Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Her face tipped up to the lights attached to the artificial ceiling. The shredded vertical blinds tilted by a pulley system so we can look out but no one can look in. Her face absorbing the light as her mother’s body shadows her own, smothering her attention. Peck-like kisses here and here and here all over her upturned face. She swivels her upturned face this way and that way, tilting manoeuvres so as to keep the light pouring onto her face evenly wherever her mother’s shadow may fall. She puts up with it, sighing, catching my gaze as I too swing this way and that in the waiting room before my turn, before her turn because our therapist is caught in traffic on the bus.
There’s the hum of machinery, the whirr of mouths moving. Papers are falling. Fingers tap onto a key board allocating positions to the white screen that only the secretary can see. People come in, in ones and twos. The ones take up the most space their eyes eating into the interim where knees reversed in sitting seek out the knees of their opposites across the room far off through the medley of chairs and low tables. Perhaps we are all calculating wait-times; perhaps all absorbed in the self-same graininess of matter and air as nose to nose in the mediated light it comes up against us.
The girl with the upturned face is making small short sounds like a whistle which begins as if mid-way through a journey and ends before arriving. The sounds are rolling the occupants of the room into a sense of deep equanimity despite the wait-time; the closure of the waiting space which remains static, frozen in which no-one seems to leave no one seems to return. I sigh then look around to locate the sound not recognizing it as my own until the woman by my side does this thing again; freezing and listening, than swiping a look, jostling and returning to her own bulk. I do not look but close my eyes to hear the whistle of the girl once again. When I open my eyes the girl is looking through me to the blinds behind. It is soft like tiny footprints and there is no resistance. Yet even as she does this her face remains still and at that instant reveals in the upturned version of absorption, the light from above. It is quite possible that these two versions happen together super-imposed and somehow rooting one another.
The therapist comes in. She has on a coat with the bright fabric of her dress showing below the rim. She walks with barely a break in her step so that mother and daughter understand through her words and her careful glance that they are to follow her. They attach themselves and magnetically become part of this pulse through the open glass fire-door disappearing down a corridor.
There’s an immediate absence. I hold my breath. The woman besides me glances and looks away. I wait. A woman approaches me and sits beside me with a clip-board. She tells me I am held in a queue due to late running. The woman tells me the therapist has to perform a difficult procedure with the one after next client. I make a calculation as to a reasonable span of time for the making of this procedure even though I do not know what it involves. I give a time. The woman counters this with a 30% cut in time. I say that I will go and get a tea and than return. The woman tells me not to over-run the time or I will miss the spot and someone else will fill it. I get up and let myself out of the Porto cabin, begin to turn away from it as if my appointment had already been and gone.
I am beginning to walk across the empty car-park. It is empty because it is disused with loose gravel and wilting plants growing and dying where the tarmac underneath has been pushed and pock-marked between the action of the water swelling and shrinking, freezing and thawing over and over again. There’s a heap of discarded wood and old furniture stacked up against a cage which contains large plastic wheelie bins. There’s building work going on in the far corner where access of material is being navigated across this desolate patch into the back garden of an adjacent building. There are men up on the flat roof, others hauling things from the truck. But they are distant and mainly out of my perspective. I am heading for the junk furniture. All around me, lining the perimeter of the car-park, there is the old brick and stone Victorian hospital. It is hollow, toothless, makeshift plastic flapping in and out in the uppermost windows inviting a gaze into utter blackness that can not be followed.
There’s a discarded stairway in the pile of junk. A self-sufficient unit of three steps up, than a platform and three steps down again that has been ripped out of its oaring and deposited onto its side. I want to turn it right side up, making it useable even in a car park where you go up and down and really get nowhere. And I do so quickly without thought then immediately I go pounding up the steps, pause at the top and than descend down the three steps on the other side. I do it several times than walk away.
I walk off glancing back at this vacant platform before entering the main building at its mid-point slipping between the closed fire doors that used to open automatically but now need to be shoved with the body contriving to move and push at the same time where the shoulder makes contact with the door. I am in the main hall where the chocolate and drinks machines are placed. There is an the elaborate high ceiling with part stucco and a small balcony; really like a ball-room whose past glory is totally ignored as if it were an inappropriate boast for this part of London.
The machines are not working. I understand this because of what the woman tells me who has lost her money and can not get a refund; neither by banging the machine nor by asking the man at the front desk who just rolls his eyes and says come back next week. She says but you won’t recognise me. He says without looking up, yes I will. She is adamant of an injustice and in the growing crowd of women around her, her injustice swells and plays back to her. She cannot leave the building because her husband is upstairs being seen and she could be needed at any moment. That is what they told her.
I walk off heading though numerous fire doors that in this internal labyrinth swing open and shut on the touch past blue signs that say things in white like, Iridology, Foot Clinic and Walk in Emergency. Past the signs there are huddles of figures sitting in rows on chairs with their backs to me. Their backs all appear to curve as one though they are separated by four inch gaps on their individual chairs.
In the half light of this sunken chamber I feel that there is some kind of heat sensing faculty that I am affected by and that draws my gaze in this or that direction far beyond the zone I am in. I pass no figure on the corridors. Nor is there even the smell; those familiar hospital smells of disinfectant and human odour, present. Rather there is odourless dust; tiny particles admixing with the air wrapping around me entering and leaving on each breath. I am intermeshed; in it and of it. It guides me as if each splinter radiated the fall-out of a glow that independently was nothing but here in the contained corridors swells into something intoxicating. There is in this the whiff of the touch of humanness. But it is a touch long parted and now in this afterglow from a time I cannot place I am walking unobserved in this hospital meeting no-one.
I am at the end of this corridor at a junction that now branches off into slimmer and slimmer corridors. My hands are cold. I am continuing in a circulating left-hand spiral. Through another set of interjecting fire-doors the silence spreads. The air is heavy, turgid and empty of life. It is dust-ridden. There is no smell and it is choking.
So I give myself over to the waves spiralling upwards in that left-hand swing of the banisters until I am vaulted up stair-well after stair-well as if under a high wind. On each landing there are off shoots of more corridors. Each is sealed permanently behind another fire-door with yellow glass that shreds and pulverises the long stretch into an emptying haze. The blue and white signs appear as before but now at these upper levels they say things like, Learning Disabilities, Back up Support, Occupational and Recreational Team. There are no heat induced bodies for my sensors to pick up on. I am getting dizzy mostly with the colour mismatch where every landing is painted in a different colour- red, blue, green yellow purple, mauve as if this would cheer the people up and keep the ascending march on track one step after another.
I climb ever more resistant to the norms of protocol, more blinded to the ruling of keeping on and going to a destination of ones choosing. I push against fire-door after fire-door lumbering against them with the bulk of my body, shouldering the panel, flesh re-shaped and smothered against wire-enforced glass. They are locked. So I push my face up against the glass now breathing and clouding the unoccupied passages stacked with fuzzy dismantled shelving, ceiling brackets and furniture fittings. Light from the windows of adjacent rooms is just visible through door-less slits.
I push at each landing swelling higher and higher, like a fly against condensation- soaked glass almost drowning in it far from inhibition. Finally one gives so easily I almost fall through than stand there on the threshold with a foot in the door. I jam the door open with a plastic sign that says Work in Progress.
I go into rooms sprouting off from corridors that are stripped, dismantled, hollowed. Everything has been taken down save for the plumbing systems and the sink and wash-basin of a kitchen. Fitted parts are piled up against the walls mostly dismembered into planks and strips and brackets. The windows are all bare, sometimes open, now and again with curtains or scraps of plastic tacked into place and flapping in the wind. All the lights are on. All are blazing in the rooms off from the dust-covered corridor. I think of the girl with the upturned face in the waiting room. I look down at the darkened carpet. I want to turn the lights off. Instead, standing back from the ledge I gaze out the window. There is the gravel of the car-park below. I stagger back not wanting to be seen in the vast empty room that has no use; where I have no idea how to use it; no right of occupancy.
At the other side of the corridor the door swings open so that I do not have to go back on my movements. It closes shut behind me so that I am on another landing.
I go down a floor. Glancing through the fire-proof doors on this level I stop. I am riveted there and my restless wanderings are consumed.
Dust gathers dense and tangible here between the strung up lights pinned at intervals along the bare corridor walls like celebratory baubles. There are ladders, wood panels, buckets of paint, unmixed cement in paper sacs and white calico stained and creased along the length of this floor. But more than this is the piercing of the silence. An unseen radio blaring out from one of the out-of-view rooms is so loud that it resounds down the corridor and through the rubber edged crack of the fire-proof doors. There are impossible voices rising on the radio-waves blanking out one another, cutting short into jingles, sweeps of song, laughter and the beginnings of phone-in topics. Now there is the scrambling of even this and the dial re-sets on a channel of garage music. It beats out a repeatable shifting emphasis. Than there is a melody sweeping though, synthesizing the separation for a body that is not there.
I remain on the other side of the door. The lights pulse in time to the rhythm seeming to entangle into a voltage seizure and delay than a rushed exuberance that dances, yes dances with the music. In the very point at which it cuts out; nearly dies, it re-ignites in short bursts of attention before again burning into whiteness, into nothing.
Moments later I return to the waiting room of the Porto cabin a few seconds before my name is called. I walk down the corridor behind the figure of the therapist who guides me to my seat.
She takes my hand as I get up to leave, her hand colder and far more fragile than I had imagined yet nonetheless one that remains for several seconds without ending the contact. Finally an even level temperature equalises across the hands. I am led to believe that this is our last session. Before this as I sat down she had told me of being caught on the bus this morning. Than she says,
“But we all have to remain in this chaos somehow.” She has said too much and I have told too many fabrications due to the driving pace that words present as they lead us on and so set our lives in motion. She has long since discarded her coat and the exuberance of her coloured dress burns out.