Outside the ward, there were at least fifteen people waiting, some sat in chairs and others stood around. I pulled out my phone and scrolled through my emails looking for something, anything to read. I couldn’t get comfortable leaning against the wall but it would have to do.
Yeah, I’m going to put her bed in the living room, I heard a man say. Could you come down at the weekend and help me move it?
You think she’ll be out on Monday?
There’s a good chance. The bot seems to suggest it.
I heard the door to the ward open and an assist-bot say, we are sorry for the inconvenience, the ward is now open for visiting.
Fucking useless bots, a woman said. Why could one of those lazy fat-arsed nurses not come out eh?
Don’t say that, said another woman, it might hear you.
I hope it does, the woman said and shoved the bot as she passed.
The bot started beeping loudly.
Everyone seemed to know exactly where to go apart from me so I approached the nurses.
Excuse me, I asked and one of them turned around.
Yep, she said.
Can you tell me where Peter McKinley is?
Who are you? she asked.
His daughter Ann, I said.
Oh Peter, yes. He’s just away for a little procedure but you can go and wait in his room until he’s back. Hold on and I’ll take you round. Sarah, she said to one of the other nurses, can you cover me I’m just taking this girl to her dad’s room.
She led the way and I followed her past patient rooms. A few of the doors were open and I couldn’t help but look. In some there were a few family members gathered around the bed but in others there was no-one, just the patient in his or her bed watching the telly. They looked out as they heard our footsteps approach.
Are you the youngest? said the nurse as we were walking.
Yeah, I said. I’ve got an older brother and sister, I added.
You’re all very alike, she said.
An assist-bot came out of a room ahead and moved towards us but the nurse just moved slightly out of its way as did I.
A woman pushed one of those, I said, and the alarm went off.
She laughed. They do that all the time. It used to be us and now it’s the bots.
That’s terrible, I said.
Well that’s just the way now isn’t it? People always want to feel bigger than someone else. Here’s your dads room, she gestured to a door ahead.
I looked at her name badge, her name was Terry.
Thanks Terry, I said.
No problem, she said and turned and walked back the way we’d came.
My dad’s name was on a little screen on his door along with his passport photo and age. There was also a list of things he liked which only had two things on it. Family and football. That made me sad because I knew he loved motor-racing as well and having barbeques in the summer. I opened the door to his room and stepped inside. It was weird being there without him. The blankets on his bed were all ruffled up and there was a glass of juice on his bed tray. The telly which was attached to a long arm coming out of the wall was switched off. I noticed his notebook on his bed and picked it up. It was almost full, I realised as I sat down on a chair by the window. The blinds were shut and there was only one lamp on behind his bed, not the main light overhead. I flicked through his notebook and landed on some random pages. The first was dated two months ago when he’d just had his op.
When do the staples come out? he’d written.
It’s sore on the right under jaw, said another.
No, said the next one.
Then, yes maybe.
I flicked another few pages and it was only a month ago.
Where is Ann? It said.
But I haven’t heard from her, she didn’t tell me.
They crushed a nurse’s hand, said his note. It was amputated.
Tell Ann to phone me, said the last one on that page.
I didn’t want to keep reading. Just at a glance I could see his handwriting had worsened when his eye had started to go. Before, it was all neat and written in capitals to avoid confusion but then drastically changed to a scribbly mess I could hardly make sense of. Just a few words like ok and no stood out.
People passed by outside the door, their shoes squeaking on the linoleum. There was a black bag down at the side of his bed but there didn’t seem to be much inside it as it was scrunched into a small ball. It was probably his dirty underwear or pyjamas that my mum took away to wash and bring back every couple of days.
I felt restless so I went to the sink and squeezed some of the foamy soap from the dispenser into my hands. I remembered an advert that said you had to make sure all the soap was rubbed in between your fingers and even on the back of your hands as well as bacteria were notorious for not staying in one place. I thought about what surgeons had to do, they had to wash theirs right up to their elbows. I did consider this but heard something being wheeled along the corridor so I rinsed my hands quick, dried them with a paper towel and sat down again. Whatever it was stopped outside and a robo-assist came in. It scanned the entire room with a green laser that beeped as it passed over me. Then it reversed back out of the room. Seconds later, a porter-bot arrived with my dad who was sat in a chair in the middle. It was like a wheelchair only the wheels weren’t visible and it was completely solid and white. The back, instead of stopping below my dad’s shoulders came up a whole head above him so it looked like he was on a throne. There was something comical bout this that made me laugh. I stood up to try and help as I wasn’t sure how the robo-porter was going to get him onto his bed but he waved me away and mouthed, let it do it. So I sat and watched as it carefully moved over to his bed and lifted him up. At the same time, he moved from a seated position to a lying position as it stretched out and brought him level with the bed then it pushed him onto it where he was positioned exactly as he should be.
My dad reached up and pressed a button somewhere on the robo-porter but from where I sat it looked like he was patting a dog that’s done well. Good boy, he seemed to say. The robo-porter shrunk back to its original shape and scanned the room like the other one had done before. As the green laser passed over me I heard it beep again.
It’s okay, I told my dad. The last one did this.
His head nodded like he was going to fall asleep.
The robo-porter moved out of the room and back down the corridor.
How did you get on? I asked him but he was sound asleep.
I got up and sorted out his pillows behind his neck as he seemed uncomfortable. When I fixed them he rested back and looked peaceful. I stood there for a while, not wanting to sit down but equally not wanting to stand either. I pulled my chair in closer to the side of his bed and sat. At first I just stared at him, at his chest moving up and down, listening to his breath which was raspy, like he hadn’t coughed up enough mucus.
He let out a big sigh and seemed to say something.
Dad? I said. Are you okay?
Aimee Campbell is a writer and artist from Glasgow. She has been published in The Grind Journal, Gutter Magazine, The Burning Sand and more recently by Make Mud Press.
featured image: Bob Modem