*Features adult language and themes.*
“Why can’t I buy more than two packets of pain killers?”
“Because that’s the law, sir.”
“What’s to stop me buying two packs of paracetamol from you then coming back into the store and buying two packs of ibuprofen through another checkout?”
“So isn’t it a little redundant?”
“I guess it’s a small deterrent. You’d have to really want to do that to get more painkillers.”
“So there’s nothing to stop me from going to a different shop and buying painkillers? I could go to every shop in town and stock pile pills if I wanted to.”
“Yes, sir. You could choose to do that.”
“So what’s the point in limiting how many pills I can buy in a single transaction, if I can buy as many as I like in multiple transactions?”
“Because that’s the law, sir,” said Jon.
The customer threw his hands up in frustration. His face was all red and blotchy and he had an aggressive looking vein popping out of his temple.
If anyone needs some paracetamol, it’s probably him.
The man paid and stormed off.
The next customer came to the till.
Jon was about to start putting the items through when Jim came striding up to the checkout holding one of the store’s cordless phones. “Jon, you have a phone call. It sounds quite urgent. I’ll take over for you.” The phone was thrust into Jon’s hand and he was ushered out of the checkout area. “Make your way out back, OK,’ said Jim signing Jon out of the system and logging on himself.
This must be important, I can’t remember the last time Jim got on a till?
Jon put the phone up to his ear. “Hello?”
“Jon, thank God. It’s Dad. I’m in the car outside the staff entrance. You need to get your stuff and meet me. It’s all been squared away with your manager. I’ve spoken to him.”
Jon had started to run through the store, dodging shoppers and trolleys. The tone in his fathers voice was disconcerting. He was forcing himself to speak slowly and calmly. “What’s happened?”
“It’s Robbie. We had to call an ambulance. Your Mum went with him. I’m taking you straight there. I’ve also called Evie’s work. Her boss said she’d take her.”
“Alright. I’ll be there in a minute.” Jon got out into the warehouse and reached for his clock-out card. His hands were shaking and he couldn’t get it in the slot. In the end he gave up, emptied his locker and ran out to meet his Dad.
* * *
Jon managed to keep control on the journey. He let his Dad concentrate on driving to the hospital as fast as he could, as safely as he could. He’d never seen his Dad drive like it. At one point Jon was concerned that they’d be pulled over by a lurking traffic officer.
Jon tried to order the questions in his head for when he might be able to get answers, but his thoughts kept tumbling around on top of each other. He realised he was breathing heavily. He couldn’t keep still.
All his father had told him was that Robbie seemed to be having trouble breathing. They called the ambulance when his lips started to go blue.
Jon didn’t know if he wanted to hear that last detail or not.
The car pulled up outside Accident & Emergency, his Dad told him to get out and find his Mother, she should be waiting for him. He was going to park the car.
The A&E was a relatively new building, a lot less depressing than its former incarnation, yet it failed to fill Jon with a lot of hope.
His lips turned blue before they called the ambulance.
Jon ran up to the desk, the receptionist was dealing with another patient. “Excuse me…”
“Sir, please wait you turn. I’m dealing with this gentleman.”
It seemed like the most preposterous request anyone had ever made of him.
I’m supposed to stand here and wait while my son could be dying somewhere in the building?
Jon pushed his way forward and grabbed the man the receptionist was dealing with.
“I’m really sorry. I truly am, but my son was just bought here by ambulance and I have no idea what’s going on. I’m very scared and I can’t wait any longer.”
“Are you Mr. Talbot?”
Jon whirled around to look at the receptionist. “Yes.”
“You need to come this way.” She pointed to a set of doors beyond the reception desk. Jon awkwardly patted the other mans clothes down where he’d grabbed him and moved past towards where the receptionist was waiting for him. She opened the doors and he saw his Mum sitting in a full waiting area crying into a tissue. Her head turned to see him and a little more hope left Jon’s heart. His mothers eyes, were red and glassy, it looked like she might cry blood at any moment. Her mouth hung open slackly as little uncontrollable whimpers and screams emanated from her throat. The sobs wracked her body pumping her shoulders up and down.
“Mum.” Jon went over to her, knelt and hugged her close. “What happened, is he OK?”
Jon’s mum tried her best to control herself, she tried breathing deeply. In the end she told Jon what happened between sobs. “I’m so sorry, Jon. I’m so sorry.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about, Mum. You got him to the hospital. He’s in the best place. Try to calm down and tell me what happened.” Jon realised he was squeezing his Mum’s shoulders very hard, it was obviously causing her pain. “Sorry. Please. Try and tell me what happened.”
“He was playing on the floor. I sometimes take him into my library room and he plays quite happily while I read or research something. I know for certain he wasn’t playing with anything that had any small bits, or anything. I remember thinking about it. I was thinking about it because he’s been coughing more lately, have you noticed that?”
“Yeah, we have. We booked a doctors appointment for him, we were going to take him tomorrow.”
“Anyway, I’ve heard him wheeze a bit as well. But that can be quite normal for little ones now and again.
“I was putting a book back on the shelf, I had my back to him and I heard a ‘clonk,’ like he’d dropped a toy or something. I turned around and he was laid flat out on the floor. He was coughing and wheezing. His little chest was going up and down like a rabbit. I called out for your Dad and he came running in. He took one look and dialled 999. I went over to Robbie and put my cardigan under his head, checking to see if he was bleeding. By the sounds of things he’d fallen back quite hard.” She started crying again, her words getting lost amongst her whimpering. “I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know what to do.”
Jon hugged her again. “It’s alright Mum, it’s going to be OK.” He was desperate to believe his own words, but he needed the rest of the story.
As if prompted his Dad came through the doors from reception, waving away the receptionist. “Leave me alone woman, I need to see my family.” The receptionist pointed a quizzical look towards Jon and he nodded to say that it was OK.
“How long did the ambulance take, Dad?”
“They got there bloody quick. It felt like an age, but they were at the door inside 7 minutes. Your Mum was brilliant. She sat with him all the while talking to him, trying to soothe him, keep him calm. By the time the paramedics got to him he wasn’t making anymore noises and his lips had gone a bluish colour. The ambulance man checked his fingernails too. I remember that because I thought it was odd.
“They had an oxygen mask on him and got him into the ambulance as quick as you like, then they were gone. Your Mum stayed with him and I got on the blower to let you both know what was going on.”
Jon suddenly took a look around. “Evie isn’t here yet.”
His father touched him gently on the shoulder. “Try and stay calm. I’ll go outside and wait for her. I’ve got her bosses number, I’ll see where they’ve got to, alright?”
His Dad left. Jon realised he was still holding his Mum close. She leaned away from him. Her eyes were still wet, but a wave of calm seemed to have come over her.
“Has anyone said what they think happened to him?” Jon asked.
“A doctor hasn’t been out yet. The paramedics thought he might be choking on something.” She put her hand to her head. “I’ve been wracking my brains, Jon. I can’t think of anything in that room he could have got hold of and put in his mouth. I had my back turned for a few seconds.” The calm vanished and her features collapsed back into grief. “If anything happens to him I won’t be able to forgive myself. Oh, Jon, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s OK, Mum. It’s going to be OK.” He still couldn’t bring himself to believe it.
* * *
“I remember the first few weeks after we took him home. The first few months really. They say the sleepless nights are all down to the the baby crying, but they’re not. I forced myself to stay awake, or wake up periodically in the night. It wasn’t planned, I did it automatically. I was so worried he’d just… stop. You know? It’s like that clock in your dinning room. If you go in that room it’s the only noise you can hear, apart from that ticking and tocking there’s utter silence. When the batteries run out or the mechanism fails and you go into that room, it’s unbearable. For me that room is incomplete without the rhythmic noise. It’s like that room is breathing.
“I was so scared he’d stop working. I’d creep into the room and listen for the air hissing in and out of him. Sometimes I couldn’t hear it, so I’d lay my hand on his little chest trying to feel that slightest of movements as it went up and down.
“Course, over time that paranoia fades away. You realise how resilient kids are, you take it for granted that they’ll carry on through anything. But there’s always that little nagging doubt left over from those first few months. That little splinter of a thought lodged in some dark corner of your brain. A fear of something happening to them. The fear that they’re going to stop and leave you behind.”
Tears were running down Jon’s face by the time he’d finished talking. His Mum was still sitting next to him, holding his hand. She’d stopped crying and found her composure.
It was impossible to tell how long they had been sitting there. It could have been five minutes or five years. Time was meaningless, the only thing they wanted was news. The time it took for that to come to them was entirely irrelevant.
Jon’s Mum leaned over to him. “I don’t mean anything by it Jon, I really don’t, but I’m going to pray. Would you like to join me?” Jon nodded, the tears falling from his face.
She bowed her head and began silently talking to herself, her lips moving slightly with the words that resounded inside her head. Jon watched her for a moment. She looked peaceful, in control.
Jon closed his eyes, the unnatural light in the waiting area created bright spots on the inside of his eyelids. The darkness eventually won out.
I have no idea how to do this. I haven’t prayed to anyone or anything since I was a boy. Even then I didn’t fully believe in it. I’ve often made fun out of religion. I can honestly say I don’t believe in a higher power, yet here I am talking to myself. I don’t want to be one of those hypocritical people that only pray when they want something. If I did believe I’d make sure I prayed to say thanks when things were good instead of waiting for some disaster and asking for help. So I guess I’m praying to myself.
Dear Jon. Whatever happens know that you have your family around you. That you love your wife, and she loves you. Life is a test and you can only fail by giving up.
When Jon lifted his head and opened his eyes. He saw two things. A doctor coming towards them and Evie running through the doors.
Many thanks for reading. If you have any feedback or thoughts, feel free to comment below.