The morning entered the room, the sun forceful on tired eyes. It was a Saturday but there was to be no sleeping in today. There was to be no hanging on to the covers and the quilts and the sheets. The hangover that took hold of Alex was more to do with a lack of sleep and a lack of cordial than it was to do with booze. The fire and the emotion had dehydrated his throat and caught on to his mind much worse than any amount of gin and tonic might do. Although, I’m sure Alex would have liked to test out that theory. Not today. Not any day soon. The centre of attention was Bill, and there need be no other thoughts today.
Bill was, luckily, breathing. The doctors had told Alex and Sarah that there was still danger – very real, very daunting danger – that Bill could “take a wrong turn” in the next 24 hours – a euphemism that was as appreciated as it was blatant, given the time of the morning and the state of mind the pair found themselves in.
“What the fuck happened last night?” said Alex, as though the answer might change from what was about to be spoken and from what actually happened.
“There was a big fucking fire, pal. Bill’s nearly dead and we slept on the floor.” said Sarah.
“OK. I thought so. What a mess.” said Alex. “How..?”
Sarah turned and looked, the change in direction of her stare spoke for her.
“OK, I’m just asking. Was he alone?”
The questions were getting silly now, and Alex knew it. But there was little else to say and besides, his house was burnt toast and he could do with some answers. Even if the answer was:
“I haven’t got a clue, and we mightn’t know for a while.”
Great. Alex had woken tired and grumpy and, yeah, OK, it’s really selfish to be grumpy when you’re in the best position out of three people who are in a really chaotic position, but there’s no rule book entitled Reacting To Having Every Last Thing You Care About (Human Included!) Becoming Fire Vol 1. Answers were needed here, Sarah. And we’ve got time to waste as of right now and the only person who has the answers for sure isn’t conscious.
And then there were coughs.
“Bill!” – a chorus of reaction beamed from the faces of the only two people who weren’t in hospital beds in the corridor. The sensible part of Alex hadn’t quite forgotten about wanting answers from the night before, but the emotional part of his brain had told that particular train of thought to “fuck off” for a few hours, because his best friend was alive and coughing. Sweet, painful, disgusting and beautiful coughing. Bill was, for now, with us.
The nurses of the ward heard the commotion and quickly rushed in the put cold water on the excitement, telling Bill he needed to lay back and keep calm. As though he hadn’t just survived an actual, literal fireball. Nurses and their practicality.
“How do you feel?” said Sarah, already sounding more awake, more alive in herself with every last breath Bill gave to the room.
“Not well. My chest hurts” said Bill, which is probably the best reaction anyone could have hoped for this side of death.
“That will be the smoke” – Alex’s words were sincere but always, always came across as sarcastic. As though it was never worth saying anything valid because it always had the opposite effect, like he was too clever for the basic words he speaks to genuinely be that stupid.
The room stood still for what felt like another night on the floor, until Alex started crying. “I thought you were fucking dead, you prick.” this was not a joke, and inconsistent with his usual sarcastic tones, this was very real, very true and very much a moment that stuck in the air, twisted and still. There was a huge relief around the bed, and whilst tears did flow, they were a lovely mix of happy and sad, furious and so, so overwhelmed.
“I’m as glad to be alive as you are for me, mate” assessed Bill, who seemed unusually chirpy for being half-baked inside. Like this was a joke, a prank, a TV stunt show. Yet I suppose breathing good, clean air will do that to you; make sure chirpy. I suppose being alive will do that to you. And what a time to be alive it was.