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An excerpt from

The Wrong Story

James Ellis

Later, he would remember this: there was no cushion of air to carry him safely to the ground, and if there had been it would have been too thin to take his weight. Instead, he watched the concrete cap above him recede at speed and felt the warm wind push past him in its upward rush. There were no thoughts and no past life; only tumbling and a reaching out for what wasn’t there.

***

weekendingnews.com/news/cart_survives/280223/

Cartoonist Falls Off Car-Park Roof

By Linus De Moor - Monday, 22nd March, 2015

SOUTH LONDON - An accident closed off a South London street yesterday (Sunday) morning. Tom Hannah, best known by his professional name, Tash, the creator of the cartoon strip, Scraps, fell 60-feet from the top of a five-storey car-park and landed on a market stall below. Miraculously, Hannah survived …

***

Loosey Lucy @footballpuller -7m

Was #tashfalls drunk?


Brant Hart @DoodlingGeek - 5m

Ah-ha! Did he fall or was he pushed? #tashfalls


Loosey Lucy @footballpuller - 6m

Is #tashfalls dead?


Captain Padlock @captainpadlock - 3m

Hope he was pushed - do-gooding socially-aware moustachioed freak #tashfalls


Gerard Borkmann @BorkmannCreativ - 2m

@captainpadlock You don’t like him then? #tashfalls


Captain Padlock @captainpadlock - 1m

I hate him and everyone like him #tashfalls


***

He was woken by a dog barking in the distance. With his eyes closed he thought he might be at the bottom of the sea or dead in a morgue or in a womb about to be born, although when he moved he felt sick. So not dead, then; but not ready to be awake either.

He waited for sleep to take him again, down, deep down to where only swatches of memories existed: a shape moving across an expanse of shimmering concrete; a bird dropping over the edge of a wall; a cold punch of something hard hitting his face; blood in his mouth and something else - a flower? Faces looking down on him; a pressure behind his eyes. Voices.

Are you all right?

Stay still.

What’s your name?

Are you in pain?

Yes.

The next time he awoke there was light from fluorescent strips on the ceiling and light from the outside too: daylight, wide and bright. Also noises: rattling trolleys and people talking and telephones ringing. And the rise and fall of something deep and loud, like an industrial generator switching on and off. He saw that he was in a bed that had metal side-rails. There was a man pushing a tea-trolley and there were nurses in a group by a desk.

“Hello?” he said.

His voice was a whisper of dry air in a dry tunnel and it hurt. He moved his tongue backwards and forwards, exploring and lubricating his mouth, and found he had a broken tooth at the front. The gum surrounding it felt raw and red, and a warm liquid oozed from it. It tasted sweet.

He wriggled his toes and fingers and found that everything moved except the thumb on his left hand which, he saw, was bandaged and stuck out at an angle like the hand of a mummified hitch-hiker. On his wrist was a white plastic band. He held it up to his eyes and squinted at the words printed on it.

“Thomas Hannah,” he said.

There was a needle in his left arm with a tube connected to a bag on a pole beside his bed. He found another tube, thick and greasy, emerging from the end of his penis. There was a support collar around his neck and a bandage around his head with a pad beneath it, just above his left eye.

He moved his head from left to right and his skull felt tight as if it had been stretching and contracting like a muscle. He sensed aches and pains deep inside his body like slumbering giants kept under lock and key. His buttocks felt sore and there was some sort of rubber ring supporting him.

A young woman with a round face came over from the nurses’ station and looked down at him from behind thick glasses. “Good morning,” she said and laughed. It was a light, musical laugh. “My name is Maggie.”

He said, “Hello Maggie” and it felt as if there were a blade in his throat. He tried to swallow but his tongue was too dry.

Maggie half-filled a plastic cup with water from a jug on his table.

“Have some water.”

She gave him the cup and when he tried to drink the cup bumped against his swollen lip and his moustache, which was an enormous bushy growth beneath his nostrils. The water stuck to his throat and dribbled down his chin onto the sheets.

“Thank you,” he said.

“You’re welcome.” She wiped his mouth. “You’re still waking up. You’ve been out all night. Do you know where you are?”

“Hospital?”

“You’re in Halverson Ward in Roland Street Hospital. I’m the ward manager.”

He nodded and closed his eyes.

“Try to stay awake,” she said.

She took his blood pressure and measured his temperature and then she called to another nurse and together they adjusted his rubber ring and carefully, for he was a big man, hauled him up the bed until he was sitting more upright. The other nurse was Bianca and she told him that he could call her Bee.

“Everyone should have an animal name,” he said.

Maggie lifted his hands and feet, let them drop and then wrote in a blue folder that was lying on his table while Bee rearranged the bed covers and the cotton gown he was wearing.

“How do you feel now?” said Maggie.

“Sick,” he said.

“That will be the painkillers. How many fingers am I holding up?”

“Three.”

“Good. What’s your name?”

He lifted his arm with the wristband. “Thomas Hannah.”

“That’s cheating. Hold my hand, Thomas Hannah, and grip it as hard as you can. That’s good. Not quite so hard. Can you tell me your date of birth?”

“Twenty-third of April. 1970.”

“Do you know what day it is today?”

“Is it my birthday?”

“No.” She laughed her musical laugh. “Try again.”

His mind groped in the dark. He sought a point of reference from which to reconstruct time; to reconstruct his life. How long had he been asleep?

“Monday?” he said.

“It’s Monday morning. You came in yesterday. You’ve had an accident. Do you remember much about that?”

He looked at Maggie, at her neat blue tunic with its white piping, at her fob watch that told him it was eight-ten, at her badge that said Ward Manager Margarida Monroe, andat her round clear bespectacled face.

“Monday,” he said. “What happened to me?”

“You dropped off a multi-storey car-park roof. Can you touch your nose with your finger, please?”

He touched his nose with his finger and looked at the bag of urine attached to the side of his bed. The greasy pipe that curled up under the sheets towards his groin had particles of sediment floating in it. He could feel the bag’s weight tugging it.

“I dropped off a multi-storey car-park roof?” he said at last.

Maggie stopped writing and sat down on the side of his bed and spoke as if she was explaining a great truth. Her eyes were large behind her thick lenses and close up her face was rounder and smoother than it had looked before. There was a tiny blemish on her cheek; one mark so small it was hardly visible; a minuscule shallow crater visible only through the most powerful of telescopes.

“You fell off a car-park roof and landed on a market stall and a big pile of bananas and ended up on a flower bed full of wet earth. You are very lucky. If you’re thinking of buying a lottery ticket I’d do it now.”

“Bananas?” he said.

“Crates of bananas. All piled up.”

“All piled up?”

“Yes.”

“How high was the roof?”

“About sixty feet.”

He tried to imagine how high that was.

“Was anyone else hurt?”

“Well, the bananas might need counselling.” She smiled. “Joke. No-one was hurt except you. And you got off lightly. You’ve hurt your hand and lost a tooth. You do have a bruise on your head but the neurologist took a look at it and you’ve had a scan and there’s no sign of damage which is good. You had some pain in your bottom area so we gave you painkillers and something to help you sleep.” She stood up again. “Follow my finger with your eyes.”

He followed her finger with his eyes.

“My bottom area?” he said.

“The paramedics think you hit the crates with your buttocks but landed face-first in the flower-bed. There was a lot of mud in your mouth.”

He ran his tongue around his gums. Mud in his mouth; mud and blood and a broken tooth. And a flower.

She stepped back from the bed and surveyed him. “You had a good night’s sleep, though, and no drama. The consultant will see you soon. He’ll explain more. No food until then. We took some details from your wallet and I think the police have been to your house. Is there anyone you’d like me to call?”

He looked at her and felt the darkness in his head.

“My wife.”

“Okay. I’ll come back and get the number in a minute. We can also set you up with a phone.”

“I don’t remember being on a roof,” he said.

“What do you remember?”

He looked at his bent and bandaged thumb.

“Concrete. Shimmering white concrete.”

***

I walked across an expanse of white concrete and passed through a cloud of warm air that rose from a patch of dried oil. I wondered whether or not I was shimmering. I hoped so. It would look good for whoever was watching me, as someone certainly was. I could usually tell when hidden eyes were on me.

“I know you’re somewhere,” I said.

In front of me was a big brick building. I walked over to it and sat on a low flight of concrete steps and looked around. Opposite, beyond the heat haze was a grassy slope with a wire perimeter fence running along its top, and a cluster of small industrial units beyond. I didn’t know why I’d come to this place because I seldom strayed far from the alleyway - and if I’d thought about it, I didn’t know how I’d got there either.

I opened a tin of tobacco and started rolling cigarettes, looking around in a furtive manner. I was naturally furtive. I made five cigarettes, put four in the tin and the fifth in my mouth. I lit it with my Zippo and took a long, deep drag, blowing the smoke back into the air in a faint stream.

“Filthy habit,” I said, as I always did.

I sat back and closed my eyes, enjoying the sun and the warm breeze and the peace and quiet of a Sunday morning. No doubt it would become apparent why I was there. It usually did. Meanwhile I was comfortable just to be, to exist in the moment, to be in the frame.

A shape darkened the light. I opened my eyes and saw that the blockage was Plenty, silhouetted in front of me with the sun behind her head like a solar eclipse. A solar eclipse with wide pink eyes. How did she get there so silently and so suddenly, I wondered? It bothered me. Everything about her bothered me.

“I knew you were somewhere,” I said. “I knew you were watching me.”

She just stood there, staring, until in a low voice she said, “Where’s my ball?”

I blew smoke into the air. “I don’t know.”

“Have you stolen it?”

I studied the end of my cigarette. “No, I haven’t stolen your ball. Have you looked? You know you have to look first.”

She continued to stare at me, unblinking, probably thinking I couldn’t see her moving closer, bit by bit, her tail thickening…