The bed was high; all hospital beds seem to be. Further to fall and more chance of a terminal injury if you do. But it keeps the costs down, helps the budget, and afterwards, it's still there, inimitable and unrivalled, waiting for the next victim.
He stared down at the waxen-faced patient, held to life by wires, drips and equipment to monitor every bodily function -- blood pressure, sugar level, fluid balance and respiratory rates. Electronic and chemical analysis under continuous assessment...but what would happen if he switched something off or pulled out a tube or connection? And how long would it take for the electrical activity of the heart, displayed as a trace on a graph, to change its shape and sound a call to everyone on duty to come running, panicking to help or to switch everything off? He was tempted to find out, but he simply grinned and stepped out into the corridor.
It would have been easy. Nobody to see him. The only person there comatose and corpse-like, eyes open, mind closed. Presumably, it was closed. And so very easy. A quick tug, a switch turned and a back turned on the bastard lying there waiting without any awareness of voices, footsteps or hands stretching out to finish the job. Presumably. But how could anyone be sure?
They had asked his friends and relations to talk to him, played his favourite music, even attempted to shock him by making outrageous references to political decisions that would have turned him purple with fury before the accident. If it had been an accident, that is. They weren't sure. Would they ever be sure? He hoped not and grinned again as he strolled to the door.
Cameras clicked, digital machineguns firing at him and catching every gesture he made: flickers of annoyance, impatience and finally resignation. He dared not show his real feelings, unless he had already done so without realising and reacting in time. The trouble was, he couldn't avoid the press, the cameras and the questions. Always the bloody questions. They were always following him, especially here. You'd have thought that after all this time they'd have lost interest, or if not lost it, found someone else to pester or something more exciting and sensational than a dying, brain-dead bastard taking up all this time, effort, money and unnatural morbid nosiness.
"No. I've nothing more to say. I've said it all before..." Careful; don't give them anything to misquote. "What I mean is, there's no change. It's all very sad and frustrating." He had tolerated it for too long and would have to stop them.
"Do you mean you want them to switch off the life-support machine?"
Now he could look really angry, disguise the reason for it, and let them know what he wanted them to believe.
"I don't think that merits any polite comment, do you?" He glared stonily at the reporter and gave a sympathy-demanding smile at two of the female contingent. They were the pretty ones; young, casually-dressed, seemingly pleasant, but probably as hard and cold as frozen granite, playing their own games and checkmating everyone who got in their way.
"Are you sure you've got nothing else to say? No hopes or plans?"
"I've said all I can say. Now excuse me, please."
What could he have expected? Anyone who's a celebrity or mixes with one has to put up with the lack of privacy and the intrusion. Maybe, but he didn't want them trespassing into his thoughts. And that had become a real danger.
He finally reached his car and opened the door, but they all crowded around him and prevented him from getting in. And outside the main group was a face he recognised, staring expressionlessly as if the man had never felt any emotion and didn't know how to respond to any stimulus. But he did.
Him! What's he been doing here? he thought. He's not a reporter. He's nothing, not a relation, just a colleague. So why's he here?
Something in his eyes must have transmitted itself to the milling bodies, and they drew apart, asking more questions for the sake of justifying their presence there, probably, though moving away to let him get into the car. But before he could close the door, the man with the face of a plastic mask pushed two photographers aside and jammed himself against the driver's seat.
The murmur of questions ceased. Something was about to happen. No one knew what, but nobody was prepared to interfere to try and stop whatever it might be. And when it was too late to intervene, it happened. A fist crunched the driver's nose and, as the blood spurted over the windscreen, the door slammed shut and the man ran away.
An hour later, the man who had attacked the previous visitor arrived and appraised the room as he did every time. The bed was high. All hospital beds are designed to help the nurses. Too low, and they would cause back problems. He stared down at the patient and glanced at all the equipment, then watched the dials and monitors and listened to the electrical hum, anxious that none of it should fail. He was careful how he moved, fearful of inadvertently touching something and causing a problem... or worse.
He had spent a lot of time in the room, trying to talk about trivial, uncomplicated matters that would have meant something to the injured man, and he was no longer embarrassed if anyone came in and heard him. The nurses and doctors smiled their encouragement and sometimes joined in, emphasising a point or acknowledging a simple comment. And he returned time after time, several days a week, in the hope of seeing some improvement, but he always left aware that there was never any change and there probably never would be until the inevitable happened.
But what was the inevitable? The continuity of unconsciousness, death or...and he asked himself the same question as the previous visitor: was it a silent uncommunicative awareness of everything that happened around the bed?
The room, though, repelled any sign of intimacy, certainly offered no hope of contentment, and its very nature refused to permit anyone a sense of belonging; to anyone, that is, other than the uniformed nurses and stethoscope-wearing doctors. It was a prison, but the instruments of torture gave pain and suffering to those who came to see the patient. Not to the patient himself. He was there to attract the visitors, remind them of their relationship with him and to demand silently their return on another day or some other week.
When his time was up, unlike his predecessor, he went to the small office and spoke to the duty nurse. And his smile was gentle and sincere.