playing it safe

Aaron doesn’t believe me when I tell him he spent the night in hospital.
‘I’m not crazy,’ he says, folding his arms. A massive figure in khaki shirt and trousers, he occupies the entire sofa. Despite his size, his monkey boots seem disproportionately enormous – although they’re nearer to me, so it’s probably just a matter of perspective.
‘Where do you think you were, then?’ I ask him.
‘A holiday camp,’ he says. ‘I remember it distinctly. Everyone had their own chalet – except, we had to share the toilet, for some reason.’
His friend Marcus shifts uneasily on his chair.
‘Don’t worry,’ I say, trying to reassure them both. ‘This sort of thing’s quite common with urinary tract infections.’
‘What – thinking a hospital’s a holiday camp?’
‘Getting confused about things, yes. Hallucinating, sometimes.’
‘But I can see it all so clearly. Everyone was deliriously happy. They were walking around in couples. And there were these beautiful people in shining white uniforms giving everyone delicious things to eat, beautiful things, off trays.’
‘Doesn’t sound like any hospital I know,’ says Marcus.
‘I’m not crazy,’ says Aaron.
‘No-one thinks you’re crazy,’ I tell him. ‘We just think you’ve got a bit of an infection and you’re not quite yourself.’
Aaron rubs his face a couple of times, making it seem even redder than it was.
‘It was just the toilet arrangements that struck me as odd,’ he said. ‘I certainly didn’t think I was in any kind of hospital.’
He takes a deep, sighing breath, then restlessly scratches his head – something he’s been doing off and on the whole time. His hair is matted and wild, like he worked in a fistful of gel and then hung upside down from a tree. I’m worried he might have a fever, but the temperature comes back normal.
‘So – what happened to me exactly?’ he says.
‘You went round to see some friends…’
‘…I wasn’t there,’ says Marcus, carefully, like if he had been, none of this would’ve happened.
‘How did I get there?’
‘You drove. Apparently.’
‘I drove?’
‘Someone standing outside A and E saw you pull up, open the door, and fall out.’
‘Did I?’
‘The car’s still there.’
‘I’m picking it up this afternoon,’ says Marcus. ‘Don’t worry.’
‘I’m not worried about the bloody car,’ says Aaron. ‘I’m worried about my sanity’
‘Like I say – you’ve got a UTI. They can seriously throw you off your stride.’
‘So then what happened?’
‘So then this person got a wheelchair and took you inside. The doctors treated you. And you were sent home. They asked us to come in and keep an eye on things, to make sure the antibiotics kick in, but other than that, you should be okay.’
‘I’m staying tonight,’ says Marcus. ‘So that’s good.’
‘I don’t know,’ says Aaron, taking one more colossal breath, and then blowing it out again almost immediately, like a whale before it dives, nose down into those uncertain depths of ocean the sun struggles to reach.

-oOo-

I’m just back at the car getting ready for the next appointment when I get a phone call from Marcus. He has a few meandering questions about the treatment and so on, but I can tell he’s stringing it out, and there’s something else bothering him. Eventually he gets round to it.
‘You’re a man of the world,’ he says.
‘Oh? Okay! Maybe. How can I help?’
‘This thing is – this thing – Aaron has. This infection. If I lie with him tonight – can I catch it?’
‘Well – a UTI isn’t a sexually transmitted disease, so it doesn’t work in the same way. A condom’s not a bad idea, though, just to play it safe. You don’t want to get a UTI of your own. Bacteria that live in the bowel are one of the main culprits.’
‘Okay. Thanks. I’m just off to get his car back.’
‘That’s good of you.’
‘I know. So. D’you think it’ll be clamped?’
‘The car? I hope not. You know what those parking people are like.’
‘Yeah. Anyway. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be lucky. Maybe they’ll just put a massive condom on it. To play it safe.’

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