Thursday, 8 March 2012


He sat in what might once have been called a waiting room, but was now known as a patient lounge. He thought the patient lounge was very much like a waiting room; both in function, in that it was a room in which people were waiting; and in appearance, festooned as it was with information leaflets, posters, uncomfortable-looking mal-upholstered chairs, and a smattering of people he assumed must be patients. They all looked miserable. He had long since realised that hospitals were not necessarily miserable places in themselves, but that the nature of their business meant that innumerable miseries passed through their doors, and that after a certain amount of time the gloominess, suffering, pain and despair were bound to seep into the fabric of the place. There had been too much loss, too much unhappiness, not to weigh the entire site down.

Even the success stories, the recoveries and the miraculous cures that took place here amongst the apparently randomly scattered yet uniformly ugly buildings full of sterile and unfriendly-looking rooms, even they were outwardly-focussed – a celebration enacted by being able to be elsewhere, and by not having to return. In that sense, he reasoned, the hospital could even be described as a place of hope, albeit the hope to be in another place. But there wasn’t much hope in evidence this afternoon: just gloom, some poorly-stocked vending machines (one of which was out of order), and an untidy pile of magazines that looked as though they had never been new.

Like most people, he had never liked hospitals. Even trivial visits for routine and unthreatening procedures were tainted by memories of past, less benign trips, and of course by the prospect of lengthier visits to come. A visit to the hospital, he concluded, was at once an echo of past anguish, and an uncomfortable glimpse into an uncertain yet inevitable future. The hospital was a place of contrast: the environment was sterile, everything was clean, hard, shiny and efficient, yet the people within were fragile, diseased and broken in various ways. The restaurant did offer an excellent rhubarb crumble on Tuesdays, but it was impossible to enjoy it whilst surrounded by pallid geriatrics, worried-looking relatives speaking in hushed tones, and medical professionals looking anxiously at pagers and watches. To make things worse, the custard was usually lumpy.

He left the patient lounge and followed the red line on the floor back to the reception and main entrance area. “I really must stop coming here for no reason” he muttered to himself.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Ben:
In our view, which probably counts for very little in the great scheme of things, the short story is one of the most difficult of mediums to employ in writing. Here, in no more than a paragraph or two, you convey an immediate sense of place, create a very real atmosphere with which most would be instantly familiar, introduce character and combine the whole in a narrative that flows and which is instantly identifiable with having a beginning, middle and end. To all of this you add touches of humour, the Tuesday crumble, pathos, the out of order vending machine and, most importantly in our view, which once more we hasten to qualify, you succeed in drawing us in, albeit at the end, to empathise with the principal protagonist.

We are intrigued. Are you, perhaps, a published author and is it that you wish to make writing a full time occupation? Whatever, today's story has served to enhance further the pleasures of this afternoon.

Ben said...

Jane and Lance,
You have a rather endearing knack of making me feel good about myself. It's such a short piece that I'm not even sure it qualifies as a story, but I'm certainly grateful for the encouraging feedback.

As attractive a prospect as full time writing is, there are certain things holding me back (talent, inspiration and dedication to name but three).

Pathos - wasn't he one of the three musketeers?

Anyhoo said...

I was about to praise your writing, but the last line above this comment is the best one here.

Except it ought be Bathos to make it pleasingly recursive, but that takes out the portmanteau of character names, weakening the pun.

But yes, never new magazines at terribly odd (and old).

Ben said...


I don't understand how some of the magazines get to look as old as they do, so quickly, given that they look so dull that it's hard to believe anyone would ever want to look at them.

Please don't let me stop you praising my writing.

Anonymous said...

Was this a short story? Actually there's no denying it's a short story. I was in hospital only once, unless I was in hospital when I was born, which I don't know. Did I tell you I was born in Germany? No reason why I should I suppose. Sorry. I was in hospital only once and I don't know if it was like the experience of your character. This doesn't seem to be going anywhere. I remember a fat girl called me Alec and made uncross my ankles. Apparently I might have died from crossed ankles. I had pneumonia, contracted by hanging around in the gloaming after worked up a tremendous sweat at tennis. I hallucinated whole novels, historical novels, with armies of bombazine clad servants all bent on restraining me in the east wing. Was I Mrs. Rochester? I don't know but I do remember it was most exciting. I've subsequently played lots of tennis in twilight, worked up a sweat, and hung around hoping for a repeat performance. Don't really remember the hospital particularly. I remember bro came to take me home after a couple of weeks and hit another car on a roundabout on the way home but didn't notice and just drove on, chatting animatedly. Not exactly observational like your story, but about as long. Love, Alec :) xx

Ben said...

I don't think I knew you were born in Germany. Which bit?

Whilst most people aren't fond of hospitals, for obvious reasons, they do tend to play host to events which remain vivid in the memory, and it's interesting to hear your own recollections.

I also didn't know that you played tennis, and I don't object one bit to the thought of a sweaty Alec flying around the court.

Thank you for your lengthy and somewhat unbounded comment!

Ben x