Joshua Simmons lies on a small, uncomfortable hospital bed, his head propped up by two fluffy pillows. A plastic tube juts out of a mouthpiece over the lower half of his face. At the other end it is connected up to a tall machine on a stand. A monitor sits on top, measuring Simmons’ vitals. A UV drip and stand are also attached to him. His eyes slowly open and stare groggily up at the ceiling above. The harsh glare of the overhead light is too much for him so he closes his eyes again. He repeats this process several times. With each repetition he is able to keep his eyes open for a little longer until eventually he is able to lie there with his eyes completely open. They are puffy and red, thin slits staring up sleepily. Simmons shifts his attention to his hands and experimentally he wiggles his fingers. The digits feel stiff and heavy. The tendons and muscles ache, feeling stretched and weak. The door opens and a thin, rather severe looking nurse enters. A doctor, also female follows behind, dressed in a long white coat. Simmons, disorientated and unable to cope with the presence of other human beings, quickly shuts his eyes. The nurse moves overs to the bed and glances over him with an uninterested eye.
‘Looks like he is still dead to the world.’
The doctor picks up a tablet hanging off the foot of the bed and begins tapping away on it silently. The severe nurse wrinkles her nose at Simmons.
‘He needs another bath. And a shave.’ She adds, inspecting Simmons’ messy tangle of facial hair. ‘Not that it will improve things much, he is an incredibly ugly man.’
Simmons has to use all his might and willpower to stop himself frowning at the severe nurses’ blunt turn of phrase. To his surprise, the female doctor joins in, agreeing with the nurses’ statement.
‘Give me Mr. Collins in room 3 over him anyday. I sometimes think it would be better to just pull the plug and be done with it. Put him out of his misery.’
The nurse laughs. Simmons has no idea what is going on. Are they just nasty people or is this behaviour perfectly acceptable? He grows certain that if he opens his eyes right now, both women would hastily change their tone.
The female doctor produces a torch and is just about to pull back his eyelids, when Simmons suddenly opens his eyes. She jumps back in surprise, much to Simmons’s delight.
‘For heaven’s sake, you nearly gave me heart attack you daft bugger.’
‘What?’ Simmons croaks, his vocal chords struggling to be heard.
The nurse carefully disconnects the tube and mouthpiece. Simmons takes a deep lungful of air, feeling as if he has just swum up from the bottom of a lake and broken the surface. His throat feels like a cement mixer and his mouth is dried and cracked.
‘You better move over. I will need a lie down after that.’ She continues.
Simmons’s head hurts, as he frowns at the two nonchalant women. This wasn’t the reaction he had expected. He had presumed that when he opened his eyes he would be met with guilty faces and perhaps a meek muttering of an apology. But neither of the women look bothered by their behaviour. Instead they wear expressions of irritation, as if Simmons’s return to the world has annoyed them.
‘How are you feeling?’ The severe nurse asks, peering over the doctor’s shoulder at the tablet.
‘Okay.’ Simmons replies.
‘Well that’s doesn’t add up. You should be feeling like absolute rubbish.’ The doctor states.
‘Excuse me?’ Simmons frowns.
‘Mr Simmons, you have been in a coma for thirty years. At the very least you should be feeling groggy and a little disconnected with everything.’
Simmons gapes at the doctor and looks around the room. They must be pulling his leg.
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Ah of course, the amnesia. Yes its common with most coma patients.’
She scrolls down the tablet with a finger.
‘According to your previous doctor, you were involved in a car collision with a young family.’
‘Are they alright?’
The severe nurse shakes her head and says bluntly. ‘They died upon impact as a result of your reckless driving.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ Simmons manages, slightly taken aback.
‘I quite agree. It was entirely your fault. I hope you’ve learnt your lesson Mr. Simmons.’ The doctor chips in.
Simmons stares at the two women, his mouth open, unable to process this sudden and startling information.
‘You don’t have a very good bedside manner.’
‘You’re right we don’t.’ The nurse and the doctor say together.
Simmons can’t figure out what is wrong with the two women. It is almost like they constantly speak their minds with no regard for anyone’s feelings. Simmons breaks into a coughing fit and the severe nurse helps him up to a seated position and assists him in gulping down half a cup of water. This also takes Simmons by surprise. On the one hand the two women are blunt, rude and prickly but on the other hand here they are taking care of him and by the looks of it have been for the last thirty years. A beeping noise goes off and the doctor pulls out a small see through glass square. It is pulsing red. Simmons stares at it curiously, wondering what it does.
‘I have another matter I must attend to. I will check back in on my way past. Julie here will look after you in the meantime.’
The doctor exits, leaving Julie and Simmons alone.
‘Can I get you a cup of tea or anything?’ She inquires.
The question seems so blase after the previous conversation where she accused him of killing a family. Its not even forced. Julie appears perfectly content, as if the matter has gone from her mind.
‘That would be great.’
Julie leaves and Simmons is left alone once more. He waits a couple of seconds before attempting to sit up. His body is limp and weak and it takes a tremendous amount of effort to readjust into a seated position. His face turns red with the effort and his temples burn fiercely. His attempt to climb off the bed fails miserably and his legs buckle underneath him and he crashes to the floor. His elbow stings hotly where he banged it. Somehow he manages to crawl across to a chair up against the far wall and pull himself shakily up. He stands, holding onto the chair for support, his skinny legs wobbling like jelly. A set of closed blinds face him. A panel is set in the wall beside it. Simmons brushes it with his hand and the blinds separate. A ray of golden light hits him in the face. Blinded, he stumbles back, shielding his eyes.
‘What do you think you are doing?’
Simmons feels a hand on his arm and looks round to see Julie, looking particularly severe.
‘Back to bed you.’
Simmons forces his gaze back to window and his mouth fall opens. A dense forest of trees and fauna stretch out before his eyes. Dotted here and there are a series of wooden cabins, some on the ground, some built up and around the tall trees. The sky above is clear and bright. The nurse smiles at his shocked expression.
‘Quite something isn’t it?’
Simmons nods silently, at a loss for words.
‘Come on you, let’s get you back into bed before you fall down.’
Simmons complies and allows Julie to assist him back to the bed.
‘How did this happen?’ Simmons asks, once he is settled back in bed.
‘What, that?’ Julie replies, gesturing at the window.
Simmons nods and takes a sip of tea. It tastes like cardboard and he grimaces. He notices Julie looking and forces himself to let out a sigh of relief, pretending to enjoy it.
‘It’s been like that for the last twenty years.’
Simmons chokes on his tea.
‘Ten years after I went into coma? What the hell happened to instigate such a change?’
‘A lot of dirty laundry was shared and then after a while it was cleaned.’
Simmons forces down another gulp of tea.
‘Don’t drink the tea. I know it tastes like crap.’
‘Why didn’t you say anything?’
‘Wanted to test a theory. You know you’re not like other people.’
If Simmons is the odd one then what must everybody else be like. Head starting to hurt again, he changes the subject quickly.
‘But what happened to all the buildings and skyscrapers?’
‘Gone. Well most of them anyway. There are still a few left but most of them were demolished after The Cleansing.’
‘Oh of course you wouldn’t know, how silly of me. A law was passed, forcing everyone to be honest.’
Simmons breaks into a croaky fit of laughter. Julie’s face remains emotionless and Simmons’ smile fades.
Julie nods emphatically.
‘Hence this.’ She gestures once again at the window. ‘Think all of those corporations built on greed and blood money. Not a problem anymore.’
Simmons scratches his head, struggling to cope with this bemusing revelation.
‘But surely there must be a lot of problems?’
‘Well…yeah naturally. But at least if someone does something wrong they have to admit it.’
‘But what about people’s feelings? If everyone is honest, don’t people get offended?’
Julie’s faces darkens.
‘It is true that at first it took a while for people to come round to the idea. Gosh I remember one week where we had an influx of suicides. You know…the sensitive souls.’
‘That’s awful.’ Simmons exclaims, looking deeply mortified.
‘But its not like that anymore. Everyone can take it. Their skins have thickened.’
Simmons falls silent, frowning hard. It all seems so absurd. This hospital, the world outside, the words issuing from Julie’s mouth. Julie gives Simmons a sympathetic look.
‘Why don’t you lie back down for a while? It’s been quite an intense morning for you.’
Simmons is keen to know more but his head burns with a deep migraine and fatigue keeps making his eyes droop. He nods silently and offers no resistance as Julie assist him in lying down. Once he is settled and is beginning to drift off, Julie quietly closes the blinds, turns off the light and exits the room. As Simmons slowly fades out of consciousness The Cleansing is the last thought occupying his throbbing head.
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