Hands of a Stranger
My Offering for the fiction challenge
The only thing I remembered when I woke up was the pain. A paralysing fire burning inside my chest just before everything went black. When I opened my eyes it didn’t take me long to realise where I was. The plush curtains, fine patterned wall coverings and large wall mounted flat-screen couldn’t hide the fact I was in a private hospital room. The IV stand dripping some sort of liquid into my left arm and the flashing numbers on the monitor beeping in the corner gave the game away.
‘Ah, you’re awake at last.’
A familiar voice. In an instant I realised my dearest, Madelaine, had pulled strings and got me in here instead of a sterile-grey emergency “cell.” I ventured a glance in the direction of the voice. She sat on a leatherette armchair on my left, dressed in her tweedy Coco Chanel jacket. I opted for silence.
‘The doctor will be here in a minute. Apparently you’ve had some sort of heart problem, but it’s not serious. Not now anyway.’
I think I managed a nod. Almost on cue the doctor arrived with a line of doctorettes in tow. They lined the wall opposite in studious awe while the doctor proceeded to tell me I’d had a mild coronary episode, but I was out of any danger. Mild? I felt like I’d been blasted at close range with a sawed off Holland & Holland!
‘You had a slight blockage in an artery. I’ll give you the details when you are stronger. The main thing, Mr. Hereford is that the medication has cleared the problem and low level medication will keep everything under control in future. You will soon be back to work, after a rest of at least two weeks of course. You are free to go home whenever you feel strong enough to get out of bed.’ He glanced at the IV stand. ‘I’ll get the nurse to remove your drip. I’ll contact you tomorrow to see how things are progressing. . . . Mr. Hereford, Mrs. Hereford, goodbye for now.’
He turned and he and his line of hopefuls disappeared as quickly as they came.
‘I’ve arranged for a limousine to take us to the cottage. It’ll be quiet there, you don’t want to be in a noisy town-house do you. It’s being aired as we speak, by the time we get there this evening it’ll be fresh and cosy. A nurse will be sleeping-in until you’re strong again. Young Harry’s taking your favourite clothes down there this afternoon.’
I was only half aware of what was being said to me, after what had occurred, things like doctors, limousines and cottages in the country seemed peripheral. I nearly bloody died for Christ’s sake!
A nurse arrived, pushing a wheel chair. She popped out the needle in my arm and stuck a little round Elastoplast over the hole. Then she and Madelaine hustled me into the wheel chair after they’d dressed me like I was a helpless toddler. Madelaine produced a pair of my slippers and we were all set to go.
‘Where’s my shoes?’
‘Harry took them when he brought your slippers. You don’t need to wear your Berluti Oxfords to ride in a wheel chair do you?’
A journey along bustling corridors and past lines of waiting patients finished in the car park next to a dazzling black Mercedes Stretch.
‘Madelaine, for Christ’s sake.’
‘That was the smallest they had, sorry darling.’ I knew she was lying.
I hate stretched limos at the best of times, but in a hospital? Too much Maddie dear.
After strapping in and draping me with a travel blanket we were off. Madelaine sat opposite. Delving into her Louis Vuitton handbag, she proffered the diamond inlaid platinum ring we bought in Tiffany’s when we went to New York for my fiftieth.
‘They removed it in the ambulance.’
I shook my head and she stowed it back in her bag.
‘Actually,’ I managed to say, ‘I’d rather just sit here quietly and doze for a bit.’
Madelaine got the message and looked round to view the passing city through the heavily tinted windows. She even dimmed the interior lights.
Nothing seemed quite real, I leaned back and closed my eyes. It was like being in a cone of silence . . . almost. The distant rumble of the V-God-knows-how-many-cylinders engine and swish of wide tyres on tarmac turned into white noise as we hit the motorway.
I don’t know if I slept, but after a while I opened my eyes and noticed my “slippers” peeping out from under the blanket on my legs: ridiculous claret velvet mules, monogrammed with my initials in gold thread. A feeling of futility swept over me. It was at that point I noticed my hands resting on my knees contrasted against the red tartan beneath them
Like most of us, I often look at my hands, but I’ve rarely taken any notice of their appearance. As I studied them, a bizarre thought came to me; these aren’t my hands. They were thin, wrinkled, pale papery beige with prominent blueish veins running along the backs. The skin appeared to be painted with pale brown smudges, which I’d never noticed before. Again: these aren’t my hands.
My hands should be soft; smooth and pudgy with fingers topped off by immaculately manicured nails: the kind of hands that hold the wheels of Ferraris and Bentleys; offered toasts with Mikasa Capella flutes filled with Dom Pérignon or signed downsize orders with a flippant pen, putting thousands of incomes in jeopardy.
These are the hands of my father and Grandfather and his father’s fathers. Hands that have worked wood; hammered red hot steel into horse shoes. Hands that have swung an axe or held the reigns of plough horses. Hard-working, honest hands. These can’t be my hands, I haven’t earned the ancient right to wear hands that look like these.