Irving tried to blink several times before his eyes would fully open. They felt as though they had been glued shut for weeks. As he would later discover – it had been six days. Six days since he had been gunned down in his own home; his sanctuary. It wasn’t his first flirtation with a fatality, but he didn’t care for it all the same.
Reality came shuddering back around him; the sound of nurses busying about their day in the corridor, the distant screams of a woman in labour. A building in which life and death both fought a daily battle; contending for the populace. Irving had always felt safe in hospitals; the familiarity of a medical environment, but waking up alone in a dimmed and empty ward, hidden behind the blue screens took the comfort away. He was very much on the back foot. He pushed his palms into the hard mattress, raising himself up in the bed until he found a vaguely comfortable sitting position. His legs seemed heavy and led-like and utterly no use at all, and Irving presumed it was the fatigue.
The curtains around his bed were drawn shut, but he could make out the human-shaped shadow approaching his bedside. The woman who emerged was altogether alarmingly unexpected. She greeted him with her usual sweet smile, tinged with a deep sadness that could not be ignored.
‘Kathy? What on earth are you doing here?’ Irving didn’t know what else to say.
‘You never allocated a new next of kin, so they contacted your old one instead.’ Kathy bent slightly and kissed Irving’s forehead. She wore a soft, grey roll neck jumper that forgivingly clung to her gracefully aged curves and bootcut trousers that exposed a pair of black kitten heels. Irving could smell her perfume lingering in the air; sweetening every breath he took as if in a field of daisies.
‘I’m sorry they bothered you. It’s nothing to worry about.’
‘Nothing to worry about?’ Kathy looked confused and outraged all at once, but that sad smile never vacated her lips. ‘You were shot at.’
‘Yes, well it was a tad unexpected. But I’m right as rain, just a bit tired is all. You really don’t need to be here. I’m sure the doctor will be round to discharge me soon.’
‘Irving.’ The confusion on his ex-wife’s face melted away and left something else in its place. Pity. ‘They told me the doctor would have already spoken to you before I got here.’ Irving had Kathy had lived very separate lives for over ten years, but he still knew every inch of her face.
‘Not good?’ His voiced piqued.
‘No, not good.’ Kathy hastily wipes away a year and sniffed; attempting to curtail the oncoming cry at bay.
‘Tell it to me straight, love.’ An old familiar affection slipping from his lips as naturally as air escaped his lungs. They were both older and wiser now, but as she sat perched on the edge of his bed, stroking his hand with her thumb – it was if the pain and heartache of their divorce had never happened. Instead, of a world-worn middle-aged woman, she was the matter-of-fact young solicitor with a closed heart and an open mind who he had been charmed by all those years ago.
‘It shattered a rib, punctured your right lung, and there is shrapnel embedded in your spinal cord.’ She took a deep breath and tried to keep it together for a moment longer. ‘Operations would probably paralyse you from the neck down, and leaving it will eventually kill you if it decides to move. There’s nothing to be done, my love. Stalemate.’
‘Bugger.’ Irving knew that if Kathy said it was hopeless, then that was that. She would have called in favours from the best doctors in the city. Everyone who was anyone owed Kathy Stiles a favour.
‘I am truly sorry.’ She squeezed his hand, unsure what else to say.
‘I’ve got a question for you.’
‘Anything? What do you need? What is it?’
‘Is my apartment in better or worse shape than I am?’
‘Your apartment can be repaired and replaced. You cannot.’
‘Know any good workmen? I might need a bit of help fitting the wheelchair ramps.’ Irving smirked, swerving to dodge a swat from Kathy. He became worryingly aware for the first time since opening his eyes just how little of his body he could feel. He stretched his arms out to test them; bending, twisting and wiggling everything possible. All seemed to be in working order. Then he moved onto his toes, commanding them to dance under the thin blanket. Nothing. Irving asked his knees to bend, but there was no response. Nothing Irving asked of his lower body was permitted. He was communicating, screaming internally at anything below his hips to move – even a little – but nothing happened, and nothing kept happening. His jokes about a wheelchair ramp now seemed naïve.
‘I’m never going to walk again, am I?’ It was a question but he didn’t want to hear the answer, and she didn’t give him one. Kathy had told him plain and simple that he was paralysed, but his mind had chosen – much like his legs – not to listen. She sat silently holding his hand, and finally, let her own tears flow. Irving’s tears soon followed suit.
They were eventually interrupted by his doctor, an hour too late to break the news to Irving himself. Irving was deaf to his commiseration and feeble strategies for recovery. Nothing in his medical toolkit could make walk Irving walk again. He just wanted to go home and fix his apartment, to have a large glass of whisky and to keep helping young Ric with the mystery of the long dead. Perhaps even return to work with witty quips about his new wheels and recant brave and elaborate tales to his eager students. Instead, Irving politely let the doctor say his piece, nodding every twenty words or so. Once the doctor had left him, and Kathy had said her goodbyes – promising to return later on – Irving closed his eyes to the world and wished he had never opened them.