Saturday, April 4, 2009

"The Ward" by Roger Thomas, Part Six

The evening passed in a blur. Jillian remembered wandering halls and sitting in near-empty rooms – anywhere that people weren't. The conflicting prognoses she'd been given, and the choices they required of her, tumbled around in her mind like twigs trapped beneath a waterfall. What was she? Gravely ill or barely sick at all? What she facing death, or a short and simple treatment before being released to Outside? Should she undertake the more difficult treatment just in case? Did she have the stamina to see it through?

Eventually she found herself back at her bed. The paper and envelope that the stern doctor had given her lay on her bedstand, but on top of it was a small bottle of pills with a scrawled note that said simply "Take one every morning and evening." She sad down on the bed with the pills in her left hand and the paper in her right, looking back and forth between them.

"Miss Howard?"

Startled, Jillian turned to see a young man standing near, just outside curtain sweep as was customary here in the Ward. His face was familiar – he was a newer young man with whom she had a nodding acquaintance. She smiled to see that not everyone was shying away from her.

"Yes – Jason, isn't it?"

"Yes, ma'am – Jase more usually. The doctor sent me."

"The doctor?" That was an ambiguous term to Jillian at present, but Jase cleared it up.

"Yes'm. He was wondering if you'd signed the paper yet." Jase gestured to the form in her hand. "'Cause if you had, I could take it to him for you."
"Yes – well, ah", Jillian fumbled, "actually, I was still considering it. Does he need it right now?"

"No'm", Jase replied, "though he'd like it soon, if it's convenient."

Something rose inside Jillian at this. He wanted it soon, did he? He'd get it when she was good and ready, if that time ever came. She started to make a tart reply to Jase, but then backed down. "I understand. Please tell the doctor that I will give the matter full attention until I make a decision. I will let him know as soon as I know." She could not keep the cold edge out of the response, but Jase didn't seem to notice.

"Very well, ma'am", Jase responded with a slight nod and turned to go. Loneliness and desperation welled up inside Jillian.

"Ah – Jase?" she called.

"Yes'm?" he turned back.

"Are you under – that is, do you participate in the doctor's course of treatment?"

"Yes", Jase responded without hesitation. "Yes'm, I do."

"Do you find it – that is, it looks quite rigorous", Jillian said.

"It can be, ma'am. But it's not impossible. It gets easier the more you do it."
"But the doctor", Jillian probed. "He's rather – stern, isn't he?"

"Yes'm, he is", Jase responded. "Stern is a good way of putting it. But he's very good, and he takes care of us."

"Do you –", Jillian began, but cut herself short. Clearly the lad thought the treatment would cure him, or he wouldn't be taking it. That might be right for him, but was it right for her? How much weight did she want to be giving the opinion of a mere boy at a time like this?

"Do I what, ma'am?" Jase asked, reminding Jillian that she'd left the question half-constructed and hanging.

"Never mind, never mind", Jillian waved him off. "I'll – I'll ask the doctor myself. Thank you for your time." She gave him a small smile which he answered with the slightest of nods.

"At your service, ma'am. G'night."

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

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