“So Miss Raines, what’s the problem?”
Joanna stared at the doctor and exhaled slowly. Where should she start? With the fear of her transplant being rejected? Or with the fear that she might be going mad? Neither option seemed appealing, but weighing them together, she plumped for the former.
“I’m worried about the transplant. My eye feels scratchy, and when I blink, it hurts.”
“Okay, let me have a look.” He leaned forwards and scrutinised her eye. “Look up,” he said. “Now look down.” After a moment, he nodded. “The end of one of the stitches is sticking up, and when you blink, it’s causing it to rub. I can soon fix that.”
Joanna watched as he donned a pair of gloves and sterilised a pair of scissors. Although her eyesight wasn’t clear and she now doubted what she had seen, she couldn’t get the image of the one-armed man out of her head, blood gushing from the stump of his arm.
Then there was the blackness that infiltrated his body. The more she thought about it, the more she realised how ridiculous it was. What she had seen must have been a shadow, that’s all.
“Alright, Miss Raines, just lean back,” the doctor said as he stood over her and held her eyelid open with his fingers.
Joanna watched as the scissors headed towards her eyeball, growing more blurred the closer they came. She cringed. One slip and he would pierce her eye like a grape.
The need to blink became almost overpowering and she felt tears rolling down her cheek. She felt a slight irritation, then heard the scissors snick together and the doctor drew back.
“There you go, that should be better. Just try not to move your eye around a lot.”
Joanna prepared herself, and then blinked. The scratchy feeling had gone and she blinked another couple of times, savouring in the relief.
“How’s that?” the doctor asked.
“Now is there anything else I can help you with? You’re looking very pale.”
Realising the doctor was waiting for her to reply, she shook her head. “No, everything’s fine.”
“Good. The epithelium on the surface of the eye is growing back well. Just remember to keep using the eye drops.”
After thanking the doctor, Joanna walked out of the room and into the corridor of Temple Hospital. Paintings of trees, fields and mountains adorned the clinical white walls like windows, belying the fact they were in the heart of the city.
Patients, staff and visitors bustled around Joanna, causing her to pause for a moment to allow her eyes to rest as she tried to focus her gaze.
“Hey Jo, what you doing here?”
Joanna looked up and saw her boyfriend, Stephen Cook.
“I had an appointment with the doctor.”
“You didn’t tell me. I’d have driven you in if you’d said.”
“It was a last minute thing.”
Stephen frowned. “Why, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. My eye was a little itchy, that’s all. The doc’s sorted it now.” Stephen nodded, tongue poking from the corner of his mouth, something he
always did when he was concerned or nervous. He looked at her with his chocolate brown eyes, dark hair neatly combed to make him look presentable at his reception desk in the A & E department.
“Are you sure you’re alright? You don’t look very well,” he said.
Joanna nodded, then shook her head and sighed. “There was an accident at the train station earlier. A man fell on the track and a train cut his arm off.”
“You mean Lincoln Parker. Yes, I processed him not long ago.”
“I saw him fall on the track.” She took a breath, inhaling the sterile aroma of the hospital. “It was awful. There was so much blood.”
“Jesus Jo, I didn’t know. Do you want to sit down?”
“No, I’m fine. It was just… it was awful.”
“I can imagine. Well, I can’t actually.” He stepped forwards and put an arm around her shoulder, squeezed tightly and kissed her on the cheek before stepping back, looking awkward.
Missing the warmth of his touch, Joanna held her arms out and he stepped into them and gave her a hug, their fledgling relationship still in the uncomfortable stage as they tested boundaries.
After a moment, they separated, and an embarrassing silence ensued until Joanna said, “That man that lost his arm… Is he going to be ok?”
“I guess so. I mean he’s strong. Did you see the size of him?”
“He said he was a bodybuilder.”
“You spoke to him?”
“He sat next to me on the platform.”
“Well I’ll tell you what, when they wheeled him in, you wouldn’t believe he’d just had his arm severed. Bloke was as chipper as someone who’d just won the lottery.”
Joanna frowned. “So he was conscious.”
“Yeah. Shock affects people in different ways. I think I would have passed out.”
“Where is he now?”
“In the operating room. They’re trying to save his arm but they had a hell of a job getting it off him as he wouldn’t let go of it!”
Joanna wondered whether she should tell Stephen what she had seen, but then thought better of it.
She remembered the first time they met in the hospital caf? after she accidentally spilt a cup of tea over him. Luckily, the tea hadn’t been too hot and they started talking, hit it off, and had now been going out with each other for a month, and she didn’t want him to think she was crazy.
Stephen looked at his watch. “I’ve got to get back to work. What are you going to do now?”
“As I’m in town, I thought I might do a bit of shopping.”
“Well take it easy and don’t overdo it. You know you’re supposed to rest your eyes.”
“Ok Doctor Cook.” She smiled.
“Well I wouldn’t like to think that you couldn’t see me in all my glory.”
“Hmm, there’s nothing like blowing your own trumpet.”
“Well if you won’t blow it for me, I have to do it myself.”
“So you’re a contortionist too!”
Stephen blushed. “I was talking metaphorically.”
Joanna liked the way Stephen got embarrassed so easily; the colour bleeding into his cheeks made him look cute. “So you mean you can’t blow it yourself.”
“Then I guess I’d better loosen my lips.”
“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to seduce me.”
“We could always work on it.” He winked then looked at his watch again. “I’ve really got to go now. If you’re still around later, I get off at five.”
“And what, you want me to watch?”
Stephen went a deeper shade of red. “I meant get off work.”
“Sure you did.” Joanna grinned. “I’ll see how I feel later on.” She kissed him quickly on the lips and then walked away, chuckling.
Walking around the shops tired Joanna more than she thought and by the time she arrived back at the hospital to meet Stephen, her eyes were stinging. The eye drops helped relieve some of the pain, but the thought of returning to the train station made her feel a little queasy, which is why she waited for Stephen to give her a lift home in his car.
She walked through the automatic doors in the A & E department and despite the distance and her blurred vision, she recognised Stephen sitting behind the desk by his light pink shirt, which he said made him look welcoming and approachable, but which she thought looked a little effeminate. At a distance, and with her distorted vision, he resembled a blancmange.
Hoping he noticed, she waved and saw him wave back. Then she went to sit in one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs in the waiting area where people sat snuffling and complaining about the length of time they’d already waited to be seen.
After a moment, the blancmange came out from behind the security screen and walked towards her until it gained clarity.
“You ready?” Joanna asked.
“You’ll have to give me another fifteen minutes as I’m running late,” Stephen said. “How are the eyes?”
“They’d be better if I didn’t have to look at that pink shirt.”
“I could always wear my Hawaiian one instead.”
“What, and let me think I was on an acid trip. No, I think you should stick with the pink.”
“Are you talking rude again?”
“Moi? Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Stephen grinned. “I’ll be as quick as I can.”
“I hope that’s only a reference to leaving work.” She saw Stephen blush before he walked away sniggering.
With the lack of chairs for those waiting to be seen by the medical staff, she stood and wandered towards the corridor leading to the various departments, each one reached by following the colour coded lines on the floor.
In the distance, she saw an orderly pushing a hospital bed towards her. As the bed got closer, she recognised the man lying in it as the bodybuilder who had fallen onto the railway tracks. She remembered Stephen saying his name was Lincoln.
He was propped up and by the looks of the bandaged stump around where his bicep would have been, they hadn’t managed to save his arm. But with no sign of the black phantom limb that she thought she had seen earlier, she now realised it must have been either her imagination or a visual aberration caused by the protruding stitch and despite her pity for the man, she felt relieved she wasn’t going bonkers.
As the bed drew alongside Joanna, the orderly pressed a button for the lift and Lincoln looked up at her. Despite his size and the fake tan adorning his face, he appeared drawn and sickly, no doubt an after-effect of the accident and subsequent operation. His eyelids flickered, eyes rolling in their sockets.
“Do I know you?” Lincoln asked, his voice a little slurred.
“I was at the train station,” Joanna said. “You sat next to me on the platform.” She paused. “I’m so sorry about what happened.”
“Not as sorry as I am.”
The lift doors opened and a couple of people exited.
Joanna looked back down at Lincoln, about to say something in reply, when she saw his eyes close as sleep laid claim.
Then his eyes snapped back open, making Joanna jump. He stared up at her, only his blue eyes were now as black as obsidian.
The black limb materialised from the stump of his arm, fingers flexing.
Joanna took a step back, her mouth open and her eyes wide as she shook her head, trying to dispel the image.
“It’s good to be back,” Lincoln said. “It’s been too long.” He grinned, the white teeth looking oddly menacing in the tanned features.
He stared at Joanna, and her legs started to shake.
“You know what they say, possession’s nine tenths of the law.” He emitted a booming laugh.
Despite the pain the movement caused in her eye, Joanna turned and ran. Ran as fast as her legs could carry her through the reception and out into the fresh air, the roar of laughter silenced by the doors sliding shut in her wake.
Whatever the hell was going on, she wasn’t going to hang around to find out.