|From Reflections of a Curlew|
image by ed g2s
Ok - it is a gross story but it is based on a true incident that happened when I worked as an auxiliary nurse in a geriatric ward in Stoke-on-Trent, many years ago now. I wrote it for a competition so it had to have this title.
For audio version see my Short Shorts page on my website. It is read by Alison Sterling.
Yum - enjoy
Death By Chocolate
Susan stared despondently at her half grapefruit, slice of whole-wheat toast and black coffee, day two of her diet and it was unrelentingly awful. Not that she was very large, not really, but she decided to try yet again to lose weight after Maggie, 93 and long term resident of the geriatric ward she worked on, had said jovially “You’ll have no trouble getting a man nurse, nothing wrong with you a pair of corsets wouldn’t put right.”
It wasn’t that she craved lots of food, just sweet things now and then like a nibble of a biscuit with coffee, a thin slice of cake with afternoon tea and a small scoop of ice cream with chocolate sauce while watching TV in the evening. How could such tiny quantities pile on the pounds? She remembered last night’s Weight Watchers meeting and the golden rule: “Always be honest about what you eat!” She sighed for the 5th time that morning - and it was only quarter past six: “well perhaps not always such small nibbles” Susan loved life and loved food - oh why couldn’t the two go together? Can you really be happy and thin?
Matron of the geriatric ward was a good soul but strict about cleanliness; what with all the deadly viruses in hospitals these days, she was right to insist on it. Ignoring her gurgling stomach Susan listened to the morning briefing. The usual bed-baths, toileting and tidying the ward had to be done well, along with organising the arrival of new patients and the departures of those going home. Mr O’Nions was off today “it may sound amusing nurse but we have a coat of arms you know”. And Mr Blake was leaving after a stay of 4 weeks. Mr Blake intrigued Susan.
Mr Blake - he objected to being called by his Christian name Sidney - was 85 and very thin. He had cold, watery eyes and there were no laughter lines to hint at any joy in earlier life. “Morning Mr Blake, off today I see,” chirped Susan. But as usual she was met with a stare that would stop a clock. “Now, I’m going to give your son a sheet of paper with instructions on food. You make sure you eat lots of fruit and vegetables. We need to sort out your constipation.” “That’s right Sidney” said the ever-homely Ethel, an auxiliary nurse who had worked on this ward for years. “If you keep pooing like a sheep it means you are not eating the right food and drinking enough water! You don’t want to see those little balls. You want soft ones deary.” Lovely way with words had Ethel.
A wave of compassion came over Susan, even though she couldn’t find much to like about Mr Blake. Why no sense of humour or conversation? What had happened in his life to make him so rigid and blocked? Presumably once he’d been a happy toddler, a hormone filled teenager and a young man with a passion for life? After all he had a son. But it was hard to imagine him holding hands, let alone making love. She perched on the side of his bed and gently touched his thin forearm. “Look after yourself now Mr Blake, I hope you’re feeling better.” He jerked away with unnecessary force and shot her a look so full of disdain she almost cried.
At 11.00 am Derek Blake arrived to take his father home. He bought the ward a large box of Maltesers as a thank you. “Damn! My favourite” thought Susan and almost resented him for his kindness.
Susan watched the thin, bent-over figure of Mr Blake leave without a word or a glance at anyone. Matron opened the box of Maltesers. “Now this really is torture,” thought Susan, but remembered Clarisse from Weight Watchers – “a minute on the lips a lifetime on the hips ladies!” “Distract yourself Susan, distract yourself.”
She went over to Mr Blake’s empty bed and started to strip the sheets and clear out his locker. “My goodness, a small box of Maltesers! Perhaps he does have a wild side after all,” called Susan to Ethel, waving the red box. Ethel was crunching on yet another sweet, honeycomb jewel smothered in milk chocolate. The balls of delight rattled in the box, demanding her attention. “Bless him - hard soul that one," said Ethel "something turned him. But I did see him eating maltesers the other day. He dropped the box and they went all over the floor, you wouldn’t believe how far a ball of chocolate can roll. Derek bought him some more.” Susan held the unopened box and her fingers lingered over the cellophane wrapper just a little too long, but eventually she gave it to Ethel; it could be added to the gift, no point in sending it back.
This diet was getting harder and harder. How she craved just one chocolate covered crunchy sweet – just one – she felt her resolve waning.
Susan continued to clean around and under the bed. To her surprise she found a few maltesers on the floor, right at the back by the wall, left over from when he dropped the box no doubt. Her hands, protected by disposable gloves reached for one. It was small, round and sat prettily in the palm of her hand and looked delicious in the dim light under the bed. The chocolate cover seemed a little dry, but chocolate can go dull. She’d eaten plenty in her time and it tasted just as good. A fierce battle commenced. The floor under the bed was clean, thanks to Matron, the malteser was only dropped recently so perhaps a little dusty but it would still be fine, so what harm would one do?
Mantras from Weight Watchers flooded back as she stared at temptation “Food Does Not Control Me” “Fat is Not Funny” and so on. But her hand moved ever closer to her mouth. “Stop before it is too late Susan!” she screamed to herself. But she was out of control. The urge for sugar was overwhelming and as she put the small, brown piece of sin up to her mouth Ethel called out – “Oh – and look out for some of Mr Blake’s sheep droppings, I tipped his bed pan over yesterday.”