Land of No Dreams
[So, begins the continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia…]
Letitia did not dream. Had no visions. Only elusive threads of the past few weeks—missing time—that troubled her. It seemed every part of her psyche had excuses, plausible explanations for the conundrum that began to be her life in yet another world that was not hers. Or was it hers? Her world the one she remembered back when she left it in the 1960’s, and this world she was in, seemed the same. How could that be? Surely times, people, places, not to mention décor and colour schemes would have changed in the 50 years she had passed in Mirror World.
Two women dressed in simple lime green uniforms and wearing white pannikins on their heads, conversed in hushed monotones.
What is this? Letitia pondered, Variations on the flying nun?
‘Do you think she is an illegal alien?’
‘Who knows. She looks like one.’
‘Does she speak English?’
‘I don’t know. She hasn’t woken up yet.’
‘You better get the Department of Immigration onto it.’
‘Hmmm. We have to have a psychiatric report first. We don’t want to happen what happened last time.’
‘No!’ The other agreed. ‘Still these illegals can be pretty cunning. Antarctica! How the Dickens did she end up there?’
‘Where is that Doctor? He was supposed to be here half an hour ago!’
‘Oh, Thumm, he’s always late. Once they get as high up as him, they think they own time.’
Letitia lay on the bed, eyes tightly shut, pretending to be unconscious. Alert. Lucid. No longer coughing. Chest clear. She had an impression that the nanobots in her system had aided her speedy recovery. Who needs Vitamin C, or Flu vaccinations with nanobots? Carefully, she opened one eye to spy on the talkers. Their backs were facing her.
Stealthily, she reached for the medical report that was slung at the end of the cot, pulled it towards her and scanned the details. She trembled. My goodness it really is 1967! she thought. With hands shaking, she replaced the chart on the hook, and resumed her unconscious repose, hoping that her racing heartbeat would not alert the two nurses to her altered state of consciousness.
Then, without a second thought, she pulled out the plug to the monitoring system to be sure.
The two nursing ladies seemed less concerned with the void of monotonous humming from the machines, than they did about their tea break.
‘Tea break?’ asked the taller one.
‘Why not?’ the shorter dumpier one replied.
With recess on their schedule, the two disappeared out the door and left Letitia. Two thoughts troubled her. First, that she might in their world of 1967, be an illegal immigrant. Well, she hoped that was what they meant by the “alien” reference. Secondly, and more disturbingly, the idea, that she might be crazy. At all costs she must avoid that doctor. She must get out of this place.
Letitia assumed she was in the depths of the South, surrounded by Antarctic snow and ice. Still thought this even though the sun shone brightly and warmly through the window. Air-conditioning had taken the sting out of the heat, and she assumed that the cool climes of the medical facility were the direct result of the frozen world beyond; that the technicians had done a good job of warming up the joint. Hastily, she ripped the IV tube from her arm, abandoning the funnel to drip clear fluid onto the white tiled floor.
She tottered down the pastel green passageway—why did the décor fixate on green? —in her hospital gown; not a good look and would not get far endowed thus with the back of it open to the hospital corridor breeze. The little blue flowers on the bubbly cotton irked her. She wandered to the end of the hall where the elevator existed. Surprisingly, no one seemed to notice; no one seemed to care. All too busy. Never-the-less, she could not go around like this, with her posterior exposed to the elements. She had to find some clothes, and fast.
She ducked into a ward where an old lady slept. A dressing gown hung in an elongated cupboard. Begging: “Pick me!” With only the slightest measure of guilt and hesitation, Letitia took the bright pink velvet padded gown and wrapped it around herself. The extra layer flushed her with heat, but she tried to ignore the beads of perspiration dripping from her temple.
A nurse robotically strode into the room.
Letitia dashed into the nearby bathroom and hid behind the shower curtain. Drops of water from a recent shower caused her to slip. As she teetered, she grabbed the curtain. Satin green, of course. She clung to the curtain, fearful of stumbling over the commode. Water seeped between her toes, tempting her to release the curtain and land bottom first on the damp floor tiles (tiny green square ones, of course). She eased her body onto the commode, rubbed her feet and waited. The pastel green wall tiles and shiny dark green freeze didn’t escape her notice.
The nurse seemed to be taking forever. Papers rustled, blood pressure machine pumped, wheezed, and beeped while the nurse chatted with the old lady.
Letitia spent the waiting time constructively, planning her escape. She puzzled over how crowded the medical quarters had become and assumed that she was not the only survivor from the plane crash.
What happened to Fritz? She wondered.
Finally, silence on the other side. She slipped out of the en suite. The damp corners of the dressing gown slogging against her shins.
‘Who are you?’ the old lady stared at Letitia in an incriminating fashion. She wore this purple rinse in her thin curly hair and her piercing brown eyes marked her intruder’s every move like a hawk.
‘Oh, er, I’m your room-mate,’ Letitia said.
Baring her nicotine-stained buck teeth, she spat words of accusation at Letitia. ‘I have this room to myself. What are you doing here?’
‘Oh, haven’t you heard? There was an air disaster. The plane crash. They’ve had to double up.’
‘But there is no bed for you.’ She pointed a wiry finger at Letitia. ‘And why are you wearing my dressing gown?’
Letitia glanced lovingly down at the velvet chords and stroked the soft fabric. ‘Oh, is it? What a coincidence, I have one exactly like this!’
The old lady leant forward and indignantly replied, ‘How could you?’ Then in measured words, ‘That – gown – was – an – exclusive – from – Harrods – London.’
‘Really? Well, I guess salesmen, even Harrods ones, will do anything for a sale.’
The aged lady glowed bright red. ‘You mean…How could…what you…?’
The lady groped for the panic button.
‘I’ll go and see where the extra bed has got to,’ Letitia stammered before dashing from the room. She made for the nearest door that resembled a closet.
Letitia squatted in the cleaning cupboard surrounded by squeeze mops and buckets, and the stale musty smell that accompanied them. The fumes of antiseptic spray and wipe mingled with chlorine overwhelmed her. A lime green uniform was slung on a hook on the back of the door. Again, without too much thought, she donned the tunic-cut dress and dark green pinafore and slipped some available white sneakers onto her feet. ‘Don’t think too much about who wore those shoes before,’ she muttered with a shudder. The sneakers were a little tight and had a damp, cold feel on her bare feet. A surgical mask hung by its elastic on the hook that also held a green gown (pastel green, naturally). She took the mask and placed it over her nose and mouth. The fumes had been making her eyes water and she had begun to feel dizzy. The mask gave slight relief from the vapours as well as acting as a disguise.
‘Pity I’m no longer invisible,’ she muttered as she pulled open the door.
Fully dressed as cleaner with trolley laden with mops and buckets in tow, and vacuum cleaner barrel trailing behind her, she left the storage room. Eyes down, Letitia hoovered the short piled grey carpet. The nurses ignored her as cleaner. Domestic staff were unimportant to them. They were stationed in life and employment above cleaners.
‘You missed a spot there.’ There’s always one pompous nurse who had to be the exception. She had to make it her business how clean the med lab was to be.
‘Sorry!’ Letitia bleated while rubbing that corner of the corridor with the vacuum nozzle for some extra few seconds to satisfy her.
‘And don’t forget to empty the bins in the toilets – you forgot yesterday, and they are overflowing,’ she said.
‘Yes, ma’am!’ Letitia replied not actually looking at her. But silently she mimicked that particular nurse behind her surgical mask, then continued to vacuum away from the nasty nurse.
A few meters down the passageway, she glanced back. The nurse had turned away from her and had busied herself with a pile of clipboards, thank goodness.
Letitia worked her way to the large green and white “exit” and “lifts” sign at the end of the hallway. So far, so good.
Standing before the metal doors of the lift, Letitia expected them to open on command. She had forgotten that these lifts reinforced with an ornate brass gate, were not the sensor-lifts of the advanced Mirror technology. Mirror lifts are intelligent. They automatically sense the presence of an individual and whether the person is intending to go up or down. ‘Of course, this is 1967, on this world; lifts are not intelligent. I s’pose I have to press the appropriate button,’ she muttered while gazing at the lift. ‘Now, where’s the button?’
A man endowed with a yellow and blue striped polo shirt, baggy grey shorts and wielding a golf club waltzed up to the lifts and poked the “down” button. The fellow, tall, blonde hair receding, and dark blue eyes, appeared familiar, as if she had seen him somewhere before and long ago. The doors opened and Letitia joined the golfer in the lift.
A petite lady in a pale green mini dress smiled at them, and announced, ‘Going down? Going down?’
‘Er-oui,’ Letitia replied behind her mask. ‘I mean, “yes”.’
The golfer glanced at her and raised a blonde eyebrow.
‘Oops, habit,’ Letitia muttered and turned from him. Hoping she hadn’t given her “illegal alien” status away.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2021
Feature Photo: Aurora Borealis Icebreaker, near Battery Point Derwent River, Hobart, Tasmania © L.M. Kling 2016