The Breathing Machine and its Collection of Uneasy Dreamers

Hospitals smell of antiseptic, cafeteria food and well-scoured bed pans. The greatest wonder of the modern world is that medical dramas have managed to convince us there’s glamor involved.

The nice cars in Doctors Only parking do help.

Smiling Choirboy was spending a lot of time in room 357, and the working theory at the nursing station was that an inheritance was involved. Grandma had had a very nice watch and a very big wedding ring, till Choirboy had slipped them in his jacket pocket to “keep them safe.”

Flirt too unskillfully with the nurses and they’ll make that sort of assumption.


Choirboy woke. He’d stayed past visiting hours, asleep in a chair, somehow missed by the nurse.

He looked at his phone. Nine past one, and the hospital was dark. Hospitals are never dark, dim at the most, but the hospital was dark. Once he’d put his phone away the only light was from grandma’s LED monitor. Blood pressure 99 over 44, pulse rate 51. A fourth number said 102, but he didn’t know what it measured.

The hallway was dark. He looked across to the nurses station, but it was dark too.

He decided this was a good chance to experiment with lucid dreaming.

He pointed his cellphone at the bed, and realized what had been missing the whole time: the rattling rasp of his grandma’s machine assisted breathing. The bed was empty. He shrugged, and, phone for flashlight, wandered into the hall, thinking a lucid dream would be an excellent place to encounter a trio of pretty young women.

But there wasn’t anyone, so when he reached the elevator he pressed the button for down. The door opened. There wasn’t any light but from the little screen that said the floor. The Coldplay song where the singer said Saint Peter wouldn’t call his name played. Choirboy decided that Coldplay had replaced soft jazz in elevators, and got depressed.

The elevator door closed. He looked at the buttons. 3, for the third floor, where he was. 2, 1, and B, for basement. But now there was a fifth button, below the others. It said, “The Breathing Machine and its Collection of Uneasy Dreamers.”

He pressed it. The elevator went down. After a long time the door opened.

He heard the rattling rasp of machine assisted breathing, louder than normal. He shone his phone. It was not one breather, but many, sleeping in hospital beds, blinking lights on IV stands, little plastic hoses full of oxygen snuggling in their noses.

The beds were in concentric circles, not rows. He found grandma in the inner-most circle. She smelled of oranges, and Choirboy knew she was dreaming of long-gone days when she had made pocket money working odd hours at the orange packing plant where her mother had been head grader.

The scent of oranges wafted away from her to the breathing machine, which squatted at the center, hoses running from it to every sleeper, like a spider in a web.

He shook grandma’s shoulder. She was non-responsive, which didn’t bother him. She was often non-responsive.

The man next to her was humming a dance tune. Dreaming about the girl he hadn’t married. His humming faded, and the breathing machine took up the tune, in pops, beeps and whistles.

He looked for a way to turn it off. It wasn’t fair that his first lucid dream should be so moody.

Grandma spoke, but it wasn’t grandma’s voice. Too pneumatic. It said, “You always knew. She has less of herself every morning. Where did you think her self was going? Even I have my price.”

Choirboy took his grandma’s pillow, and put it to the Breathing Machine’s intake tube. After five minutes it stopped beeping, and he returned to the elevator. He got out on the first floor. It was bright and full of hospitals employees. Some were young and pretty.

The clock in the lobby said it was 1:30. He strode out the doors without glancing at the visitors’ desk.

He got a burger on the way home, bothered that he hadn’t woken up yet. He washed his face, went to bed, and he put it all down to stress when they told him grandma was dead.


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