By Miles Weaver
“Just pop yourself up on here please Jonathon,” Dr Smith said in a calm, soothing manner. The slight frame of the boy, a mere ten years old, quickly sprung up onto the soft, cushioned mattress of the greying doctor’s examination table. “Now,” The doctor muttered, rummaging through his equipment to find an oversized lollypop stick, which he gripped between his thick, sausage-like fingers. “Let’s take a look at you.” Snapping a pair of thin latex gloves over his meaty hands he had the boy open his jaw. “Stick out your tongue please Jonathon.” He ordered politely, pressing down the quivering pink muscle with the spatula as it emerged from the child’s mouth. “Now, say ‘ahhhhh’.”
“Hmmm.” He wondered audibly, returning to his fastidiously organised mahogany desk, situated underneath a wall suffocated by certificates and placards that screamed his numerous professional qualifications. He groped across the polished tabletop, his hand moving like an ailing spider to reach a shiny sterile stethoscope that he looped around his neck like it costume jewellery.
“Is everything alright doctor?” Jonathon’s mother asked worriedly from her faux leather chair in the rear corner of the room.
“Nothing to be concerned about Mrs Prescott.” He reassured her. “I’m just taking a closer inspection of the patient.”
“My son.” She corrected.
“Quite.” He replied, returning behind the discreet screen that veiled the young boy from the concerned gaze of his mother. She wrung her hands like an old spinster of the seventeenth century might wring clothes, knotting and pulling on them with surprising force and angst. Her wandering eyes came to rest on the small table top advertisement on the edge of his desk: ‘Reclamation: The Sick Healing The Healthy’. She hurriedly tore her gaze from the Government sponsored slogan, refusing to consider the idea. The statement, along with the cold, patient silence that hung in the air and the overtly sanitary stench of disinfectant sent an unnerved chill throughout her body, giving her the creeping dread that she was sharing the room with a corpse.
“Just breathe in and out for me please Jonathon.” Dr Smith asked, the little body of his patient complying eagerly; the miniature chest rising and falling as the tiny nostrils flared, the fresh, tanned face of the blonde haired boy concentrating hard on showing off how healthy he was.
Suddenly the breathing shallowed and stopped, the chest cavity ceasing to move. Dr Smith backed off, a look of momentary concerned sweeping over his face before being replaced by one of curiosity as the boys breathing returned to normal. “Jonathon,” He asked, his tone dripping with syrupy sincerity. “Are you alright?”
“Mmmm hmmm.” The little boy nodded vigorously.
“Are you sure?”
His voice dropped into a whisper, calm, but slightly threatening to a boy of only ten. “Why did you stop breathing, Jonathon? It’s okay, you can tell me. I’m your friend.” Jonathon’s baby blue eyes shifted uncomfortably towards the thin, knotted carpet that adorned the floor. “What is it, Jonathon?”
“Is everything alright?” Mrs Prescott asked feverishly.
“Everything’s fine, Mrs Prescott, please don’t interrupt.” He spoke with an air of confidence that no layman would question, before dropping his voice back to the mousse whisper coated in sugar as he spoke with the boy. “What is it Jonathon? What’s wrong?”
“I’m not supposed to say.” The boy answered, his soft, churlish voice reduced to an awkward clutter of meek, clumsy sounds.
“Why?” Dr Smith whispered, stretching out the word like elastic and letting it hang in the air to resonate in the boy’s young mind. “Please tell me, Jonathon. It’s my job to make you better.” The soft smile that masked his face warmed the naïve boy’s feelings, restoring his confidence and faith in the professional man beside him.
“Sometimes, I don’t breathe very good.” He confided. “I want to, but I can’t. I can’t keep my breath going, and it makes me sleepy.”
“It makes you very tired?” The blonde head bobbed up and down in silent confirmation, the wide eyes blinking in agreement. “That’s okay, Jonathon.” He said, running his hand gently through his hair. “Don’t worry about telling me though. It’s our little secret, okay?” The duplicitous smile that warped the lines across his face was mirrored by one of genuine relief on the boy’s. “Let me just check here before we go see your mother.” He said, reaching carefully under boys chin and pressing his latex sheathed fingers gently against his glands. “Yes, I see. That’s fine.”
He gently pulled the boy off the examination table and stepped out from behind the screen, breaking the stilted silence that had been so deeply affecting Mrs Prescott. She rose sharply from her chair and walked toward her tottering son, wrapping her tender arms around him and hugging him to her cool body. “Sit down please.” Dr Smith commanded, his tone having changed from that of the caring confidant to that of a man of fixed parameters and absolutes. He sank into his deep leather chair, the throne from which he made proclamations over the healthy and the sick.
“I am glad you bought Jonathon to see me, Mrs Prescott. It is important that you did.”
“What do you mean doctor?” She asked, her voice a mix of both hesitance and denial. “Is Jonathon alright?”
“To the untrained eye, yes. Even when I saw him, he appeared to be quite a healthy little boy. I noticed only minor swelling in his throat, though that was nothing unusual, nothing to be worried about. But upon checking further, however, it was obvious to see the extent of his illness.”
“What illness?” She asked alarmed, the barren, colourless walls of the office closing in on her in an almost dreamlike fashion.
“Please Mrs Prescott, do not play ignorant.” He said, chidingly, the mother shrinking under the laser like efficiency of his perception. “It was obvious to me as soon as I pressed my stethoscope to his chest. It became even more obvious when your child stopped breathing. And I barely had to touch his glands.”
“What does this all mean?” She asked, a solitary bead of sweat beginning to trickle from under her carefully arranged hair. A tiny moist trail left in its wake like that of a slug as it cut through the fine layer of makeup on her skin.
“I’m afraid, Mrs Prescott, that hospitalization is the only course of action that I can recommend.”
The words flew from Dr Smith’s mouth like bullets fired a sniper rifle, speeding through the air and slamming into her ears, her world shattering as she realised what he was saying.
“No… Doctor, please, no… He’s only ten!”
“What does he mean mummy?” Jonathon asked, having been sitting patiently next to his mother, wondering what the round man and she were talking about.
“Don’t you worry about it Jonathon.” The practiced, placating tone retuning again, donned without a moments notice, like one might hurriedly throw on a favourite old jumper. “You’re going to be going on an adventure!”
“Where?!” The boy asked excitedly, the mere mention of the word ‘adventure’ freeing him from the eerie, cold surroundings of the doctors office and injecting colour back into things. He barely noticed his mothers trembling lip and watery eyes as she stared longingly at her son.
“What’ wrong mummy?” He asked innocently. “Why are you crying?”
“Don’t make this any harder than it has to be Mrs Prescott; you know the law. Either you can take him, or I can have someone come and collect him, leaving you here, facing possible criminal charges.”
“Mummy’s not crying, Jonathon. Mummy just has something in her eye.”
“Well you must get it out! You don’t want it to hurt you!” His mother laughed painfully through her tears.
“I cannot let this linger Mrs Prescott.” Dr Smith cut in abruptly. “You need to tell me now what you want to do, as paramedics need to collect the patient.”
“That is my son you are talking about, doctor.” She snapped, a glittering rage streaming through her clenched teeth. “And I will take him myself.”
“Very good.” He replied. “Please sign here to consent.” A single sheet of pink paper, pinned firmly to the mahogany surface by his meaty finger slid across the table to Mrs Prescott. Trembling, she reached for the pen that lay idly on top of it. Fighting to hold back tears, she forced herself to sign the sheet. She had not bothered to read the it, she, along with everyone else in the country, knew the details. ‘Pink death’, it had been nicknamed by the media. What had seemed – initially – to be a clever idea, voted into action with great enthusiasm, had soon gone horribly, horribly wrong.
“I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you what you have agreed to, but I must remind you, Mrs Prescott, you are now legally bound to deliver the patient to your local hospital. They have already been notified of the situation, and the authorities will be tracking your car to make sure you comply.”
“Yes. I understand.” A heart, wrenched with agony was momentarily consumed by hatred for this man that had once been bound to heal the sick, now little more than a herald for the angel of death.
“Do you have any significant others that you wish to have contacted and sent to the hospital? Husbands, siblings -”
“My husband is dead, doctor. And Jonathon is my only child.” A lonely tear of ice rolled down her emotionally drained face as she and her child made to leave.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” He replied.
There was no answer.
The journey from the doctors surgery to the hospital was made mostly in silence, the mother trying to remain strong for her child, who was blissfully unaware of what was happening. The bounced in his seat to the playful pop that sounded from the car radio, the music giving Mrs Prescott a momentary ray of happiness to see her child so vibrant and full of energy, while at the same time casting itself as a black contrast to the overwhelming grief at what she knew was about to come. The hourly news cut through the music like a scalpel; announcing that demonstrations outside Parliament for the abolition of Reclamation had been dispersed violently by police. “The heads of the movement continue to argue that too many illnesses are not being treated properly, with too many doctors advocating hospitalisation for a myriad of trivial illnesses in order to meet the targets set by the Government program. Hospitals, they argue, have been turned into little more than death - ” She hurriedly switched the radio over to the cars CD player, anxiously hoping that her son had not paid any attention to the grim news report.
The hospital was a bland, featureless building surrounded by acres of car parking space. She drove as the signs ordered her, arriving at the Centre for Reclamations a little over twenty minutes after leaving Dr Smith’s surgery. She had considered fleeing; going on the run with her child, but it was useless. Every car was installed with a GPS transmitter, allowing police to track any vehicle anywhere, and she was no hardened criminal who could last on the run; she was a mother to her child, and she lived for only for him. Since her husband had died she felt there was little left in her life but for her son, her one reason to keep living.
The car purred to a standstill in the parking bay, and they both waited in silence under the grey quilt of sky, Mrs Prescott remembering the day several weeks ago when she first noticed her child showing signs of being infected. She had hoped and prayed that they were unfortunate coincidences, but deep down, a mother knows when something is wrong. And she knew then. She knew the path it would lead her down. The path that had bought them to the Centre for Reclamations. “Why aren’t we getting out mummy?” Jonathon asked quizzically.
“Sorry dear,” She replied, her breathe almost taken from her as she heard her only child speak. “Mummy was just thinking.”
“Yes, you. Mummy was thinking about what a good boy you’ve always been. What a fine little man you’ve grown up to be.”
“I’m not all grown up yet!” He exclaimed excitedly. “I’m going to be big and strong like an elephant one day!”
She laughed, a pitiful, yet happy laugh, repeatedly forcing herself to fight back the uncontrollable flood of tears. The closeness of the grief broke slowly into a smile; a warm, glowing smile, enveloped in a love that only a parent and their child can share. It would light up the face of any human walking the earth, but it was reserved for the two in the parked car only. “I love you Jonathon.”
“I love you too mummy.”
Slowly, they walked toward the building, a long and torturous march that seemed as if it would never end. Mrs Prescott found that merely keeping one foot moving in front of the other was the most difficult action she had ever had to perform, the sorrow smothering her like Clingfilm, and sinking into her feet like molten lead. Jonathon skipped happily along holding his mother’s hand, contentedly ignorant about what was really happening. The automatic doors of the building snapped open, their polarised windows hiding the crisp white interior within. A single desk sat before them, a rigid automaton of a middle aged nurse standing behind it. Mrs Prescott approached slowly.
“Jonathon Prescott?” The nurse asked abruptly before either of them said a word.
“That’s me!” He replied with a smile. The nurse studied the LCD computer monitor in front of her.
“Room number forty three please.” The emotionless command came. The two of them walked down the corridor behind the desk, their trainers both squeaking on the lino floor. They entered the little room, Mrs Prescott closing the door behind them. She sat Jonathon down in the only chair and stroked his hair lovingly, knowing this was the last time she would ever do this. Seeing the red light above the door illuminate she bent down and kissed him on the forehead, then wrapped her arms round him and hugged him. He hugged back, in that fashion children do, a longing, yet powerless grip, a sign of the strength they should one day grow up to have.
“You be a good boy for the doctors now Jonathon.” She whispered. “They’re going to sort out your breathing and make you all better.” Finally she cracked, the tears streaming from her eyes like a waterfall of sadness.
“Don’t cry mummy, I’ll be back soon!”
She smiled, gasping for breath amidst the sobs. “Yes you will.” A hissing sound announced the imminent decompression of the room, and she released him, backing away towards the door they entered through, and pulling the airtight safety glass across. “You’re going to go to sleep now dear, mummy…” She struggled desperately to get her words out through her tears. “Mummy will see you soon.” She smiled at him, he smiled back, before silently slipping into unconsciousness.
After a few moments the room repressurised and a man in medical uniform walked in. He checked the boy’s vital signs to check he was still alive, then turned to Mrs Prescott behind the glass. “I know this is hard. But it’s for the best.” He said, barely a hint of compassion registering in his voice. He was too used to giving the same speech. “His organs will save dozens of lives.”
“You won’t even diagnose him properly!” She screamed through her tears. “It’s just flu!”
“Doesn’t matter I’m afraid. You know the law. Healthy organs donated before they become useless. The money the Government makes selling them funds the economy. Everyone thinks it’s a good idea until it happens to them. I’m sorry.”
He turned and gripped the chair. Things moved in slow motion. He wheeled her son out of the room. She screamed, clawing and banging on the glass; her tears, her sweat, her spit smearing the unbreakable screen between them. She wailed helplessly as a counsellor came to remove her from the room. She resisted and struggled, not wanting to leave the space where she had last seen her child alive. They had to force her. Force her to vacate. Her body, empty of everything struggled valiantly to stop them, but they were too strong, finally dragging her from the room to the counselling suites.
The door slammed shut.