver for thirty pills. I threw two into my mouth and walked down town. Twenty minutes later I had nothing to worry about. I thought that was it. Everything was back to normal. I was in a music shop looking at the back of a Mogwai album when I started to feel nervous. I walked outside and there was this black dog lying by the door. He looked straight at me and stopped. Right in to my eyes. I don’t really know what happened I just know I had to get away from that dog. It didn’t make sense, I didn’t understand why a dog had freaked me out.
I stood looking at the taxi’s outside Dunne’s Stores. I didn’t know if I should get one. Could I talk to a driver? I felt like if I tried to speak everything would just whimper out of my mouth. Like this whisper that couldn’t turn into words. So I’m standing there trying to figure out if I can get into a taxi when the same dog comes running around the corner. Then it’s all a blur. I just remember being inside a taxi with this Dubliner who kept saying “It’s the way things are gone” until he dropped me home. As soon as I got through the door I started crying. I didn’t even know why. I put another Xanax on my tongue and pretty much haven’t stopped.
I get out of bed and walk over to Zed. She’s awake but still lying on her side. She’s staring into the wall. I put my hand on her shoulder and shake gently.
“Just checking on you buddy.”
“Leave me alone Alex.”
“What’s up with you?”
“Just fuck off a while would you!”
I’m back in my own bed before I realise how confused I am. Did I do anything out of line? I should probably be nervous but the Xanax has me.
The slippers fit well. I slide my feet into them and throw on my gown. I’m going to walk around for a while. Hospitals have that great government white and green combination. If there are two colours that accentuate boredom more than white and green I don’t know about them. It’s like a cheap ice lolly but colder looking. The hospital’s not like TV. There’s nothing happening. Just bored looking nurses walking around. They aren’t as good looking as the ones are in ER or Grey’s Anatomy or even Scrubs.
There’s more life in the 1st floor. A few people are shooting the breeze and drinking coffee. There’s a single digit kid sitting at one of the tables crying. He keeps saying ‘shit head’. If you’re over twenty and talking to a kid who isn’t related to you I always feel like people might think you’re a perv or something. The Xanax doesn’t let me worry about it too much.
Hey looks up and wipes the tears from his eyes. He talks as if I should know exactly what he’s going on about.
“I can’t beat Bowser! He’s not fair!”
I look at his hands. He’s holding a Nintendo DS. At twenty years of age I’m probably too old to know who Bowser is. But I do. He’s the big dragon looking thing that always kidnaps Princess Peach in Mario Bros. I don’t understand why Mario doesn’t reinforce his house or something.
“Where’s your mammy?”
“In the ground.”
Uh oh. Now I don’t know what to say.
“Um, do you want me to show you how to beat Bowser?”
I sit beside the kid and show him the pattern. All bosses have a pattern. They can be tricky to learn but once you do a game is easy. Generally the pattern is so fast that it takes a while to figure out. Especially if you’re an eight year old kid. Times like this make me think that I might like to have a kid someday. I can see us sitting down with two giant bowls of cereal watching Sunday morning cartoons. The kid would probably outgrow me by about eleven. Or I’d wind up having a girl. I wouldn’t know how to raise a girl. Whatever about being little but I’d be really stuck when she hit her teens. Boyfriend’s and night clubs and stuff. Thank god Jess was older than me.
“So what happened to your mam?”
“She went into the ground.”
“Don’t worry I’m sure she’s happy wherever she is.”
The kid shrugs and has another go at beating Bowser.
“Okay jump here...good...now duck...wait a second. Okay now!”
“Cool I got him! Shithead! Thanks mister...what’s your name?”
“I’m Alex as well!”
The kid seems extremely excited. I don’t know if I’m capable of getting that excited over anything. A tired looking woman of about thirty walks towards us. She brushes her fringe back with her hand and walks up to little Alex.
“Ma his name is Alex too and he told me how to beat Bowser!”
I stand up and shake her hand.
“Hey I was taking a walk around and I saw your son shouting at his DS.”
“Oh, right. Alex loves all that shite.”
“Yeah, it was deadly ma, now I can beat Bowser!”
“Good for you. Come on now and we go.”
“Wait a second ma. Alex we can’t both be Alex so we have to share the name.”
“How do you mean?”
“We have to split it into ‘Al’ or ‘Ex’. You’re bigger so you can choose first.”
“Between ‘Al’ or ‘Ex’ hmm... I think I’ll be ‘Ex’.
The little guy seems happy with my decision. I smile to his mam and they both start walking away. I can just about catch the last of their conversation as they walk through the sliding doors.
“What was it like in the ground ma?”
“It’s a basement Alex.”
“My name is Al now ma!”