Milly sits patiently on the blue chair I’ve set for her in the cohort area of the ED, watching everyone come and go.
‘Busy, isn’t it?’ I say.
‘So many people dying,’ she says, smiling sadly, like a middle-aged nun finding love in her heart for all the evil in the world. ‘How many people are dying, d’you think?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe some, but then I suppose you have to think there are lots being born, so life goes on and we’re all right.’
‘What do they do? Burn them?’
‘Sometimes. It depends what the person wants. Some people opt for natural burials. You know – with a tree. So the graveyard ends up a wood.’
She’s still smiling at me.
‘Which is nice,’ I add.
I look around to see if the psych nurse has arrived yet, but I can’ t make her out in the chaos of the department.
It’s difficult having a conversation with Milly. She whispers, and I have to lean in. When I do understand what it is she’s saying, I struggle to come up with anything more than blandishments, vague reassurances. My own sense of reality feels increasingly tenuous.
‘What’s that word?’ she says.
‘Helly something. Is it? Hell?’
‘Hell? Do you mean as opposed to heaven?’
‘Where you go up. You spin up.’
She illustrates by turning her hand vaguely in the air, and then placing it neatly in her lap again.
‘That’s a nice way of thinking about it,’ I say. ‘Like the seed of a tree, spinning upwards.’
She smiles at me, unchanged
‘What is that word? I’m sure… hell…is it? Hell?’
‘I don’t know. Is it a person? Helen, maybe?’
She shakes her head.
A team comes out of resus pushing a bed with a patient wired-up to monitors and drips, heading for ITU.
She sighs, watches them pass, and then looks straight at me.
‘Helicopters,’ she says.