Fresh Water Sea part 2: Beverley’s Diary, March 1971

by Chris Buchanan
Short story, 2014
One story in three times. A survivor of the Great Flood talks to herself as she starves, a girl lives through the Cold War in a hospital bed, and in the present day a man tries to make conversation with his depressed daughter.

Part 1 HERE and Part 3 HERE

1

Every night I dream silly little adventure films about earthquakes, comets, plagues, bombs of course, & a lot of floods. There are always lonely heroines, sometimes with my face, sometimes not. Sometimes I can look through their eyes & sometimes I’m like an American director, just trying to control what I see happening to them. I wake up feeling weak. Disappointed.

The nurses suggested I should keep a diary. They make me move around the room every day, try to get me to speak. This feels different though. Look at all this. They wouldn’t recognise the voice I’m writing with!! Already more words on this paper than I get through aloud in a week. This is actually quite nice. Plenty of paper – – maybe I could write down some of the dreams if my arm is up to it. Later.

The Doctor Carnegie book is not helping. I hope they don’t want to read this rubbish.

You would think I’d get sick of this ceiling, but no. 2 months.

Can hear someone putting his ear to the door. Scratch scratch scratch. Yes, still breathing. Please don’t come in.

2

I should never have read that bloody Bible! Started to go through it the other day when I felt a bit more active and went through drawers. Don’t know what else to do when I start looking for answers. I miss my records – – I could usually find something in them. Always go to sleep feeling like a failure. Bible – – got about halfway into Genesis. Looking again now. Surprisingly miserable stuff.

Lots of end-of-the-world. I remember when my Dad suddenly wanted to go to church during the Cuban crisis. I had no idea what was going on but I remember how frightened I was by the service. Him sat there on the pew, clenching it with his legs, looking at the ceiling like one of the struts was about to snap.

Could still happen, any day now. Could happen right now.

Right now. I know it’s not a good idea to think that.

I actually slept with the lights on last night, & worse, it helped.

3

I thought I was getting better. I was moving around and writing. I was talking to the nurses a bit, even thinking about talking to parents. Now it’s all sleep & tears. God I hate this. Don’t know what to write that won’t make me sound like a lovesick bloody thirteen-year-old. I wake up & cry.

I, I, I.

I will now humour the latest chapter of the self-help book.

Exercise – what would you like to see changed in your life?

Yes, everything. I want something to happen. Fall in love before the dust sticks me to the shelf. Get out of this bloody place before I end up here forever. My parents survived a world war but I’m the one hospitalised – – and by nerves. Like shell shock but no shell. Just fear. Bedsores. I know it’s not laziness, I know that, but I don’t get up. I just lie here & I don’t get up. I could do but then what? How do you start again after this kind of disgrace?

Honestly I wish somebody would read these!

I had a thought about sneaking out at night & doing it in the river. The old stones-sewn-into-the-dress routine. For a minute it seemed like a wonderful idea, but window is locked. It still comes & it fades away like that. Felt my mouth twitching at first – – a rush of air through my neck. Very easy breath. The sort of feeling I used to get when I was little & I had something nice to anticipate. Christmas morning.

Hey mum & dad, do me a favour and have the nurses sneak in and take these papers away – – and then read them.

I see a red door and I want to paint it black. No colours anymore I want
I don’t think this is helping at all.

4

I’ll tell you what I think (been in the Bible again). I think Heaven is under the sea. They said on the TV that most of the ocean has never been explored – – we don’t know what’s down there.

Now we know there’s no paradise above the clouds. We’ve been up there + there was only the moon so unless it’s on Mars or Jupiter or something then it must be underwater. I haven’t found the part of the Bible where it says Heaven is up in the sky and all the angels wear white dresses and play harps!

I think it’s undersea. When you’re dead you sink beneath the waves + everyone is there.

That’s why sailors in olden times used to come back to port with tales of mermaids. They had seen people’s immortal souls under the surface of the water. They’d seen ghosts that had made their way back to the water. Maybe when we die we drip away into the rivers + into the clouds + end up back where we belong.

Angels with fluffy pillow white wings in space!! We know that isn’t possible. But they could swim? Once the lungs are empty they could be graceful swimmers. Weightless + lithe. Rivers are the hands that carry us out there + til then we sit at the banks waiting for the water around us to grow. Wait to slip through the cracks / into the blue.

I hope that’s the way it is. I wonder if the City of Atlantis is at the bottom! You have to sink like a stone before you start swimming!!

Nurses / next of kin – – sorry for making you pore over all this lunatic shit.

5

I know it’s been a while. I’m not sure what to say. I feel very different. & too suddenly. Scared to put it on paper in case it turns out to be imagination.

Dad came in. Said he had been outside the door lots of times. Talked. Not sure what he said that was so important, but something apparently was. Got out of bed, walked to door.

I remember going to Starkey Pond when I was a child. I have a very fond memory of me & the parents making lots of little paper boats, dropping them in the brook and then running with them, watching them race down all as one, prodding them a bit if need be.

Seeing the pond with all of them on it, the slab of rock in the middle like an island & the bullrushes all round. Just a lovely memory. Dad must have brought all that paper with him specially. Always made me think it was my idea and I was talking him into it! Just noticed. When I’m home, would like to go back there.

Will talk to mum next time. Maybe call Sue after, talk to her. Not yet. Maybe a week. Don’t know. Never thought about this.

Been writing.

Continue to part 3

Amber’s Ward

by Chris Buchanan
Flash fiction, 2010

The stockroom is faded and blurred at the edges, like her. I don’t exactly know if it’s too dark in here or if I just need to blink. I don’t want to close my eyes so I try not to think about it.

She’s just sat here, barely glancing at me but holding me still with her silent shuffling. If I could concentrate I might be able to identify the specks across her cheek. It’s either mud or blood. It’s dark and it’s dry, so I can’t say, even at this distance. She keeps scraping off the spots, usually cracking or crumbling them when her nail hits their edges. Now she has gotten better at lifting them off in one piece. Whenever she successfully pries one away, she flicks it at me and mimes chuckling. They’re on my face now, too, but I don’t mind.

I had decided the stories about the A&E at night must be an outlet for the stress the doctors go through. They call it ‘the grey lady’s ward’ sometimes. I didn’t want to think that Preston Royal was staffed by crazy people, so I made excuses for them. In some jobs, maybe you just need to believe in an afterlife. Only the doctors and nurses ever claim to see her. Never the hired help, even those who have been here longer than me. Just those people who come to work each day knowing that they might fail to save someone’s life.

But now she’s right here, with me, next to an aluminium cabinet, smiling with her head cocked. How have I never noticed her? When she smiles at me like that, I don’t know what she means by it and my feet feel light. Sometimes I twitch and she turns her face as if to laugh. Maybe she just finds me funny.

She would have caught my attention even in life. Her hair is blonde, I suppose. I might be able to tell if I could just rub the sleep from my eyes or splash some water across them. I have to wonder what all this ‘grey lady’ stuff is about; she’s wearing a football shirt and I never heard of any Newcastle player named ‘Amber’. Has nobody spent enough time in her presence to look at her back?

They’re too busy, eh. I would have made a terrible doctor. I took the time to learn her name. And I’m staying with her. They’ll just have to run their own errands tonight. This is important. I wonder what happens to her during the daytime. I’ll stay and watch. I think she wants me to stay with her.

Another dot of mud-or-blood hits me, on the nose this time, but I don’t react. She stares at me and I try to read her expression.

The dots are on her shirt, too, only visible on the white stripes. They merge into a black splash on her legs, beneath the shorts. Finally I work it out; she’s been playing football. It’s just mud. With relief I move to cradle my head in my hands. There is more of the mud on my sleeves.

Of course it’s mud. She snapped the bones playing football. That’s why she came in. That’s why they needed me to hurry down here and fetch Doctor Hay. It was an emergency. She wasn’t here and I looked in the stockroom. But I never left. I couldn’t find her and I panicked.

After a while, I relaxed. It didn’t matter. She was with me. I was too careful, too nervous to save her, but she’s here with me now. Smiling.

There is a harshness to that smile now. The more I remember, the closer her face seems to come to mine. I am reminded of how small the room is. I think I hear the studs of her boots squeak a little against the floor.

The door opens above us, momentarily stealing my attention. When I glance back, she’s gone. A nurse is here and she looks frightened by something. She must have seen Amber vanish. I hate myself for missing it and I hate the nurse for disturbing me. She has to drag me out as I scrabble and try to flick the mud onto her. I feel myself grappling against her, determined to stay here and wait. She gets me out and I am still.

I have never seen Casualty this busy. As the night ends, the corridor is full of patients, each one’s image as colourless and undefined as the girl I have been watching. Each one grey in their own way. When the nurse finally sees them she loosens her grip and stares into the corridor, unblinking. Maybe she recognises somebody too.

The ghosts are everywhere, silently shifting into the rooms and into reception. Amber is by the vending machine, giggling. I run.