SmokeLong Quarterly

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Story by Rose McDonagh (Read author interview) December 15, 2003

I’m sitting in a hospital waiting room, waiting to hear news about you.

I’m also trying to control my breathing. Trying to get that tight, grasping sensation in my throat and chest to go back to the rhythmed in out, in out that it should be.

I’ve been looking for things to keep my mind occupied. Quiet things to help me. There’s a stack of magazines on the coffee table in front of my chair. Some of them are new, others are all dog-eared and wrinkled. I’ve tried leafing through these. I’ve tried to find an article to pin my thoughts down for a minute or two. But the people in the pictures are too happy. Too unaware. Looking back at me with bright, glossy smiles from bright, glossy adverts and fashion features. They just send my thoughts careering right back where I don’t want them to go.

So, the magazines are no good.

I’ve tried looking at my work too. I’ve got some papers still in my bag. But when I hold them in front of me, my eyes run over the words without hearing their sounds, without seeing their images.

No, work is no good either.

Nothing eases me, not for a moment and that’s the trouble with fear.

I am reminded of a story of my grandfather used to tell. My grandfather was man who walked in fear his whole life. He was a superstitious person who wore his superstition like a badge, never hiding it from anyone. One year, he had a job working on a building site in what had been, in Victorian times, a grim psychiatric hospital. The place was full of hidden corners, secret passageways and rooms that had been kept locked for decades. It even had a series of tunnels running underground for moving people who were not to see the light of day. So, naturally, stories arose about ghosts and apparitions, aimed mainly at my grandfather.

A certain night he was working in the building alone, without knowing that the man who’d bought the place was showing his young daughter round. His shift passed until, around eleven, he was walking by the entrance to one of the tunnels. As he stopped to check the tunnel, he heard a child’s laugh, a small but clear sound, bubbling up from deep inside, echoing onto the walls around him. A tiny, soft laugh and nothing more. Well, this scared him so much that he ran. Ran blindly in the opposite direction. Ran without thinking, ran into darkness. That little, innocent voice invoking the wildest, deepest panic.

He ran straight into a chair that had been left out in one of the halls. Smashed his toe completely. The bone shattered. He told me of the noise it made and how, in the blindness of fear, it took a few seconds to register the pain.

And this is the kind of fear I feel now.

I feel as if I could just get up and run from here. Run blindly, madly, through the hospital corridors, until I reach a wall and smash not a bone, but my whole body. Escape the waiting and the stillness and run until I shatter free from my own flesh and blood.

This is the kind of fear I feel now. This is how I really feel as I’m sitting here waiting to hear news about you.

About the Author

Rose McDonagh is a Scottish writer of prose and poetry. She lives in Edinburgh and has previously had work published in BBC Wildlife Magazine and Labyrinth Orange.

This story appeared in Issue Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Two

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