By the time Clarice had knocked on Brandon’s door, he had had a chance to tidy himself up and more or less recuperate from shock. With the blood washed from his wounds and a fresh change of clothes, the only thing that indicated he had been injured was the rather gruesome lump in the centre of his forehead.
He was just about start sweeping up the glass when Clarice had arrived.
“Oh!” she said when she saw Brandon’s lump. “Oh!” she said again as he was about to start sweeping up the glass. “Let me!”
Brandon plopped himself down on the overstuffed chair and watched Clarice. Like Alfie, he didn’t mind watching her from behind. It took his mind off of Janie.
“Thank you for coming out to me,” he said as she swept up the final shards. “Now that I think about it, I’m glad we didn’t have to call the whole evening off.”
“You would not believe the day I had,” she said coming back into the room. She thought about telling him about the gunshot but then decided it was best not to. After all he had also had a bad day. “You should board that up so no one can come in.”
“Well, as it’s the third floor balcony I think we’re pretty safe.”
“Of course,” she said reddening just a little on the edges.
“Are you hungry?” he asked her. “We could get something delivered.”
Clarice eyed the lump on his head suspiciously. “That looks bad,” she told him.
“I’m better now,” he told her. “It’s not so bad.” But as he stood, he faltered. He sat back down.
“I think you should get checked out,” she told him.
“It’s just a little knock to the head. I’ve had lots of those in my lifetime.”
Clarice looked at his pupils. She couldn’t be one hundred percent certain but they looked a little dilated. “I’m calling an ambulance,” she announced.
“No no,” said Brandon. “I don’t want to cause a fuss.”
“I take it you don’t want to be dead or brain damaged either,” she countered. “Besides, relax. I happen to know a paramedic who would glad of something to do.”
On the screen, red dot flashed again.
“Brandon?” Ivan asked Steven.
“Indeed,” he answered.
“Oh I think he’ll live but you’re going to have to re-think about your contrived romance between him and Clarice.”
“Just watch,” said Steven with a smile.
Marvin was just about at the stage of his corpulence where he had started to develop a waddle. The material of his jeans between his legs chafed uncomfortably and if he wasn’t mistaken had evolved into a hole. His mother was not going to be happy about this. She had already told him off for eating junk food and it was just a matter of time before she worked out he had been helping himself to her beers as well. Maurice, the six tonne bull elephant shook his head in sympathy.
As he waddled his way down the corridor, someone threw an empty bottle at his head. Had he roared down the corridor and pounded the offender into submission, it may have put an end to the situation. But Marvin was in no condition to roar anyway. He imagined that if he even tried to roar, it would only attract more laughs and more random attacks. So he brushed the incident off, hung his head and carried on walking—straight into the girl of his dreams. Her books went flying and Marvin was so shocked, his eyes connected with hers and for a few seconds, neither was able to break was contact.
“Bingo!” shouted Ivan. “The Love Doctor scores again!” he punched the air in victory.
“Pffft,” said Steven. “They got a long way to go.”
“I’d say,” Sarah added belligerently. “Like a couple hundred pounds to go.”
If Alfie had been alive, his ears would have started to burn. He would have turned to this woman and maybe slapped her just hard enough so she would come to her sense and realise how awful she was being.
“Sarah,” he said.
“Oh what, Alfie? Hasn’t anyone ever told that big lug of lard he needs to lose a little weight?”
Alfie looked at Ivan who only shrugged as if to ask, what am I to do?
The girl Marvin had bumped into flashed a megawatt smile. She had long, straight brown hair and orthodontic braces the glittered when the light hit them just right. Alfie could see that Marvin was captivated. Slowly, a smile started in the corners of his mouth and he bent to pick up her books that had gone flying. There was a sudden ripping sound and immediately, Marvin stood up, looking mortified.
Sarah burst out laughing. “He’s ripped his jeans!” she snorted. “Way to go, fatso!”
Alfie turned to her. “You know, you’re starting to make me regret finishing you off.”
For a second, everyone was silent. Without warning, Maurice trumpeted so loud, Sarah jumped three feet in the air before collapsing into hysterics. He extended his front legs and laughed into his feet, his trunk rolling and unrolling in rhythm with his laughter. The combination of Alfie’s silly remark, Sarah jumping out of her skin and Maurice helpless with laughter made both Ivan and Steven hold their bellies with the hilarity. Even Sarah saw the funny side.
The only person who wasn’t smiling was Alfie. He glowered at Sarah and when he tired of glowering, he left the scene to see what Elliot was up to.
“Now what’s eating him?” asked Steven when he finally caught his breath. The others were still giggling, occasionally pulling themselves together only to be set off by someone else.
Alfie didn’t want to see Marvin’s humiliated face. Whatever the lad had been going through, it was enough. Just when he thought he might find a little happiness, it vanished into a well of humiliation. It was too much for him. Again, Alfie wondered what had happened to Elliot’s wife. Perhaps they had split up. Certainly it seemed Elliot had found someone else. Surely these things had an effect on children.
Just as Alfie thought things couldn’t get any worse, along came a trio of three very odd birds, flapping their wings in excitement when they saw Alfie.
“Greetings! Greetings!” said the emperor penguin.
“We tweet again!” said the flamingo, high fiving the puffin.
The puffin just smiled.
“Hello,” said Alfie, dully.
“Why so sad?” asked the flamingo, “Feeling hawkward?”
The puffin laughed in his obnoxious way as Alfie rolled his eyes.
On the hospital ward, Caroline opened her eyes and looked around her room. Her throat was very sore from having her stomach pumped and her head thudded dully. Elliot, her idiot father had been in earlier, stayed for a few minutes and then buggered off again. Caroline knew she was not supposed to know anything about the affair he had been having with her barely legal education “mentor”. She had no idea where her highly responsible (not!) “mother” was these days but had expected her to show up at some point. After all it was her damn pills she had taken.
She needed to pee but was still tethered to the intravenous drip and would have to ring for a nurse to help her. It was a prospect she was hardly looking forward to: someone guarding her while she did her business. But she rang the call bell as she was getting a bit desperate and had no idea how long she would have to wait until someone came by to unlock the damn door.
And then there was the whole psychiatrist business. Had she known one of those kinds of people would be involved, maybe she would have found a better way of getting her mother’s attention. The psychiatrist had tried to be just a little too pally for her liking and tried to make a joke about her bad grades. He had asked her who her friends were at school and what her teachers were like. Caroline never could bear to have anyone in her business.
A nurse in uniform passed by and Caroline called out to her. She heard the hurried footsteps stop and retreat back to the room.
“Oh hi, love—“ a very pretty young nurse poked her head in.
“I’m desperate for the toilet,” Caroline pleaded, although this was a bit of a stretch from the truth.
The nurse came over to speak to Caroline more quietly.
“Actually, I’m not on duty,” she started. Her eyes travelled to the clipboard at foot of Caroline’s bed. She frowned in her pretty way and Caroline wondered if her notes said she had tried to take an overdose. Suddenly the nurse’s entire demeanour changed. “Well, as I’m here and in uniform,” she smiled, holding out her hand to help her.
Caroline smiled, her dried lips cracking. The nurse’s name tag said “Clarice”.
Clarice let her lean against her arm. For a petite woman, she was strong and steady.
“I appreciate your help,” Caroline said. She added quietly, “Please don’t think I’ll do anything stupid. I just want to go to the bathroom and have a quick wash.”
Clarice smiled with understanding. “Don’t worry dear. I have a bit of time.” She let Caroline go into the bathroom but left the door slightly cracked open. Caroline did not press her luck. She deserved to be monitored after all and as Clarice was doing her a favour, it wasn’t right to take advantage. After going to the toilet, she undressed and turned on the shower, humming quietly to herself. The IV was an inconvenience and made things awkward but she managed.
“Don’t worry, I’m OK,” Caroline assured Clarice.
“I’m not worried,” Clarice answered.
A few minutes later, Caroline emerged feeling much better and ready for sleep. After Clarice had provided her with a fresh hospital gown, she realised she still felt a little foggy but she was refreshed. Caroline got back into her bed.
“No visitors?” asked Clarice.
“Been and gone,”
There was a long pause. “I’ve had such a long day today,” she laughed. “I saved someone from drowning this morning.”
“In the river?” asked Caroline.
Clarice nodded. “I took lifesaving courses when I was at nurses’ college. Everyone said I was crazy because we were already under so much pressure but it sure did come in handy today.”
“Gosh,” Caroline yawned.
“Did you know most drownings happen because the person never meant to be in the water in the first place? You know, they fall in or get pushed in. Things like that.” She tucked Caroline in so she was more comfortable.
Caroline hated swimming. Her parents had made her take lessons when she was young. They would have agreed with Clarice.
“Do you also know,” Clarice continued, “that a lot of people drown in surprisingly shallow waters?”
Caroline again nodded sleepily. She couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer and fell asleep.
For several minutes, Clarice watched Carline sleep. Such a young girl to have so problems that she couldn’t think of a better way out of them.
“And did you know another reason why people drown is because they tried to save someone else? So never try to save another person unless you are very clear about what you are doing.” She looked at the cuts on her arm thoughtfully.
Clarice knew she was being silly just as much as Caroline knew she had done something less than clever. But sometimes you have to do the silly things in order to clear the mind and find peace. Knowing this sounded totally illogical made Clarice focus on her marriage. It wasn’t working and it had never worked and it just wasn’t ever going to work. It was time to stop pretending it would be the end of the world to tell her folks she had made a mistake. She was not going to get out of her situation by pretending to everyone that all was well. There was still time to have children. There was time to re build her life—even if she was highly unlikely to get anything out of her useless husband—and plenty of time to move forward.