The door is closed. I stop in front of it for a moment, trying to work out why. The “Please Wait: Examination in Progress” sign isn’t there. I look at my watch, even though I had glanced at it every twenty seconds as I raced up the dimly lit stairwell, muttering under my breath about hospital elevators being ‘typical’. This time it showed 11:20. Five minutes from when I had navigated from parked car, through maze-like corridors and up a detour of stairs. It was still visiting hours and the specialist should have come and gone long before my usual arrival, each day. So why was the door closed?
A familiar looking nurse passes by, pant legs’ swishing together, looking at me a little strangely as if trying to place me. I give her a brief, worried smile then turn back to face the now rather imposing slab between me and him.
Is that … voices? Yes – soft, homely, female voices. They certainly aren’t familiar. What the hell is going on? I want to barge right in; demand to know who is in there, chattering, laughing! But my feet seem to have become one with the patterned carpet, refusing to let me go any further.
A shiver, like chilled water, runs down my spine, ending in a pool at my feet; my toes once warm in their boots turn to ice. I try again to move. With what feels like super-human effort, my right foot lifts and hovers just above the floor. I look down at it. It feels detached somehow, like it belongs to someone else entirely. Strange. I lower it, expecting my foot to pass right through the carpet, unable to take root on solid ground. It does though, of course, and I hear myself snort; a nervous, half giggle escapes my lips before I can stop it.
But I’m wasting time, standing here in front of his door, straining to hear conversations on the other side. I check my watch again; 6:15. My heart skips a beat. What? I blink slowly, fear and something that feels an awful lot like heartbreak, floods my body. I stare at ridges of hundreds of tiny goose bumps, running along my arms. I bring my watch up to my face, squinting at the time, pleading with it to show 11:20 and not a quarter past six in the evening. That evening.
The voices stop suddenly; they know I’m right outside. I feel my hands bunch into fists as if someone, not present, has manipulated them. I take a small step forward. Fingers touch the cold grey paint of the door then bounce back, as second and third thoughts race through my mind. It feels like something is trapped, fluttering, clawing, within my chest. I push on the heavy door.
All I can hear is the howling of blood in my head, my feet taking over, leading me into the darkened room. I can smell him so clearly. Imperial Leather soap, the sharp tang of morphine and Hugo Boss. I feel blindly along the wall for the light switch.
I choke on the word, hot tears falling without any warning, into my mouth, down my neck. Click. Fluorescent light floods the room, reaching into corners and under the two armchairs by the window, purifying the darkness. The bed is empty. There are fresh sheets folded tightly over the mattress, a clean blue pillow-case on a limp pillow.
I back up against the wall, sliding down to the floor, not feeling the jarring bump as I connect with the ground. My hands clench together at my chest, trying in vain to calm the soul wrenching hurt that I know for sure will make my heart burst. He is gone forever. I close my eyes and re-live that evening over again. But it’s just me and an empty room that smells like him.
It feels like hours, when I finally lift my head. I know it’s a dream. It’s one of many; similar, but not the same. I know I will wake up soon. Tears built up in my sleep will be set free when I open my eyes to the morning light. But for now, I will sit here. I will remember and smell him. A little girl lost.