Dart Valley Writers U3A
Paul sat at the cafe table watching the busy station concourse at Geneva Airport. It was a maelstrom of rushing people. Bags and skis spilt from trolleys, harassed mothers pacified tired children; some business people were glued to their mobiles as they headed for trains. All were dressed against the harsh weather; he had never seen such a variety of boots. Occasionally a chic woman in a fur coat sashayed past in a cloud of expensive perfume.
Paul played nervously with the foil biscuit wrapper, feeling under-dressed. He had arrived from Dubai a couple of hours ago, and his layers of cotton clothing were proving inadequate. He hoped that Tom would soon be arriving on the Easy Jet flight from London, which had been delayed. Their train to Visp via Lausanne left in forty-five minutes, and he hoped to God that they would make it. Paul went to buy their tickets and some sandwiches and drinks for the journey.
Glancing up at the information board, he saw that Tom's plane had finally landed, and shortly afterwards an S.O.S. signalled that he had a message; it was Tom, he was on his way to the station to meet him. Paul heaved a sigh of relief, drained his second coffee and went inside to pay.
Finally, Tom appeared on the escalator. Paul thought he looked tired, as he smiled weakly at his father on his way down.
'Tom! Good to see you.' He embraced his son.
'Hey,Dad. Sorry I was late.' he didn't meet his father's eyes.
'What was the problem?'
'They had to de-ice the plane before we could take off.. The weather has been pretty grim. I don't suppose you remember what a British winter is like?'
Paul noted the dig, but continued with a bright smile. 'Yeah, we don't get much snow in Dubai! Shall we go to the platform? Our train leaves in fifteen minutes. I've already bought the tickets.'
Paul picked up his leather weekend bag, Tom hoisted his rucksack onto his shoulder, and they made their way to the escalator that led to platform four.
They settled into a window seat, with a narrow table between them. Tom had begun to plug in small white ear pieces, and was selecting his music for the journey.
How are you doing, Tom? This is terrible news.' Paul looked into his son's eyes, hoping to break through his protective cool persona.
'I'm O.K. Dad', his eyes flickered momentarily over his father's face, and then returned to his music.
They were both silent for a while, lost in thought.
'Any more news from the hospital?'
'Mum's stable; no change really', there was a pause and then, 'Don't pretend you care!'
'Woah, where did that come from? Of course I care; what would I be doing here if I didn't?'
Tom's eyes were glistening; he couldn't hold Paul's steady gaze.
'Why did you leave us if you care so much?'
'It was complicated.'
'Yeah? Well now you have a chance to explain.'
'Look, your mother and I had been growing apart for some time...' Paul sighed, and faltered. He wasn't prepared for an interrogation under these circumstances, and he wanted to choose his words carefully. 'When you left home to go to university, it seemed like a reasonable time to separate.'
'So, it seemed reasonable for you to break up the family, and race off to Dubai, leaving us with the consequences? Mum was a mess, you know.'
'Really? It wasn't a barrel of laughs for me either!'
'I thought it was what you wanted.'
'Me? No. It wouldn't have been my choice.'
'Why go then?'
'Look, I don't want to get into this, with your mother so ill in hospital. It doesn't seem right.'
'You're dodging the question!'
'O.K! She had been having an affair for a year or more before I found out,' Paul blurted out. His voice had risen with emotion, and several passengers looked across at him.
'You're lying! Mum would never do that!' Tom's face was flushed with anger, and his tall thin frame began to shake.
'Let's get some air in the corridor, and I'll try to explain.' Paul moved to put his arm around Tom to steer him away from the staring eyes of the other passengers.
Tom jumped up, shrugged off Paul's touch and stalked off to the toilet. Paul followed him through the automatic doors of the carriage into the connecting corridor. He pulled down the window, closed his eyes and let the icy air fan his face. Christ, this was hard!
When Tom finally came out of the toilet, his eyes were red and he was calmer.
'So, Mum and Nick hadn't just been friends; all that time they were...? Why couldn't she have told me? I'm not a kid any more.'
'Guilt? It was easier not to, I guess. You're only at home in the holidays and odd weekends. You're building your own life now.'
'It's my family we're talking about! I don't deserve to be lied to.'
'I know. Someday, I hope that you can talk to her about it. But right now, we just have to pray that she recovers from her skiing accident. Why in God's name wasn't she wearing a helmet?'
It was Paul who now welled up at the thought of his wife lying inert in a hospital bed. Tom came over to hug him, and the two remained locked together, each following their separate thoughts about the same woman.
'Let's go and crack open those beers.'
Once back in their seats, they drank beer and ate their sandwiches.
'I have never stopped loving you or your mother, you know. Everything was a mess, and then this job came up in Dubai...It seemed like a good solution at the time. But I guess I was just escaping from the reality of the situation. I didn't think enough about how you would feel; I was so wrapped up in my own hurt.'
'It's OK Dad,' his expression had softened; he seemed to appreciate Paul's honesty, albeit rather late in the day.
Tom plugged into his MP3 player and sat with a glazed expression, lost in music and thought. Paul glanced across at him occasionally. The boy had a lot to deal with just now. Maybe he could take a block of time off work; Tom could do with some support.
Paul looked out across the lake as they sped towards their destination. At any other time, he would have enjoyed the spectacular scenery, but today it hardly touched him. He was fearful of what the prognosis would be for his wife, and Tom must surely be thinking the same. It was going to be tough, but if they could put recriminations aside, they should be able to help each other through it; as a family.
When they arrived in Visp, Paul and Tom took a taxi directly to the hospital. As they sped through the well-ordered streets and approached the hospital, Paul began to feel anxious about his wife's health. His mind began racing; it was the first time that he had allowed himself to dwell on Carla's injury. You hear stories about head injuries, and there are rarely positive outcomes. She could end up paralysed...Oh God
The taxi swung into the forecourt of the Spitalzentrum Oberwallis. Paul fumbled with the money in his wallet; he had to pay with a mixture of Swiss Francs and Euros, and he felt sure that he had been overcharged, but his brain wasn't functioning properly, so he let it go
They hoisted up their bags and walked into the bright reception area. Paul summoned up his very basic German.
'Bitte, meine frau ist im Krankenhaus..'
'What is her name?' asked the receptionist in a faultless English accent.
'Please, write that for me.'
Paul went through the formalities, while Tom stood silently behind him. Eventually they were given the name of a ward, and instructions on how to get there, and they headed for the lift. They got out on the 7th floor, and followed the signs to the Intensive Care Unit. They glimpsed patients, doctors and nurses as they walked along the brightly lit corridor. Each doorway revealed an intense, cocooned world of the sick and those caring for them.
They found Carla's ward, and spoke to a nurse.
‘Ja, you can see her, but she is in coma. Talk to her. Maybe it helps her.'
She led them to Carla's bedside. ‘The doctor comes soon.'
Carla was attached to a ventilator, and covered with an array of tubes and cannulas. She didn't look like his wife; at first he thought there was some mistake…
Tom broke down, seeing his mum lying there inert and unresponsive. He couldn't hold himself together any more. Paul walked over to him, and hugged him tight.
‘It's going to be O.K. These types of injuries take a long time to heal. We'll have to be patient, but we're here together now.'
‘Hello, I'm Dr.Schneider.' The doctor came in and shook their hands, as they introduced themselves.
‘How bad is my wife's injury?'
‘She has sustained an extradural haematoma, a serious head injury. I cannot at this stage, tell you how this will affect her. She is on the ventilator to help her breathe, and we shall just have to see how she progresses, I'm afraid.'