A Fortress-Shaped Playhouse
From Planet 219
A short story by Rachel Trezise
The corridor smells like drug molecules. The baby shakes the sealed packet of prawn cocktail crisps Cherisse gave him in place of the teething rattle she’d left on Bryony’s coffee table this morning. He hasn’t noticed the difference yet. She turns his pushchair towards the respiratory ward. Sure enough the whole Morgan family are perched around a bed in the unit next to the nurse’s station. Mother, father, a couple of brothers. There ought to be a law against how good Gethin looks, so pretty she wants to lick the skin of tartar from his teeth. The old man amongst them is fossil-grey, an oxygen tube in his nose. He’s close to death, official visiting hours waived.
‘Can I help you?’ the ward sister asks her. Cherisse recognises the woman from microbiology classes at the nursing college. Luckily the nurse hardly looks away from the PC but Gethin looks up, surprised at the volume of her voice. A glimmer of acknowledgment comes into his eyes at the sight of Cherisse. ‘Cher?’ he asks. His family extend their necks, examining her perfunctorily. ‘Hiya,’ Cherisse says feigning shock. She gently wheels Oscar’s pushchair towards them. ‘My friend’s having a baby. I’m looking for maternity.’ It’s a stupid thing to say, she knows, even as the words are hurtling out of her mouth. Gethin doesn’t care. ‘My grandfather,’ he says. ‘Lung cancer.’ His dark eyes fill with tears. Oscar flings the crisp packet suddenly, shrieking as it lands on the lino next to Gethin’s mother’s feet. ‘Sorry,’ Cherisse says, bending to retrieve it. Gethin’s mother snatches it up before the girl can get there. ‘What’s your name then?’ she asks Oscar, a laboured smile in the question. Cherisse looks from Gethin to his mother; the same narrow lips. Screw it, she thinks and then she says it. She really says it: ‘Oscar. This is your grandson, Elaine.’Elaine rises out of her chair, passes the crisp packet back to the toddler. She cups her hands around his hands until he’s clinging to the corners again. ‘Aled used to have a goldfish called Oscar, didn’t you, Al?’ Gethin’s brother grunts. Cherisse exhales; the gravity of her statement seemingly gone unnoticed.