No one ever leaves.
It’s not, I should stress, that they don’t want to. There’s nothing much to do here, after all. The chess set is missing three bishops, the TV shows static more than anything else. No one wants to stay.
It’s not even that it’s difficult to leave. The door is over by the vending machine, and it isn’t locked. In ten steps, you could be out side and gone forever.
So people do leave – they leave all the time. But it doesn’t work.
There are always five of us. Always the same five. Me, Maureen, the Potter twins and Gerry. That’s it.
Every week or so, one of us leaves, never to return. They never send a postcard back, or drop by on a flying visit. They’re just gone.
And then moments later, there’s a new arrival on the ward. Only they aren’t really new – it’s an old man called Gerry, or whichever frizzy-haired twin just left.
They don’t remember the ward. It’s the first time they’ve visited. They have to have everything explained again, be shown where the bathrooms are and how the coffee machine works.
But it’s still them. It’s still the same person who walked out the door. They look the same, and sound the same. Every different Gerry has the same scar on his index finger, the same memories of the war.
I drew on Maureen’s arm once, just before she left. The mark wasn’t there when she came back. There wasn’t time to wash it off. But it was still the same Maureen, the same creaky voice and the same gestures.
After a while, you get used to it. The new arrivals settle in and adjust, and it’s like they never left, like they’ve always been here. Because they have.
One day soon I’m going to leave. I’m going to get up and walk straight through that door, and see what happens next. Any day now, when I get sick enough of it all, I’m going to leave and never come back.
But I don’t know how many times I’ve done that before.