And It Will All Be Okay

6 1 2

Six months later

Lucia Marchmont adjusted the car mirror and widened her mouth, opening her lips so she could roll on lip gloss. She'd kept her make-up low-key—light face powder, a dusting of bronzer, brown mascara; the kind of thing designed to make you look as if you weren't wearing make-up.

As a once-upon-a-time air hostess, appearance appropriateness came second nature to Lucia. She knew the look that matched every occasion—hospital visits included. Light make-up, this look especially, was the one she'd also chosen for the funeral one month earlier.

She got out of the car and locked it, taking a second or two to draw deep, fortifying breaths. At least this was a private hospital. Lucia hated hospitals. As a child, her mother spent a lot of time in them. In those days, her mother's condition was put down to exhaustion and other euphemisms. Maybe the words weren't supposed to be a disguise in those days. People genuinely didn't know what was wrong with Lucia's mum, except that she slept a lot and neglected her children.

As she stepped into the reception area Lucia felt the smell of hospitals flood her nostrils, and those holes pinch in response.

Why were such places, their consultants so highly paid, their nurses not rushed off their feet, unable to hide that universal hospital smell? Bleach, white spirit and overcooked vegetables—the aroma swept through the corridors and the rooms. Lucia opened her handbag, rummaging around until the found the bottle of Jo Malone.

Lillian said it was naff, the smell so overwhelming and distinctive that everyone recognised it. Overwhelming was ideal in these circumstances. Olfactory senses deadened, Lucia picked up her pace.

Ward 15.

It didn't take long to get there. Private hospitals weren't busy; why would they be? The nurses at the desk looked more like receptionists. They wore scrubs, but they hadn't stinted on make-up either. The once-upon-a-time head of air hostesses for British Airways tutted silently. The auburn-haired young girl in front of her failed the first rule of make-up: your foundation is never visible.

Lucia told the girl who she was here to visit, her fingers itching to reach over and rub the tidemark on the girl's jawline. Hadn't she heard of foundation sponges?

The girl stood up. "I'll just check. She said she didn't want to see anyone."

Lucia felt her lungs deflate. She didn't want to be here. It looked as if there might be an easy escape. She adjusted the bag on her shoulder, readying herself to move, double quick time, when the nurse returned, saying—she's asleep, we don't want to wake her up.

The nurse didn't do her that favour. "Come on through," she said. "Not long now! She's very tired."

Very tired. That's what people said about her mum years ago.

She followed the nurse down a corridor. The Saudis bought the hospital in the early nineties, so there were signs for the direction to Mecca everywhere.

The nurse stopped, her expression coy. "Don't exhaust her," she said. "She's our best patient."

Mmm-hmm, Lucia could bet on that. The woman comes in, doesn't complain, does everything you tell her to do—the only thing you should watch is that she might slip into the ensuite bathroom/toilet at some point and hang herself.

She pushed the door open and started at the figure on the bed, hooked up to machines and tubing. Had she stumbled onto the geriatric ward by accident. This couldn't be... was it really...? Flowers and cards surrounded the gaunt figure on the bed. Lucia hadn't brought either. The card's sickly Hallmark messages seemed inappropriate. Get well soon and sorry you're ill too blandly offensive.

The Artist's History (18+) #WATTYS2018 LONGLISTRead this story for FREE!