I was cured. The contagion seemed to pass. But I was worried that I might have infected Bundy Macintosh. I could almost meet myself going in one staff toilet, and coming out another, after mechanically taking care of myself. And bumping into Bundy, outside the little used staff toilet in the foyer, made me feel worse, as if I was hiding something.
‘Donkey Dick’s been looking for you,’ said Bundy Macintosh.
My face went splotchy red. I couldn’t help it. There was something sexual in what Bundy was saying in a way that there never was before when she called James Munn a fuckin’ darkie, or a black bastard. These, were for Bundy, throw away lines, the equivalent of chain smoking. She just couldn’t help herself. But Donkey Dick was like my own mum swearing and using sexual innuendo at the same time.
I wondered why James Munn wanted to see me about. Immediately, I thought of Norean Kilean and what I’d done. She sunbathed out the back of Ailsa ward, at the side of the building. Nobody could see her. I had to make a real effort and move the wardrobe a bit to the left, of the twin bedroom, shared by two of the patients, and they were very particular about it being their room. I almost put chalk lines around my footprints, so that I could erase them on the way out. I had to make sure I put the heavy weight twins, Cassandra and Julie- Julie and Cassandra’s wardrobe back in the exact same position.
Norean Kilean had dressed down for the sun. It was the equivalent of an old-fashioned pre war bathing suit, with little dinky blue shorts and a bra with a bow on it. What I could see of her long legs made me simmer and sizzle from the inside out and point through my pants and denims in her direction. There were no disappointments. Her breasts, in comparison, seemed compact, normal even, when she was wearing every day ward clothes. But unleashed in the summer sun, it was as if my vision had been blinded, or permanently altered, so that all I saw was open mouths, big mamma breasts and little squeezable tits and bouncing buttocks, which I couldn’t, in my mind’s eye, always shamefacedly look away from.
‘What did James Munn want?’ I almost said Donkey Dick.
Bundy was looking at me strangely. I was sure she knew what I’d been doing.
‘You ok,’ said Bundy, in a low concerned maternal tone, patting me on my sizzling cheeks and confirming my worst fears, that she knew?
Bundy gathered her considerable frame together and added, ‘you know what he’s like? A fuckin’ arsehole. He wants to fuck you about. He wants fuck all. I’ll tell you what. See if you have any problems with that English cunt, let me know!’
I smiled. Bundy was back to being Bundy and she didn’t know.
James Munn was sitting in the bubble of light in our office, one leg crossed over the other, swivelling on the office chair, with his two hands joined together in a praying position. He looked as if he was contemplating the meaning of the universe and finding the answer just not good enough. I didn’t know where Wullie the Pole was, but it wasn’t difficult to guess the reason why he wasn’t in his office. James Munn immediately stood up when he saw me through the office window.
‘Sit down. Sit down,’ said James Munn ushering me into one of the other chairs in the office, as if it was his office and not mine.
‘I was thinking,’ said James Munn, ‘that it would be a good idea to take some of the patients out’.
That was a great idea. It was by no means a new idea, but a good excuse for a day trip funded by the hospital, to take a few chosen patients to a place that we had not been before, somewhere like Blackpool, for a good old fashioned bevy. I’d never been on one of those trips, but they were the stuff of Glendevon Hospital legends. Sometimes the trips lasted a whole week and were marked down as a patient’s holiday, using their money. And the more astute staff went straight on holiday when they came back to recover. That would be brilliant. I’d never been on a holiday.
But I immediately decided not to go if James Munn was going. The only question was whether he could force me to go. If he did force me to go I was taking Bundy. That was only fair.
But my whole pyramid of ideas came swiftly crashing down with James Munn’s next statement.
‘Yes, we could take them outside.’
He spoke as if he had discovered outside, planted a flag and claimed it for himself. I wasn’t sure what he was getting at. Patients went outside all the time. What did James Munn think happened; patients were beamed from ward to ward, like Uhuru did on Strar Trek? But I’d found, to my cost, that James Munn had a way of suckering you in with sweet words and knocking you out. So I said nothing and just nodded.
‘Yes,’ said James Munn elaborating on his new idea of outside, ‘I’ve reviewed the case notes of some of the patients on this ward and I’ve spoken to Mr Borusc and I’ve found that some of the patients have been in this hospital for 30 or more years…’ I nodded emphatically at this other new finding… ‘and they have never been outside, when it’s raining. They never experienced rain on their hair, rain on their face and neck. Rain. Rain. Rain.’ He’d discovered rain.
‘I think we have a duty to take them out into the rain.’ I wondered what Wullie the Pole thought of that.
‘Yes,’ I said, I think that’s a great idea. ‘It rains a lot in Scotland,’ I added, in case he didn’t know that.
Wullie the Pole watched the weather, like a fisherman ready to put out to sea. James Munn’s idea had meant that he was waiting for him to drop in. And Wullie didn’t like that. It threw off all his schedules and made him fidgety. He was waiting for him to drop in, and drop out, and be gone forever. And somehow he blamed me. As if it was my fault. So that I had to avoid him and James Munn. I had to skulk in the patient’s sitting room, with the patients, which was more like work than work itself.
Next day it was smirry rain. Me and Wullie the Pole, looked out the same smudged window and waited for James Munn to come, but he stood us up. The rain was obviously not of the right type. That made Wullie the Pole even more fretful. I was glad, then, that I wasn’t a patient.
James Munn had purchased yellow waterproofs for the patients that we were taking outside. They were hanging outside the ward in the foyer, on hooks for coats and jackets, built into the fabric of the new building, that no one ever used, a visual reminder of James Munn’s intentions. Wullie the Pole moaned about the cost of purchasing outdoor wear that patients didn’t need and would only wear once. ‘Who would be paying for it all? He rhetorically asked again and again, until I was sick about him whining about it, although, of course, I would never have said anythig. Wullie the Pole even stockpiled old Wilkinzon’s razor blades for the patients to re-use. He didn’t know and didn’t care who would be paying. It was the principle of waste, rather than the actual purchase that he detested. The only thing that he detested more was James Munn. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he spat on them, to test how waterproof they were, on the way into the ward.
I was glad when we finally got the right type of rain. The wind was blowing in from the North, or was it the South? It didn’t really matter. It was freezing and raining cats and dogs, a typical Scottish summer day. Again me and Wullie the Pole waited. Wullie had already briefed the chosen patients: ‘Look as if you’re enjoying yourself’.
But me and Wullie the Pole couldn’t really enjoy our usual extended breakfast. We were both looking at the clock. James Munn, when he finally arrived, looked as if he was in the right mood. He was smiling and wet enough for both of us.
‘Right,’ said Wullie the Pole, without any of the usual preliminaries, or niceties, ‘You boy, get the patients: hurry up and get them out.’
Bundy Macintosh smoked a fag and watched us getting changed, from the open door of Beattie ward. She called us the seven fucking dribbling dwarves and laughed at her own joke. But I was too big to be a dwarf. She did have a point. There were six patients and me. They were all old, about 50 and because they were small, with their little yellow hoods up, they might have been cute, but they weren’t. They were 45 years too late for that kind of clothing
James Munn had obviously picked their clobber himself. He was waiting at the external door, out of the two wards, and wore a deerstalker. I didn’t want to look down in case he was wearing tartan plus fours. It would have been difficult to tell. His greatcoat, in checked herringbone new wool, extended almost to his feet, It could soak up my weight in rainwater and still leave James Munn dry. I had to admire his planning, if not his fashion sense. If we got lost we could make a tent out of his coat and wait the storm out.
I knew I should have been quicker helping Marty on with his new rain jacket, but the more excited he got, the more jerky were his arm movements. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Bundy move towards James Munn.
Bundy looked out. The rain was bouncing off the pavements and ricocheting like sand dashed pebbles.
‘They’ll catch their death of cold in that?’ said Bundy to James Munn amiably enough.
‘That’s interesting,’ said James Munn, ‘any studies I have read have rejected the link between getting the cold and being cold. The common cold is passed on by a virus. Not by getting a little wet’.
I didn’t think I would be able to get to James Munn in time. Bundy’s mouth actually dropped open like a comic book character, her face turned the colour of uncooked salmon and her muscles tensed, straining at every point. I’d seen her in action before and it was about as pretty as she was.
‘Enough Bundy,’ I hadn’t seen Wullie the Pole, but his tone was commanding enough.
A look passed between Wullie the Pole and Bundy. And Bundy walked away, quietly clicking shut the external door to Beattie ward behind her.
Marty began fell to the cloakroom floor and began fitting at the same time. Wullie the Pole reached down and, in a well-practiced movement, gently moved him into the recovery position, just in time for the rain to stop and the sunshine to appear.