"Once or Twice Upon a Time" is a home for stories longer than is usual for blogposts. Some have been previously published in hardback. These are indicated (p) along with the year of publication. Word counts (2500 etc) let you estimate how long a read will take.

September 25, 2013


    (September 2013.  2200 words)

   Mr. Killermont died last night. Well, I assume that's what's happened. He was in the bed opposite when I fell asleep - not easy, hospitals are noisy places - but he wasn't there when the breakfast trolley came rattling through the ward.  I think there'd been a commotion in the small hours, a scurrying of feet, a swish of bed curtains, but I can't be sure. Anyway, he's not there now. If you ask the staff they'll say something like "He's gone to a Better Place."  Or, "He is At Rest." No he isn't. He's dead. I never even found out what was wrong with him. He looked a fairly solid chap to me. He'd a not unhealthy pinkish glow about him, not that I'm a doctor or anything. I've seen the nurses tweaking his cheek between finger and thumb and asking how he feels today and how he's coming along nicely and he'll be out in a day or two. 
   I wonder where they take them?  When they die on the ward I mean. Killermont was the second in the two days I've been here. If it's like that on all the wards there must be quite a pile of bodies some place. Is there a collective noun for corpses?  That'll be something to think about when the visitors come trooping in.
   Now in case you're wondering, no, I'm not in danger.  I was playing a round of golf when the head flew off somebody's driver and nutted me. So here I am, head shaved, scalp stitched, skull X-rayed, bandaged up, resting. It's morning and I've got some stiff bacon and a fried egg made of leather, yet the care assistant who wheels the trolley assures me it's all prepared on the premises. I've figured that one. It was all prepared on the premises - yesterday. Then it was left out all night and briskly microwaved this morning to toughen and warm it.  Ah well! It'll be over in a day or two. 
   But it's all over for Killermont right now.  He won't be crunching bacon again. He won't be examined by a ward doctor from a Commonwealth country any more. Nor will his glance hose the nurses up and down as they go about their business. Wait a minute!  Maybe that's it!  Maybe he pulled one of them or one of them pulled him and they're indulging in curative therapy right now in the linen store. Or the sluice. I wouldn't put it past Killermont. He'd the look of a successful roué about him; I said already, he was pink faced. Fleshy. Lucky so-and-so.
   Then again, maybe he absconded. Going AWOL would be easy if you think about it. The ward's on the ground floor, windows always part open, wheelman waiting outside in high powered car.  Or he just strolled out past the nurses' station when the night shift was busy planning its holidays on the ward WiFi.
   Why am I fantasising like this?  Killermont is dead.  Or in Intensive Care. That's another possibility.
   Here comes the care assistant for my breakfast tray.
   "Mister Killermont?  Has he . . um . . passed away?"
   "I can't tell you that, squire." He taps the side of his nose. "Patient confidentiality. Health and Safety  an' all that." They call this 'Keeping Our Patients Informed.' And off he goes with a trolley with a wheel that squeaks.
   There's a private room at the end of the ward where my bed is. This room has a window into the ward with a venetian blind, but the blind is closed.  It wasn't closed yesterday so I guess there's someone in there now, maybe seriously ill. Ah! Perhaps it's Killermont, trundled in there for his own Health and Safety. He didn't look seriously ill last time I saw him but that was yesterday and this is a hospital.
   After ward rounds - "How are we today?  Bowels O.K?  Gooood!  Gooood!" - foot traffic into and out of the private room increases. If Killermont is in there he's getting special attention. Nurses come and go. Before entering the private room they take a blue plastic apron and surgical gloves from dispensers on the wall.  One goes in with towels over her arm and comes out a few minutes later carrying a hypodermic syringe.  I try to catch her eye but she hurries past and puts the syringe into the sharps wastebin. Another nurse goes in carrying a tray of instruments. Then there's a lull. Then there's a serious development that makes me fear for Killermont. The last nurse in dashes out, runs out of the ward but reappears in short order pushing a defibrillator unit, a one woman crash team. Now Killermont could be in big trouble.  The nurse and the defibrillator disappear into the room and pretty soon from behind the door comes the expected "200 joules!  Clear!" and a thump like a  . . like a . . . well, like a body bouncing in shock. Silence. Then "Have we lost him yet?"  Then muffled voices as though an argument is breaking out and then another "Clear!"and another thump. And after a minute or so, a final "Try 300! Clear!" Thump. "He's O.K. now."  This is puzzling, and even more so a little later when the nurses reappear pushing the defibrillator, followed by a patient trolley pushed by the care assistant, the shape on it completely sheeted. And now I get the care assistant's attention.
   "Mr. Killermont?"
   "Regrettably, squire. But don't distress yourself. You haven't seen the last of Mr. Killermont."
   Hospitals give you plenty of time to think, and I think about this remark.  Does he mean the ward will be invited to view the late Mr. Killermont's remains in the hospital Chapel of Rest, or maybe even attend his funeral?
   So when the care assistant walks the ward again, taking the orders for evening meals, I question him again.
   "Mr. Killermont, squire?  He asked for his remains to be donated to the Trust."
   "Trust? What Trust?"
   "The Trust that administers the hospital."
   "Ah!  For research? Benefits everyone, I suppose."
  "In a manner of speaking, squire.  Now, your tea. What's it to be?  Macaroni cheese or a nice plate of pork goulash. Or how about a nice thick  slice of ham? The cuts looks really tasty - home grown and fresh in this morning and all prepared on the premises."
  "Sounds good," I say. "Put me down for the goulash. Pity about Mr. Killermont. He'd have enjoyed that."


  1. Perhaps enough to turn anybody into a vegetarian? A rollicking tale of fact plus fantasy, 'in the best possible taste', one could say? !


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