The Passing of a Social Conscience
Perry McDaid (Open University, United Kingdom)
Clark lay in the hospital bed feeling foolish. The philosophical debate at college had gone terribly wrong when he chose to demonstrate a point he was making in a rather dramatic fashion. It should have been enough for him to hold the pound coins in his hand, palm outward.
‘You can’t eat these,’ he’d said in the midst of a heated sequence about the world market, and its impact upon what used to be known as the Third World, where there was either no infrastructure in the first place, or it had been destroyed by war.
Oh yes, it should have been enough, but he had to go the extra mile and histrionically thrust the germ-laden currency into his mouth for a faux-chew. Engage brain before acting, he admonished himself silently, his face flaring up at the memory. And of course that had to be the moment the cute girl at the back of the debating hall – the one who had been eyeing him all year – had chosen to surreptitiously flash him…
Any attraction she might have had to him must have evaporated amid the bout of choking, gasping and going purple as friends rushed up to slap his back, give superfluous advice, such as: Spit it out, man. He reflected on that. THAT, he decided, was probably an ill-timed attempt at humour, considering the source.
Ted, the guy he’d been arguing with, finally brushed them all away with a word and a withering look, and gave him the Heimlich. Three coins shot out, and he could breathe.
‘Didn’t you have five?’
He had nodded dismally, still sucking blessed oxygen. Other tube, the bloodshot eyes had communicated.
The school nurse – a woman with no medical qualifications, but had once done a First Aid course – had had him rushed to hospital amid ominous talk of having to have his stomach pumped. The real nurses had shaken their heads and produced a tube which would not have been quite as intimidating had they not explained in lurid detail just what they intended to do with it. Clark thought the stomach pumping sounded a lot more fun.
Clark stared at the curtain screen around him, tasting bile and rubbing his throat. He felt somewhat violated.
An intern pulled the screen aside, eyed him up and down, handed him a baggy and grinned.
‘You can go.’
Clark glared at the baggy, where the two heavy coins gleamed up at him innocuously.
‘Thanks!’ He dropped the baggy, slid off the narrow bed and put his shoes on.
‘We’ve cleaned off the bile for you,’ the intern informed him, already moving off. ‘Patients like to keep these things, you know, show them off… ’course, most of our patients who’ve swallowed things they shouldn’t are under five.’ He gave a jaunty salute and disappeared. Clark could hear the fading squeak of his shoes in contrast to an approaching click of high heels.
Clark reluctantly bent to pick up the baggy, and rose to a fine pair of legs he hoped did not belong to the intern. Couldn’t be, he was in scrubs … and gone. Clark ineffectually pretended not to notice them. The cute girl from class beamed at him.
‘I’ll drive!’ she said. ‘Least I can do is give you a lift home.’ Clark stared at her chest.
‘Sorry.’ He wasn’t.
‘You looked terrible when you came in.’ She wriggled her eyebrows in a comical fashion. ‘Any change?’
‘Oh ha, expletive, ha!’ The baggy caught his eye. Then Clark did laugh, sore and all as it was on his throat. ‘Well actually…’ He tossed it to her. She shrieked and punched him on the arm, batting it away.
They were chatting merrily away by the time they reached the car park.
She slipped into her Volkswagen and waited patiently. He got in beside her and buckled up. There was an awkward silence as she shoved the car into gear and eased out of the car park.
‘Fancy a bite to eat? My shout.’ The coins chimed as he jiggled the bag.
‘Cheapskate,’ she chuckled. He liked the sound of it.
Award winning Irish writer, Perry McDaid, lives in Derry beneath the sombre brows of Donegal hills. He’s had success with Carillon; Earlyworks; Amsterdam Quarterly; and Flash Fiction Chronicles among others. He spans genres and disciplines: catering for an increasing span of ages and tastes.