King of Hearts
Annoyed with the dismal news on the television, Joe grabbed the remote and switched it off. Tapping his fingers on the table of the hospital bed, he pondered on what to do next. Time warped and stretched infinitely in the ward, as various illnesses spread inside the bodies of the patients at the speed of light. Book or magazine? Book, another life story to delve into. A temporary remedy to ignore his own one.
As he turned to the bedside table to browse the unread paperbacks, the bald head of a child appeared through the doorway. Big blue eyes, above a white mask covering the rest of his face, he peeked into the room.
“Hey, alien child, what are doing on my stage? Planning some kind of burglary?”
“I’m exploring the building.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be upstairs with the other alien kids?”
“I’m not an alien. I live here and you’re bald as well.”
“Well, I’m an actor in this House of Comedy. This is my make-up for the latest TV series, which is more popular than ER. The crew has gone for a coffee break, and we’re awaiting their return.”
Joe saw the hint of a smile in the child’s eyes, as the patient lying in the next bed began his routine moans and groans.
“Why does he make this noise? Is he hurting?”
“Not necessarily. He’s from another planet, doesn’t speak our language.”
“Can’t you teach him?”
“I tried, but he’s not very good with languages. By the way, my name is Joe, what’s yours?”
“Shadow, I’m the shadow of the boy upstairs. Actually, I’m there, but my shadow can show up anywhere I’d like to go.”
“So you’re unreal. Welcome to the setting of our show. The director didn’t say this episode included the part of an alien child. “
“Can I play?”
“Of course, you can, but I’m finding it hard to relate to your expression under that mask. Come close, I’ll improve your make-up.”
The child approached him, staring at the tubes attached to his hand and body, before gazing at the books and pens on the bedside table. Joe picked up a blue felt pen, and drew a clown’s mouth on the boy’s mask.
“There, you’re laughing now. That’s essential for a comedy. We can play until the guards come and get you. Not sure you’re allowed here.”
Nurse Alice stepped into the ward, rolling her eyes. “Billy, the fugitive. The doctor has told you many times not to wander into the other wards. Germs, remember? Come, I’ll take you upstairs.”
Billy sighed behind the laughing mask, and relented with a sideways glance at Joe.
“His name is Shadow, Alice. Listen, Shadow, next time you escape, bring some colourful felt pens, a drink and a pack of cigarettes. Any female actors will also be appreciated to join the show. Not enough girls around here.”
“You’re not supposed be smoking. You have the big C. I’ll see what I can do about the rest,” Shadow said, as Alice took his hand and dragged him out.
Alice returned with disapproval etched upon on her face. “You should have rung the bell, Joe. The leukaemia kids are not allowed direct contact with other patients. Billy has a habit of escaping, and it’s not good for him.”
“I worry about you, Alice in Woncologyland. We’re already infected with the disease. You should be the one wearing the mask. I think it would suit you, make you more mysterious.”
She laughed. “Come, Joe, it’s bathing time. Let’s get that gown off and make you nice and fresh. Groaner is the next in line.” She drew the curtain around the bed and began her task.
“Stop making passes at me, Alice. You can’t have my illegitimate child.”
“I’m not Garp’s mother and I don’t need a child from you. I already have one of my own.”
“I know. I was writing another screenplay, not original though. Just an evocative one.”
“Listen, if you want to talk to the children, you can see them in the garden, but you must wear a mask. Better than being cooped up here, all day. I’ll take you out in a wheel-chair. “
On a sunny day, Alice wheeled Joe’s chair into the grounds where the children played. He held the stem of his drip as the contraption rolled along beside him. He’d already drawn a smiling mouth on his mask. Shadow came up to him, followed by a group of kids, all of them pale, their skin almost translucent.
“This is Flower,” he said, pointing to a shorter child.
“Nice to meet you, Flower. Now, line up here, so I can complete your make-up. Give me your names to inspire me. Felt pens, please, Shadow.”
Apart from the colours and the shapes of their eyes, but lacking eyebrows, eyelashes and hair on their heads, the masks they wore made them appear androgynous. Shadow gave him the box of pens and Joe set to work. Once the make-up session finished, he presented him with a small carton of orange juice and a short pencil.
“Your drink and cigarette,” he said, winking.
“Thank you, I thought you’d forgotten. I need a glass. Can’t have my drink out of a carton.”
Alice brought him a plastic glass and poured the juice. Joe lifted the mask from his mouth and took a sip. Placing the pencil between his lips, he drew a deep breath and exhaled.
“All set now, Gang. Shall we rob the blood bank and sell the loot to the vampires, or burgle the medicine cabinet, drug the nurses, and make our escape from here?”
“Escape!” they shouted in unison.
“Agreed. Those big smiles on your masks will fool the staff who will fail to see the vicious expressions concealed underneath.”
The next time Shadow escaped to the ward, Joe’s bed was empty. No sign of his books or papers on the bedside table. He tiptoed to Groaner’s side and poked him. “Where’s Joe?”
Groaner turned his head. A single tear rolled down his face as he muttered something incoherent.
Alice entered the room and put her hand on Shadow’s shoulder. “Joe had to go, Billy, but he left something for you.”
She produced a paper from her pocket and watched him read the note, written in multicoloured letters.
Hey Shadow, I’ve been offered a contract by a Hollywood producer and had to leave. Make sure you carry on with the show down here. Joe xxx
Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently she lives on the Eastern shores of the Southern Aegean Sea where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction and Flash Poesy, as well as longer works of fiction. Her flash stories have been published on the Authonomy Blog, The Drabble, and Sick Lit Magazine. She has a completed manuscript, The Child of Heaven and two works in progress, The Child of Passion and The Lost Child. Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond, will be published this year. More information can be found at her website: https://sebnemsanders.wordpress.com/ where she publishes some of her work.
*Featured photo courtesy of Brian Michael Barbeito*