Chapter 3 Brenda steals a car and Audrey has an operation – Part  6

Endless questions, a morphine drip and some extra blankets mark the walls of Audrey’s world for the next few of hours. Nurses have cleaned her up a little and put her onto a bed near the window in the surgery ward, blue and white draping around her, shutting out all the others, all distractions. The only thing she can hear is occasional deep grumbling moans from other prone women. They are all waiting just like her.

Audrey drifts off to sleep but they keep coming and waking her up, checking her pulse, her temperature, her blood pressure, that she isn’t dead. They give her more painkillers and in the morning bring her breakfast. Then sometime when it’s light again they explain that the X-rays from yesterday show a compound fracture that will require an operation. It will be painful and she will need four to six weeks rest. The surgeon will be here soon to explain what they will be doing. Audrey should be patient as this is not a serious injury and there are several women in her ward requiring urgent operations. She might have to wait a couple of days. It depends. It won’t be tonight so what would she like for lunch?

Audrey could hear more moaning and with a slight shudder sat up a little straighter, coughing a little. “Where’s my handbag?” she said doing her best to be brusque and efficient. “I need my inhaler and I need to call my daughter and tell her what’s happened. Where am I by the way?” A young slightly plump nurse, her curly hair fighting hard to escape a tight bun, smiled wide eyed at Audrey, eyelashes upright and at attention. “You’re at the Victory hospital in Lancing, about half an hour from where the ambulance collected you. You’re in good hands, don’t worry”. Her bright little teeth shone shiney and white, and her voice was bubbly and keen. Audrey looked at the bag she had been handed, frowning and turning it over in her hands. “This isn’t my bag,” she said pushing it away. Mildly concerned Nurse Lucy looked from the bag to Audrey and back again, eventually giving it a little stroke and pushing it back towards Audrey. “Yes it is my love, it’s the one you had in the ambulance, the one you came in with yesterday. It’s definitely yours.” And she finished fiddling with the tubes and gurgling paracetamol bag hanging from its stand, drew back the curtains and walked briskly away.

Audrey picked up the tatty brown fabric bag and considered it. She had seen it before, but it definitely wasn’t hers. It was most absolutely not £1150s worth of as yet unpaid for Mulberry Millie Tote bag. The bag on her lap had two warn looped leather handles and a poppa to keep it shut. Gossamer threads of yesterday’s memory started weaving their cautious way back into today’s reality and Audrey heard again the request from a jolly paramedic “Handbag” and a vague image of Deirdre handing over a bag came slowly into focus. Audrey sighed and looked out of the window at a debris strewn flat roof, rainwater ripples chasing litter away into rubbishy corners. Looking down at the brown bag, Audrey fingered it a while before opening it.

Inside were some sweets and ancient copies of Enid Blyton Famous Five stories, two battered, much loved paperbacks. There was a half eaten Twix, both nibbled sticks dusty with anonymous fluff, the toffee hard and the chocolate crumbling. There was a selection of marbles of varying sizes, their colours opaque beneath ancient scars. Some dirty tissues were wadded up tight and hard, and there was an unsharpened pencil but no paper. There were some dog chews and a few alien coins with holes in them. “Denmark” Audrey said softly to herself, “or maybe Japan”. Deirdre’s bag.

Feeling slightly faint and confused, Audrey leant back on the pillows and watched the energetic paracetamol pouch drip drugs into the tube attached to her arm. She watched the bouncing for a little while, saw the ripples on the roof, felt the worn brown fabric of Deirdre’s slightly smelly bag, watched rain patterns dribble randomly down the window. Soundless and still. Commotions around her floated and faded, softly vague miasma. She was held in a moment of pause, a moment when teeming images fighting for attention in her head, all stopped together to turn and face her, offering raised eyebrows and open mouths. What should we do next? And in that moment there oozed into Audrey a strange sense of relief, of having her life suddenly postponed, put on hold and suspended in a moment where she understood that for now, she could do nothing about anything. She could keep no appointments, buy no food. She couldn’t go to the gym or do battle with her char and her broken boiler would stay unfixed. Even Angus, and the mounting disaster that she suspected was coming, could not squeeze into this narrowing space, where only the ripples on the roof, the bubbles in the suspended bag and the now louder echoes of the ward were admitted. Inside this space, she was powerless, impotent and incapable, and she found it restful, intoxicating. She had control only over the angle of her bed, so for reassurance she pressed the up and down buttons to see if they worked. They did. She raised the end of her bed to test if higher or lower would ease her leg at all. It didn’t. Nurse Lucy had got it just right. Listening to the drone of the mechanism’s fading echoes sent her momentarily to sleep. Some hours later, Audrey’s new space called her back from emptiness to watch the rainy window some more.

“I have the phone” she pondered, “…and I have the Amex card and the two fifty pound notes.” And she remembered Angus telling her when he put them into the new leather phone case along with a spare front door key “you can do a lot with an Amex card and two fifty pound notes. Just you wait and see.” Audrey had thought nothing of it at the time, but now she was about to see. Her things were probably stowed in the cupboard beside her bed and impossible for Audrey to reach, so she waited until Nurse Lucy came to take her vitals again. Lucy was slightly less smiley this time, slightly less keen to welcome her new guest, and slightly rumpled with puffy blue grey bags under her eyes. Wayward strands of highlighted blonde corkscrews were heading for the ceiling, truants swaying as she moved. Nurse Lucy retrieved Audrey’s phone from the soft satined depths of a coat pocket and handed it to her. “That coat’s a bit of a mess” she said. “We can get it cleaned for you, if you like.” Audrey smiled noting that the battery in her top of the line iPhone was dead. She was indeed in empty space. “Yes please. Thank you.” Tossing the phone onto the bed she smiled at Lucy “you look exhausted, end of the shift?” Lucy looked back, her eyes dull and her smile limp and picked up Audrey’s phone. “Mmmmm. I can get this charged. I think one of the other nurses has a charger for it.” And she turned away, phone in hand, hurrying away to the end of her shift.