The Bull Singer
I just couldn't believe how stupid these kids had been, but perhaps it was a good thing this had happened, because now it appeared Joey was sick with something that might not have been detected in time. As we waited in A&E for the medical team to put a cast on Joey's ankle, I hoped that whatever else was wrong could be investigated and treated early, before Joey got really ill. There are so many illnesses that lie dormant or undetected for years, and then all of a sudden erupt with a severity that would be impossible to treat. My thoughts must have shown on my face because Dad laid a gentle hand on my arm and squeezed it. I covered his hand with mine and smiled at him, knowing he was just as anxious as I to hear what the other doctor had to say. What I didn't tell Dad was that I had already gone through a similar waiting period with Billy. All I could do was pray that the prognosis would not be as disastrous; I didn't think I could go through losing Joey the way I had lost Billy. While I tried to stay calm for Dad's sake, I watched the others trying to deal with the situation in their own way. Pete seemed more worried about Dad than anything and I appreciated that while I watched the boys, apart from Jimmy, shuffle about in their efforts to appear nonchalant about the incident. Jimmy sat next to me with his head in his hands while his dad paced the floor, a phone glued to his ear as he contacted the boys' parents, if only to let them know where they were. As I let all these thoughts run riot around my brain, Dad nudged me and lean into whisper in my ear. "I thought that Bernard lad couldn't get a decent signal in here? Mitchell seems to be doing all right."
I shook my head. "Maybe he's on a different network. Some networks are better than others."
At this, Jimmy raised his head and gave me a thoughtful look. "I don't think so. Dad and I are on the same network and I'm sure I once saw Bernie topping up his phone with a similar card to mine. Maybe he had some trouble with his phone; he was fiddling with it a lot before he left."
"Or not." My suspicious mind had already begun to make all sorts of weird and disturbing computations. "How long have you known him?"
"Not long; he started school here about the same time Joey did; why?"
I shook my head, not wanting to alarm him, but if I was correct, the bitch was having Joey watched and who better than someone at school? "What do you know about him?"
"Nothing much; he moved to Little Fordage from Manchester with his dad about three months ago. I've no idea what his dad does. Bernie's always a bit vague when asked about him. All he told us was that the guy's an agent of some kind for a business in the midlands. It must be a decent job because Bernie's always got money in his pocket, and I'm not talking about a couple of twenty pound notes. I've seen him with a wad of them in his wallet. I asked him once how he had so much and he told me to F off."
Dad lifted his head at that moment, and our eyes connected in a knowing glance. He wasn't all that savvy about state of the art stuff but there was nothing wrong with his brain when came to picking up clues. Word had it that he wanted to be a police detective before my granddad dragged him into the farming business. I didn't have to say, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" because I knew that he was.
At that moment, Bernie walked up the corridor, smiled and nodded to us, and leaned up against the wall beside Jimmy. "So what's the news?"
"He's having his ankle put in a cast," Jimmy said, "then he has to wait to see another doctor."
Bernie stared down at us, but I didn't see any genuine concern in his eyes. "Why? What's wrong with him?"
"We don't know yet, "I replied, wishing the kid would just disappear. Failing to keep my irritation out of my voice, I added, "That's why he has to see another doctor." I rose to my feet, gave him a knowing glare and stalked into the room where Joey was being attended to. A nurse tried to stop me approaching the treatment bed but Joey spotted me and reached out a hand towards me.
A young male nurse with dark blue pips on his shirt shoulders looked up from adjusting the straps of a rather bulky looking bright blue foam cast on Joey's ankle. "It's all right nurse, I'm almost finished. Mr Alton is it?"
I didn't take in half of what went on around me; my ankle, although most of the pain had gone, ached like mad as the nurse worked on it. I knew that was because of the painkillers the doctor given me. Through a sleepy haze I heard the first doctor talk about wanting me as calm as possible for when some other doctor came to see me. What did I need another doctor for? I'd only dislocated my ankle, and I just wanted to sleep. The pillow I lay on was comfortable enough and all I had to do was relax, just like the doctor had advised before he left the room. Through a daze, I watched the nurse place my ankle in a wedge of blue and yellow foam. What? No plaster cast? I raised my head to take a better look and saw the door open, and there was Mags. I reached out my hand to him and I heard the nurse say something to him. He hurried to my side and took hold of my hand, and I choked up.
"Hey, sport! How are you feeling now?" In reply, I tried to get my mouth to work, to tell him I was so glad to see him, but the only noise I made was a load of gibberish. Mags pushed me down to the pillows and stroked my hair back. "It's okay, sport. The doctor wants you to have a rest so he's given you something to make you sleepy. Don't try to fight it, you'll only feel worse."
The doctor appeared on the other side of the gurney and they talked over me before he leaned down and gave me a warm smile. "I've decided to keep you in overnight for observation, so we're transferring you up to the Children's Ward." I shook my head as he went on, "That way we can have you calm and relaxed for when my colleague, Doctor Simms, sees you later on. We want to find out the reason for all your fainting spells. It might be something simple like severe stress, or something more serious in which case we'll arrange for you to be transferred to Manchester Royal for more tests first thing on Monday. But I'm eighty percent positive it's only stress related. Okay lad? You just relax now, and get some sleep. I'll see you later with Doctor Simms."
"Mags! Mags?" I felt his hand pull away, and I scrabbled for it. The doctor's face appeared above me again. "It's all right son, your uncle isn't going anywhere; he can stay with you until you sleep."
As I relaxed, I felt Mags take hold of my hand once more, squeezing it right. His face took the doctor's place, full of concern. "It's okay, Joey. I'm here."
"What about the show?"
"Let's get you seen to first. We'll talk about the show later. Just close your eyes and try to sleep."
"Don't leave me."
"I'm not going anywhere."
I closed my eyes and felt myself drifting. "Promise?"
The last thing I knew his lips touched mine before I woke up in a two-bed ward with Disney pictures on the walls, and with a stomach that yelled "Hungry". I looked at the other bed and found it empty. Oh, yeah, they shipped out as many patients as they could at weekends, didn't they? Brilliant, that meant I would be on my own. I tried to turn on my side but something held my left foot. I raised my head and saw my foam-clad ankle raised on a frame. At last, a chubby nurse with a face like Aunt Cissie's came in. "Oh, your awake! Are you hungry, dear? I'll get a porter to bring you a lunch tray. Lunch was served an hour ago but I'm sure we can find you something. Back soon!" Before I had time to reply she had scuttled out of the ward. I looked round the room to see if I could see a clock and saw my watch on bedside cabinet along with a jug of orange squash. My watch said one thirty and my stomach growled at me. Twenty minutes later, a porter walked in and dumped a tray on an over-bed rolling table. He shoved the table across my legs, glared at me and walked off. Okay, well, good afternoon to you too! I sat up as best I could and pulled the table closer. Lifting off the plate cover I surveyed what was supposed to be a meal. Two skinny sausages, a lump of mashed potato, a spoonful of peas, and the whole lot covered in congealed gravy. I felt the plate; it was cold. I took a forkful of potato; that was cold too. There was a button by my bed-head to summon help. I lay down and pressed it. Oh, lovely! The same porter came back in. "Well?"
I pointed to the meal. "This is cold."
The porter glared at me. "So?"
"I can't eat it."
"Kitchen's closed." Was all I got before the guy turned and walked off.
Angry now, I pressed the bell again. Thankfully, a nurse in a yellow uniform came in and I explained my problem. With a smile she took the tray away and promised to get me something else. Another nurse came in with the first one I had seen. They fussed about the bed, lowering my ankle and raising the back support and helping me take a pee into a bottle. "There you are, dear." The chubby nurse stacked the pillows from the spare bed behind me. "I'm sure you'll be more comfortable now. We're off duty now, but there'll be someone popping in to see to you throughout the afternoon." The other nurse warned me not to get out of bed, and made sure a fresh pee-bottle was within my reach. Unfortunately, when they left they didn't put the table back, and that wasn't my only problem. The porter who brought me a second tray was Mr Grouch from before. He saw where the table was, dumped the tray on it and walked off with a malevolent smile on his face. I stared at the tray and watched the steam filtering out from under the plate cover. I pressed the bell. No answer. I gauged the distance between the bed and the table and wondered if I could hop or even walk that far. I drew the covers back and eased my injured ankle from under them. I felt a twinge but nothing like the pain I'd had earlier. Swinging my legs over the side of the bed, I sat on the edge of it and lowered my right foot to the floor. Okay so far. I pulled my hospital gown down over my thighs in case someone walked past the open door, and stood up. Holding onto the bedside cabinet, I tried my left foot on the floor. Okay again. I took a step forward with my left foot and a hop with my right before I had time to bear any weight on my left. I could do this okay. I took another hopping step and pain shot through my ankle. Over balancing, I grabbed for the cabinet, missed and sent the jug of orange flying. Hospital floors are slippery when wet; they are also cold and very hard, as I found out seconds later.
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