The air in the hospital was cold, but his heart was colder.
A woman lay on a bed beyond a glass window, the door it sat within bolted and secured tight. She was wriggling and writhing; her great mass straining against the rough leather binds that held her so forcefully to a bed she hadn’t chose to lay down in. Her anger was palpable. It filled the tiny room she was in, so completely, that it spilled out onto the hall a man and a doctor stood side by side in silently.
“Will she always be like this?” the man asked.
The doctor looked at him as if he were about to accuse the man of something but he thought better of it and sighed in that way only doctors can.
“It’s hard to say. Our analysis has been conclusive, a homely environ-“
“No,” was all the man said, interrupting what would have been a o doubt rational, if slightly visceral, argument. “She stays here.”
The doctor bit his tongue.
Another man and a red haired woman walked along the hallway. Their feet were three sizes apart, one covered in faux leather and the other in trainers that squeaked like the rickety wheel of a passing gurney; yet both their steps, the left and the right, were perfectly in sync. It made the man by the window taste copper.
“Ciaran,” the man with the red haired girl said curtly.
“David,” Ciaran replied.
“How can you stand there,” their sister was on the verge of tears. “Just stand there and watch her after what you’ve done…what you’re putting her through. Have you no shame? No soul?”
Ciaran said nothing.
“How is she, doctor?” David asked.
“Worse, if anything. The confines of the room seem to be exacerbating the underlying illness. She’s…” the doctor looked at Ciaran warily as if he were about to turn on his heel and smack him for saying anything that belied his resolute stance that she was better off here. “Deteriorating.”
The doctor had the good sense to briskly walk away from the family reunion just as the red haired girl began to weep openly.
“You’re killing her,” she said. “If you keep her here, you’re killing her.”
Ciaran said nothing still.
“We’ve hired a lawyer, you know,” David’s chest puffed like a kookaburra standing down a mate, at the proclamation.
“I knew you would,” Ciaran said passively, as if his brother had just told him he’d got them both tickets to another football game down south. Not that he would anymore, not now. Those days were long gone.
“We will fight you. Just ‘cos you’re the eldest doesn’t mean you get final say,” his face blustered red as his he realized the futility of his threats.
“Yes it does,” Ciaran said simply.
“Please, Ciaran. Please don’t do this. You won’t ever have to see her again. Just let her out, stop this folly and be the bigger person,” the red haired girl wailed.
“I don’t want to be the bigger person,” Ciaran said.
“You’re a monster,” she wept.
“What do you want then?” David demanded, his voice so loud that the nurse stuck her head over the ledge of her station to peer at the noise.
Ciaran stayed silent.
“She doesn’t need to be here,” David insisted.
“She tried to kill herself,” Ciaran shut his eyes tight, the memory vibrant in his mind. It was the first chink in his armour he’d shown since he’d commited her here three days before.
David nearly said it then, the words gripped and tore at his lips, begging to be set free, let loose so that he could inflict the same hurt on Ciaran as he was on their family. Were he a younger man he may have, his impulse could have overpowered his reason but he wasn’t that man anymore and, as much as it pained him, the quickest way to resolve this wasn’t in the courts but by getting Ciaran to change his mind.
“She needs us.”
“She needs love.”
Ciaran said nothing.
“You’ll kill her leaving her here,” one of them said, Ciaran was passed caring enough to listen. He felt the soft fleshy ridges on his arm, self-inflicted, of course, but no less poignant for it. He’d suffered too – yet they all seemed to forget that. Everyone did with her.
He turned away, not bothering to say goodbye, and strode off down the hospital corridor without a second glance at the woman writhing on the bed beyond the glass window.
“She’s your mother, Ciaran, nothing will ever change that,” David shouted after him.
“I know,” Ciaran whispered to himself as the nurse poked her head over the ledge of her station so she could peer at the freak show family the hospital couldn’t stop gossiping about. “I know.”