22 A visit

But now she remembered what her aunt had said that summer. Some days this holiday had made her feel the same, when she was waiting for her friends to get back. She’d been wishing days were over when they’d only just begun. Now she wished things would slow down a little so she had time to think. It seemed you could never get it just right.

Her aunt in the end had moved to the residential home, much nearer the family, sacrificing the independence that had by then become more of a burden than a boon.

She thought about things that had happened to her aunt, and now started to wonder if they’d been the results of wishes or just chance circumstance. Had she run out of wishes? Was Elisha going to run out? Perhaps she had already. Why hadn’t her aunt told her more about the well? If only her parents hadn’t come in when they did or her aunt had lived a little longer …

Her train of thought was disrupted by her mum opening the car door in the hospital car park and saying, ‘Come on now, darling, we’re here.’

It turned out Jasmine couldn’t come as she had a flute lesson that evening. The whole thing had been a real rush as they’d had to leave early to drop her father off at the factory for his shift, then join the queue to get back to the roundabout to head out for the hospital. She knew her mother hated driving in the rush hour or busy times so was conscious that she should be grateful she’d agreed to take her to visit Steph.

‘Thanks, Mum.’ The car park was quite crowded. They had to pay and display, which made her mum grumble something about taxing the sick and needy.

‘I hope we’ve got the right entrance.’ Her mother led her towards some swing double doors into the massive redbrick building. ‘Mr Saunders said she was in Alice Ward and I think that’s in this block.’

Elisha felt overawed by the huge place and the hustle and bustle of all the people inside. Everyone seemed to be rushing around urgently and she hurried forward to grab her mum’s hand before she got swept away. It was like they were all part of some really complicated dance that she didn’t know her part in yet.

Her mum was reading signs and led them to the lifts towards the back of the big reception area. ‘We want the fifth floor,’ she nodded to Elisha as the metal doors slid apart and they got in.

Obediently, Elisha pushed the 5 button, and the circle behind it lit up red. Before the lift could leave, however, a small orange-faced man in an ill-fitting brown suit appeared in the doorway.

‘Going up?’ he asked, his voice thin and wavery as the doors began to close.

‘Yes,’ Mrs Goodman said and reached past Elisha to push a button marked with two triangles facing out from each other. The doors stopped, kind of hesitated, then opened again.

‘Thank you,’ the man got in and pressed the no. 4 before standing with his back to the side of the lift looking at the top of the doors. Elisha followed his gaze and saw that there were the buttons again, this time arranged horizontally in a line above the doors, lighting up as they reached each floor.

The orange man got off at floor 4.

‘That man’s face was orange,’ Elisha announced and her mother shushed her as the doors hadn’t quite shut, then laughed.

‘In that brown suit he was like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange,’ her mum joked and they were both laughing by the time they got to Alice Ward.

Here, Elisha was surprised to find it was an adult ward, with men on one side and women on the other, lying or sitting in high iron beds or beside them in chintzy fabric-upholstered, uncomfortable-looking upright chairs. Steph was in the bed at the end on the women’s side, near the windows. The big bed made her look very small and somehow made her being in hospital very serious and real.

Her mum and dad were sitting on canvas chairs with metal frames that reminded Elisha of her nursery school. They got up to say hello when the Goodmans arrived, the chair legs scraping back on the tiled floor. Some of them had lost their rubber tips and it was the ends of the hollow metal tubes making the noise.

Elisha climbed clumsily onto the bed next to Steph (it was higher than she expected so she nearly crashed heads with her friend) and gave her a hug before handing over a box of Milk Tray (Steph’s favourites and Elisha’s). She’d had to run in and buy them at the newsagents while her mum was parked nervously on a double yellow line outside the shop.

‘You shouldn’t get on the bed, darling,’ Mrs Goodman whispered.

‘Nonsense,’ said Steph’s mum. ‘She’ll cheer Steph up no end. Why don’t we leave them to it and go and get some coffee?’

The adults left them. ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t there when it happened, Steph. Did it hurt a lot? Were you scared?’

Steph nodded as she popped chocolates into her mouth and proffered the box to Elisha. ‘Actually, the sting didn’t hurt as much as I’d thought it would … it was the not being able to breathe that was scary. It was like …’ she paused to deliberate. ‘Like the inside of my throat was swelling up so no air could get through … I really thought I was going to die.’

Elisha put her arms round her friend and squeezed her. She couldn’t bear to think of her dying.

‘And I could see Jasmine staring at me with these wild eyes, like she was watching me die … you know, like in a movie or something?’

‘It sounds like it was really horrible.’

‘Yes. Thank goodness Veronica made them dial 999. She came to see me earlier too.’

Elisha nearly choked on her green barrel chocolate. ‘Verucca Attacking came to see you? In hospital? Why?’

Steph thumped her hard on the back. ‘I guess she wanted to see if I was all right. She brought me some pretty daisies. See over there?’ Steph pointed to a vase of giant daisy-type flowers, yellow middles and white petals.

‘Uh-huh. Very nice. But it’s not like we’re friends with her or anything…’

‘You know, I don’t think she’s all that bad.’

Elisha wanted to argue, to convince Steph that Veronica was thoroughly evil and nasty, but it did seem as if her sworn enemy had behaved well, on this one occasion. She found herself conceding, ‘Well, maybe not.’

Steph actually looked fine though it was a bit strange to see her in her candy-striped cotton pyjamas out of the house, especially when everyone else was dressed. She explained that there’d been a bit of a measles epidemic, which was why she wasn’t in one of the children’s wards. ‘They’re all full to the rafters, mum says. And I wouldn’t want to go in one in case I got it … except I think I had the inoculation when I was a baby.’ Steph pushed the box of chocolates away from her towards the edge of the bed. ‘I will be truly sick if I eat many more chocolates!’

Elisha laughed and it was just like Steph wasn’t ill at all and they were talking in her room at home or something. They gossiped and giggled until Elisha’s throat was sore from laughing and her throat quite hoarse. Steph only had to stay in overnight but had to go back in after a week for a check-up. Elisha didn’t want to ask about the injection thing or anything. She was hoping Luke was wrong about all that.