by Clark Nida, serialised here by permission of the author.
“Does it always smell like this in here?”
Soddy stopped and sniffed the air with a shrewd frown. Then he strode swiftly from the playroom into the passage.
“Come here Nobby and I’ll show you where it’s kept.”
He patted the trolley standing by the bathroom. “There’s generally some nappies on here, but if there aren’t, they’re in the linen cupboard there.” He snatched a nappy off the top of the pile and went back in the playroom. He knew just what he was looking for – and more-or-less where to find it. Crouching down, using the nappy, he picked up a lump of business like a ball of clay.
“Where did that come from?” gasped Alan.
“Oh – probably dropped out of one of the kids’ trousers when they came in from outside.”
Seeing consternation on Alan’s face, he added mildly “You can’t expect them to tell you if they can’t talk.”
Carrying his trophy he strode back to the bathroom and dropped the turd down the sluice with a plop, pulling the chain. The nappy he dropped in the green bag which was hanging from one corner of the trolley. “That’s the way to do it!” he said in a Mr Punch voice.
“How did you know it was there?”
Soddy wrinkled his nose. “Experience. If you smell tish – there’s always something substantial behind it. Clean-up everything solid – and the smell goes away.”
Alan screwed up his eyes. “What did you call it?”
“Tish – shit backwards. Everyone on the ward calls it that.” He winked. “Faeces – if Matron is standing around.”
He gave a short bow and indicated the way-out with his open hand. “Right – lunchtime. Let’s go over to the canteen. I’m ruddy starving.”
Alan followed him outside and under the square arch of lagged pipes.
it’s been a funny old morning
sister swatted the fly which kept landing in my eye and making it go all blurry so that was good
it was scrambled egg for breakfast and there was plenty of it mixed in with the bread and milk so that was good too
i love scrambled egg it’s my favourite breakfast as far as i’m concerned you can stuff your hash meat
scrambled egg tastes like your armpits smell when you’ve just been bathed
better than usual i mean otherwise you smell like a beaker put away without it being washed
breakfasts were late this morning
miss arden and mr schank were itching to go home and let the day staff take over but they had to stay behind and help with the breakfasts
they’re always having to do that and they don’t like it one bit
mr schank was standing near the door shuffling his feet and calling the kitchen staff a load of tossers when the porter came in with the food trolley
he didn’t half give him an earful
what happened to you this morning get your finger stuck in a hole there’s folks needing to get home to bed
the porter mumbled it weren’t his fault they’d had a to do in the kitchen
fuck’em was all mr schank had to say to that
mr schank mind your language said miss arden in her prissy voice looking straight at me there are people here who know what you’re saying
mr soddy fed me breakfast this morning
he picked up a spoonful and plopped it back in the bowl to show me what it was and said your favourite jackie robb
he’s one of the good ones he’s careful not to pump it up and down with the spoon before he starts because he knows i like the scrambled egg first before the bread and milk
mr schank always messes the whole lot up together before shovelling it in
he does it on purpose pretends that’s how i like it what he means is that’s how i’m going to get it because everyone gets it that way
all at once i saw a new face and oh boy wasn’t he gorgeous
sister fancied him too because she pounced on him and carted him off to the office
then it was time for the big change and mr rochdale did it on his own today
i don’t know where miss harvey is she didn’t look too well yesterday not a ghost of a smile when i cracked my joke
nobody goes much on my joke these days but i don’t tell it any different so what’s the fucking matter with them all…
“The place is a warren! I’ll never find my way around!”
“Oh, you will, Nobby, you will. Canteen, laundry, pay-office – that’s all you really need to know.”
Alan and Soddy joined the queue for the serving hatch. Twenty or so tables were scattered higgledy-piggledy on the tiled floor of a big echoing hall, eight seats per table.
“All the services are the other side of the road from us. All that’s on our side is: us (of course), men’s geriatric, men’s psychiatric, mortuary…”
“Isn’t it a bit inconvenient having the mortuary over on our side of the road?” said Alan, recalling how he’d nearly got run over by a dead body.
“There’s a tunnel under the road. Trolleys with bodies get pushed along that. We could have gone that route but it’s quicker to nip out of one gate and in the other.”
Soddy looked briefly over his shoulder. “The doctors like the mortuary as far away from them as possible. Depresses them. Means failure to them I suppose. Once there was a graveyard next to it, when the place was the workhouse. It covered just about everything you see over there. Nowadays all the bods go straight up the town crematorium – those that haven’t been donated to research… Here, try the sausage casserole – it’s gorgeous!”
“No… I think I’ll have the salad…”
…to be continued.