The hospital. The colours. In this short story by Niamh Clarke, we follow a young girl as she makes her way to Alice’s room…
‘The marks of stool feet stomp out a circle and then another circle and then another.’
I first knew I was there by looking at the floor. The linoleum stretched itself out like a cat, its paws and its arms spread across the entire building. At a quick glance, all you could see was beige, but one foot moves out in front of me and a green, speckled square comes into sight – the colour of a dinosaur egg I once saw in a book.
The other foot touches the floor. It’s not just beige. There are autumn freckles on it, and blue flakes are for the ocean. I look down and follow the brown lines on it like a hunter on my way to Alice’s room.
But what was she doing there? She used to live by the sea in a cottage with a rough wooden floor, but the lino is smooth as glass and ready for Rollerblades. It curled about the corridors in slow beige-green currents, rounded corners in brown squares, and then buckled at the reception desk. I cannot see above the counter-top. Pockmarks look! – from all the chairs; look at all the small black circles one on top of the other that form black ripples on the tide. The marks of stool feet stomp out a circle and then another circle and then another.
The black rippled rings on the floor make me think about how we learned about carbon dating today. We read about it in school from a blue book with a wolf on the cover, and then soon forgot about it at small break because we ran out into the yard, followed the black tar down to black railings, and looked out on the glittering park. Someone ran up behind me and whispered:
“Tip! You’re on it”.
I hear a nurse’s voice speaking from behind the counter-top, “We decided to move Alice’s bed into the private room behind the reception desk; she’s not herself anymore”. Then mum and I go in as the television blurts out the question: “tired of stubborn stains?”
There was a red mug on a dark brown locker beside her with white writing on it. When George from England came on his visit in summer, he gave her that.
“George brought you that”. There is no response. I look at the mug; written on it is the question: ‘Who the fuck is Alice?’, and on the other side is the answer: ‘Alice from the Shore’.
I can run under the bed; it is is so tall, like a bed for a princess. The walls are painted dark green. And in the room Alice does not talk to anyone properly save for one thing: a single sentence uttered to no-one as the evening light dissolves and the lamp switch makes a little click. She pleads over and over:
“I want to go home.”
Mum asks me to go find a stool. That is my job. Walking through the common room, my feet on the linoleum, I quicken my pace past trolleys with beakers jangling with milky tea, a silent church full of candles, a room for smoking in; on past the Sun Room with newspapers and decks of cards on tables, I walk past paintings of fields.
Taking ages to root out a seat, I explore the building instead. People walk slowly when they are old. The open wards have no doors. Who is in there? And going in with my eyes fixed on the floor, I look upward: a different figure on every bed. The colours change from beige and greens to purples and greys. Look at their hands. Look down. Like Alice they are talking to no-one. With no door to close, I go back down the corridor again, a heavy seat found and carried above my feet. Behind me a choir of human voices repeat.