A man's bed is his resting-place, but a woman's is often her rack
(James Thurber, Further Fables for Our Time)
the ambulance, its blue light flashing, its siren wailing, finally pulled into the Casualty Bay of the John Radclifie 2 Hospital at 9.15 p.m. The grey face of the man hurriedly carried through the automatic doors on a stretcher – the forehead clammy with sweat, the breathing shallow and laboured – had told its immediate story to the red-belted senior nurse, who straightaway rang through to the medical houseman on duty, before joining one of her colleagues in taking off the man's clothes and fastening a hospital gown around his overweight frame. A series of hurried readings – of electrocardiograph, blood pressure, chest X-ray – soon confirmed the fairly obvious: a massive coronary thrombosis, so very nearly an immediately fatal one.
Two porters pushed the trolley swiftly along the corridors to the Coronary Care Unit, where they lifted the heavy man on to a bed; around which curtains were quickly drawn, and five leads connected to the man's chest and linked to monitors, which now gave continuous details of heart rhythm, blood pressure, and pulse rate, on the screen beside the bed. A very pretty, slightly plump young nurse looked on as the houseman administered a morphine injection.
'Much hope?' she queried quietly a minute or two later, as the two of them stood at the central desk, where the VDU monitors from each of the small ward's six beds were banked.
'You never know, but…'
'Quite a well-known man, isn't he?'
'Taught me as a student. Well, I went to his lectures. Blood -that was his speciality, really; and he was a world authority on VD! Police get him in all the time, too – PMs, that sort of thing.'
The nurse looked at the monitor: the readings seemed significantly steadier now, and she found herself earnestly willing the old boy to survive.
'Give him some Frusemide, Nurse – as much as you like. I'm worried about all that fluid on his lungs.'
The houseman watched the monitor for another few minutes, then went over to the bed again, where the nurse had just placed a jug of water and a glass on the bedside locker.
After the houseman had left, Nurse Shelick remained beside the sick man's bed and looked down at him with that passionate intensity she invariably felt for her patients. Although still in her twenties, she was really one of that old-fashioned school who believed that whatever the advantages of hyper-technology, the virtues of simple human nursing were almost as indispensable. She laid the palm of her right hand across the wet, cold brow, and for the next few minutes wiped his face gently with a warm, damp flannel – suddenly aware that his eyes had opened and were looking up at her.
'I can hear you – yes?'
'Will you… will you… get in touch… with someone for me?'
'Of course! Of course!' She bent her right ear towards the purple lips, but without quite making out what he was saying.
'I'm sorry. Please say it again. I'm not quite sure-'
'I still… I'm sorry… please.'
But the eyes of the man who lay upon the bed had closed again, and there was no answer to her gently repeated queries.
The time was 11.15 p.m.
The head forester's beautiful young wife was also in bed at this rime. She too lay supine; and still lay supine, wakeful and waiting, until finally at 11.35 pm she heard the front door being opened, then locked, then bolted.
In spite of four pints of Burton ale and two whiskies at the White Hart, David Michaels knew that he was very sober; far too sober – for there was something sadly amiss when a man couldn't get drunk, he knew that. After cleaning his teeth, he went into the bedroom, shed his clothes swiftly, and slid under the lightweight duvet. She always slept naked, and after their marriage he had followed her example – often finding himself erotically aroused not so much by the fact or the sight of her nakedness as by the very thought of it. And now as he moved in beside her in the darkened room, he knew that she was suddenly and wonderfully necessary once 'more. He turned his body towards her and his right hand reached gently across her and fondled her breast. But with her own right hand she grasped his wrist, and with surprising strength moved it from her.
'No. Not tonight.'
'Is there something wrong?'
‘I just don't want you tonight – can't you understand?'
‘I think I understand all right.' Michaels' voice was dull and he turned to lie on his back.
'Why did you have to tell them?' she asked fiercely.
'Because I know the bloody place better than anyone else, that's why!'
'But don't you realize-?'
'I had to tell them something. God! Don't you see that? I didn't know, did I?'
She sat up in bed and leaned towards him, her right hand on the pillow beside his head. 'But they'll think you did it, David.'
'Don't be so stupid! I wouldn't be giving them information if it was me. Can't you see that? I'm the very last person they're going to suspect. But if I hadn't agreed to help
She said nothing more; and he wondered for a while whether it would be sensible to go down and make a couple of cups of piping-hot coffee for them, and then perhaps turn on the bedside lamp and look upon his lovely bride. But there was no need. Seemingly Cathy Michaels had accepted the logic of his words, and her mind was more at ease; for she now lay down again and turned towards him, and soon he felt the silky caress of her inner thigh against him.