Mary could hardly catch her breath as they approached the reception desk. ‘I’m…... I’m looking for my friend Barbara Childers. She was brought in by ambulance from her Nursing Home this morning.’
The lady at reception had kind eyes and gave Mary a warm smile as she clicked away at her computer. ‘Ah, yes. She is in our medical ward. 4C, bed twelve. Take the lift to the fourth floor, and follow the signs.’
Mary’s old knees were really giving her hell. Spotting a hospital wheelchair by the front doors, Melanie quickly claimed it, and told her mother to take a seat. They raced towards the lift and made their way up to the fourth floor. Room twelve was a single room, and a feeling of pure dread washed over Mary as she entered.
She was far from prepared to face what she saw. Barbara looked awful. Gaunt, frail, and obviously in pain. She seemed barely conscious, but they could see she was suffering. A soft moan of discomfort escaped from her failing body.
Kissing her mum on the cheek, Melanie turned back toward the door. ‘I might grab a coffee. I’ll leave you two alone for a little while.’ Pulling up a chair bedside Barbara’s bed, a lifetime of memories flashed before Mary's eyes. Over the years, they had been each other’s rock, and their friendship has lasted a lifetime. Mary could not imagine a world without Barbara in it.
Passing Melanie in the doorway, a nurse entered the room carrying a little green kidney dish. She placed the dish on Barbara’s table. ‘Are you Mary, by any chance?’ Still trying to process Barbara’s condition, it took her a few seconds to respond. ‘Yes, I’m Mary.’
The nurse pulled up another chair beside her. ‘I thought you might be. I was about to call the nursing home staff to ask who Mary is. She was a little confused this morning and was calling your name. I am so glad you are here. We don’t think she has long.’
‘I can hear you; you know. I may be dying, but I’m not bloody deaf. Now, will you hurry up and give me a hit please?’ Mary watched as the nurse put some medication into a little butterfly needle in Barbara’s thigh. ‘What is that you are giving her?’
‘Morphine to help with the pain, and another medication to help Barbara with her breathing. We are doing everything we can to ensure she is as comfortable as possible.’ Barbara waved her hand, like she was trying to swat away an irritating fly. ‘Yeah, yeah. OK. You’ve done what you came to do. Now piss off and leave us alone, will ya?’
Barbara winked at the nurse as she saluted back, standing to attention before leaving the room. ‘Eye Eye Captain’. Typical Barb. Joking until the very end. The nurse turned and smiled as she gently closed the door behind her.
‘Mary, you’re here.’ Both ladies couldn’t stem the flow of their tears. ‘Of course, Barb. I came as soon as I heard you were in hospital. I’m sorry it took me so long. I missed the call from the nursing home this morning.’
‘I came to the nursing home to see you, and Trish told me you were here. I got some disturbing news today, and I needed a friend, but none of that seems important now. All that matters is that I am here with you.’ Barb squeezed Mary’s hand. ‘I am your best friend. I don’t know how long I’ve got, but you better bloody tell me what’s going on, right now missy.’
Mary couldn’t help but laugh. Same old Barb, always thinking of others. ‘A lot has happened in the last few days. That bitch Gertrude has moved from Sydney to my retirement village. Can you believe it? As if that wasn’t enough to deal with. Today, I was looking in her wardrobe for a box of tinsel to decorate the hall, and discovered a dirty little secret.’
Barbara sat bolt upright. Her breathing becoming shallower and more laboured. ‘Yes, well, go on.’ Mary fought back yet another lump forming in the back of her throat. ‘Wait for it Barb. Brace yourself. You won’t believe this.’ Barbara playfully poked Mary in the chest. ‘Oh, for Christ’s sake. Spit it out, will you.’
‘She and Bob had a two-year log affair before Melanie was born.’ Barb looked as if she had seen her own ghost. ‘Your Bob? And Gertrude? Oh my god, Mary. That’s awful. I’m so sorry.’ Barbara leant over and held Mary tight. ‘I know Barb, and the worst part is, with Bob being gone, I’ll never be able to ask him why?’
They held each other for what seemed like an eternity. Barbara was taking short, shallow breaths and looked a little scared. ‘Mary, please don’t leave me, will you?’ Mary looked into her oldest friend’s eyes. ‘I’m here Barb. I’m not going anywhere.’
‘I think it’s time. I need to go now. Mary, I’m so tired.’ Mary knew there was something she needed to tell her. ‘Barb. I need to tell you something. Please don’t be mad, but I tracked down Yvonne via social media.’ Barbara was struggling to speak now. ‘Yvonne? How is she? I have missed her every day of my life.’
Mary held Barbara’s hand. ‘She died a little while ago, but she was happy. She had a partner. A lovely lady called Viviane. But you know what, Barb? She never stopped loving you all these years. She never contacted you, because she didn’t want to cause any trouble if you had found happiness with someone else.’
Barbara smiled, content, as a single tear rolled down her sunken cheeks. She turned to Mary, closed her eyes, and took her final breath.
Unpublished Work (c) Hayley Walsh 2021