'Voluntary' by Romy Thomas

Sarah didn’t set out to be a witness to the squidging behind the smokers’ hut. That would be odd. But Nurse Julia manages to suggest with a flicker of a nod that this evidence of her perversion has been added to the list of her shortcomings. She is in the garden to get away from Julia. A woman of such sensitivity, such whispered translucence, that she seems to float. There was a tension over some crayons. Sarah has shrunk to such infinitesimal proportions that her day is disrupted by a remark about sharing crayons. In fact Julia said, “I think Beth would like the orange for her sunshine, Sarah,” but at the very edges of her tone, in the shadow of her voice, was an implication that Sarah has a problem with sharing. Which is why she had to go outside – and thank God the door was open – before she tore off her own head. Boredom and fury are a dangerous combination. So she stamped and huffed and she must have had some idea of hiding behind the hut herself, because she went right up to it before she heard the squidging.
          Tina’s voice, pleading and penitent, stroppy and anxious, above the sounds that put pictures in her head Sarah doesn’t want to see.
          “I texted him. I told him – ow – I said I’m never seeing him again. We’re finished. Ah, Steve, ow, no, it’s fine, keep going.”
          Steve makes a sound as if he’s been punched and Tina sniffs a bit. And Sarah realises Julia is behind her, ticking her name on the clipboard and watching her transfixed by this soundscape.
          “I wasn’t – obviously. I was cross about the crayons …”
          “Just doing checks,” she says, “and we’d rather you didn’t come out here on your own just yet. So…” and she hovers away. Did she tick Tina and Steve off her list? And what did she put? Socialising? Sex behind the hut?


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