Anthem for Jackson Dawes

BOOK: Anthem for Jackson Dawes
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Contents

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

My Inspiration for
Anthem for Jackson Dawes

Acknowledgements

For
Deanna Hall
1971–1979
and
Vaila Mae Harvey
1991–2008

Jackson Dawes

He's as tall as doors,

standing

         
in his
              battered old hat,

    
singing his
    battered old
          songs,

slapping his fingers down the length of the stand
like an upright bass.

Badum, dum, dum, dum;

badum, dum, dum, dum.
      His hips swing gently,
          his head nods,
his smile is wide, big
        as
       the sun,
as if this is just
              any other day, as if the world
                    can't get any better,
         as if the future
is brighter
     than
         stars.

Megan Bright, Megan Silver,

he sings in that way of his.

Megan Bright, Megan Silver…

One

‘Now you know what I think of hospitals, so you can ring me any hour of the day or night.'

Grandad's voice seemed a long way off, making him sound even older than he was, making him sound as if he was on another planet instead of at the other end of a telephone.

It was Megan's first day in. ‘Yes, I know,' she said, trying to sound brave, wanting everything to be better without having to be in hospital. She followed Mum through the double doors on to the ward, and stopped dead.

A baby ward?

That couldn't possibly be right.

But it was.

There were babies and signs of babies everywhere.
Toys being banged. Something rattling. Another thing chiming. Whirring. Squeaking. Somewhere off to the right there was a baby crying.

Just ahead a small child driving a plastic car headed off to the left. The horn beeped. An adult followed in deep conversation with a nurse.

Grandad was still talking, telling her not to worry, but Megan couldn't answer.

Where were the other patients? People like her? People her age?

She wasn't a baby or a toddler. She was almost fourteen!

Why had they put her here? How could they?

Text Gemma. As soon as possible. She'd know the answers. That's what best friends were for, wasn't it? To calm you down, talk you through things. Though with Gemma it was more a case of hugging you through things!

Dad liked Gemma. She didn't waste words. Not like some of Megan's friends. The Twins, for example, who would always use a hundred words when one was enough.

With Gemma it would be a
or a
and that would sum it all up.

Yes.

Text Gemma. Even she would have something to say about being put on a baby ward.

Grandad was still trying to be cheerful. ‘They won't let me loose on a bus, so I can't come down … But if
there's anything bothering you, lass, just tell them you have to call me. Tell them I'm the oldest man in the village, which means I know more than they do.'

Megan laughed because that's what he'd have wanted, but Grandad wasn't finished.

‘In fact, if they need a hand with anything … washers for taps, spanners, wrenches, anything to do with plumbing …' he said.

‘They probably have people to do things like that,' Megan interrupted, determined to keep the shake out of her voice. It wasn't easy. She could hear babies crying. She could hear the whine of toddlers. It occurred to her that she probably wasn't supposed to be using her mobile. It might interfere with things. Like on aeroplanes. If anyone noticed, they might take it off her. She clamped it closer to her ear. No way. Not before she reached Gemma. Oh, hurry up, Grandad. Ring off. Shut up.

But no. He was still trying to make it all turn out right, trying to fix things the way he always had when he ran his hardware shop.

He could fix just about anything, could Grandad.

‘Well then,
you
know where I am.' He sounded even further away. ‘But it'll be fine, you'll see, sure as eggs is eggs. Bye for now, Pet Lamb.'

Eggs is eggs. Yeah. Well.

It was horrible. The whole thing. Having cancer was bad enough, since it wouldn't go away on its own, but really? A baby ward?

And the hospital was miles away from home. It meant that Mum had a lot of driving to do in the city. She hated city traffic and you couldn't ever find a place in the hospital car park.

It was just going to be too difficult, the whole thing.

‘Well,' Mum said, ‘this isn't bad, is it?'

Megan twisted her face. ‘It's not good.'

‘Of course … obviously it's
not
good, having to be here, but when you're poorly …'

‘Yes, I know, but …' Megan stopped. But what? Exactly? What did it matter if the place was full of babies, full of toddlers? She had cancer and had to have it sorted out.

Yet it did matter.

Somehow it
mattered
.

‘Never mind,' Mum said, keeping bright, like the colours around them both, on the walls, on the ceiling, wherever you looked. Nothing stayed too terrible for long according to Mum. ‘There'll be lots to tell Dad when he rings. He'll want to know what's what.' Then her voice changed, the cheeriness disappearing, as if it was too hard to keep it going for ever. Like balloons at a party. They always went down, eventually. ‘I wish …'

Megan knew what was coming. Her stomach tightened as if she'd just swallowed a bowl of cement. She didn't want to hear it. ‘Dad doesn't need to be here. I've got you.' Trying to be cheerful. ‘And I've got Grandad. I'll be all right.'

Mum sighed. ‘Yes, you've got me and Grandad.' She managed a small laugh. ‘And he's threatened to phone every day. Twice a day if he has to. I feel sorry for the nurses. He'll be checking up on them, just watch.' She shook her head. ‘As if he knows the first thing about hospitals. About this sort of place, anyway.'

A curly-haired toddler came racing towards them on his bottom. He was being chased by his curly-haired brother who picked him up with a struggle. Then his curly-haired mother appeared, her cheeks pink, a deep frown on her face.

‘Careful with him, Dylan,
please
!'

The toddler giggled as if this was the funniest thing ever. His mother smiled a tight kind of smile.

‘Welcome to the madhouse,' she said, scooping up her son, who whooped in delight. She gave Megan a sympathetic look. ‘Don't worry, love, we won't be here for too much longer! Peace does happen sometimes.'

‘Whoa!' Something from behind hurtled into her, big hands gripping her shoulders. ‘Sorry!' The
something
was a boy, tall as anything, in a big T-shirt and baggy jeans. ‘I'm trying to see how fast you can push one of these. Important scientific research. See ya!'

Sidestepping Megan and her mother, he steamed on ahead with his drip stand. There were four bags of fluid hanging from it and tubes like spaghetti tumbling into two blue boxes clamped on to the stand.

‘Oh … well …' Mum looked vague. ‘Research.'

‘I don't think so,' Megan said, ‘and I don't need any more help to make me dizzy. How stupid is he?' She took Mum's arm because now she was feeling quite wobbly. ‘Oh no. He's back.'

Sure enough, the boy was heading their way once more.

‘Hey,
you're
not a baby!' The drip stand squeaked as he pushed it along. He gave her a huge grin. ‘You're normal!'

What did he expect, a Martian?

‘Say hello, love. Where's your manners?' Mum whispered, nudging her.

‘He's just collided into me,' Megan muttered. ‘Where're his?'

The boy was checking her out as if he'd never seen a girl before. Or had seen too many, and knew just where to look. Scowling, Megan folded her arms, wishing Mum had made her put on a thicker top.

‘We're new here,' Mum said, bright as light bulbs. ‘Don't know where we're going really, just told to … you know … turn up!' She threw her arm around Megan's shoulder and squeezed, as if this was the first day at Butlin's.

Shrugging her off, Megan looked at the boy, tall as doors, taller even, with a hat pulled down low like a gangster in a film. His eyes were dancing. He was laughing at her. Probably not even on this ward and just here to gloat. Well, let him.

The boy was just about to say something when two little girls came down the corridor, arms linked, heads close, talking giggly secrets. They stopped and gazed, sparkle-eyed, first at the boy, then at Megan.

‘Jackson,' said one, her voice high-pitched, her face alive with excitement, ‘got a new girlfriend?'

He shook his head, tutted. ‘Becky, Becky, Becky! Give us a high five,' he said. They high-fived. ‘Who's your friend?'

‘Laura.'

‘Well, here's one for you too, Laura.' He high-fived the other girl. More giggles rang along the corridor.

Was he playing with
nine-year-olds
? Sixteen, seventeen, maybe, and hanging out with
nine-
year-olds? Megan picked at a speck of fluff on her sleeve, but it wouldn't come off. Mum was smiling so much her cheeks were two red balls.

They should be unpacking. The nurses might be waiting or a doctor. Someone should be told she'd arrived. Yet there they were still in the corridor, with all its cartoons and
him
standing in the middle of it, the star of the show.

BOOK: Anthem for Jackson Dawes
6.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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