It was never going to be easy looking at yourself lying in a bed specifically set at a height that allowed nursing staff to attend to your every need. Machines, wires and tubes surrounded Juliet’s physical form, making a variety of beeps that reassured Juliet’s consciousness that she was actually still alive. Juliet looked down at herself looking rather pathetic and isolated. Her curly hair had been swept off her face by well-meaning nurses, causing Juliet to wonder whether they had tried to stick it down with lick as her mother had done in the past when it needed to be neat for the annual family photograph.
Her mother had insisted that a professional photograph was taken by someone who would come to the house even when there was just the two of them left in the picture. Juliet remembered the photographs displayed in her mothers room chronicling her own childhood growth as well as the deterioration of her mother. The photographs had stopped when Juliet was sixteen, but she was not sure whether this had been a result of her unwillingness to take part or her mother’s inability to organise the photographer.
The tube helping her to breath was taped to the side of her face but it didn’t look likely that she would be moving in the near future to disturb its position on her face. Juliet noticed that the tape was puckering her skin and wondered whether it would hurt when they pulled it off. Juliet also noticed she was still wearing the hospital gown that she had changed into before the endoscopy, or it was one just like it, and that her locket had been removed even though she herself was still wearing it. This was a curious anomaly that Juliet struggled to find an intelligent answer to.
She could see a nurse bustling over, she wanted to stay with herself and watch what they were doing. The ICU unit smelt more strongly of hospital than the rest of the old building. The smell permeated everything in the room and was reassuring, giving the impression of ability to heal, rather like the front that Juliet used to give the impression of normality. Victor leant forward and gently grasped her elbow. “Let’s leave them to get on with making you better, would you like some coffee?”
Juliet allowed herself to be led back to the lift and found Stanley still in it with his finger pressed against the button that held the doors open. “You OK, my dear?” It struck Juliet that Stanley’s joy at being able to help caused his green sweatshirt to glow with an eerie luminous brightness. His beaming face put her more at ease with what she had just seen and she relaxed as the lift lumbered slowly back down to the ground floor.
“Have you been here long Stanley?” Juliet had a host of questions and this seemed like a good opener that might give a short answer and an opportunity to ask another. Stanley shot a wary look at Victor and seemed reluctant to answer. “Not as long as Victor here”, Stanley jabbed a thumb in Victor’s direction as if trying to hitch a ride. The answer was aimed to close down an unwelcome conversation but Juliet persisted. “How long is that?” The lift doors opened and Stanley stepped quickly out and bustled over to his designated table and chair, waiting to assist the next visitor.
Confused, Juliet allowed herself to be led back the coffee shop and sank back down into the armchair that she had used yesterday wondering if she had actually been home, or just asleep in this chair. Victor sat down again in the chair opposite, reinforcing Juliet’s feeling that she had never left. The barista, Juliet now knew as Shaun, bought over two large mugs of milky coffee and two sticks of brown sugar.
“There is still something I have to tell you” Victor approached this new subject with some trepidation in his voice. “We often find that people have been put here to clear up issues in their life before they either pass or recover. I had a man in here, before they remodelled the area as a café” Victor’s voice became wistful before finishing the sentence, “who refused to admit that his reluctance to acknowledge three of his illegitimate children was affecting his spiritual health.”
“What was here before the coffee shop?” From Victor’s previous statement, this was the part that had intrigued Juliet the most. How long had Victor been here?
“There has been a hospital here, in one form or another, since 1237. This particular area of ground was originally a monk’s chapel, although of course it has long gone and various other buildings have stood here since then. This café has been here for five years now and it seems to put people at ease, though it is beginning to look tired”
“And you’ve been here since…?” Juliet was not going to give up.