The Old Hospital

The old hospital sat on top of the hill and sighed. It was thinking about its long life there, being a hospital, and whether or not it was about time for it to stop.

It sifted through its floors, feeling each of its beds and gurneys that held occupants closer to death than life. The hospital itself was closer to death than life. Its lights had started to flicker, trolley wheels were sticking, and its ceilings were starting to show more than a few cracks. It heaved a great rumbling sigh, and upset the aortic aneurysm repair that was going on on its second floor. The surgeon accidentally nicked the liver.

It opened its doors, stretching and yawning, and checked to make sure its elevators weren’t stuck. The air conditioning was still working in the intensive care unit, at least, and the labs still had enough reagents. But something just wasn’t right.

On the fifth floor a relative was complaining loudly that the doctors just didn’t care. Ah, that must be it. Its doctors and nurses for some reason lacked motivation. Maybe the old hospital just didn’t have It any more.

But it still had blood products and dialysis fluid and medical oxygen. So what if its curtains were dirty and the patients didn’t have enough bedsheets?

It gave another rumbling sigh, and the intern taking blood on the first floor stuck herself with the needle. The old hospital didn’t even blink; it knew the ARVs were in stock. Just like the sterile gauze and KY Jelly. Everything was in order on all of the shelves and cabinets, But maybe, just maybe, it was better to quit while it was ahead.

It started with the lights in the morgue, then the freezers, then the air conditioning, systematically switching off its electricity. It blinked and the oxygen tanks stopped delivering the gas; the suction machines turned off. Electrocautery machines stopped cauterizing and ventilators stopped ventilating. People started leaving, in whatever way they were capable of. And with a final lingering sigh, the old hospital shut its eyes, its windows and its doors and was no more.

fangirling | Down to a Sunless Sea by Neil Gaiman

If you don’t already know, Neil Gaiman is the best writer in the world. Sorry, Shakespeare.

I have been following his work since I watched Mirrormask when I was a girl. His writing is eerily mystifying and wholly absorbing and he’s one of the few authors who effectively suspends my disbelief.

His new short story “Down to a Sunless Sea” is in typical Gaiman style (possible Gangnam Style parody here?) with its haunting beauty. It is dark, depressing but written so damn well you are smiling as he rips your heart out. Neil Gaiman does setting, character, narrative, everything above par. He always meets and exceeds my (high) expectations.

Other Works by Neil Gaiman:

  • American Gods
  • Anansi Boys
  • The Graveyard Book
  • Coraline
  • Smoke and Mirrors (an anthology of short stories)
  • Stardust
  • Neverwhere

Oh, and Happy Easter, everyone! Enjoy your chocolate eggs/bun and cheese/church services!

The Hand-Holder

Today I am sitting with Mrs. McNamara. Her hands are not too sweaty but they are little and delicate and old. Spider hands. Her mouth is slightly open but her eyes are closed, and her chest moves ever so slightly with each breath. A tiny pink tongue darts out to moisten her lips and the muscles at the sides of her mouth tighten as if preparing for speech.

“I met an angel once, you know,” she breathes on me. Her hand doesn’t move in mine.

“He came to my uncle’s farm when I was just a girl. I was helping Aunt Ada with her pies when this man came up to the door and said he had some business with my uncle. Course he was out in the fields with cows then, liable to be gone for days. But the man kept saying he had to talk to him now and could we please go find him.

“Well, my Aunt Ada don’t like to take orders from nobody, but just as she was about to give this man what’s for she closes her mouth and sets off to look for Uncle. She found him fifteen minutes later, trapped under a bale of hay in the barn with a pitchfork sticking through his leg. It looked like his horse had been spooked and upset some tools the workmen had left lying around. By the time we got Uncle back in the house and got the doctor there, we clean forgot about the man. Not that he was anywhere to be found…”

Mrs. McNamara gives a little cough here, and I can tell by her wheezing that her story is finished.

The bright morning blends into hot afternoon, sweeps into cool evening and bleeds into night. I do not take my hand from hers. Her daughters visit briefly, stroke her hair and hold her other hand. One of them – Shanna, the youngest – has been crying. Mrs. McNamara doesn’t open her eyes but from the corner of my eye I see her fingers move almost imperceptibly in her daughter’s hand. The daughter – Joan – doesn’t notice, and she watches her mother with a worried expression. The children didn’t come today. And they won’t come tomorrow either.

I hold the hand of dear Mrs. McNamara until 3:42a.m. on Thursday morning. When the nurse on duty checks in and finds that Mrs. McNamara is no longer breathing, I slip out and make my way diligently to the fourth floor where my new charge awaits.

They don’t always tell me stories. Sometimes it’s enough for me to be there, holding their hand. Sometimes they ask me questions I can’t answer. And sometimes they get mad at me. But I never let go, and they know that. That’s why they get mad and ask questions and smile and tell stories.