by Clark Nidaserialised here by permission of the author.

“If you’re such a handsome dog, why aren’t the girls simply falling over themselves to jump in bed with you?”

Alone in his room that night, Alan mournfully addressed his naked reflection in the full-length mirror on his wardrobe. Flesh was beginning to disgust him. Flesh in any form. With a start, he realised he hadn’t masturbated since commencing the job. He certainly didn’t feel like it now. In fact he couldn’t think when he’d last had an erection.

His chaplain at boarding school would have told him in the confessional that he ought to praise God for His grace and mercy. He’d been relieved of the temptation to that most abominable of sins – that of the flesh. No one could exactly accuse him of being a wanker any more. But those weren’t healthy symptoms for a growing boy. They meant something wrong. But it wasn’t something you could go to the doctor about. A sexual problem was a secret you had to carry with you to the grave.

He looked down at his wrinkled penis – just another variant on the sixty-odd he saw each day. At boarding school, the chance glimpse in the showers of another boy’s parts would make his heart leap. Now it just gave him the feeling you get as you stand in the sawdust of a butcher’s shop, breathing-in its defunct aroma.

Standing in the nude like this, his body looked scarcely any different from the ones he bathed, changed, wiped dry in bed and occasionally sponged free of tish. The limbs, though, were in better order – not atrophied through disuse. A stiff two-mile foot-slog to work and back each day helped. That, and regular swimming, weekly ballroom dancing, plus a six-mile round-trip to the Royal Albert at least twice a week to see Vince and Jo. 

But the main bodily difference was in the expression on his face. Evidence of a working brain inside that head. A good brain, so people told him. But what did it count for where the body mattered? Wasn’t there a Yiddish saying to the effect that when the putz powers-up, the brain powers-down? 

That’s why you look so dopey when you’re masturbating. That’s why they look so decorticated in the movies when they’re kissing. If he ever did any kissing and cuddling – if he ever got close enough to a girl to make love – it wouldn’t be under spotlights. It would have to take place in the dark.

His thoughts went back over the day’s events. Poonawala certainly had a deft way with words. Steam. What a lovely sound – as Poonawala said it. Alan stepped up close to the mirror and practised a chi-chi accent, watching his lips as he did so.

“Steam…”

“Steam.”

The linen trolley was made up differently today. Schank, donning rubber gloves, pushed it to the foot of the first bed – the one with Jackie Robb in it. 

“Do you want a suppository, Jackie, or an enema?”

“No, Missah Schank…” Jackie’s hoarse voice came back from the pillow. 

Schank consulted the book again. “Just say,” he murmured, shutting it with a snap, and pushed the trolley on to the next bed. 

Alan frowned. He didn’t think the patients got the choice. Was Schank just going through the motions of asking him – and would come back later to do him last if there was time? 

“Jackie is the only patient on this ward who can ask for a bedpan, or a bottle. Sometimes he doesn’t…” He swivelled to give Jackie an exaggerated scowl – and Jackie whooped with laughter. Schank jerked his head back to Alan. “But when you look into it, that’s generally our fault, not his. So, when you’re in here, just keep your ears open.”

Schank drew back the bedclothes of Billy Wetherby’s bed. “How are we today, Billy? Suppository for you…”

He untied the tapes of the restrainer, motioning Alan to do the same his side. Then he turned the featherweight boy over on to his front. A suppository was swiftly administered. The boy was righted in his bed and the tapes done up again. 

An anxious look appeared on Billy’s face. “Tighter…” he said, demonstrating that he could reach his lip with his thumb. 

Schank gave the tape a sharp pull. A blissful smile crept over Billy’s little round face. 

“If you hear Jackie call, don’t automatically go and fetch the bedpan. He may be calling out for Billy here.” He gave the trolley a nudge and sent it to the next bed. “Sorry, Jackie, – what was that?” 

Instantly they were both back at Jackie’s bed again, standing either side of it.

Schank bent down to listen to Jackie’s muttering, then he looked up at Alan with a soppy smile. “Go on – repeat it for Mr Hall’s benefit.”

“Peanut…” wheezed Jackie. Alan leaned forward to hear better. “What’s he saying?”

“Peanut…” echoed Schank, copying Jackie’s voice faithfully. 

“I thought he did…”

“… walking down street…”

“Yes, Jackie?”

“… assaulted.”

“Oh.”

“A peanut was walking down the street,” said Schank impatiently, “when he was assaulted.”

“Right,” said Alan. He didn’t see what was funny. 

“Peanut. A-salted. Oh – never mind.” Schank gave Jackie a jovial smack in the middle. “Keep smiling!” Back they went to the bed with the trolley. 

They quickly finished doing suppositories in the end ward. Schank wheeled the trolley through into the boy’s ward and set up operations at the first bed. 

While Alan held Roger loosely on his side, Schank thrust a red rubber tube into the patient’s anus, holding aloft the other end of the tube which bore a conical glass funnel. Picking up a plastic jug from the trolley he poured warm soapy water into the funnel. The further he raised it, the faster the water went down. This was the enema ritual, as it was routinely enacted.

Meanwhile the patient acted oblivious to the whole proceedings. 

“Now we cover him up, and it’s on to the next bed. Nice little job for someone to clear up in an hour.”

“I’m off at five.”

“Bully for you.”

Schank reassembled the apparatus at the next bed, which was Philip’s.

“Jackie has this one joke. He tells it when he thinks the air needs clearing – he’s very protective of our Billy. You’re supposed to laugh. You hurt his feelings.” 

“Oh,” said Alan in surprise. “I couldn’t tell what he was saying…”

“Yes, he is hard to understand at first. You just have to remind yourself that he talks sense – usually. You’ll soon get to know his joke.”

…to be continued.

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