Visiting Time by Linda Mitchelmore
A hospital was the last place I thought I’d meet a man!
CAN I get you a drink?” A man’s voice. There are lots of voices in here, both male and female, and lots of noise as machines buzz and beep. But I know the question is directed at me and I freeze.
It’s a long time since anyone’s asked if they can get me a drink, and I’m wary. That’s how it all began with Ed and me – when I said yes to the offer of a drink.
I fell in love pretty fast, moved in with Ed pretty fast, became pregnant with Layla pretty fast.
Then Ed left. Pretty fast. “A drink?” I say, turning to look at him.
I’m sitting and he’s standing so I’ve a long way to look up. He’s very tall. And handsome.
I did notice him as I came in, but you don’t like to stare in a place like this.
His hands are resting on the foot of my dad’s hospital bed and he’s smiling at me.
“If you’d like to know the name of the person who’s getting you a drink,” he says, “I’m Jon, short for Jonathan.”
“So, Laura, I can offer you coffee, tea or hot chocolate, without minimarshmallows, I’m afraid.”
“I could get myself a drink, but I don’t like to leave him.” I nod towards my dad.
He’s what the doctors now call stable after an emergency operation on his pancreas.
“Then don’t leave him,” Jon says. “I know how that feels.”
He turns to look at the man in the bed opposite my dad’s as though afraid he might not be there.
“I’m getting myself a drink, so I thought I’d ask if you’d like one, too.” He smiles at me. “No strings.”
“In that case,” I say with a smile of my own, “I’ll have a coffee, please. White. One sugar.”
“Back in a sec,” he says, and is gone.
The sheet slips from my dad’s feet and I reach over to cover them again so he doesn’t get cold.
My touch must have disturbed him, because his eyes open.
“Hi, Dad,” I say. “Hello, love,” he says. “Been here long?”
“A little while.” “Where’s Layla?”
My dad adores his granddaughter and the feeling is mutual.
“My friend Carrie is looking after her.”
Jon arrives with my drink and I think he might have caught the tail end of our conversation.
Dad looks surprised as he hands me my coffee – such an intimate gesture, fetching someone a drink when you think they need it.
“Layla’s her daughter,” Dad says.
“I’ve got one of those,” Jon says. “Emma. A six-year-old bundle of energy.”
Then he turns to me. “I’d better get back to my dad. See you around, Laura.”
Jon isn’t sitting beside his dad when I enter the ward the next day and I’m surprised to feel a little niggle of disappointment.
He’s got a daughter, I tell myself sharply. He’s probably got a wife as well. He’s probably having Sunday lunch with his family.
“Hello, love,” Dad says. “Why the long face?”
“Sorry,” I say, leaning in to kiss his forehead. “Traffic. I can’t stop long today as Carrie’s doing a late lunch.”
“It was roast beef in here, but I couldn’t eat it,” Dad says. “The anaesthetic’s made me feel a bit sick. The pain from the op’s not helping.”
“Oh, Dad,” I say.
I think I’m still in shock from the phone call to tell me that Dad had collapsed at work. We live an hour’s drive apart, and it was the longest journey of my life.
“I expect it’ll come back. My appetite, I mean. Jock says it took him a couple of days.”
“Your friend Jon’s dad. In the bed opposite.” He jerks his head towards Jock who is sleeping and snoring loudly.
“He’s not my friend,” I reply.
“That’s not how it looked from here. Anyway, it wouldn’t hurt you to get out and start making friends again. The world’s not full of Eds, you know.”
“Dad, don’t meddle,” I say.
“The lady doth protest too much,” Dad quotes.
I ignore the quip and Dad and I chat happily for an hour or so, then it’s almost time for me to go.
A mobile goes off. It’s Jock’s. The ringing wakes him and he takes the call.
When he’s finished, he shouts across to our side of the room.
“Jon’s running late, but he’s on his way.”
Was that message for me, I wonder.
Jock calls for a nurse to wheel him to the bathroom.
“He’s widowed,” Dad says when Jock is out of earshot.
“No, Jon. Jock’s divorced.”
“Jon’s widowed?” I repeat, not wanting to believe it.
“Yep. Four years ago. It was a car accident.”
“You’ve found out an awful lot about one another in a short space of time, Dad.” I laugh.
“Yes, well, there’s not a lot to do in here except talk.”
I wonder what he’s told Jock about me that might have been passed on to Jon.
I’m about to go when Jon comes rushing in.
“Hi, Laura,” he says just as I’m reaching for my bag. “Oh, you’re going.”
He pulls a mock-sorry face but I get the feeling he genuinely is.
“Bye,” I say.
“See you tomorrow, then,” Jon says and hurries to his dad’s bed.
I can’t go in to see Dad until evening visiting on Monday because I have to work.
“I’m doing well,” Dad tells me. “I could go home in a couple of days. They just need to sort some sort of care package for me until I can get back to work.”
“Oh, Dad, I wish I lived nearer.” A pang of guilt that I moved away to live with Ed grabs me, but I’m reluctant to move back because Layla’s settled and I’ve got a good job.
“Who knows what the future might bring?” Dad says.
He glances over at Jock’s bed, but I see there’s no Jon sitting beside it.
About an hour later, it’s almost the end of visiting time and still no Jon.
I’m just going out of the ward door to the corridor as Jon comes rushing in.
“Ah, Laura,” he says, beaming at me. He’s flushed and glowing like he’s just come from the gym. “All those stairs! Better than any workout at the gym!”
He laughs as though he’s just read my mind.
“Anyway, we must stop meeting like this.”
He touches me lightly on the shoulder.
“I hope they let me in. I’ve cut it a bit fine but Emma threw a complete meltdown because she wants to see Grandad and I don’t think it’s appropriate at the moment.”
“Same for me with Layla,” I say.
Jon is going from foot to foot as though he knows he needs to go but he wants to stay and talk to me.
I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel – and how wary, after Ed.
“Take care, Laura. It’s very wet out there. It was slippery on Ryder’s Hill.”
Then he’s gone, but his words have warmed me like a cashmere shawl wrapped around my heart. He cares.
Jock’s not too good on Tuesday. The curtains are around his bed when I go in for evening visiting.
“Jon’s been here most of the day,” are Dad’s first words to me.
“But they think it’s just a blip and he’ll rally quickly.” “Gosh, I hope so.”
I can hear voices from behind the curtains around Jock’s bed and one of them is Jon’s. He steps out from the curtains and a doctor follows him.
They go off somewhere and Jon doesn’t notice me. I don’t like to call after him and say I hope everything will be all right for his dad, although I do hope that.
Dad and I chat for a bit, then I go to fetch myself a coffee from the day room, half hoping Jon will be there. He isn’t.
When I get back on the ward, Dad tells me Jon came back but has gone home now. Jock is sleeping peacefully, the medication doing its stuff.
“He said to say hello to you, Laura. You’re ships that pass in the night, you two.”
That Wednesday is one of those days at work. And Layla’s beginning to get anxious that she can’t see her grandad and that I’m not at home all the time as I usually am.
Even though Carrie looks after her as well as I do, it’s not the same. The traffic was bad tonight, too – an evening football match somewhere, so it said on the radio.
“You’ll never guess what?” Dad says, beaming at me as I hurry towards his bed.
“My sister’s coming to stay for a couple of weeks to look after me until I get my strength up to go back to work.”
“Really? Aunt Bridget?” Bridget – a mature model – lives a very busy and glamorous lifestyle. We rarely see her, although she e-mails and texts a lot.
I love her loads. And right at this moment I am totally grateful that she’s doing this.
“I’ve only got the one sister.”
“So, when can you go home?” I ask.
“Tomorrow. Bridget’s coming to fetch me.”
“That’s great,” I say, but I know my voice is a bit flat because it means I won’t be able to see Jon any more.
“Once more with feeling, love.” Dad laughs.
“It hasn’t got anything to do with that handsome chap who visits my pal over there, has it?” he whispers with a jerk of his head towards Jock’s bed.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You’re blushing. You never could tell a fib.”
I glance across at Jock and he’s sitting up in bed, grinning at me.
Some sort of miracle has happened since yesterday and he’s over his blip, I’m pleased to see.
“Jon will be here in a minute,” he shouts across. “He said to hang on if you can, Laura.”
I can. And I will.
And then there he is. “Oh, good. You’re still here, Laura,” he says. “The good news is that Dad can go home tomorrow,” he goes on.
“He’s going to stay with Mum for a couple of weeks. Well, Mum and my stepdad.”
I wasn’t expecting that. But isn’t it great that families – even fractured ones – can work together when the chips are down?
We spend the rest of visiting time chatting and laughing, the four of us. We discover we all like jazz and crime novels, amongst a lot of other things.
Then it’s time for Jon and me to leave. Together, for once.
We say goodnight to our respective dads.
“Well, Laura, we’re definitely going to have to stop meeting like this now,” Jon says in the foyer as we are leaving. “This is goodbye one last time.”
Is it? I can’t bear that thought, and the tone of Jon’s voice tells me he doesn’t like it much either.
This isn’t the sort of place I ever imagined I might meet someone I want to get to know better, but it’s how it’s happened for me.
“Does it have to be?” I ask. “Can I get you a drink?”
“Oh, yes, Laura,” Jon says, taking my arm and linking it through his. “You most definitely can.” ■