The Warden

Valerie Thomas, a 55 year old woman, has been admitted to hospital having suffered a stroke in her home town. She is taken to the Prince John hospital where she is treated by a team of ward sisters who, Valerie believes, will nurse her back to health. But, just a few rooms down in the same corridor, the hospital's secret screams through the walls. A case that will test the boundaries of human nature and the true meaning of what can only be described as a crime against humanity - bullying.

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5. The Tornado

That afternoon, unexpectedly, Terry came again whilst Valerie was awake. He’d caught her off guard, gazing out into the greasy cloud lined sky, and it was only the creak of the door swinging on unoiled hinges that had alerted her. Terry stood just in the doorway smiling and her. His broad hands, that were - for once – clean, rested on top of one another dangling above his crotch as if, at any moment, Valerie would jump out of bed, pull a leather ball from beside the cabinet and pelt a free kick toward him. The sight of him made her apprehensive and she couldn’t quite demonstrate the way she felt for him into one clean-cut emotion. Instead, the pair gazed at each other for a long minute. Though it was clear that Terry’s soft eyes melted compassion, Valerie made no attempt to address that feeling. Her eyes were hard and withholding but the retinas, of which Terry couldn’t see, were glazed with a cold confusion. He held a brown, paper bag in his hand and it nervously crunched as he thumbed it between his fingers.

Valerie was unsure if she should be the one to make the first move. To tell him to leave and that she wasn’t sure if she could love him back after his last visit. To tell him that Mike had been the love of her life and that he couldn’t just court with her regardless and then urinate and trample all over Mike’s grave. To tell him that no matter what happened to her after she was better and out of here, she could never face the thought of seeing him again. She shuffled.

“Terry…” Valerie dryly croaked still failing to take her eyes off his.

She had meant to sound understanding and robust in that statement, but a tight hammock of unclear phlegm betrayed her. Instead, though she wouldn’t have thought it herself, she appeared to have sounded kind-hearted and needy because Terry sprang towards her and flung himself on top of her in a distant yet devoted embrace.

“Val, it’s alright don’t speak. I know. It’s hard and you’re tired. Just shhhh…” Terry said, playing on the soothing melody of the ‘shhh’.

It was warm under his muscular embrace and the micro-fibres of his navy fleece. His breath, too, was warm and he gently, and unknowingly, panted into her earlobe. Valerie could tell that he was uneasy in the way he suspended himself, via invisible paracord, over her.

“Terry…” Valerie began again.

“Oops! Sorry Val. I get carried away,” he said, rising from her and sinking down into the rattan guest chair beside her bed.

“Sorry I haven’t been able to pop by. I doesn’t mean I don’t miss ya. And it definitely doesn’t mean that I don’t love ya!” Terry chuckled.

Valerie stayed still and just watched as his smile faded under her burning icy glare.

He looked down at his lap as though he’d been scolded and Valerie allowed her frown to dilute. It hurt her to see him feel the neglect in her eyes but, equally, it hurt her to repay him with just as much love as he deserved.

“I-” Valerie started.

“Oh yeah. This is for you.” Terry gestured towards the brown bag he’d placed on the table at the end of her bed.

“I, err…” He reached for the bag. “I, umm, suppose you won’t be able to use this here. But I guess you can always ask. I mean…I mean if you wanted to use it here. But if not, erm, then I guess I’ll just take it back. Back to your house. Or back to mine and then you can come and get it when you get out of here, if you want?” Terry waffled.

“Here you go,” he whispered, handing her the bag.

Valerie took the bag off him cautiously and let her arms be dragged down by the weight. Terry sensed her weakness and inability and swiftly placed a hand under the base of the brown bag to stop it falling. Valerie felt his smile as he watched her with the present but she didn’t look up.

Valerie peered inside the bag then sunk her hand into it and pulled out cold china. Terry crumpled the bag up in his hand as Valerie pulled her hand upwards towards her face.

“A mug,” she said with a lack of elation.

“Yeah. I thought because of…you know… and your one mug down now, that you might…to replace…” Terry cut off as he saw Valerie’s face thaw and flux with emotion. Tears dribbled down her cheek from swollen, red eyes.

“Val, you don’t need to…I mean I didn’t want to upset you. I…I wanted to…you know…Val, I miss you and when you’re here, I can’t…you know…I can’t show you what you mean to me. It’s…because…”

Terry’s eyes were welling up as he spoke.

“Terry, just…” Valerie drew in a breath. “Terry, it’s a lovely thought. Thank you.”

Terry rose up from his seat and gave a dangled cuddle. This time Valerie lifted her left arm and wrapped it onto his back. She rubbed it gently against his fleece.

She was half caught in a tornado of sentiment, strung between the spiralling winds and the grip she held of anything that would root her to the earth. She loved him, his nature and the way he seemed so intent on loving her. But behind the rose tinted façade, she loathed the way he envisaged that their relationship could work as though they even had one, the way he cozied himself up to her with his sweet words and the way he indefinitely protested that the past accounted for nothing – though he never said so himself.

It was, on this afternoon – however – that the awareness of the need to cling onto previous relationships and the love she held for her previous husband, Mike, would desert her.

Reassuringly stifled by their embrace, the pair let go of one another. It was a few minutes further before either one of them spoke, bemused by the moment no doubt re-occurring in their minds.

“Terry,” Valerie said. “Why am I here?”

Terry jumped slightly at her question and faced her, alarmed.

“Val, you had a stroke and you had a nasty injury to your head. You’ll probably remember soon enough the exact-”

“I know. I know all that but why am I here?”

Terry’s mouth gaped and shutting like a whale shark sifting through plankton. He searched for the words to answer her.

“Umm,” he hesitated. He wasn’t sure he was ready for hypothetical questions about the beginning of the world and an endless list of ‘what if’s’.

“St. James’ hospital is closer, surely. Why didn’t I go there?” Valerie’s tone was bland and her gaze was fixed to the door of her room.

Terry smiled to himself and giggled silently at the stupidity of how he’d thought she’d mean something different.

“Well, I guess this place is better than St. James’. I suppose that place didn’t have the facilities to deal with cases like yours. And, you know, looks can be deceiving!” He smiled but straightened his face when he saw she wasn’t smiling.

“This place isn’t better, Terry.”

Valerie’s voice was grave. It was almost as though she continued to stare at the door – so inhuman – to prevent the factual show of emotions about the time she’d spent here.   

“They’re not nice, Terry. They don’t listen. They lie. They hurt.”

“Who, Val? Who hurts?”

They do,” she replied.

Valerie wriggled under her bed sheet and wrought free her right arm that had been concealed. She presented it to Terry and rested it atop her thigh.

“They did this Terry.”

Terry cradled her arm in his palm and stroked it gently, wide-eyed in shock.

“Valerie.”

He paused to re-collate his composure.

“Valerie, please tell me they didn’t.”

“They did.”

“No, Valerie. No. No, they can’t have. Who saw? I mean there must have been some-”

“No-one saw Terry.” Valerie adjusted her watering eyed to his. “It was just me.”

Terry leaned over to grab both of Valerie’s hands in his.

“Valerie, please. Tell me. Who did this to you?”

She stared right back into his unfaltering gaze and listened to the soft heartbeat of the clock at the other end of the room. Even it seemed to be on edge.  

“Valer-”

“No, Terry, no. Please”

“Valerie I want to help you. Please, if you let me do anything, just let this be it. Please. If you’re not happy here I’ll get you out. I will I’ll do it I promise.”

“Well, come on then. Do it. You’ve promised me. Take me out. Take me away.”

Valerie began to draw back the covers on her bed and turned herself to lean out of her bed.

“Yes. I will but please, first, just tell me who did it.”

“What does it matter if I get out of here? It doesn’t matter, as long as I’m not here I’ll be fine, won’t I?”

“Yes, Val, I know-”

“So come on!” Valerie chimed like a young and excited school girl.

“Valerie, look.”

She stopped and stared at him.

“You’ll be fine if we get out of here. I know you will. But what about the others? They’ve hurt you here but you think they won’t hurt anyone else? Please, Valerie. Just give me a name. Or a face, if you can’t remember. Anything. Just tell me anything about them, please,” Terry pleaded.

The door creaked open, just the way it had when Terry had entered, and both Valerie and Terry turned to stare. Valerie coiled her fingers around the catheter in her left hand.

“It was her!” she shouted and motioned towards Nurse Vaughn.

Valerie yanked out the catheter and a sharp pain throbbed through her hand followed by a scarlet ribbon of blood. A droning impulse from the monitoring machine shook the room into panic.

“Run!” she shouted to Terry.

Terry grabbed hold of her left hand and pulled her to the door but senselessly numb from the pain in her hand, she fell hard onto the cold floor.

“Arggg!” she writhed on the tiles.

“Valerie!” Terry shouted letting go of her hand.

“Mr.Thomas, if you like to make your way into the waiting room-” began Nurse Vaughn and ushered him towards the door.

“How dare you hurt her! How dare you do what you did to a patient! You’re sick! You’re all sick!” Terry bellowed waving his hands around in her face.

Nurse Vaughn peered out of the room and called down the corridor.

“Joan, Diane. Give us a hand in here!”

She finished peeling Terry from the room and handed him to Diane.

“Will you escort Mr. Thomas to the waiting room please?”

“Yes, of course,” Diane replied politely whilst sneakily peering into see what the uproar was over.

“Joan, in here please.” Nurse Vaughn motioned for Joan to follow her in. Joan held down Valerie whilst Nurse Vaughn re-inserted the catheter into her hand and then both nurses helped Valerie back into her bed. Once back in bed, Nurse Vaughn dismissed Joan and both she and Valerie were left alone in the aftermath of the commotion.

“You little bitch!” Nurse Vaughn spat as she wheeled Valerie out of the room.

Once again, Valerie was helpless, blubbing, caught in the swell. Being flung high above the earth into a mass of unknown debris. The tornado closed in for the night.

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