Friday, April 3, 2009

"The Ward" by Roger Thomas, Part Five

Agnes didn't. She had plenty to say, of course. She heard Jillian's account of both doctor's visits, and then was quite free with her opinion of medical practitioners, life in the Ward, her immediate neighbors, and her own situation. She made clear that she didn't think much of the stern doctor and his dark predictions.

"That's why I try not to be around when he might come by", Agnes confided in a conspiratorial whisper. "If I see him about the wing, I head for the dining hall or the crafts hall or pretty much anywhere but here. I've seen him talk to people, people I'd considered my friends and – they've never been the same. And those eyes of his!"

Jillian agreed that his eyes were disturbing, but that was the most definitive statement she could get out of Agnes. Despite her distaste for the stern doctor, Agnes would not give a firm opinion as to the reliability of the nice doctor. Neither would she reveal which doctor was treating her, or if she was under treatment at all – in fact, she began to get testy when Jillian hinted that she'd like to know. The conversation didn't last long after that, as Jillian began to see that Agnes was getting nettled by her presence.

Jillian took her leave and wandered aimlessly down to the rec hall, not certain if she would be glad or sorry to see anyone she knew. She needn't have worried – most people in the hall were clustered around the big screen television, on which was playing a gaudy, noisy game show. The few that weren't watching were either dozing in their chairs or absorbed in books or needlework. She dawdled about the room, paging through tattered old magazines but unable to concentrate, distracted by the noise of the television and her own internal turmoil. Her thoughts kept returning to the paper and envelope on her bedstand, and what they implied.

The chime rang for dinner, and she trudged down to the cafeteria. Dinner was the usual nondescript stuff, and she sat alone with her thoughts, barely comprehending what she was eating. She was dimly aware of people glancing at her then turning away quickly to engage in subdued conversations. She could guess what the topic was. She'd taken part in those conversations herself. Though doctor visits were supposed to be confidential, everyone seemed to know when someone in the Ward had been visited – and she'd been visited by two doctors in the same day! There would be the whispered comments, the guesses as to the prognosis, the opinions regarding which treatment the patient would undertake. A person who'd received a visit was set apart, isolated. Even as she'd been chatting with Agnes, when Jillian had mentioned that she'd seen both doctors that day, Agnes' demeanor had chilled just a little. Now everyone was doing it. Leaving half her dinner unfinished, Jillian stood, dropped her dishes off at the window, and left the dining hall.

"The Ward" is a short story by Roger Thomas, author of The Last Ugly Person: And Other Stories

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