a short story by Paul D Kennedy
© Paul D Kennedy, June 2006
John walked out, through the last gate to where Brenda was waiting with the taxi. He gave her a hug, pulling her up onto her toes, his large frame almost smothering her. He stood with his back to the high dark-grey walls for a moment before following her into the cab without turning around. Two years. He’d had enough.
As soon as they got home they made love. When it was over Brenda gently took the frenchie of his rapidly shrinking willie and dropped it into the waste bin beside the bed.
‘Sorry about that, love,’ she said.
‘It’s ok,’ John replied. ‘Not your fault. We can still do it.’
He smiled happily. The he took in the jagged scars on her wrists and the light lines that were beginning to etch her face.
‘How do you feel, pet?’
‘Ok. I’m fine,’ Brenda answered. She pointed at the pills and syringes on top of their bedside table. ‘Two shots a day and four of those pills. They’re working. I’m not sick yet. It gets people at different rates, you know. Some go full-blown in a few months. Some of us are lucky. We get five, ten years before it kicks in.’
John nodded. He held her close without talking for a few minutes. Then he said:
‘What about Harry? Where is he?’
‘Up in St Luke’s,’ she answered vehemently. ‘That bastard got what he deserved.’
‘Does he know?’
‘No, love, he knows nothing. That’s up to you.’
‘I’ll go and see him in a few days.’
John took the bus over to St Luke’s. As he strode the bit of a walk from the bus-stop to the hospital, Tammy Wynette’s Stand by Your Man revolved in his head. That’s Brenda, he thought. But she did more than just stand by me, when I was inside. She took care of business; that she did. I wonder how Harry’s gonna to react when he sees me.
Harry’s ward was at the far end of the hospital. The air was heavy with disinfectant. There were half-a-dozen patients in the ward but John was the only visitor. The patients, the nurse explained, as she showed John to Harry’s bed, don’t get many visitors. People are a bit scared, you know, she said.
Harry was asleep. John pulled up a straight-backed visitor’s chair and sat down and waited. He stared at Harry.
Harry’s once bulky body was wasted thin. His ribs almost poked through the white hospital sheets and his skin lay in limp folds on his bare arms. Along his sunken cheeks were dark blotches and his closed eyelids were ringed with wrinkles. His hair, still thick, hung in slack strands. John coughed twice and Harry’s scrawny shoulders shuddered. He sat up with a start.
‘Yes, it’s me. I’m out.’
‘You can’t do anything here, John,’ Harry hissed, swinging his head around the room at the other patients. ‘You can’t get me in here.’
‘Why would I want to get you? You’re done for already as it is.’
John lent forward and tried to stare into Harry’s eyes. ‘Only one thing, Harry. Why did you shop me?’
‘I didn’t,’ he answered, avoiding John’s eyes. ‘You know I wouldn’t do that.’
‘You bloody would and you bloody did. One of the dicks let it out, just after I was sentenced. And one of the screws inside confirmed it for me. You did it. You were the only person who knew where I was.’
‘Brenda knew. She always knew.’
‘She knew I was doing a job. I always told her, so she’d be prepared if anything went wrong. But she never knew where. Only you knew that.’
Harry said nothing. He just lay there, looking straight up at the ceiling.
‘You nearly killed Brenda, you know, with what you did?’
‘I took care of her. As soon as I heard what happened to her, I started to help.’
‘Oh, sure you did. Visits, flowers, chocolates, offering to help with the rent. Sure you did.’ John tried to keep his voice calm.
It hadn’t been easy with Brenda, he knew, probably worse for her than it had been for him. Poor Brenda. They’d been together since they were teens. From the dock he’d seen her face suddenly masking with horror when the judge sent him down. He’d tried to smile as he was led away but he couldn’t get through her glazed look.
That night she’d slashed her wrists. The neighbours had found her in time, but only just. At the hospital she’d been given a massive emergency transfusion. That’s how it had happened. The blood was untested. But it had been an emergency. He understood that and accepted it. You couldn’t blame the doctors. Anyway she was ok, so far. She’d told John all this on her weekly visits. It was history. Brenda was the best, loyal all the way. John looked down at Harry.
‘Why did you shop me?’ he demanded. ‘What were you after?’
Harry looked at him and then turned away again.
‘Was it Brenda? You were after my wife?’
Harry kept staring at the ceiling.
‘Were you?’ John persisted.
‘Yeah,’ Harry hissed. ‘Yeah, that was it. And what’s more, I got her too.’ He cackled. ‘And there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it now.’
‘I know,’ John replied. ‘You’re in the last stages. The nurse told me on the way in.’
Harry didn’t move, didn’t speak, just lay there, flat exhausted.
‘How long did it take, Harry? How long before she gave in?’ Brenda had told him but he wanted Harry to tell him, to make the connection.
‘Two months.’ Harry lifted up his wasted arms. ‘So what? I got her in the end.’
‘No, you didn’t, Harry. You didn’t get Brenda. Brenda got you.’
‘Whadya mean, John?’ he grimaced, face fluttering with sudden understanding.
‘She didn’t open her legs for you until she was sure she was HIV positive.’
John stood up.
‘I don’t have to get you, Harry. The wife did you for me already.’
© Paul D Kennedy, June 2006