that follows. Instead, much to his wife’s dismay, John busies himself by
working longer hours at the General.
In that place he walks unhurriedly down corridors, stops for long
moments in front of the windows, and half listens to patients when they
list their symptoms. Most are doomed before they enter the hospital.
There is little he can offer to reverse the years of poverty that now mark
their bodies. For the young labourer, whose death rattle John can hear
outside the ward, he advises rest and sips of water. For the boy in the adjoining ward, John orders an extra blanket to mask the lines of poisoned
blood that streak the length of his body. Sometimes John forgets just
where he is, will take a moment to regain his bearings. Like now, when a
patient is thanking him, trust and fear comingled on her face, and he
must hastily pinch the bridge of his nose and think, think, think to remember what he is doing there. He smiles to cover up his lapse, says he
will sit awhile to make sure she takes her medicine. The woman weakly
protests but John is firm in this regard and even takes her hand in his
after she has swallowed the bitter powder. Her head soon lolls across the
mattress, dark hair fanning out like ink, and he feels the slowing pulse of
lifeblood in her wrist. How easy, he thinks. How easy it could be. For the
briefest moment he allows the lapse, gives into his most base imaginings,
but then swallows the horror down, before he might consider it a kindness. He lurches to his feet and resumes his rounds, the sound of his own
blood throbbing in his skull.
Much of the hospital is still a mystery to John. Indeed it begins to feel
as though he has now spent more time at the General in a few short
weeks than in all the preceding years. He finds himself wandering down
unfamiliar hallways, his sudden appearance making staff jump to atten-
tion. Yet he finds himself being pulled ever deeper, ever inward. One of
his finds is the boiler room, the constant mechanical pounding of the
room drowning out the thoughts that rush through his brain. He’ll try to
explain the heat and the overwhelming noise of the place to Nora, who
will sigh and turn away in the dark, not bothering to ask whether he has
met with her brother. The next day she will suggest that she retreat to her
family’s summer home, a picturesque lodge that stands sentry over a
smooth-surfaced lake. It’s there where the two of them first met, the old
professor having invited John, his then-favoured pupil, for a weekend in
the country. John wonders if she thinks of their meeting when she pro-
poses her escape, of the moment when their eyes first met, but he only
smiles and promises to make the trip once his workload lightens. She
will wonder out loud when that might be but John will not hear her, will
have already left the room.
Jill McMillan has a master’s degree in history from the University of Guelph (2008) and a
bachelor of education from the University of Ottawa (2011). She plans to teach at an international school in Costa Rica this fall.