I love this idea, this notion, of writing as a way of “getting traction” on this world (whatever it is). The tension, the stretching; you, the writer, at one end of taught wire, the heavy world swinging at the other. Once, an old lady in a wheelchair swung at the end of my traction. I awoke, my knee being pulled so hard, I felt someone was trying to yank off my leg. It was dark, I could not see what it was that heaved at the metal weight at the end of my bed, the weight which swung from the wire which was knotted to the skewer that had been drilled and hammered through the top of my tibia. I loved so much to pick at the scabs on either side of the skewer where it emerged from the flesh. Each day, a crispy-wet wodge of scab. And I loved so much to stab the needle into my stomach, to show pitying visitors. Watch this! Rats would have died, but the poison saved my life. The old lady was my neighbour. We talked a great deal. Sometimes, late at night when the lights had gone off, she’d awake, push back the sheets, lower her self to the shiny floor, and tiptoe around the end of my bed up around the side, and stand just about where my waist lay, just about at the point where I would stab the needle into the pinch of flab. She would place a square washing-up bowl on the bed beside me, she would lift up her long nylon nightie and pull it over her head and stand, naked, at my bedside, ghostly without the form of cloth to shroud her. She would place the nightie in the plastic bowl. While she worked, she whispered, communicating subtly as to what it was she was doing. Hisses and whirrs I learned to understand. After the communication, she would remove the bucket from the bed and lower it to the floor, and then she would lower her arse over the bucket and release a long stream of urine over its contents. As she pissed, she sighed. Ahhhhhhhhhh! Abruptly, she stood up, put the bowl back on the bed beside me, and proceeded to wash the nightie in her urine, lifting it up and down up and down, running it through her fingers as if rubbing together butter and flour for a round of pastry. Still whispering, still explaining, Hush hush, hush hush, The Nurses! Hush hush dear.
One night she did not undress. Instead, she stole the wheelchair that belonged to Helen, the woman across the ward, whose bed was occupied by an army of teddy-bears and dolls. Helen had rheumatoid arthritis. She’d had it nearly her entire life. She was 40 now, but the toys on her bed always made me wonder if she’d never grown up. Her body, useless and dependent, had kept her childlike forever, despite the pain and endless operations she’d survived: Helen understood suffering profoundly. So, as I was saying, the old lady stole Helen’s wheelchair one night, and tried to make an escape. Except the spoke of the lefthand wheel got caught in the metal weight that held my busted pelvis in traction. Hush hush, hush hush. She pulled back and forth, back and forth. I shouted at her to stop. She looked at me, the first time she’d ever looked me in the eye. Hush hush, she whispered, hush hush. She pulled and pulled and pulled and pulled. Until, eventually exhausted, she slumped into a deep sleep.
Eventually, the scabs cleared up. One day they came – three nurses – to undo the traction. The weight at the end of the bed was released, the wire loosened and unclipped. What proved more complicated was the removal of the skewer. I was offered an anaesthetic. Oh no! I said, I want to feel the release, watch the blood and scab spurt out. It will, they said, it will. And it will hurt too, they said. Never mind.
I keep the skewer in a pot. For kebabs, and stirring cocktails. It has a small knot in the middle which kept it stable in the centre of the tibia. The holes healed disappointingly quickly.