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Deeper than the Skin of our Tattoos

The water glistens as the mid-day sun shines on the river. It is quiet, so quiet I can hear myself breathe. I wipe a bead of sweat that trickles down my forehead with my hand, or what is left of my hand. I can use it now to do all sorts of things. It’s not a handicap anymore, a talking point if anything, that is if people dare asks what happened. It doesn’t hurt anymore, physically or emotionally.

The surrounding fields are brown, but where I sit on the bank of the river Barrow the grass is green, I assume they river keeps it fertilised, while the surrounding land is burnt, parched land crying out for water. The temperature is unbearable. Taking off my shirt, I place it on my head as my thinning hair offers my head no protection from the sun. The scene is beautiful. so removed from my days in London, my only reminder now is my hand and the tattoo on my right arm.  I hadn’t thought of those days for a long time. I trace my fingers around the tattoo,  Lone Wolf.

Those lonely cold days in London are thankfully long behind me. Living under the bridge for two winters, and I was getting sicker. It was fine during the summer months even offering shade in the summer heat, but during the winter it was a wind tunnel. Every day I sat beside the mobile coffee van near the entrance to the Elephant and Castle tube station. Mario’s Delight – the best coffee in town. It had been a good begging place, people would often throw the change from the coffee or sandwich.  Or, on their home from an after-work drink. People were more generous after a drink and especially at Christmas, their generosity born from guilt and alcohol. Maybe some like me had nobody. I once had friends a family, not blood family but in the army,  we were family, we’d have died for each other, but that’s all gone.

Now, the nearest I have to a family was Mario. Every morning I would wake to the smell of coffee he left beside my sleeping bag, and in the evenings, he would give me a sandwich on his way home. Home to his wife, his fat wife. I know that because he told me all about his wife.

‘She is so fat she can hardly move,’ he said.

I looked at Mario and thought she must be huge. The buttons on his white shirt strained as his stomach tried to escape as it hung over his trousers. His eyes were like little raisins pushed into a large puff pie he sold in his coffee van. The rolls of fat on his sausage hands were dwarfed by his 6ft frame so that he looked out of shape.

Mario opened his mobile coffee van at 6am. Shortly after that I would wake to the smell of fresh coffee Mario left me, and then the tinkle, tinkle of a few coins, and as the commuters increased so did the pace of the tinkle, tinkle.  Fridays were quiet for him, most workers went to the pub with their mates. On those evenings he would chat for a while, especially during the summer.  He would sit on the wall beside me, and talk. He never asked me about myself, just chatted about his dog, his cat, and his fat wife. He never mentioned my missing hand, anyway I didn’t want to talk about it then, the memory still too raw.

In the warmth of summer, the pain would ease, not the emotional pain, just the physical. I would sit in the sun with my shirt off to get heat into my bones before the winter. Often we sat in comfortable silence on those summer evening. He once bought me a can of cold cider from the supermarket when the heat was unbearable, but I didn’t drink it. I’d had enough artificial anaesthesia over the years, I heard of too many people dying from it. I still had nightmares, waking up in a pool of sweat, sometimes my screams woke me with the images burned in the flesh of my memory, in time the flashbacks diminished.

Two Christmases ago I woke, my toes frozen in the cold. Hot coffee was not in its usual place beside my duffle bag. I didn’t move as I watched my breath mingle with the cold air, rising like fighters, wrestling in the air. As I lay in my sleeping bag and watched feet pass me. Few people gave me change they didn’t have time to search in their pockets the cold preventing them from stopping too long. I waited for my coffee, but it never came, and neither did Mario. The van sat idly under the bridge. Few people threw money in my cap, they rushed to their trains, heads bent in the cold.  When Mario didn’t open the coffee van after a week, I thought maybe he took an early Christmas break. I wasn’t too sure of the date, but businesses were still open. I missed my coffee, and I missed my chats with Mario.

Tinkle, tinkle my cap filled with coins after lunch and the office lights were turned off early, so I assumed it was Christmas Eve. I looked at Mario’s van, maybe he had retired, and I noticed a sticker on the door that had not been there before. I wrapped my sleeping bag around me as I tried to read it. My eyesight was getting worse.

Mario Lanzo passed away peacefully in his home.

Reposing at Johnsons Funeral Parlour, 323 Lambeth Road, SE1

R.I.P

I didn’t know when that was put on his van, but the address wasn’t too far away, ten or fifteen-minute walk. I gathered up all my belongings, a green army bag and my army sleeping bag to find the funeral home.  Fifteen minutes later I stood outside the funeral home and the lights were on. In the foyer, a sign said Mr Mario Lanzo and beside it was a picture of Mario. He looked slimmer and had more hair, and the smile was the same. A wide, friendly smile. I followed the voices into a small room with a coffin in the middle and chairs beside it filled with women who bore a resemblance to Mario with dark skin and large bellies.

 

As I approached the coffin, a woman said, ‘That’s his son Marco,’ ‘He was so proud of him.’

The photo was of Mark, my friend Mark. Her tears fell as she looked at Mark. He looked directly into the camera, Sargent Lieutenant Mark Lonzo, 3rd Platoon. I was the only survivor in the platoon. A landmine. They had discharged me. No army pension, nothing, all my brothers gone. All I was left with was nightmares.

‘Mario loved Marco, he was so proud of him.’

I touched my arm; the tattoo burned my skin. We had got matching tattoos in a drunken stupor on leave in Singapore. ‘Blood brothers,’ we said and raised a glass of Guinness to our impenetrable bond that was sealed with ink.  Lone Wolf was the badge of our platoon. When I lost my hand, I checked my arm to see if my tattoo was intact. Mark had thrown his body to protect mine when the landmine had exploded, I owed my life, but he lost him shortly after that.

‘Sir, would you like to pay respects to Mario’s wife?’ an usher asked me.

‘No, I..’ I stumbled towards the exit, lost for words, Mark, Mario. I thought back to the day in the heat of summer when I thought that Mario had stared at my scars when I removed my shirt, but it wasn’t my scars, it was my tattoo.

‘Sir,’ the same usher quietly said, ‘Mrs Lonzo would like a word with you.’

She sat in the chair which I imagined strained under her weight. I had combed my hair, but thick with grease and dirt, I knew I smelled.

‘All right, I’m going,’ grabbing my duffel bag with my left hand threw up over my right shoulder. My head hurt, memories flooded back, memories I tried so hard to forget. The usher whispered again, ‘Sir, Mrs Lonzo wants a word, it will only take a second.’

I didn’t stand to close to her, I had some respect, I knew I smelled. The beckoned me nearer. I moved closer, she leaned forward and taking my stub in her hand. She rubbed it, ‘You were Marcos friend. Mario told me all about you, he knew he didn’t have long left.’

She handed me an envelope, ‘He told me to give you this, he knew you would call.’ She sat back in her chair breathing heavy as if she had run up two flights of stairs.

I left the room as bombs fell around me, running to the nearby park only stopping to sit on a park bench. I scratched my head pulling my hair, PSTD the doctors told me.

In my hand, the white envelope had my name pencilled on the front, Pte Jake Walsh. Mario knew all along, but he never said anything. I tore open the envelope with my teeth, my heart stopped when I saw the contents and counted it quickly and pushed it into my duffel bag.

£3,500 that is the amount that had been in the envelope, and a solicitor’s name in Graignemangh, Co, Kilkenny Ireland. I bought a ticket to Ireland. Comerford’s in Graignemagh weren’t hard to find, they were the only solicitors in the village.

‘Mr Walsh, I have been instructed by Mr Lanzo to give you the keys to the lock house along the river Barrow.

I opened and closed my mouth, finding no words. I searched my memories if Mark had said anything about a family in Ireland.

‘Mr Lanzos wife’s wanted you to have her family home here in Kilkenny.’ Mr Comerford ruffled through some papers on his desk. ‘Mrs Lanzo,’ he said squinting over the rim of his glasses as he tilted the paper towards the desk lamp.

‘She told my secretary all her relatives are dead, it was left to her son, he paused to rub his chest like he had indigestion. ‘You are to have it,’ and he slid a set of keys across the table.

Now the sun has lowered in the sky, but the day is still warm, the nearby farm is quiet the animals too hot, and the bees happily buzz making honey while the sun shines.

Tourists pass me with a nod. They usually adopt the Irish custom of acknowledging every person they meet as if they knew them for years.

From a distance, I hear, ‘Daddy, daddy,’

A woman runs after the boy, ‘Slow down, you’ll fall.’

She’s right, he falls but gets up and gathers speed, his little legs hardly touching the ground as he runs. I stand, and he runs into my arms, ‘Daddy,’

I scoop him up and kiss his curls. ‘You shouldn’t run away from your mother like that, remember the last time you nearly fell into the river.’

His mother, my wife, grabs him from my arms laughing, ‘Mark you little rascal you will be the death of me.’

 

 

 

 

 

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Robin

I stop running at the top of the hill to catch my breath, adrenaline still pumping. Usually, I marvel at the beautiful medieval Castle and the perfectly manicured gardens at the bottom of the hill. Today the park is quiet, no birds, no children playing. I’m alone. The park is empty even though it doesn’t close to the public for another hour, but Christmas Eve is tomorrow, and I imagine people are rushing to buy last minute gifts for loved ones, or work colleagues. I close my eyes thinking of the doctor’s news I got today, to reflect on my life. Forty-three, alone, my husband left me for a younger model that he got pregnant. Dr Brady’s words ricochet in my head.

A bead of sweat trickles down my forehead which I wipe away with my gloved hand, I open my eyes, exhaling slowly, ready to run again. My hot breath mingles with the crisp cold air. The grass crunches as I slowly run to the path where the mud is frozen solid with no sign of thawing.

The path is dabbled with weak December sun that filters through the canopy of branches that radiate from trees on either side. In summer, the park is beautiful, a combination of ash and sycamore trees with a scattering of bamboo. When their leaves moved in the wind, they would emit a soothing hissing sound.  I want to close my eyes thinking of the soothing rustle of bamboo leaves but running on the uneven surface could result in a fall, my hips are precious. But after the news today, does it matter? No matter what my decision is.

My lungs burn, adrenaline continues to pump even though I run slowly. The path slopes down to the duck pond. I stop to catch my breath at the white wonderland. The pond frozen.  The branches of the trees that surround the pond are sprinkled with frost like icing on a Yule log. Duck feet markings cross over and back on the surface of the pond, and leaves are captured in the frozen water, radiating in a perfect crystallised ice flower.

I thought back to the doctor’s office this morning.  He must have seen a kid before me, he still had his Santa Micky Mouse stethoscope around his neck. He must have a difficult job.

The sun was not shining anymore but it didn’t seem. Thick black clouds were moving across the sky. The rise in temperature meant snow. My dad told me that fact when I was little.

He would put me on his lap as he sat on the cushioned seat in our sitting room bay window. ‘Martha, you know its gonna snow when there’s been a hard frost and then the temperature rises.’ He would hug me closer, ‘Snow clouds are like a thermal blanket.’

I sigh, warm in my childhood memory. We would watch the robins eating bread on the bird stand in our garden. I would snuggle into my father’s big strong arms, ‘Martha, robins, they are spirits of our loved ones,’ and he pointed to a robin on the bird feeder with a bright red breast, ‘Martha, that one is your mother.’ A lump forms in my throat I still miss her.

Snow started to fall thick and slow, floating onto the pond. Frost and winter always marvelled me at how they could transform the ugliest landscape into a beautiful crystalline white picture, I found the whiteness was calming.  I look up to the sky, snowflakes land on my eyelashes and they melt as they fell on my face.

A small bird landed on the pond. It was a robin. A small red-breasted robin. The thick snow fell on it, but I could not see if it melted from the heat from its little body.

I close my eyes thinking of Dr Brady’s words, ‘Martha, are you taking this in?’

He had taken off his round glasses, like the ones people wore in the 1920s. He sighed as he rubbed the glass, ‘Martha, your answer’ he leaned forward his voice softer now, ‘What is it to be?’

I shrugged, what could I say?

‘Martha, I need your answer. It’s either six months, or you will get two years with chemotherapy. Which is it to be?’

I knew I’d have no quality of life with chemo, and I’ve no one to share it with. I didn’t answer him but took my coat and returned to my one bedroomed flat and changed into my running gear. It was ironic that I had taken up running the year before to get fit.

Now, I look at the red-breasted robin, snow covering its head like a white velvet crown. The Robin stares at me, and I back at him.  Our eyes lock.  A coat of snow begins to cover him. It shakes its head; the snow crown falls of him and he flutters his wings freeing them.  The robin flies towards me, and for a minute is suspended like a hummingbird in front of me before flying away, but the robin looks back at me before disappearing into the sky.

That was when I had my answer.

 

Martha

I shifted on the couch, after all the years I spent in his office I never got used to the hard-cushioned couch. It was strange a doctor having a red-flowered sofa in his office, and not a rigid-cold seat in front of him, like all the other doctors I had seen. It was like I was here for a tea and a chat with an old friend looking at the birds in his backyard. He had even dared to paint his walls dusty pink and the wall behind his desk light grey with pictures of his smiling children. They aren’t children now, they had their own families and their own children. I was best friends with his eldest daughter, but I don’t have family or children. I always thought his office décor was incongruous to the news he often had to deliver to his patients.

He leaned forward on his desk opening his mouth to speak again, I could spend all day listening to him, for a German his accent had an unusually soft, romantic lilt to it.

‘Martha did you hear me?’, Dr Gertz asked resting his clasped hands on the desk. He waited for me to answer. Waited for the news to sink in. He must have seen a kid in before me, he still had his Santa Micky Mouse stethoscope around his neck.

Behind him, through the window, I saw snow had finally started to fall.  The snow-laden clouds that had filled the skies on my way to the office were finally relieving themselves of their load. That frosty nights had grown warmer and that meant snow was on its way. My dad told me that fact when I was little. He would put me on his lap on the cushioned seat in our living room bay window overlooking our back garden, ‘You know its gonna snow when there’s been a hard frost and then the temperature rises. Snow clouds are like a thermal blanket.’

‘Martha. Are you taking this in? Two choices.’

My chest tightened.  A bead of sweat dripped down my forehead and I wiped it away but my forehead was cold and tried to focus. I learnt a trick in CBT, when put in a situation like this and went somewhere safe, I couldn’t make a decision when the carbon dioxide was pumped around my body, my blood acidic. I went back to my safe place for a few minutes

I sighed, warm in my childhood memory. Snow had fallen and I had watched robins eating bread crumbs on the bird stand in our garden, I would snuggle into my father’s big strong arms, warm and safe, ‘Robins, Martha they are spirits of our loved ones.’ My dad would point at the red robin on the snowy bird feeder, ‘Martha, that is your mothers’ spirit.’ I would dissolve into his secure arms, and we would contently watch the robin feed on the crumbs I left for the birds, The questioning sceptical years of adolescence and adulthood soon replaced the happy securities of my childhood imagination.

The snow started to fall thick and slow, snowflakes glittered, twinkling as they floated past the bright light from the office, like Christmas tree fairy lights.  I tilted my head to one side, a small bird landed on the window ledge. I strained to see, I had a good long-range vision. It was a robin. A small red robin, I smiled as I watched it hop along the window ledge. Snow fell on it, but I could not see if it had melted from the heat from its little body

Dr Gertz turned to see what I was looking at.

‘Ah, Robin Red, Martha. He always comes here at the same time every day. Do you ever wonder can birds tell the time?’ and he paused, ‘It’s not just crows that are clever with their Crow’s Court. My little feathered friend arrives every day at 4pm, even when the clocks change, he still appears at 4pm.’

The fluorescent lights brightened in the office. I looked at Dr Gertz. I never noticed that his once thick Aryan blond hair was thinner and greyer than my first visit to the office, ten years previously. I hadn’t noticed that. I had been a regular visitor. A bit like the robin, but my visits were every Monday morning at 9am. This was the first time I’d been to his office on a Friday.

‘Martha, are you taking this in?’

He had taken his glasses off, his round glasses, like the ones people wore in the 1920’s. He sighed as he rubbed the glass, ‘Martha.’

I shrugged, what could I say? A calmness had descended enveloping me, wrapping itself around me, hugging me like a warm blanket.  I looked at my nails, bitten to the stub due to years of anxiety, worrying about nothing, my blood tests had always come back clear.  Once Dr Gertz had suggested CBT. CBT wouldn’t help me now.

I looked at the robin, it stared back at me. A little crown of snow on his head. Again, another wave of calmness.

‘Martha, I need your answer. It’s either 6 months or you will get two years with chemotherapy. Which is it to be?’

I looked at Dr Gertz, looked at the robin, and back to Dr Gertz. When I looked back to the window sill the robin fluttered its wings, snow fell onto the window sill and then it was gone.

That was when I knew I had my answer.

 

Letter of Regret

Dear Ciara,

Do you remember me telling dad I was pregnant with you and he hugged me and said, ’We’re a family now.’  You arrived into this world in St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny at 8.40am on the 25th August 1998. Jack had a baby sister. I pushed you and Jack in the double buggy while he protectively held your hand, and called you ‘Bobby.’ Was it he wanted a baby brother, or just couldn’t say, Ciara, because he was only one and a half?

Do you remember when your baby brother Barry arrived? Do you remember how the two of you would laugh and chat for hours in your room?

You were so pretty with a head of brown hair which was to be replaced by the unruly curly hair with a spirit of its own and no matter how I tried to tame it, it bounced back to the wild mane of curls.

I know you must have cried when you were a baby, all babies do, but I honestly cannot remember you crying, you never gave me any trouble. You asked so many questions, you wanted to meet everyone

Do you remember how you loved Christmas? Family time. You loved everyone in your family. You loved that you had three aunties and six uncles and twenty-five cousins.

Do you remember our mother and daughter Saturdays when we would go to the Ground Floor? I would have coffee and a scone, you would always have a toasted cheese sandwich.

Do you remember you changed school in 2nd class? When the girls in the new school asked who was your best friend?’ You told me that you said, ‘My mammy,’ and you said they laughed at you, but you said that you didn’t care. I was your best friend.

Do you remember what your friends in secondary would say when they shared a secret with you? They would always finish their story saying, ‘And Ciara, DON’T TELL YOUR MOTHER.’ But, you did. You told me all your friends secrets.

Do you remember when you would put eyeshadow on me and say how you loved putting eyeshadow on wrinkly eyelids!

Do you remember telling me that when dad and I came to visit you when we were old, you wouldn’t put the words on the telly like we had to for Packie because he was nearly deaf?

Do you remember leaving me for the Kodaline concert on a Friday in July 2016? I wished I had hugged you before you left.

That is my only regret.

Family, neighbours and friends silently lined the street as you were brought back home to Kilkenny on Monday evening.

On a Wednesday morning, in July we said goodbyes, you will always be forever young my “Angel.”

Lots of love

Mammy

 

 

The Clash of the Ash

The ash clashes, hurlers pump their hurls in the air, another point.
Proud parents cheer. Supporters of the club. It’s through tradition, their fathers and grandfathers hurled for the club, and now their sons.

A yellow card.

‘Ref, for feck’s sake, what was that for? Are ye blind?’

The game plays on.

The crowd mutters, ‘Jasus lads, that was a close one, he should have got a red card!’

The whistle blows. Halftime. The game analysed, who played well, who should be taken off. The goalkeeper praised.

‘And did ye see that 65, great talent, he’ll go along way.’

A hush descends on the crowd. The team are back on the field taking their position. We watch, one eye of the scoreboard, the other on the game. One team inch ahead, only for the opposing team to even the score. The ref checks his watch. We look at the scoreboard, one minute left. The score even.

We mutter, ‘We need a point.’

Thundering heart, palpitations, slow shallow breaths.

I squeeze my eyes tight. Please God, just one more point and I’ll go to mass every Sunday and if it’s a goal, I promise I’ll do communion as well.

The crowd cheers. It’s a goal. We score. I hold my breath, ‘Christ ref,  just blow the bloody whistle.’

Finally, the whistle. We clap each other on the back in congratulations, ‘A great game,’ we say.

Shh, the manager speaks.

‘Well done lads, ye played out of your skins.’ He chokes up, ‘God you don’t know how proud I am of ye.’ With one hand on his chest, he takes a deep breath to compose himself, everyone silent.

‘This time next year,’ he pauses, ‘ we’ll win the Under 8’s Championship.’

Serendipity

He spots her at the bus stop.

Long auburn hair, piercing blue eyes. Nervous, unsure of herself, not making eye contact with anyone. It’s very endearing in a world of overconfident, egotistical girls only interested in seeing who is looking at them.

He is smitten. His mother would like her.

The bus stops, he’s first in the queue. She struggles to lift her rucksack into baggage compartment. He takes her rucksack and puts in for her but when he re-joins the queue, the bus driver closes the doors. The bus is full. He goes home.

Later the news said there were no survivors on the bus.

 

 

Just Like Granny

My granny always said the one thing she hated about getting old was there was no roadmap. She once told me to make a map, and get out of this forsaken place, or I’ll end up like her. I didn’t want that; I’d prove to everyone I was somebody.

At school, I studied hard winning a scholarship to the best medical school in the country. Leaving the unemployed and drug dealers in our estate behind I headed to university. There among the elite, the brightest I kept my head down. I spoke different, I looked different I had to keep proving myself.

Now, at 26 years old I had made it. I stood and looked at the large square glass building in front of me. Sirens passed me. People rushed into the building all in a state of anticipation. Some left with tears in their eyes. Some with joy in their eyes, dangling blue or pink balloons, and occasionally both.

The electric doors whooshed open as I neared the entrance of the ED, but it wasn’t for me. The fast clicking of trolley wheels behind me only meant one thing. Two paramedics rushed past me, the blood on their green uniforms like large badges of death. A young nurse listened to their frantic conversation, ‘BP falling, heart rate weak, possible knife wound.’

I followed them and took off my faded denim jacket and threw it to Derrick at the reception. He knew what to do he, was our fall guy.

A female paramedic ran past holding a small girl by the hand.

‘It’ll be all right dear; it’ll be fine.’ But the words didn’t slow the girl’s tears. Blood seeped fast through the bandages. Three nurses in white uniforms already covered in blood. The floor was the same colour of death now.

‘Ok, people we’re in trauma 1.’  Dr Furlong shouted now taking control. She was good; she was the best. My friends had worked with her before; she had taught them how to respond in difficult situations with difficult patients. Everyone listened to her. Her sleek black hair matched her dark eyes. She glistened. She thrived in these situations. I was lucky to have her as my mentor.

I waited for my orders. My first real emergency. The adrenaline rushed. What did my lecturer say, Breathe, breathe and continue breathing?

‘Sarah,’ I ran towards my name shouted from the trauma room. This was my time to prove myself.

Beside the erratically beeping ECG, I moved the defibrillator to the woman and placed the pads on her bare chest.

‘Move, for God’s sake the pads are on the wrong way around, I’ll do it.’

I placed the pad that should be on her abdomen to her chest. I can to do that in my sleep, it’s the basics of first aid. The pads even have pictures on them where to place them. I gulp back the tears. It’s a straight fail.

‘Stand back. Clear.’

A paramedic who held one of the crimson red bandages from the woman’s chest said, ‘Her daughter phoned 999, nodding to the little girl with eyes red sore eyes. One of her pigtails had come loose, and some of her hair had stuck to the congealed collection of snot on her upper lip.

‘She said a man stuck a knife into her mother, but we couldn’t find any. So, I don’t know; she said nothing else. The police are there now. There is a wound to the chest.’

Dr Furlong pulled back the bandage carefully, ‘Sarah. Now.’

Redemption, thank God I would be able to prove myself.  I stepped forward, breathing in.

‘What’s the daughter doing in here? Take her out now. Now. Sarah. Go.’

Christ, how stupid was I? That mistake would be a straight fail.

The daughter stood beside the swing doors into the trauma room. I grabbed the little girl’s hand. It was cold.

‘Come on pet. We’ll get some hot chocolate,’ in the same voice my granny always spoke to me when I was little and upset. But this was different. I may have grazed my knee, or fallen off the garden wall, not watching my mother bleeding with doctors and nurses manically trying to save her life.

I gave her hand a gentle squeeze, her face white.

‘Out now Sarah.’

I pulled the girl into the hallway. Derrick stood talking to another porter near the vending machine.

‘Derrick, do you have some money? For chocolate, for…  I got down on my hunkers.

‘Sweetie, what’s your name?’ She didn’t answer, kept her head down with her hands in her pockets. This is harder than I thought. A tap on my shoulder followed by some coins from Derrick.

I nodded thanks.

‘I know you’re frightened. Your mum will be alright. I’ll get some hot chocolate.’ My granny thought it was a cure for every situation and a flood of warm, happy memories flowed through my veins. The doors closed in the trauma room.  I saw silhouettes through the plastic doors doing their job -saving her mums life.

‘Come on sweetie.’ I put my arms around her shoulders and drew her in close, just like granny.

She stopped crying, and we waited for the machine to dispense our chocolate, silent. I struggled to find the right words to comfort her. What do you say to a child whose mother is fighting for her life? With lukewarm chocolate drinks in my hand, we sat on the plastic seats behind us. She didn’t take the cup, her hands stuck deep in her coat pocket, her shoulders hunched.

Chocolate wasn’t going to work.

‘What’s your name?’ She didn’t answer.  The tears started to flow again.

‘That’s ok take your time.’

‘Jane.’

‘Jane, your mum will be fine. What happened?’

She whispered something. I moved in closer to her.

‘Mummies friend did it, he’s horrible, he’s smelly, he’s mean, he takes my sweets, he’s a nasty man.’

‘That’s awful.’

‘I told mummy. She didn’t listen.’

‘I’m sure she did pet.’ I hugged her tight. I soothed her with words and rubbed her arms.

Jane pushed me and jumped up screaming in front of me, shouting.  Pain. I raise my hand to my neck, hot liquid trickled down my neck, sharp pain, down my hand.

Jane screamed, she jumped up, ‘He stuck it in just like that.’

Her little hand went for my neck, more pain. Loud shouts and screams. I was on the ground, my neck stung. I tried to get up. Derrick held a struggling Jane in his arms kicking wildly and screaming. Now I saw it. In her hand was a small penknife held tight, blood dripped from it.

The urgent click-clack of wheels, the doors whooshed open, but it was for me, I was on a trolley. The bright lights of the ED shone into my eyes, Dr Furlong told me it would be alright.

Now I lie here the machines beeping all day long. Bright lights above me, the white tiles on the roof, I counted all the little indentations, 1,000,564. The said I’d live, but Jane’s mummy didn’t. I saw the news. The police never found the boyfriend. Only the girl’s fingerprints on her penknife.

I’ll never speak or move. I was told Jane went straight for the jugular and it was a blood clot that caused a stroke – just like granny.

Dr Furlong comes every day to see me, I know she cries, I can still hear. She whimpered once between sobs, she was sorry, she had failed me. It was her job to train me as a doctor, not as a childminder.