Saturday 6 June 2020

'Uncommon Occurrence' by Amanda O’Callaghan

 You’ll wait. Everything will feel, will be, upside-down. Above you, the shape of ordinary things will lodge in your mind for later. The line of boxy lights, running out of sight, each stark bulb masked by its own frosted casing. The smoke alarms like buttons on a placket of ceiling. Everything neat, controlled, bar a strange bloom high up in one corner.

“Mind, please,” you’ll hear—the hospital porter, older than your father, deep-voiced, steering. “Off we go, love,” he’ll say, before you’re trundled into the corridor. You will not find mint green a soothing colour.   

In the lift, no one will speak. You’ll be the only one averting your eyes. You’ll smell rain on woollen sleeves, stale nicotine, a perfume too heavy for daytime. You’ll see a moth trapped, back- lit, dead. You’ll notice the music. Muzak, to be precise. For one precious moment this will distract you; the way it is something, and yet not. Half-baked.

As the lift rises, airless already, curiosity will press around you. But there will be no wad of bandage, no translucent tubes piping mysterious liquids, impossible to say whether in or out. You’ll feel an insane desire to apologise. Unable to stop yourself, you’ll remove your hands from beneath the covers. They’ll see nothing missing, nothing serious. They’ll be bored with you before the doors open.

The doctor will be kind. “A very common occurrence, I’m afraid.” You will wonder about the word ‘procedure’. It will tumble in your mind for a long time. She’ll tell you it is simple, quick. You’ll nod dutifully. You will be a model patient.

At home, you’ll observe life in miniature: ants in a crooked line, a tiny curl of flaking paint, beads of water on glass. You will feel yourself reeling like a giant in a shrunken world. Your lover will take on extra shifts. Your mother will hem “after what’s happened” to the edge of every sentence. There will be no questions.

The woman at the fruit shop will say you look pale. You’ll astonish yourself by telling her why. “Yes, I’m fine now,” you’ll assure her. “Very common. Yes. True.”

But then she’ll take your arm and gently steer you outside, past wooden crates piled high with apples and pears. She’ll look straight at you and say, “I’m so very sorry for your loss.”

The scent of the fruit will be almost unbearable. And when you cry out, she will not move away.

'Uncommon Occurrence' was previously published in This Taste for Silence, 2019

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