“Hey Simo, over here. Get your shit together we’ve got orders”
“Oh hi Pete. No, no I’m here today, I’m on reception. Ask someone else.” With this the tall blonde went back to carefully sculpting his facial hair with a particularly mean looking razor.
“Orders from up top me old mate, no can do. Its you and me for this one.”
“Bugger it Pete, I’d rather stay here, I like reception. It’s easy, everyone knows what’s happening, where they’re going, yada, yada, yada. Take one of the others.”
“Sorry, the boss thinks that you’re not ”engaging” with the job, hiding here in the gate house. You are definitely coming with me so get a wiggle on.”
“Oh Prunes, I was just keeping my head down, minding my business, doin’ no harm.”
“Keeping your head in the clouds more like, anyway come on we’ve got a collection.”
“Oh no, I don’t believe it. I hate collection, more than anything else.”
“Stop kicking that table leg and get moving. These are orders from on high, literally so no use whining.”
“Okay, okay, where, what, when and so on and de dah de dah.” Dragging himself upright reluctantly Simon tidied his uniform suit and started forward. Grabbing a strawberry sweet from a dish on the table he stepped outside slamming the door behind him.
The darker of the two men glanced at his clipboard as they walked down the wooded path towards a pair of impressive metal gates. “Right, London, female, oh oh.”
“What.” Simon turned trying to peer over his friends shoulder.
“Six years old – it’s a kid.”
“Oh great, better and better – a kid.” Clang, Simon kicked out at a great stone urn. Hopping about swearing under his breath, very far under his breath, he waited until the throbbing in his kicking foot eased. “Bugger and bum, Tell you what though, before we go I need to go and see Henry, he’s waiting for his mid morning snack.”
“Henry, who the devil is Henry.” Lightening crashed in the distance and both men reddened as the thunder rolled past scaring up a flock of doves that were feeding on the lawn.
“Henry, the donkey.”
“You have got to be kidding, Henry. You really can’t call him Henry.”
Leaning on a low fence surrounding a roomy paddock they waited in the sunshine as a small, pale donkey trotted hopefully up to them. Nosing at Simon’s hand he pushed and rubbed until he found his mid morning carrot and then closed his eyes to enjoy the tickle on his grizzled, grey muzzle.
Simon turned away smiling, “Me and Henry we understand each other, we remember stuff, we’re in tune.”
Pete patted his friend on the shoulder as they turned back to the path both nursing their own long-held memories. “Come on we’d better fly. Can’t be late for this or there’ll be hell to pay.” Another flash of lightning lit the sky as they slipped out between the gates. They entered the veil of mist. They emerged from the veil of mist into…
A bright little room. In spite of the hopeful pictures on the wall and the colourful clothes of the nurses there was no disguising this was a hospital. A slender young woman sat beside one of the two beds and held the thin wasted hand of a small child. It was hard to tell at first glance whether this was a boy or a girl, the little head was bald and the face thin and pale. However, the preponderance of pink teddies, and Barbie dolls gave evidence that this was a girl, Karen in fact. She had fought long and hard but was now about to lose her battle. Her pale lids opened and she looked at her mum. “It hurts Mummy. It’s very sore.”
Samantha’s eyes teared up as she whispered to her baby. “I know darling, I know it does, it won’t hurt for long now. Tell you what think of something really nice.”
“What, what’s nice?”
“I know, do you remember when we went to the seaside last year, when you were better. We went on the sand didn’t we and Daddy built a castle with flags and shell windows.”
“Yes, I went on a donkey didn’t I? I liked the donkey, he was wearing a hat, that’s funny a donkey wearing a hat.” A tiny smile flitted mothlike over the young face.
Two men stood in the corner unseen, shades in the brilliance of the overhead lights and as the childish eyes closed for one last time and the tiny hand eased its grip they moved forward.
The doctor held his stethoscope briefly to the girl’s chest but it was only in kindness, to buy a little time for Samantha to collect herself before telling her gently, “I’m sorry Sam she’s gone.”
Sammy ignored the tears streaming in rivers down her cheeks and leaned over to steal a last kiss from the lips of her precious child as the two watchers moved to the bedside. Leaning forward they removed a glowing shadow from the body lying between the sheets and gently raised it between them.
Simon closed his eyes for a moment, a tear trickled down his cheek as he murmured quietly to himself.
Samantha began the burdensome task of packing up the dolls and plastic ponies and the nightdresses. If only she could have seen, there in the corner, just beyond the edge of her reality. Four figures moving through a gleaming landscape, two men and one small child riding a donkey, who seemed only slightly embarrassed by the straw hat with his name “Henry” emblazoned across the front. Silver sand kicked up around the old hooves and they moved on up the road towards a distant castle, flags flying and windows gleaming as the mighty gates opened to welcome them home.