Gabriel’s Hounds 3: Outside the window the gulls were screaming

Somebody should say something.

They cut her hair. And clipped her nails.

He twitched, as if he’d been prodded on the shoulder, and looked up, across the bed, across her body under the sheet, a thing between us. He was frowning.

When we went out, I said to him. They brushed her hair and cut her nails.

He was looking at me and still frowning, as if he didn’t understand what I was saying, or he understood what I was saying but didn’t know why I was saying it. Or found what I was saying somehow distasteful. Or he could see my mouth moving but couldn’t hear what I was saying, as if I was behind glass.

She could read lips but you had to stand in front of her and accentuate your shaping of each word. Slow the speech right down. She’d turn off her hearing aid and we’d take it in turns. She made it a game.

He made a sound and sat up and sat back in his chair.

I’m going outside.

He stood slowly and stood by the bed. That look hadn’t left his face, that frowning, puzzled look, but now it wasn’t anything to do with anything I’d said but with the room, he was looking round at the hospital room and it was as if he didn’t know how he’d come to be there, had wandered by mistake into the wrong room, into someone else’s life, perplexed, bewildered, unsure of how he’d managed to do that and what to do about it now that he was there. And he had no idea what to do about it. He was defeated by the whole thing. His utter loss sagged about him.

Outside the window the gulls were screaming at each other.

He moved round to the end of the bed and stood there with one of his hands resting on the metal rail.

Just for a few minutes, he said. I won’t be long.

I nodded and he moved away from the bed, lifting his hand from the rail, and as he passed me to get to the door he kept the hand raised with the fingers extended and for a second or two, no longer than that, not even as long as that, just for a brief moment I thought he was going to reach across and ruffle my hair. And I didn’t even think it, the moment wasn’t long enough for thought, it was no more than a register in the nervous system, subliminal, a shiver in the brain-stem, and it was not until he had gone past and I heard him open the door and go through into the corridor and pull the door to behind him with a soft click, it was only then when it hadn’t happened because of course it was never going to that I thought he was going to reach across and ruffle my hair.

And I flinched.


And there were her hands folded over the folded over sheet, with the nails clipped, looking neat and clean and grey and unlike any hands that I had ever seen before.

A nurse came in and asked us if we could go out for a few minutes, then she and another nurse came in and we went out.

Looking grey because the blood had completely drained from them.

Then when we went back in I saw that her hair had been brushed and her nails clipped.

We didn’t speak to each other in the corridor. We just waited there until the door opened and the nurse who had asked us to go out said that we could go back in again. We waited for her and the other nurse to come out then we went back in. They’d moved the machine to the corner by the bathroom door so that there was more room for us to sit by the bed, one on either side. So we sat there not saying anything and with the machine turned off it was silent in the room.

Not looking like any hands I had seen before. Certainly not hers. She always let her nails grow long and painted them.

I wanted to touch them. But it would have been.

It was silent in the room.