CuiousPages - fiction and nonfiction
CuriousPages - fiction and nonfiction
Clemency was a fat girl. She spent her time caring for others, for she had nothing else to do. She was twenty-six years of age and would frequently hide in the linen cupboard at work so she could let out her tears then recompose herself before picking up a clean towel and exiting behind a convincing smile of contentment. Sister Mary, the ward sister at Saint Vincent’s Hospice, marvelled that Clemency would always so quickly volunteer for this task, only to return each time with that expression of satisfaction that Sister Mary had come to loathe. How could the girl find contentment in such menial tasks?—pondered Sister Mary, who was, herself, too busy seething at life to consider the mystery—seething at the way her husband used a particular turn of phrase, or the way the man in her local newsagent’s glanced indifferently and silently at her as she purchased her daily newspaper; or seething at the daily tribe of souls she met who seemed to have discovered the secret of happiness.
“Well done, Clemency,” she said. “After you’ve finished, can you take care of Mister Brunswick?” She watched Clemency’s back as she carried the towel away and wished she would, if only once, trip and smash her head on the floor. She licked her lips, turned away and called over her shoulder: “Over here when you’ve finished,” pointing at Mister Brunswick.
Clemency carried the clean towel to the bedside of Joseph Milan.
“And how are you feeling today?” she asked, not really expecting a reply, and, indeed, not getting one. She started tidying his bedside locker. “Can I get you anything? Some fresh water?” she asked, stopping to peer through the window at the exposed bellybutton of the paunchy, unkempt builder working on the scaffolding outside. They were re-pointing the brickwork of the hospice’s decaying fabric. She wondered if the builder, being so undesirable, might be interested in her.
Joseph Milan said, “Dying is a sobering business.”
These were the first words she heard him speak. She was awestruck, as by a baby who had not only just spoken his first words, but appeared to have an intellect beyond her own. He grabbed her wrist, discovered her with his hazy gaze and asked, “Does this mean that life is merely an intoxication?”
His hand gripped her wrist like a shackle. She attempted to pull away but he held firm. She was not finished fantasizing about the undesirable builder at the window and wanted to angrily snap at Joseph to let go, but as the words formed in her mouth she thought of Sister Mary and her entire training which bore down on her like a mountain. She swallowed her irritation and smiled at Joseph, picturing how her smile would look to the builder, whom, she was sure, was watching her every move—and in her picture, she next replied to Joseph in a caring manner, demonstrating her compassion; since, surely, that was what men would find attractive; even that rough piece of work at window—so she adopted a pleasant tone and said to Joseph the only thing she could think of: “Would you like some water?”
His eyes burnt like a window onto an endless night of torment. As Clemency watched the dark, churning clouds through that window, her smile wilted and her own concerns escaped her. She was only aware of his cold hand gripping her wrist. There was nothing, she thought, in her training that had prepared her for this. What could she possibly say to him? She could think of nothing, so she simply nodded towards the water jug.
He returned to his easy chair, wearing only his shirt, underwear, shoes and hat—which he seemed to have forgotten to take off. He folded his arms, resumed his smug smile and beamed this at Primrose.
Primrose waved her weapon even more frantically at him and shouted, “Five thousand signatures—you can’t get out of it this easily—five thousand.”
Roland shouted, “What are you looking at me for?—he’s down there—” pointing to the floor, “—down there.”
She shouted, “Five thousand, five!”
He pointed her to his uniform, “Down there—” pointing vigorously with his whole arm, “—he’s down there.” He then looked away, firmly folded his arms and crossed his bare legs.
Meanwhile Sally had finished her initial questioning of Thomas and was becoming more diverted by this fascinating idea—which seemed more convincing the more she “scientifically examined the facts”. That is, the more she looked at Thomas’s face and saw everything she wanted to know, written all over it.
She smiled broadly to herself, tapped the arm of her chair conclusively, then adopted a grimace that resembled a stick‑on photo of a smile while her face appeared to be straining with the effort of holding the photo in place. And at the same time, she widened her eyes as if she were sitting on a pin but could not possibly break with decorum and reveal her pain to anyone. She turned to Primrose, beamed this stick‑on smile at her and politely asked, “Now, would you like tea… or coffee?” beam, beam.
Primrose shouted, “What—?”
Sally politely repeated, “Tea… or coffee?”
Primrose gaped at her for a moment, then said, begrudgingly, “Coffee… please.”
Sally took similar orders from Francis and Thomas, then walked to the kitchen.
Roland watched the backs of her tracksuited legs as she left, sighed deeply, tapped his fingers several times on the arm of his chair, then looked closely at the arm, reflecting that there was definitely nothing criminal‑looking there (—No, no, nothing at all; damned if I can see a thing). He got up—leaving his uniform heaped on the floor beside his chair, but apparently unaware he was still wearing his hat—and headed for the kitchen, waving his arm dismissively over his shoulder at Primrose Jones and shouting, “Sack the lot of them; oh yes, let’s do that—Miss Volcano‑gob wants to have a go!”
Primrose glared after him and her head began trembling on her shoulders. She viciously watched the living‑room door, as if by merely staring at the door Roland had passed through, she could inflict some terrible injury on him. And as she watched the door, her head began quivering alarmingly and the occasional spray of venom escaped from between her whitened lips.

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