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  • Hampstead Road
  • M. G. Stephens (bio)

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[End Page 134]

Two tramps were sat across from Eileen in the waiting room at the hospital. They were clapped out, [End Page 135] head to toe, and they had a hum coming off their clothes, making it difficult to breathe in the room outside the phlebotomy department, where Eileen was also sat, only more anxious than most, as she had to have blood drawn. One tramp had on a dirty overcoat reaching almost to his ankles, and he wore one white trainer shoe and one black. The other tramp wore a raggedy tweed jacket which was accentuated by the filthiest scarf in the Western world. Eileen was not sure how much longer she could inhabit this sepulcher of odors in the otherwise spotlessly clean University College London Hospital, which was located at the juncture of Gower Street and the noisy treacle of traffic and air pollution known as the Euston Road, the famous rail station just down the block and across the road from the hospital. This is where Eileen improbably lived, across from the turmoil of this otherwise sanitary place known as University College Hospital.

When Eileen’s number came due, she sprang out of her chair faster than Usain Bolt out of the starting blocks of a hundred-meter race. A friendly, round-faced Asian woman greeted her. It was the phlebotomist. Eileen remembered her, even if the phlebotomist never seemed to remember Eileen.

Eileen rolled up her sleeve for the phlebotomist to put a rubber string around the forearm, and the tiny Filipina sighed upon seeing the condition of Eileen’s veins.

“I’m clean,” Eileen said.

“How long?”

“Twenty-five years.”

“The wreckage of the past,” the phlebotomist said.

“Better than the wreckage of the future.”

Eileen knew the drill. The phlebotomist looked for a good vein, would finally give up, and then she would use the one Eileen had suggested originally, the big vein at the top of her left hand, the only vein in her body still able to deliver vials of blood in no time.

After the bloodwork, Eileen went home to rest just across the Euston Road from the hospital. She was exhausted, and it was only nine o’clock in the morning. She lay on her bed and fell asleep almost instantly; she did not wake up until around ten-thirty, refreshed and ready to face another day.

Someone knocked on the door, and Eileen answered it. It was one of the temporary sheltered managers. [End Page 136]

“All right?” the white-haired, harried, moonfaced woman in a blue tracksuit asked.

“Right,” Eileen answered and shut the door.

So much for interactions with the Council. They wouldn’t bother her again for another week.

They used to have a regular scheme manager who had an office on the same landing as Eileen’s flat. You’d see her when you did your laundry and have a chat with her. She was a nice lady from the west of Ireland, out around Castlebar’s environs in Mayo, a lady with a good sense of craic.

The temporary managers were as grim as prison guards. You wouldn’t want to put your life in their hands.

There was an elderly South African woman named Nellie. She was a lovely old soul in her day, but now she was past ninety, frail, incontinent, easily distracted, afraid. Nellie was nearly blind and had dementia.

Several tenants, including Eileen, had told the Council that Nellie needed special attention, including being moved to a higher level of care. So far their suggestions had gone unheeded.

Nellie was seen stumbling about the landings, falling to the ground, not knowing where she was, not knowing who she was, or anything else for that matter, and yet all the Council did was lift her up, dust her off, and send her on her way.

When Eileen had last seen Nellie, she had a big gash across her face from one of these precipitous falls on the landing, whose floors consisted of square concrete tiles. [End Page 137]

After an elevens breakfast of...


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