YEAH, THIS is a box, thought Scott, but it’s a box with a door. And the door isn’t locked, which is good. It’s a way out. I can leave any time I want. This...this I can handle.
And beyond the door is a box room with another door in the opposite corner. And that door leads to a larger space. And beyond that bigger space is another door which leads to a whole floor, and some stairs which go down to more doors within one big (well, big enough) house-shaped box. And outside of this house box is a garden and a fence, beyond which is a small town on a small island. There’s a lot of countryside and sea, like, everywhere, and because this is an island there is a land beyond. And there are loads of people out there, on the land over the sea. Absolutely millions upon millions of them, and they’re not ALL dicks.
All this and more had gone through Scott’s mind before the warm water cooled his head some. Now the spray was lightly tapping the sensitive skin on top of his head, 144 needle-thin streams of hot, pressurised chalky water, massaged his delicate scalp, neck and shoulders while he rocked forwards and back to modify the force of the stream. The raining phone box, the power shower, was where he did all his thinking.
There was a time he’d sketch out songs in here, sometimes entire albums. In his mind, he’d perform well-received gigs. He’d engage in world-class banter with his audience. He’d conceive great novels and ingenious business models; and speeches that would change the world.
Then, all fired up, he’d leave the shower, wrap up in a giant towel, and pick up his guitar from next to the bed – fingers still wet and warm from the water. But the notes emanating from his hands, still dripping onto the bed covers, would rarely compare to those which had been buzzing around his head while in the shower cubicle. And more often than not, that’s how the moment of inspiration would end. All his well-intended dreams would curl up and die behind the frosted glass.
This particular Friday, though, there was too much weighing on Scott’s mind. In the great rock/scissors/stone game of modern life, the bigger, pressing struggles tend to wrap, cut and blunt any creative diversions. So he rocked forwards and backwards a little and let his attention drift gently away from himself to a microcosmic threesome of water droplets that were snaking their way down the inside of the steamed-up glass panel of the shower door.
“This one means I make it, that one means I don’t, the other means I come out the other side but I’m a vegetable,” he almost said out loud. And, having placed his macabre fate in the custody of these innocent trickles, he added a palm full of shower gel to his hand, swept the froth across his shoulders and waited in a fragrant mist for the morbid race to begin.
To be sure, he could have chosen more sympathetic droplets. The “victory” drop started well, surging valiantly downwards towards the finish line – the rubber seal at the bottom edge of the glass panel - before coming to a dry halt three inches away from its final destination. The middle trickle, the “death” one, was on a zigzag mission to wreck everything in Scott’s life. It didn’t care. “Ain’t that just like... something?” Scott mumbled weakly, blowing spray from his mouth into the waterfall that tumbled from his fringe. The fragility of his voice frightened him. He felt a twinge in his chest again behind his ribs, and all of a sudden his thoughts were back to the brutal reality of the upcoming operation. Strange hands would be pawing at his anaesthetised body, cracking open his ribs, slicing and stitching offal that he never, ever wanted exposed – ugh, he couldn’t bear these thought.
“Think” he thought to himself. “Think, man, think about the miracle of medical science! Think about the endgame. Think about your own brave dad! He laughed about it, didn’t he? He joked about the huge scar which ran like a meat-zip down the centre of his chest.” He died in the end.
Back to the water race. Heart beating uncomfortably. A taste of warm blood behind his teeth. Well, this is stressful, thought Scott. The “vegetable” droplet had stopped hard in its tracks, then shot at a 90 degree angle to the right. It hung to the glass like a limpet. The “survivor” halted in its tracks, where it grew incrementally in size and looked set to tumble down under the sheer weight of its glassy orb. Scott prayed for new momentum. But just as he leaned in closer, to squint hopefully at his microscopic reflection in the tiny “life” orb, the “death” droplet zigged its last zag and plummeted like a bagged grouse to the dreadful finish line.
“Thanks pal,” said Scott, spitting a little diluted blood to the ceramic floor.
That had been Friday, today is Tuesday. What of Saturday, Sunday and Monday?
These are lost days – and the least said of those, the better. Scott had lived for 56 years and would like to last out some more. He could and should have used the intervening hours between shower and hospital admission carefully and fruitfully, speaking to his girlfriend, Caroline, family, friends, that kind of thing. Instead, he’d spent it in a thick fog of despair, resentment and, yes, mortal terror. Heavy, heavy tranquilisers made it bearable.
He knew the risks, but the odds were stacked in his favour. Depending on who he asked, he had a 70 to 80 per cent chance of making it out the other side with a new heart, a new chance, a new life. All he had to do was fall asleep and let the medical team work their magic. Barring bad luck, he would wake up some hours later with a hangover from hell and a load of stitches down the centre of his chest.
“I’ll be waiting for you love,” Caroline had said.
The drugs work, and right now, 10.14am, he’s full of them. Prone, on a government contraption that is less of a bed, more of a metal delivery tray, he lies sedated with toe tagged and chest tattooed with spots and Sharpie-penned dotted lines and the like. “Cut here,” the nurse had joked. Scott had laughed weakly. Caroline had gone to work. She’d be back that night, ready for when he came around.
A sphere of lights shone brightly into his face, he felt his numbed hand being lifted, and intricate plastic and metal workings attached. With faces looking down at him, with people constantly talking small talk behind pale blue surgical masks, he felt a glacier of grey metal course up the inside of his left arm. Somebody asked him to count from ten, but he was too tired to even contemplate the numbers. He fixed his eyes on the white plastic coverall of the nurse, then slipped away.
A sudden shock half-woke him. He tasted electricity, it was part of him. But his eyes wouldn’t open. He felt an enormous solitary heartbeat that shook his entire body, felt the blood pump fiercely into his brain and then out again. He thought he felt hands all over him.
And then he slipped away again.
Another shock of electricity, indistinct voices now. He felt sudden motion, like he was being rocked from side to side.
Then he slipped away.