The flowers, lace-fine dashes of white glaze, on Nurse Hughes’ mug of steaming coffee are going melt and drip onto the carpet, leaving a wet patch for someone to take the blame for. I need to say it, and I can, so I do, ‘We should be drinking from cups painted to look like wells, with bright pink handles the shape of S’s. Why not let us hold in our hands the thought of fresh water and feeling good?’
The Duty Manager rounds the corner, slaps a regularly moisturised hand against the plastic cover of her clipboard. The unsound smack knocks Nurse Hughes’ thoughtful answer right out of her head and onto the floor with the pool of lost blooms.
‘This is your final warning, Hughes. Ms Russell is not your friend; your job here is to ensure she is safe, not to add to her confusion. ’
A warden comes, steers me back to the dayroom. It holds in lungfuls of stale air and a semi- circle of high-backed chairs staring down a wall-mounted television tuned to a shopping channel. A woman with a short, sharp bob is demonstrating decoupage. She lays out and glues down cherubs and bunches of roses. ‘My love’, I scold the TV ‘is unstuck, it bounds from person to person happy as a puppy’. Angie, a fifty-five-year-old sales executive whose chest feels like ‘an overweight doped-up house cat’, reaches for me, ‘I need some air.’
I try to sound as much as possible like I’m never any trouble, ask, ‘May we go into the garden, please?’
The warden smokes while Angie and I walk circuits looking for loosened objects; tulip petals, feathers, magnolia leaves, hairpins. We decipher their landed patterns as instructions for dance steps; gliding from object to object makes us feel better.
First published in Restore to Factory Settings, the fifth Bath Flash Fiction Award anthology, in 2020.