I was about five years old. I’d shuffled across the waiting room to a plastic blue chair in the corner, away from the eyes of others, and clambered onto the seat. The chair was next to a small wooden table with a box of tissues sat upon it. I was sobbing silently in the corner on my chair, my little legs dangling above the floor, with three mushed-up tear-sodden tissues in my small fist. One of the nurses had offered me a cup of juice, but I’d shaken my head without taking my eyes off the floor, my scraggly brown hair hiding my tear soaked face; I’d felt sick.
After an hour or so, a plump, redheaded nurse had squatted down beside me and asked my name.
‘Hannah,’ I’d muttered.
‘I’m Nancy; it’s nice to meet you, Hannah.’ I said nothing. ‘Do you know what, petal, I think I have just the thing for you.’ She’d pushed herself up and I’d dragged my eyes off the floor to watch her through strands of limp hair as she went behind her reception desk, rummaged through some papers, and came back towards me, holding something behind her back. She crouched beside me once more, smiled, and held out a brand new colouring book and some crayons. I looked up properly as my small green eyes filled with tears at her undeserved kindness; I’d never been given a colouring book before. She smiled at me again and left them with me. I took another tissue to dry my eyes before carefully turning the crisp pages until I came across an outline of a butterfly. I carefully coloured it all in, making sure not to go over the lines, using only the black crayon; it didn’t feel like a time for colour. Not when my mother was in a nearby room having her stomach pumped.
When we’d got to the hospital they rushed her off, entwined in tubes and wires that I didn’t understand. Then I waited. I spent the night curled up across two of the plastic chairs in the waiting room because my mother didn’t want me by her bed; she refused. Nancy had found some blankets for me but I didn’t sleep very much. When my mother was discharged, she stormed towards the waiting room, grabbed my arm and marched me straight out of the hospital without a word of thanks to any of the doctors or nurses. The colouring book lay open underneath my chair at the page of the black butterfly.
That colouring book was mine. Nancy kept it especially for me, and throughout my childhood I’d coloured in almost every picture in the book. It didn’t make me look forward to my mother collapsing by any means; I dreaded having to come back and sit on that chair, it always brought back an unwelcome sickly feeling in the pit of my stomach. But I had someone to look out for me when it was clear that my mother didn’t. They’d had to replace their black crayon several times during my infant years. I never touched the others.
That was years ago. I imagine other children have used every colour in the carton since they were mine. I hope they did. I wonder if Nancy would recognise me now, or if she remembers me. I’ve spent a lot of time in the hospital recently but I haven’t seen her. Then again I haven’t exactly been in the waiting room. Funny, I’d spent hours and hours in that waiting room because I was an accident and I drove my mother to drink, but now it’s different. I’ve caused my own accident this time.
A doctor comes into my room and checks the machines surrounding my lifeless body. After making some brief notes, he leaves again. It’s too quiet in here for my liking; at least the waiting room had a bit of noise, the buzz of the reception desk, the other waiting families. I never realised when I was younger how much I needed other people to be waiting for someone too – I’d always sat in my corner, away from them, but now I really am alone and I don’t think I like it. I never appreciated the noise. Now it’s silent. I can’t go anywhere in here; I’ve only been able to drift around the room, never leaving my body for too long. Maybe if I went too far I might not be able to get back at all, and I haven’t made my mind up about that yet.
I’d been walking. Not walking anywhere in particular, just anywhere to get out of the house. I was always easily distracted, by a stray cat or a cloud shaped like something other than a cloud. My mind had to wander; it would have been a dark place otherwise. That day, I remember seeing shadows on the pavement at my feet. I’d chased them. I chased them all the way into the road, but they escaped over the car while I crumpled at the front of it. I’d been chasing the shadows of butterflies.
I circle the room some more, and hover in the chair next to my unrecognisable self. I’m curious as to how far I can actually go, so I allow my ghost to wander just outside my room and take a nosey peek down the corridor; I see my waiting room. I float closer until I can see my chair. The tissues have been replaced my magazines on my table. Underneath them, I see a child’s colouring book.
The loud panicked beeping of machines starts screeching from down the corridor. I tear my eyes away from the reception I know all too well and float back towards the noise – it’s my room. Doctors and nurses are running in, I can’t get close enough to see what’s happening to me. I don’t think I have a choice anymore. It’s being made for me.