Our new Short Story of the Month is ‘Scream, Scream’ by Glenda Beagan which features in The Green Bridge: Stories from Wales.
The Green Bridge is an entertaining anthology of classic stories from twentieth century Wales. From Dylan Thomas to Ifan Pughe, the familiar to the revived, from the rural west of Caradoc Evans to the industrial south of Gwyn Thomas, the politics of Emyr Humphreys to the relationships of Dorothy Edwards, all Wales and all human life is here.
This is an excerpt, read the full story for FREE on the Seren website here.
It is quiet on the ward. There are only three bed patients. Nurse
Sandra looks at her watch. It is so still. There is the faint hum of a
mechanical mower on lawns far away, that is all. No birds are singing.
Mrs Jessop is snoring quietly. She’s had a bad night. It is on the
Linda is about to make her move. Nurse Sandra senses it. She
smooths her apron, flicks through a magazine with studied
carelessness watching sideways through her hair as Linda shifts her
slow carcase off the bed. Even now as those bare arms emerge Nurse
Sandra has to steel herself. She looks up, clenched. Sioned, the
anorexic girl in the top bed is semaphoring wildly. Linda begins.
“Is my heart still beating?”
“Yes, Linda.” Nurse Sandra sighs, tries to smile. How well she
knows this never ending litany.
“Are you sure?”
“Can you hear it?”
“Not from here I can’t, no.”
“Come and listen.”
“Yes. I think it’s stopped.”
“No luv, silly. Course it hasn’t stopped. You wouldn’t be sitting
up talking to me if it had stopped, would you?”
“There you are then.”
Now the familiar pause.
“Is my baby dead?”
This was the bit she dreaded. Day after day, hour after hour, the
same question. And still she dreaded it.
“It’s a long time ago now, Linda.”
“I killed my baby didn’t I?”
“No, you didn’t kill your baby. You know you didn’t.”
“Heroin killed my baby.”
“But I did really. I know I did.”
Nurse Sandra gulps. Linda never wants platitudes. Sometimes
she’ll accept them. Mostly she won’t.
Nurse Sandra still finds she winces inside at the sight of those
arms: the half healed scars she’d cleaned of pus months before are
still lurid among the tattoos, the roses, crowns and mermaids, the
names JIMMY and MOTHER, the waste, the pointlessness. Linda is
dying, her liver, which is all of twenty three years old, is ready to
pack up on her. She has respiratory problems. Her legs are hideously
ulcerated. She has come here to die because there is nowhere else for
her to go.
“Have you got a fag?”
“I don’t smoke, Linda.”
“Mrs Jessop smokes.”
“Mrs Jessop is asleep.”
“When she wakes up?”
“You can ask her when she wakes up.”
“Will she give me a fag?”
“She usually does, doesn’t she?”
“She always does.”
A giggle. The ghost of a giggle.
“She always gives me a fag to make me go away.”
Linda is not averse to exploiting the unnerving effect she has on
people, and Mrs Jessop is easily unnerved. So is Sioned. Linda
changes tack. She knows the answer before she asks the question but
she wants a reaction. She wants to see those dark eyes close, that pale
skull shake its negative.
“You don’t smoke, do you Sioned?”
Sioned is pretending not to be here. She does it well. She is now
so thin she hardly makes a ripple under the blankets. She is
disappearing. Tonic insulin seems not to have had the desired effect.
She is seventeen, always tiny, admittedly, but now she weighs just
Mrs Jessop sputters into consciousness. Stretches, yawns, sits bolt
“Good morning Mrs Jessop. For this relief much thanks.”
Nurse Sandra walks up to the bed.
“How are we this morning?”
Mrs Jessop can’t remember how she is. Bleary still from night
sedation, she blinks, owl-like, registers Linda’s looming presence and
makes an instinctive move for her handbag, proffering the packet.
“Ta, Mrs Jessop. You’re alright, you are. You’ll be going home
She slouches off to the top of the ward again.
“If you’re going to smoke you go to the sitting room, Linda.”
“Aw, just this once, Sandra.”
“Can I go in the wheelchair, then?”
“You know I can’t push you. I can’t leave the ward.”
“There’s only Mrs Jessop and Sioned, Sandra. Nothing’s going to
happen while you push me that little way. It’s not far.”
“If you want to smoke you go to the sitting room and if you want
to go to the sitting room you have to walk.”
“You’re a tight bitch, Sandra.”
“Yeah, I’m a real hard case.”
“Can I have a light, Mrs Jessop?”
“Not on the ward, Linda.”
“I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to Mrs Jessop.”
There is an edge in Linda’s voice but she no longer has the energy
to put that edge into action. Nurse Sandra gives her a look. Now it’s
a battle of wills and Sandra will win because she has the will to win
and Linda has not. The girl’s efforts have already exhausted her. She
wants her cigarette but she does not want to haul herself down the
corridor to smoke it. In the end the cigarette wins. It always does.
She starts to move down the ward again, painfully slowly for Sandra’s
benefit, holding on to the beds.
“Can I borrow your lighter, Mrs Jessop?”
“Get a light from someone down there.”
“There won’t be anyone down there. They’ve gone to OT.”
“Get a light from Sister Annie, then.”
“In the office.”
“Is that where she is?”
“Are you sure? Is she on her own?”
“It’s not time for the doctors to make their round yet, Linda if
that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Is Dr Patel on today?”
“I don’t know.”
“She’s on holiday,” says Mrs Jessop.
“Is she? How do you know?”
“She told me.”
Linda looks sulky. She likes to think she has a special relationship
with Dr Patel, that she is her confidante. To compensate for not
having received this piece of information she makes an extravagant
balletic swoop towards Mrs Jessop, hands moulded into a parodic
impression of an Indian dancer’s.
“She’s promised me one of her old saris, Dr Patel has. She said I
could have one. She likes me.”
“You’ve been pestering her again, haven’t you?” Nurse Sandra
cuts in, wishing Linda would really get off the ward and go for her
smoke. Linda glowers.
“I like Dr Patel. She’s alright.”
In a moment of rare humour Mrs Jessop chuckles to herself.
“She’ll be going home soon.”
Nurse Sandra smiles. “She’s got a long way to go.”
Just then the scream.
A vehicle must have drawn up, but they didn’t hear it. The front
doors have opened and the scream has come in, has forced itself in,
breaking through their innocuous recitative. This is the aria, a full
Continue reading ‘Scream, Scream’ on the Seren website here.