The sister replaced the telephone and tutted to the nurse beside her. 'I literally cannot remember the last time I was able to reach both parents on the same number', she said. 'If people stayed together, it would save the NHS a fortune.'
The nurse disagreed, but had learnt that showing it was a bad idea. She made a vaguely encouraging sound and carried on with her work. Now they had had a chance to examine the patient's handbag, they knew who she was.
Dorota Frackowski was her name, twenty-three years old, and she had a Polish father and passport. An examination of her purse showed she was a member of Slim Jim's Gym, had an appointment with Mandy for a hair dye next Tuesday and lived in Old Town, the more cosmopolitan area of Swindon. Her staff ID showed she worked at British Telecom.
Her condition was currently stable, at least since doctors had induced a coma to reduce the swelling of her brain. The blood transfusion had been successful, and her pulse and blood pressure were now within the normal range.
Darren knew nothing of this. He was not a relative and did not know the victim, so was reduced to sitting outside her ward waiting for a passing doctor or taking the long walk to the very edge of the hospital carpark for a smoke.
He had seen her once, the briefest glimpse through the closing ward door. But that glimpse was enough to conjure up a vast array of worst case scenarios.
It was when he was smoking that he met Mark, another acolyte of the bitch-goddess Nicotine. They nodded, as smokers do, making a lie of smoking's anti-social reputation. Mark coughed. He was out of breath from the walk. 'Don't they realise smokers can't walk very far? Why do they make us do a marathon before we can have a fag?'
Darren smiled. He'd had the same thought himself. 'What you in here for, mate?', he asked, as if they were both prisoners. In a sense, they were.
Mark smiled. 'Missus having a baby. First one. But apparently I'm not needed for a little while. Word to the wise, mate. If your girlfriend ever asks you to time her contractions, don't bother. They're not interested. It's just something they make you do so you don't get in the way. Do yourself a favour and play Call of Duty instead.'
Despite himself, Darren laughed. He needed the release. He was very nervous about the girl he'd hit. He didn't even know her name.
'What about you mate? Women's trouble too?' asked Mark.
'Yeah, in a way', said Darren. 'I found a woman lying in the road, bleeding from the head. I just wanted to make sure she was OK but they won't let me see her. I only saw her once. She looked so beautiful.'
Mark thought about this. 'Have you ever noticed that sadness is required for beauty to exist? A woman will always be more beautiful at her father's funeral than on her wedding day. Audrey Hepburn will always be more beautiful than someone like Pamela Anderson because the sadness runs through her. Happiness and sunshine can make someone cute, maybe even hot, but it takes sadness and moonlight to make them beautiful.'
It was at this point that Darren realised what Mark was smoking and reached out for it. He took a drag and instantly his head swam. It had been a long day. 'What about love songs?' he said. 'My mum's always saying they're beautiful and they're not sad.'
'Have you ever listened to them?' asked Mark. 'Most love songs are about loss, asking people to come back to them. 'Since You've Been Gone', 'Come Back and Stay', etc. There's no drama in 'aren't we happy? Look at our perfect lives'. We don't want to know. The songs have to be interesting.'
Darren started to wish that his life was more interesting, then paused. Here he was, smoking illegal substances with one complete stranger in a hospital carpark while awaiting news on whether he had accidentally killed a different complete stranger when working illegally on a building site. This was about as interesting as he wanted his life to get.
He was still musing this when the car roared around the corner, skidded out of control and knocked down a row of motorbikes like skittles.