Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"The Ward" by Roger Thomas, Part Ten

The next morning she did some more wandering about, still pondering the options she was considering. As the sessions with the doctors receded into the past, the sense of urgency was fading as well. Both had thought she needed treatment, though they differed as to the urgency and nature. But she was feeling well these days, and had been tempted to think that the whole matter had been a tempest in a teapot until she'd joined the session the day before. All the members there had taken the stern doctor's prognosis very seriously and had pressed upon her the gravity of her situation. In light of that, she wandered and thought. When she returned to her bed after lunch, she got a shock that brought the whole matter abruptly back to the forefront of her mind.

Dee was gone.

As long as Jillian had lived in the Ward, Dee had occupied the next bed over. Since Dee was so much older than Jillian, they weren't exactly friends, but they were cordial acquaintances and always asked after each other. Dee seemed to suffer from more than the usual number of ailments, but there had been no indication that she was doing worse than usual over the past few days – in fact, Jillian had passed a few words with her just that morning.

But now Dee's bed was empty and all effects were cleared away. There was no sign that anyone had ever occupied that bed, and there were no nurses or staff to ask. That was considered rude anyway – people just left the Ward, usually in the night, without notice or fanfare. There would be whispered speculation as to the patient's fate, but nobody knew whether the patient had been discharged Outside or simply died. Out of courtesy everybody presumed it was a discharge, but everybody recognized that death happened, too – in fact, Jillian remembered with a shiver, that was exactly what the stern doctor had warned her that she was in danger of. She stood at the foot of her bed, gazing at the empty space where Dee had been just that morning.

"Ah, another one gone", a voice said at her elbow, causing her to jump. She turned to see that the nice doctor had come quietly up beside her and was gazing at the empty bed as well.

"Yes – she was just there this morning", Jillian said in a quavery voice. "Doctor, do you know what happened? Was she under your treatment? Was she discharged, or did she just –"

"Now, dear, you know I can't go discussing the treatment of any other patients with you, no more than I can discuss your treatment with anyone else", the doctor squinted at her. "And speaking of which, how has it been going? Have you been finding the results – satisfactory?" He seemed to be looking about for the pill bottle.

"I keep it here – in the drawer", Jillian said, stepping over and pulling the bottle out. She didn't want him to go fishing for it himself and find it sitting next to the paper from the stern doctor.

"Ah, but have you been taking them? Morning and evening, like my instructions said?"

"Well – I took one in the morning", Jillian replied.

"Good, good", the doctor replied, though he still looked at her suspiciously.

"Every morning, now, and every evening, right?"

"That's what your instructions said", Jillian assured him.

"Very good, very good", the doctor smiled. "Well, I must be off. I'll be checking back."

As he bustled away, Jillian sat down on the bed and pulled the stern doctor's paper from the drawer. She looked at the bottle of pills, then at the paper, then back at the bottle of pills. Then she lifted her eyes and looked at Dee's empty bed.

The End.

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

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