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9 Million Bicycles

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Some mornings she wakes to find she’s rolled into the middle of the bed, one arm outstretched, hand open as if to receive another. Those mornings, Donna takes a moment to breathe, treats herself to the luxury of not-knowing and fancies she can feel the pressure of fingers interlinking and a palm returning pressure. 

It’s happened less often in the last month.

She should be glad because at least she doesn’t have to experience the realisation again. But there’s guilt attached. The guilt of not experiencing the sharp stab of loss. The guilt of remembering, coupled with the guilt of forgetting.

Some nights, some mornings, some days, she fears she’s forgotten his face, his laugh and the touch of his lips on hers. Other times he’s still there, palpably in the room with her, looming over her shoulder and she feels an odd sort of fury that he won’t leave her alone.

And that he has left her alone.

‘It will be all right, Donna. I promise.’

This morning, a dark October grey soaked dawn infiltrates through the crooked blind he’d promised to fix, and she wakes with an empty hand and the dread sinking in almost before she’s opened her eyes.

 

It’s seven a.m. and there’s a sound from the kitchen. Mia’s up earlier than usual, and soon Amber’s calling for breakfast, so after shrugging on a dressing gown, Donna slops her way to join them.

“Scrambled eggs on toast,” she suggests, peering into the fridge.

“Pancakes?” Amber asks hopefully.

Picking up the almost empty milk carton, Donna grimaces. “Tomorrow, I promise.”

“With nutella?”

“As long as you have some strawberries, too. Mia?”

“I’m fine. Made toast.” Mia’s frowning at her phone and pulls out her airpods. “Ugh, out of charge.” She reaches over to the counter to turn the radio on.

‘There are 9 million bicycles in Beijing,’ trills the singer. ‘That’s a fact.’

Mia rolls her eyes. “What station’s this?”

“Leave it,” Donna says and leans against the wall. “This song reminds me of Mickie.”

“Who?”

“You know Mickie. Mickie Hendrie!”

“Who’s he?” Amber asks.

She. My mate from training. We visited her in Scotland. You were two … so, yeah, you won’t remember her. Anyway, she used to love this song. Played it all the time.”

I’m warmed by the fire of your love every day.’

“Annoyed me no end back then,” Donna says, and switches on the kettle. There’s just enough milk for either eggs or tea, so she has black coffee instead.

“Are there really nine million bicycles in Beijing?” Amber muses. She pours herself orange juice, spilling some over the rim of her glass.

“I have no idea, my love. Xav—”

He would know, probably. Would have known, she corrects. For all Donna knows he could have gone there on holiday, riding one of the nine million bicycles through the streets.

It’s another thing she can’t ask.

“Google it,” Mia mumbles with a quick glance at Donna.

 

***

 

Some days, Donna doesn’t know why she bothers with the car. The bus would get her to the hospital just as quick and she’d be able to sit, listen to music or flick through a magazine. She wouldn’t have to watch out for other drivers or bloody courier bikes roaring up on the inside.

Then she remembers the days she couldn’t afford a car and standing on the bus because there was no room, and trying to dodge the wandering hand of any creep who’d sidled behind her.

Still the couriers are bloody annoying, and she knows they have a job to do but did they have to courier their stuff along her route and in rush hour?

She brakes as a bicycle weaves across her path and slams her horn, then realises as the cyclist raises his hand to apologise that he’s quite young and is on his way to school.

9 million bicycles in Beijing, and one in Holby getting in my way, she thinks darkly.

Mickie would have laughed at that, chiding her for her bad mood. Xav … she inhales, waiting for the pain to jab her ribs, only finishing the thought when she emerges pain free.  Xav would have suggested we buy bikes to get fit, then driven us to work.

***

 

AAU is quiet for a change. There are a couple of transfers from the ED, and three referrals on their way. Cam is due to clock off in an hour, and is working through the charts. Determined to keep on top of the paperwork if nothing else, Donna thinks, and Ange says nothing but she’s scrutinizing every word and every figure he’s written. And not for the first time, Donna wonders what Ms Goddard really thinks of Dr Dunn. Then she swallows that thought because it’s too close to having a suspicion.

“Hey, are you okay?” Louis asks.

“Me? I’m fine,” she replies. “Are you off now?”

He shakes his head. “Double shift.”

“Oh … good.” She means it. Having Louis around makes it easier to get through the day. “Coffee?”

“Already?”

“I had to have mine black this morning,” she explains. “Dyin’ for a latte with caramel syrup.” She nudges her purse towards him, “Be a love and buy us one, would you? And a pastry.”

 

It will be all right, Donna. I promise you that. I’m sorting it out now. I love you. It will be all right.’

She listens to his message sometimes, but she’s not sure if it’s because of the message or the simple need to hear his voice again.

She’s not told anyone she still has his last words. And before she clicks the button to listen again, she thanks her lucky stars that she didn’t listen to Cam and delete forever.

She listens because she didn’t when he was alive.

‘It will be all right.’

What, though?

 

Cam has almost finished his shift when the transfer from the ED arrives. He’s got a vague aura of exasperation when they wheel her in, one eye on the clock, and one on the patient in case it turns out to be an interesting one where he’ll work on and raise his status by coming up with a snappy, un-thought of diagnosis.

Donna’s seen this all before. more so with Cam in recent months since he was told to raise his game. And she sympathises—really she does—because it must be hard being the son of the illustrious Bernie Wolfe, but his desperation is obvious and today, for some reason, she has no time for it.

He glances at the notes, then back at the clock just as Ange approaches, and hands over the file. Orthopaedics, he assesses. A knee that hasn’t healed properly after a minor accident.

“Came off my bike,” the patient explains. “Didn’t think much of it at the time. Took a couple o’ paracetamol, and rested it for a few days, but it’s not got better.”

“When was this?”

“Few months back. Keeps ballooning, so I rest it again, and then the same thing happens.”

“And what brought you in to casualty today, Miss … ah … Dalton?” Ange asks.

“It’s Laura. Laura Dalton. I’m sick of it,” she mutters. “I could barely walk down the stairs this morning, and I tried to get an appointment with my doctor, but they said they were too busy and could I wait?” Staring at her hands, she fiddles with the pleat in the bed sheet. “Look, I’m sorry. I know I should have gone there first and not wasted—”

“Nooo, you did the right thing,” Ange replies. “You’re in pain, it’s not improving and we should take a look.” Marking something on the chart, she hooks it on the bed frame and turns to Donna. “Book Miss Dalton in for a scan, and get hold of orthopaedics. Let them know we might have an arthroscopy for them later.”

“Of course.” Donna smiles at Miss Dalton. “We’ll soon have you runnin’ again.”

“I’m not much of a jogger,” she says. “Cycling’s more my thing.”

Bicycles again. They’re followin’ me today.

“What happened to the other doctor?”

“Dr Dunn, you mean?”

“I dunno his name. Good lookin’ and hoity-toity accent.”

“Yeah, that’s Dr Dunn. He’s finished his shift.”

“Oh.” Her face drops. “I hoped he’d be lookin’ after me. Like, I feel we have a connection.”

“To Cam?” Donna blinks in surprise partly because Cam has barely interacted with the patient, but also because he barely elicits this type of reaction from anyone. “I mean Dr Dunn. Why d’you say that?”

“It’s … you know when you meet someone, and it’s like you’ve met them before, but you know you haven’t and…” She shakes her head. “Maybe they gave me somethin’ stronger than paracetamol an’ I’m hallucinatin’.” Settling back into the pillows, her blonde curls fan out behind her and she gives a mischievous grin. “I don’t suppose doctors are allowed to date their patients.”

“It’s frowned on,” Donna whispers with a wink, “but who knows what could happen once you’re better. You could end up cycling off into the sunset together on a tandem.”

“As long as I don’t crash into him.” Laura Dalton gives a dry laugh. “That’s what got me into this mess in the first place.”

Something’s chiming in Donna’s head, something that doesn’t quite sit right, but she can’t work out what it is. She checks Miss Dalton’s chart again, but there’s nothing odd there. It’s a straight-forward presentation, and will have a straight- forward solution, but still she can’t stop the unease swirling in her stomach. “I need to see to your scan.”

 

“Donna,” Louis mutters, when she retracts her hand from the phone. “Are you all right?”

“Um … yes… it’s … can you book Laura Dalton’s scan for me? And let Orthopaedics know. I … er … I … need the loo.”

“Sure… are you okay?”

“Stomach. Must’ve been that pastry,” she lies.”Be back in a bit.”

In the toilets the unease lessens, but she takes her break anyway, getting a glass of water to sip.

It’s the bicycle that’s all, bloody bicycles haunting me today. But even as she tries to shrug it off, she shivers, only stopping when something like a hug wraps around her.

‘It will be all right, Donna. I promise.’

As the door opens, she turns to see Cam, still in his scrubs.

“Thought you’d gone home.”

“”I will in a bit.” He smiles at her.”How are you doing, Donna?”

He’s stepping towards her, eyes brimful with compassion. And his voice is soft, gentle even, and he sounds so caring, and yet … she can never confide in him. For there’s something about Cam which, while he’s always sympathetic to her, and never puts a foot out of place, leaves an odd taste in her mouth. And she’s not sure if this is because Cam is still suffering from the loss of his mum, or if he has this urge to poke at the pain – like a kid making a wobbly tooth hurt because they can, except this is her pain, not his, and she’d rather he didn’t co-opt it as theirs.

“Watch out for Laura Dalton,” she tells him instead. “I think she has designs on you, Dr Dunn.”

“Oh… which one’s she?”

“The ballooning knee. She thinks you have a connection.”

“A what?”

“That’s what she said.” Swallowing the rest of the water, she gives her usual Donna Jackson smile and saunters back to the ward.

 

Xav didn’t trust him, so maybe that’s why she hesitates to talk.

Xav’s gone.

And she stopped listening.

 

Louis has made the calls for her because he’s a sweetheart and a love and realises something’s not quite right today. There’s been a lot of ‘not right’ days since Xav’s death, so she doesn’t know why this one is different, except …

Bicycles, bloody bicycles and nine million, trillion, zillion in Beijing.

Taking a breath, she approaches Laura Dalton, takes her obs and checks the notes. No notes about the previous injury, except what she’s told them.

 

Louis hovers on the other side of the bed, shifting from foot to foot, and she knows why he’s nervy because he’s already done the necessary obs and filled in the chart, but maybe he perceives that Donna’s here for something else.

“Your first … uh … accident,” Donna begins, “when was that again?”

“Few months ago,” Laura Dalton replies. “April … or … May … no, April, definitely April because I’d just got the courier job, twenty-second of April, that was it.” She shakes her head. “First day and I crash into someone.”

Twenty-second of April. Indelibly etched into her soul.

“Crash?” Louis asks, his eyes flicking to Donna.

“Well, the moron walked right out in front of me. Of course I fell off. Nuthin’ I could do about it. Weren’t looking where he was going.”

“What a moron!” Donna laughs, but even to her own ears it sounds shrill and Louis has stopped folding the bed sheet, looking only at her.

“That he was!” Laura Dalton scoffs. “I mean, don’t listen to music when you’re crossing a road! And don’t blame the cyclist, just cuz you can’t keep your eyes open.” She winces and stretches out her leg. “He fell down with a wallop, mind you.”

“So, did you go to casualty?” Louis asks softly.

“No, didn’t bother. Thought I’d be okay, and I was late delivering my packet, so I picked myself up and got back on the bike.” She pauses, then stares at Louis. “D’you think if I’d got it looked at straight away, I’d be all right now?”

“Possibly,” he replies.

Huffing out a sigh, she begins to sit up. “I’m an idiot. It was here, as well, just outside the hospital. I should have gone straight in.”

Her insouciance riles Donna. The enormity of what she’s done—however accidental—causes a fury like a scorching shroud of flame. “You left him there in the road, then?”

“Huh?”

“The man you crashed into.”

“Donna—”

“Didn’t go for help. He was lyin’ in the road, and you didn’t bother callin’ anyone. You rode off!”

“What is this?”

“Donna, take a break,” Louis whispers, and somehow he’s moved to her side of the bed, his hand under her elbow. “Come on … I’ll deal with this. It’s …”

“He’s dead,” Donna spits. “The man you ran over. He died. And you rode off!”

Ange is coming over, alerted by the noise.

“What are you saying? Dead? He can’t be dead. He fell over, sure, and so did I, but …” Laura Dalton licks her lips, and pushed her hair back with her fingers. She reaches across to Donna, grasping her hand. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry if you think that, but … he was fine. He had someone with him. I remember that really clearly.” Swallowing, she releases Donna, instead staring up at Louis. “There was a doctor there. Someone in blue … it … Ohhhh…”

“What?” Louis persists. “Do you know who it was?”

“I… I thought we had a connection,” she rasps, “but it was a memory, that’s all.”

“What are you saying?” Donna asks. “Who? What doctor. There was no one else there.”

“Dr Hoity-toity,” Laura Dalton replies slowly. “So that’s where I know him from.”

Donna blinks. Her hand furls into a fist, nails digging so deep into her palm, it causes a flash of pain.

“He was there, so I knew the guy would be okay,” Laura insists. “It was only my first day, I was late, and it … He fell, that was all. Hurt his bum, maybe?”

“Who’s she talking about?” Louis whispers. “Who was there?”

‘It will be all right, Donna. I promise.’

A hand takes Donna’s, unfurling the fist,  squeezing as it caresses her thumb, fingers interlinking and the warmth of his palm giving comfort. I’m listening, Xav.

She breathes, and for the first time since he died, the pain in her ribs when she thinks of him has gone, replaced with a numbing resolve and determination. She turns to Louis. “She’s talking about Cam. Dr. Dunn. Don’t say a word. ‘Specially not to him.”