Simi watches the young doctor feel Fred’s pulse. To one side of him is Tonderai, tall in his mackintosh and boots, and to the other, Rudd, dishevelled by wind and wet. Around them all the storm gets louder.
I hope they can save him. I don’t want to be in here with a dead body.
Simi tries to read Tim’s face, to judge how anxious he is, when a sudden thud spins her around, the torches in the room jumping towards the door. Someone, she can’t see who, has slammed it open, and there is another person close behind.
“Jambee?” she whispers.
“Bernard?” Tim shouts.
“Did you find his medicine?”
“And blankets,” calls Jambee.
The pair come closer, Jambee supporting Bernard with one arm, his other full of blankets. He hands the pile over to Rudd, while Tonderai helps him with Bernard, whose legs are crumpling.
“Bad out there …” says Jambee, clothes soaked, water dripping off him.
“Please get Bernard dry Tonderai.” Tim’s voice is urgent. “I’m just going to get Fred wrapped up here. Rudd can you see if you can shut that door.”
Tim takes a blanket off the pile, and wraps it, like a cape, around Fred’s head and back, crossing it forward over his chest, before easing him back down on the bench. Then he moves across to help with Bernard.
“Simi, hold my torch please.”
The old man’s face looks gaunt to Simi, exhausted, deep shadows running beneath his cheekbones, and pooling around his eyes.
He’s barely conscious. Please Bernard. I don’t want anybody dead.
“Bernard. The medication.”
Bernard holds one shaking arm out, slowly unclenching his fingers.
“How much do I give him?”
“One tablet … 12 hours …” The words come in gasps, but Bernard’s eyes are open.
“Thank you,” says Tim, slipping the pills into his pocket. “Listen, we need to get you dry. To take your clothes off.”
Bernard nods, and Simi lowers the torch, trying to save the old man’s dignity as Tonderai and Tim help him out of his shoes, his socks, and the sog of his trousers and shirt. They hang them over the end of the billiard table to dry, and then wrap him in a blanket, pulling it high above his shoulders and tight around his knees.
“Hey, any chance of water and a fire?” Tim raises his voice. “We need some warmth. Liquid, to help Fred take these pills.”
“Sure,” says Jambee, “I’ll go.”
“Okay.” Tonderai splashes over the wet floor to Rudd.
“Thanks,” Tim shouts as the three men force their way back into the wind. “You okay Simi?”
“I’m fine.” Simi clears her throat and tries again, louder. “Fine thanks!”
“All good thanks,” shouts Marybelle from her post beside Fred. “His hands are feeling warmer.”
Simi scolds herself for being pathetic, and turns her focus back to her job as windbreak. She adjusts her position, so her back is three quarters to the door. The furious wind slaps into her, finding every drip of damp, plucking through her kaftan, and sucking the energy from her bones.
It’s getting worse, or I’ve aged about three centuries.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023