Friday, December 21, 2007
The Christmas fish- Ward 2
Friends of the Hospital consulted Dr Huppert on an appropriate gift for Ward 2 for Christmas.
She suggested a tropical aquarium. Many of us thought an electric fire would have been more appropriate. No matter . We get the fish instead.
Their arrival causes great excitement.
It’s Carver who spots a certain irony.
“The fish are a lot warmer than us,” she says peering into the tankful of brightly coloured tropical fish .The exotic world of the aquarium sits in a corner of the ward, next to the French windows, a bright foil to the blank nondescript ward walls. We are enchanted. Meanwhile the castle windows with their bars are rattling in the winter gales and those of us on the balcony huddle under our canvas tarpaulins.
“They have got to live at 60F or they will die,” explains Miss White, our teacher.
Dr Huppert has even been known to call in some evenings just to gaze at the fish, an event not exactly welcomed by the inmates of Ward 2.
It is enough to see her once a week for Long Round without unexpected evening visits too.
She would stand at the tank admiring the fish and even dropping bits of food into it. She had her favourites.
Except tragedy struck.
Louise, the night orderly, a woman who enjoyed her cigarettes and sharing the details of her marital bed with the older girls, switched the aquarium off.
“Waste of electricity” she said and flicked the switch. After all none of us had any form of heating so it didn't make sense for the fish...well that was Louise’s thinking .
It was Carver who spotted the catastrophe next morning.
“Come and see this!” she shouts.
We scramble out of bed and rush to the tank.
There floating on the surface are seven dead fish.
The enormity of the event causes alarm in the ward.
“What will Dr Huppert say?”
“She will say we did it on purpose!”
To our surprise Sister Morgan regards the demise of the fish with a certain nonchanlance. She never did like them. She didn't want the aquarium in the first place, perhaps because it was Dr Huppert’s idea and also for it meant she had to squeeze the beds even closer in order to make room for the aquarium which needed lots of space.
Added to that they had to install an electric plug and this led to all kinds of disruption to the ward routine, not to mention the dust caused. No she was not an admirer of the tropical aquarium.
So she dismissed the demise of seven fish with a philosophical shrug.
“ I will got and get a plate,” she says .
She returns a few minutes later with one of our dinner plates and a large serving spoon.
Meticulously she lifts the dead fish out and places them around the plate.
“This will be a special treat for Thomas,” she says.
We watch captivated as she lays the fish out like a meal ready to be eaten which of course they were. For the cat.
Thomas. Officially he belonged to Dr Huppert except Sister Morgan harboured tender feelings for the cat too and the pair would fight for his affections. The result is that he was the most well-fed animal you could wish to see with a glossy black coat.
At the next Long Round Dr Huppert stops at the aquarium.
“How are my little fish doing” she murmured with something approaching affection in her voice. Sister Morgan tried to hurry her on.
But Dr. Huppert sensed something amiss. Out of the tank of thirty fish she knew some were missing.
“What’s ze happened to the Angel fish?” her broken accent had an urgency and edge to it as her eyes , hawk like, scanned the tank.
Sister Morgan turned her head sideways and winked with her left eye at us.
“Is there something wrong?” she says.
“I cant zee the big black striped fish either...or the red one? what’s gone wrong?”
She swung round and challenges Sister Morgan for an explanation.
Dr Williams, a gentle soul, waits for the inevitable explosion.
Dead fish are now top of the agenda.
“ I thought I saw them there this morning,” lied Sister Morgan.
Carver and I giggle as we sit around the big table in the centre of the ward waiting our turn. As it’s winter we are allowed to sit inside instead of by our beds on the balcony for the Long Round.
Had we not watched as Sister Morgan lift the dead fish out of the tank and feed them to Thomas, Dr. Huppert's big fat black cat, at the rate of one a day. After breakfast.
“Isn't that it over there?” says Sister Morgan pointing to a fish half the size of Dr Huppert’s favourite.
“No it's not!”
Dr Huppert gets angry, very angry.
She starts demanding explanations.
“Who in this ward has been tampering with the tank?”
She looks straight in the direction of Carver and myself.
We shake our heads. We are not guilty.
Like a ship in full sail Sister Morgan switches tac.
“How silly of me! I quite forgot to tell you but the heater was accidentally switched off by one of the night staff, I forget which one.”
She adds:” I do recall her saying something about a few fish dying.”
Dr Huppert explodes. She berated the entire staff, and patients too, of Craig-y-nos as incompetent, uncaring human beings not fit to be in charge of even a fish tank.
She demands the name of the culprit. Suddenly Sister Morgan remembers it and hands over the name, like a scalp, for she never did care for Louise.
“I will see her tonight,” said Dr Huppert.
God help Louise.