Author : Ian Rennie

Matron moved almost silently from ward to ward. The faint silken brush of her passing made the nurses look up, meeting her eyes as she passed, exchanging glanced messages that said as much as conversations. The few awake patients did not look. Most of them stared at the ceiling, or listened to music quietly, or slept, or cried.

This an early ward, where the patients were coaxed from catatonia into some basic level of function. The sisters here were soothing more than encouraging, only gently touching the sharp edges of broken minds. Once the patients began to recover, they were brought to day wards where they would recuperate, rehabilitate, take faltrering steps towards health. They spent their days in rooms where french windows opened onto the seaside, where the crash of waves and bracing sea air brought them relaxation and health.

Her rounds completed, Matron moved further into the hospital. She stopped outside an unregarded wooden door, checked that nobody was around, and unlocked it. As the door opened, soft sounds of pain could be heard. This was the relapse room, not spoken of beyond its wooden door.

“How is everyone today?” she said in a hushed voice to the sister who sat at the ward desk. Beyond her, men lay in beds, scratching at imaginary bugs, screaming at invisible enemies.

“Quiet so far” the sister said: she was blonde, with beautiful but absolutely unsexual features; as alluring as a marble statue, and as cold.

“I don’t see Mr Morningside. Did he have another episode?”

“I’m afraid so. Metal men this time.”

“I’ll go and talk to him.”

Halfway down the room, there was a side-ward, separated from the main room by a heavy door. Matron opened this, remembering to bolt it behind her. Alone in the room there was one man in one bed. He was clad in blue and white striped pajamas like the others, but where they looked like patients, he looked like someone in a costume, unused even to his skin.

“I know what you are,” he said as she entered

“Hello, Mr Morningside, and what do you imagine me to be today?”

“You’re a ghost. A ghost of electricity. You’re a piece of mathematics that lives in my head.”

“That’s nice. Did you take your pills?”

“They’re poison. You’re trying to poison me and make me forget. I’m not in my body any more. I’m not even in my mind. It burned away, it all burned.”

“Mr Morningside, if you don’t take your pills, we will have to restrain you again.”

He flinched, visibly. When she held the pills out to him, shied away, but then opened his mouth with a display of childish reluctance. He dry-swallowed the pills, not waiting for the proffered glass of water. He was crying as they began to take effect, dragging him into a muttering sleep.

Matron was subdued as she left the ward. It disturbed her when a relapsing patient stumbled towards the truth. He wasn’t in his body any more, wouldn’t be there until his mind was healed enough to accept the trauma of the war’s memories. The new bodies were regrown, but the minds just weren’t ready for them yet. Let them heal here, where they were safe, where they had matron and her beautiful, identical sisters to look after them.

From the day ward she heard a few patients gather together for a morning sing-song.

“Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…”

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