Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Photos From The Attic - Part Six

Part One of this story can be found here.

It hadn't occurred to me that they wouldn't let me see him. Once I'd admitted that I wasn't a blood relative it wasn't going to be a case of copying the nightclub queue technique, to go outside, change my jersey, put on a pair of sunnies and try my luck again, this time with a better back-story. It was during an intense flood of anger that the futility of my situation finally dawned on me.

I unclenched my fists, smiled, made placatory comments. I turned away, waving my hands to show the fast-approaching security guards that I was leaving, that I didn't need to be escorted. I turned back towards reception. All eyes were on me, arms folded across chests, mouths held tightly shut. Behind the receptionist's head was a sign.

Rooms 1 - 52. Even.

I let the door bang shut as I left. I'd have to be convincing if I were to get away with what I had planned.

No one was outside waiting, the car that had carried me here off on an excursion with its silent driver. I guess he hadn't considered the problems I'd encountered either: the reluctance of the staff to let me in to see Foley. I kicked at the ground, turning again to see if I was still in the receptionist's headlights; I was, so I kicked the ground again and stalked off towards the street.

Once I knew I couldn't be spotted from the reception area, I scuttled around the back of a large rhododendron bush, it's purple flowers scattering a confetti as I pushed past. I was around the side of the home, a wing stretching outwards in front of me and upwards two storeys.

I took the letter from my pocket, looked closely at the address. There it was: number 16. Foley's room number. I reckoned on it being on the ground floor, possibly the first storey. Whichever it was, I knew I could find a way to see him, to question him; to interrogate. He was the last link and I wasn't going to let things slip away from me now that I was close to finding out some real answers.

All I needed to do was find an open window.

I strolled as casually as I could around the side of the building, the rough of the brick rubbing against my arm as I slid around the corner. I held my breath, waiting for what I thought was the inevitable shout, the "hey, what you doing" voice that would make me run, flee being the only response my body could be relied upon to make in such a situation. But it didn't come and I was able to get some more air into my burning lungs. I stifled a cough and crouched down low, taking small steps forward, bobbing my head up occasionally to see if a room was empty, or if not, whether it held captive a drooling old person, the drugs keeping them pliable but not lucid. Some of the windows had bars stretching vertically, preventing me from accessing the building; only when I found staff rooms were the bars removed and that wasn't a room in which I was willing to try my luck at getting in: a sure-fire trip to the police station heralded such a wanton move.

I had to face facts: I wasn't going to break in.

Once I'd completed the circuit and knew for sure that Foley was beyond my reach, I sighed heavily. I walked away from the home, walked away from knowing what had happened in that jungle, what had made my Gramps the way he was; only one person knew what he had gone through, what he had witnessed and that person was guarded almost as heavily as a President. Or a dictator. I was at a loss, my head hanging down, forehead creased, arms limp at my side.

It was useless; it was time to go home.

And then I heard it, a faint sound at first but becoming louder. It was the distinctive sound of a fire alarm. Somehow, someone had made the impossible come true: the senior citizen's home was being evacuated.

The alarm was soon mixed with the sirens of the local fire brigade. All the patients were out on the lawn; many spaced out on their narcotic cocktails, others lying in beds, IV drips attached to their arms, dark bruises showing against translucent skin. Death-in-waiting, collected together.

I didn't know which one was Foley, whether he was drugged out of his mind or one of those patients able to walk, aided by sticks and zimmers. I scanned the faces from over the road, trying not to catch the eye of the nurses, in case the receptionist recognised me from earlier and made good on her threat to call the cops.

Then, as the fire engines congregated in front of the home, my luck continued to be good. A lone voice spoke out: Hey Foley, you been smoking in your room again?

I looked up. There, with a cigarette clamped in brown, nicotine stained fingers was the person I'd travelled to see. Foley. He was alive after all and only metres away.

All I had to do now was think of a way to approach him without drawing attention to myself. And that's when my luck started to wane.

This story is continued here.