Authors: Muriel Spark
He often wondered if we
were all characters in one of God’s dreams.
The first thing he
discerned when he regained consciousness was a woman in white. This angel was
calling him by his first name, Tom, although they had never been introduced.
you a nun?’ he said.
Jasmine. I’m a nurse. Come on, Tom, I’ve got to wake you up. I’ve got to put
this other pillow under your head. And lift the top part of your bed. Like
this…’ She manipulated with her foot a lever of the hospital bed so that he
was slightly raised. ‘Otherwise,’ she said, ‘you might feel groggy.’ She stuck
a thermometer in his mouth before he had time to speak, and took his wrist in
her hand, looking at her watch. He saw by her watch that it was twenty past
was visible behind the curtains, so it must have been daytime.
dozed off while she was still counting his pulse. When he woke half an hour
later as it seemed, it was dark, it was ten-forty at night as he learned from
the new nurse, the night nurse, name of Edna so she told him. So does our trade
direct our perceptions and our dreams he thought: Tom was a film director. Cut
into the scene of the morning with the scene of the evening. The same nurse, but
was it the same? Anyway it was Edna and the same scene.
the doctor?’ Tom said.
looked in this afternoon. Were you awake?’
Tom wasn’t sure. He thought he might remember a doctor’s face looming over him.
let his bed down by manipulating the lever. There was a drip inserted in his
foot that he had been aware of since he woke but hadn’t been able to remark on.
Edna was nearly black of skin. ‘Where do you come from, Edna?’ ‘Ghana,’ she
said, or was he mixing her up with someone else? When he woke it was the daylight
of early morning.
lady in white, this time with a head-veil. ‘You are one of the nuns?’ She was.
She was Sister Felicitas come to take a sample of his blood.
took my blood already,’ he said.
was your urine.’
are you going to do with my blood?’
it,’ she said.
time is it?’
can you be so larky so early in the morning?’
late. We rise at five.’
that you singing? I heard singing.’
was us in the chapel.’
gone in a whisk of white. In came his breakfast tray, supporting it seemed,
call this breakfast?’
you get liquid, then soft, then solid.’
poured out some milky tea. He opened his eyes. The tray had disappeared.
now thinking of the plans he had made, the vow he had taken, before his
operation. He intended to keep it.
women came in with a mop and pail. One dusted while the other slopped the floor
of that room in the international hospital. Now two nurses came to make his
bed. They got him up. They helped him through to the bathroom. They shaved him
with expert hands. Oh go on shaving, it’s nice. But then they unplugged the
razor. Someone had put an enormous bunch of flowers on the far table, a mixture
of roses, lilies and asters, most remarkable and expensive.
surgeon: You’re going to be all right.
did he mean, I’m going to be all right? So earnest. I never thought I wasn’t.
his bed a table on wheels, moveable to any convenient angle. On the table was a
telephone. Good, I will wait till I feel a bit stronger, after the liquids and
will I be on solids, Edna?’
not Edna, I’m Greta. You have solids tomorrow.’
where do you come from?’
like a casting director. Greta is absolutely built for the part. But which
difficulty of his turning to lift the receiver was solved by Greta who wheeled
the table to an angle where the phone was close to hand.
His voice croaked.
that you, Tom? Tom, is that you?’
suppose so. I’ll be on solids tomorrow.’ He was actually wider awake than he
wanted anyone to know.
suppose I can come and visit this afternoon?’
Tom’s wife, arrived in the afternoon. He hadn’t yet told her the plans he had
made. She would be intrigued by them but not anxious. That was one advantage of
having a very rich wife. You could make plans without her worrying immediately
how it was going to affect her budget. Tom once had a wife who referred back
every action, every thought of his, to her budget. She was much happier
divorced with a well-paid job of her own.
a belly-ache. Came Sister Benedict with her injection.
was by his bed, smiling, holding his hand. ‘You’re going to be all right,’ she
had said he wasn’t.
said, ‘I want to see Fortescue-Brown.’ That was his lawyer, full of fuss and
business, never letting you get a word in. I only keep him, thought Tom,
because I am too genuinely busy to change.
Fortescue-Brown,’ he said.
moment like this you want to see Fortescue-Brown?’
right,’ he said.
pulled up a chair and sat close to his bed, pushing the wheeled table out of
the way. When he looked again only the chair was there and a nurse was coming
in with a tray of filthy supper.
is your name?’
Ruth, I can’t eat that white soup.’
would you like to eat? I’ll ask for something else.’
straining every muscle in my imagination to think of something else. Forget it.’
have to keep your strength up,’ said Ruth. She had a tiny waist and an enormous
backside. He couldn’t keep his eyes off it. She was about thirty with
straw-coloured hair drawn back, and a pale face. She would have cast well as a
German spy in those old days of yore. She disappeared and to his amazement came
back with an egg
which he consumed absentmindedly.
you expecting any visitor this evening?’ Ruth had come to take away the tray.
By her watch it was half past six.
daughter, Marigold, an unfrocked priest of a woman.’
was suddenly there.
Pa, I hear you’re going to be all right,’ said she, with her turned-down smile,
skinnily slithering into a chair and arranging her coat over her flat chest.
She should never have married. No wonder her husband James had decided to write
James?’ Tom said.
as I know he’s in Polynesia.’
how, not where.’
wear yourself out,’ she said, ‘with too much conversation. I bought you some
grapes.’ She said ‘bought’ not ‘brought’. She dumped a plastic bag on the side
table. ‘This is a wonderful clinic,’ she said. ‘I suppose it costs a fortune.
Of course nothing should be spared in a case like yours.’
must not imagine Marigold was particularly deprived.
morning Tom rang Fortescue-Brown and made an appointment for him to come to the
clinic at three in the afternoon.
Love and economics, Tom
mused. ‘I have always,’ he thought, ‘considered them as opposites. Why do they
continually bump into each other as if they were allied topics? Is it possible
that what I call love isn’t love?’
touched that lovely Cora his daughter by his first wife had flown into London
to see him. She had obtained leave for the occasion from whatever she was doing
in Lyons for Channel Four. Her first words were ‘Pa, you’re going to be all
right.’ She went on to say how her husband, Johnny, had been declared redundant
at his job, an administrator in Parsimmons & Gould the paint people. She
continued that she had managed to get a cheap bucket-shop flight to see him. ‘And
what,’ thought he, ‘has Johnny’s redundancy got to do with me, my broken ribs
and thigh? And her cheap flight? Did she come for love or what?
am glad,’ he continued in his mind, ‘that Johnny has been made redundant. I am
glad with the gladness of the lover of truth: the man has always been
said, ‘Marigold has been here.’
know,’ said Cora.
brought me some grapes,’ Tom put in experimentally.
know,’ said Cora. ‘Don’t you want to watch the news?’
was a television in the corner, stuck up on the wall, and a controller by the
side table. Tom switched it on. A Nigerian politician being interviewed — ‘Democracy,’
he said, ‘is not a one-man cup of tea.’ Tom switched off.
‘Are you in pain?’ said
indeed, Mr. Brown, I am.’
Tom,’ said he, ‘reflect. You are getting angry again. Angry and arrogant. There
was no need, no need at all, for you to go up on that crane. An ordinary dolly
is perfectly all right for directing a motion picture these days. But no, you
have to be different, you have to be right up there beside the photographer,
squeezed in, and without a seat-belt. You have to be God.’
you suggesting that God wears a seat-belt?’
nothing would surprise me after being your lawyer for twenty years. When do you
get out of this penitentiary?’