- Vol. 06
- Chapter 03
White sterile walls. No sound, only the pounding of my heart. No birds chirping, the windows soundproof. No humming of tunes, no radio or news broadcasts. The Whittle Clinic beats to its own rhythm, one of death and isolation. Each patient sequestered in a white room with nothing to accompany them on their final journey. Plagued by fear and rejection – their families cast them aside like worn shoes. No one visits them. No one is allowed.
I take my seat at reception. No phones ring. No feet tap across the marble floors. I am alone as I shuffle through the stacks of paper and my task of inputting the names of the dead into the database. Katherine Ann Cooper, 59, cause of death unknown. Robert Maxwell, 42, cause of death unknown. It’s always unknown.
My watch vibrates. Lunchtime. The roar of car engines, the chattering conversations – they assault my senses – so loud and I almost run back inside. The clinic was a reprieve from the world. An escape that I relished. Silence and isolation. I enjoyed it – no, I loved it. Now, I’m not so sure. It’s changing me. I flinch at a stranger’s voice. I fumble over words; my own voice sounds haunted. The clinic has gotten its claws into me. I dream of those patients, the names I add to the database each morning. How did they die?
Lunch is a sandwich and coffee I take back to my desk. The noise in the café too much for my sensitive ears. A voice whispers, 'Come find me Samuel.' I try to block it out. I always do, but today it screams. 'Save me, Samuel. Only you can set me free.'
I don’t know the voice. It could be a patient. It could be me. The isolation is getting to me. I’ve forgotten how to socialise, how to communicate with others. Soon I’ll forget how to speak at all.
I shove the chair back and rise. I climb the stairs one at a time – the patients’ rooms are on the fifth floor – and pause as I step onto the landing. Each door is numbered but there is no glass to let me see inside. I reach for the handle of the first door, trembling as I grasp the cold metal and turn it. The door shrieks as it edges inwards. It’s dark inside and I fumble for a switch on the wall. There isn’t one. I step inside, every hair on my body standing to attention. My breath exits like steam and I close my eyes.
'You can do it Samuel. Open your eyes.'
I force my eyelids open. Light, blinding at first, and then I adjust. I'm home. Music plays loudly and children are laughing. The sound doesn't hurt my ears. It's beautiful. It's my family. I'm free of the clinic and ready to live life again.