The Cough

I hung my work overall up, closed the locker door, clicked the padlock shut and walked though the empty, dimly lit shop with the manager, mentally visualising the brown wage packet that was in my handbag.  The Saturday job didn't pay much but at least I could afford a trip to the cinema with friends that evening.  Once outside, I bid the manager goodbye and, as I strode off across the square, I glanced over my shoulder to see him pocket the bunch of keys and turn towards the car park.  

At the bus stop I checked the timetable and saw that I had about seven minutes before the next bus to my village.  I pulled my mobile phone from my handbag but remembered that I hadn't topped up the credit yet.  I ran across the road and entered the phone box.  I dialled a number from memory and spoke to my friend, arranging to meet her in an hour's time.

I replaced the receiver on the hook in the phone box, pushed the door open and then.... nothing.

a strange noise; it sounded like a siren
voices I didn't recognise, words I didn't understand
a stinging sensation at the top of my head
a pain in my leg - a pain like I'd never felt before
lying down on a hard surface
the flash of lights overhead as I was wheeled down a corridor
plastic curtains
the sound of choking and a voice shouting urgently

I panicked and tried to sit up but couldn't.  Every time I attempted to open my eyes I felt a blinding pain across the top of my head.  I could hear someone calling for help in the distance and the urgent movements of people bustling around.  Fragmented conversations wafted towards me, then I heard more retching and the sound of liquid being poured into a bucket.  I called out but it was only a whisper.  

I felt a presence next to me and tried to turn to see who or what it was.  That blinding pain shot across the front of my head again.  I heard soothing words from a softly spoken person with an Irish lilt,
"It's OK, don't be frightened, you're in hospital.  You've been knocked over by a car.  Your parents are on their way.  I'm just going to have your head and leg x-rayed here.  Try not to panic."
I attempted to open my mouth to speak but she patted my hand and hushed me, telling me to try and relax.  I was confused.

A portable x-ray machine was set up next to me and all the time the nurse carried on talking to me, telling me what she was doing.  Her comforting voice mollified me and I drifted in and out of sleep.  An unusual whirring sound woke me from my slumber and I opened my eyes.  Above me was what looked like a rectangular screen with a white cross.  I saw a face and cried out in fright.  It was distorted, swollen, scraped, bleeding, lop-sided and it had an enormous lump on the forehead.  I raised my hand to touch the screen and heard someone shout "NO!  STAY STILL PLEASE!"  I lowered my hand and looked at the screen, trying to work out why I was being shown this image.

I shifted my head slightly to the left.  The image in front of me did the same.  I blinked and looked again.  I twisted my head to the right.  The image copied, mimicking my movements.  I then realised I was looking at a reflection of myself in the plate of the x-ray machine and I burst into tears.  How could that be me?  Had I really been knocked over?  How had this happened?  The salt from my tears ran into the cuts on my face and made me cry out more.

And then I heard a familiar sound.

Echoing down the corridor was the sound of an asthmatic cough that could only belong to my mum.  She was here!  Finally, something that was recognisable and someone who could make it better.  I heard more talking in hushed tones and the swish of plastic curtains.  I heard the stifled, throaty gulp of someone attempting to stop themselves from weeping.  The x-ray machine was removed from above me and my mum's face came into view.  I stared into her eyes, willing her to scoop me up and kiss everything better.  She gently held my hand and stroked the uninjured side of my face.