I woke tired. This feeling that it was already too late. Holding my breath and waiting, but nothing was changing. Clouds an inch from my nose, smell of rain, crows to hear but not to see.

I was down. My hips left and my shoulders right like I couldn't decide which way to land. A shiver running through me every time the wind picked up. Wondering, of all the places to put my head, why just this one right here? This, desperate little street. Busted down shop fronts on both sides. Wires hanging from the ceiling, pigeon shit in the corners. Count the ones gutted by fire, that look about them of rotten teeth.

Moan over and see blood. It's watered down but there's no mistake, some of it still steaming. And that's blood I can taste. Sour like metal, sharp as salt.

"Fuck is going on?" Blood bubbles on my lips.

I spit. This bright gob of red hits the footpath. Lumpy. Staring at it like it's going to start moving.

Hey, it's everywhere. I'm dripping. All over my gut, but my chest, my thighs, my hands right up to my elbows. But it's not me, it's not. No-one's got that much in them. Pissed out for a metre in every direction, even some on the street.

On all fours trying to figure out how to stand. Lines of red stretching down from my nose. Looking, for a second or two maybe, as if they're moving the other way. Reaching up from the concrete to climb back in.

Walking my hands up this brick wall. My legs numb, the ground tricky. Waiting for the footpath to settle down, but it's not in a hurry. Then see it by the gutter. Something about thumb size, crusting at the edges, and knowing straight away. Knowing I didn't want to get any closer, that I'd regret it, but was going to anyway.

Picked it up, but it didn't feel right. Spongy, on one side, rough on the other. Rough with stubble. My head tick-tocking till I made the connection. Then reach for my face and put a finger right into my mouth through the hole in my cheek. Taste the footpath immediately.

The concrete comes up to meet me.


I'm up. My hands on my face looking for the hole even before I know I'm awake. But nothing. Just this bandage wrapped right around my head. On so tight it's making a noise of someone breathing under my skin.

I'm in a hospital room and it feels like one. That distance. All smiles, from an arm's length, but watch them read your chart four times a day and still have to ask your name.

There were these cracks, finger thick, snaking from the corners up the ceiling. Metal pipes running along the walls. All of it like, a storage space that shouldn’t have been converted. That they got just one of everything in, one bed, one dresser, one chair, because nothing more would fit.

See my hands, and nearly shit the bed. They're, purple. Blue and brown and swollen up as if three weeks infected. These holes the shape of puckered lips, like gouged with a can opener. Force them to bend and a pinky sugar of crystallized blood crumbles down. And the smell, Jesus, I had to hold them away.

The sheets were soaked in sweat and sticking to my legs. Was in this gown thing, but hadn't been done the courtesy of any underwear. They had this plastic tube taped down at my elbow that ran up to a bottle of honey hanging behind the bed. Every time I moved my arm, the bottle chinked its metal pole.

Took the tube and gave it a tug. This instant pain cuts right through my elbow. I’m staring at a hole now, wondering what the fuck I thought was going to happen, as a thin line of blood traces out and starts tapping the sheets. Each drop holding itself for a second, then getting sucked in. The fibres as clear to me as if magnified. Then get that sway. Everything too far away to touch me, but so close I can't breathe.

I'd done it now. Had that edge of panic trembling in my bowels. Like whatever I'd eaten was starting to eat me. So, like an idiot, went to the window. Convinced I'd look out and see you coming, already on your way to make it all good. Walking that way you always did when you were rushing, tilted down like a train. Of course, you weren't.

I was out of there. The lights in the corridor a squeeze of lemon for my eyes. Sound of a jammed meat grinder coming from somewhere.

"Can I help you?" She’s smiling and getting up. Some nurse sitting behind a desk.


"Excuse me. Can I help you?" She catches up. "It’s not really such a good idea to be out of bed at the moment." Sees the blood on my arm, but says nothing. "Would you be more comfortable sitting up for a time?"

"Has someone been looking for me? A woman."

"No. Not since I came on this morning."

"A woman looking for me."

"I can check with the other nursing staff. If you like?"

"It’s okay. I’m, just going."

She nods a little. "Really, I think perhaps bed would be best."

Then another nurse comes over. Older than the first. Bigger. Smelling of disinfectant, and soup, and a little of piss. "What have we got here, someone out of bed. Wrong way thank you." Does this thing with her finger like shooing a child, and straight off I'm looking for which way to run.

The first nurse starts up negotiating. "Really, just wait a minute. It's okay." Maybe she's talking to me, maybe to her boss here.

Then this big one takes hold of me. Her lips go white when she smears that blood up my arm. Even gets some under her finger nails. “Back to your room.”

“The fuck off me.”

She starts up. It's 'Code Yellow', like a trumpet, even before she loses her grip. Then takes another lunge at me.

When I shoved her off that second time, she smashed heads with the first nurse. Noises from both of them as they drop out of the way. And I'm moving, but the feeling was like falling. No, that's not it. It's that I wanted to fall. Face first, toes in, and just close my eyes to everything.

A doctor steps up. He's frowning but not angry. "Which room are you out of?" Checking some chart on the wall. "We could get you back to bed I think."
"This is ending right now." That big nurse back in my face again. Stench of piss and all.

I wanted to agree, with both of them. "Its just ... I have to go." But it comes out sounding like some half-moron complaint.

Then someone gets in behind, starts touching me, just like that. In front of everyone. I spin around, instantly furious, and put a forearm right across their face. And it’s the first nurse. The gentle one. She hit the ground pretty hard.

I think, maybe, that she was trying to tie up my gown.

Then there’s this moment, like if I’d just done the right thing then, it all would have been understandable. Even foreseeable. But like most second chances, it was already gone.

They start pulling her away from me. Gripping her by the arms, the uniform, and dragging her along the floor. As if I’m going to take another shot at her. As if they knew all there was to know about me, from just that one mistake.

Now I’ve got all the room I need. Now. They’ve cleared right back exactly when I didn't want them to. This poor nurse on the ground, cupping her hands under her head. The blood, curling out of her. Losing it between her fingers, too shocked even to make a sound. This sickening rush in me to fix it all. To prove to her, to everyone, that I wasn’t what they thought.

I approach her. Actually extend a hand to help her up. Like, a child. Like someone so dumb, so naive, that they could even be proud of it. They turn on me with this disgust. This red, spitty anger. Just as my gut rams the wall. The sound like a dropped sack of shit. All I can do is gulp and stare at the ceiling, but manage to turn around. Whoever he was, I guess it was his job to hold me still. It was the second guy who clamped my throat and held my arm from moving. Couldn’t get the words out to beg them to stop, and they’re staring at me with these scary eyes.

Struggled. Wished I hadn’t. Almost couldn’t breath before they eased up again.

Then the doctor comes back in sight. Tapping the side of a syringe and squinting. I know, I know it's my fault. Realize the syringe is for me and relax at once. Whatever it was eating my insides suddenly done. Went so slack the two holding me got suspicious, but there was no trick.

The needle goes in with a little, pop. Something warms up into my shoulder, then my head. Something dull and buzzy.

Couldn’t get back to sleep fast enough.

Image : René Lange