Sunday 2 February 2014

Off the rails in Paraguay, interrupted

    “Are you alright, Jack?”
    I open my eyes. It’s my good friend Diogenes the municipal street cleaner. He’s standing over me and rubbing his beard, which is usually a sign of nervousness with him. A faint smell of lavender brilliantine.
    “Where the hell am I?”
    “In Hárshegy Sanitarium. He moves over to the window and pushes the slats of the blinds apart.
    “You mean the looney bin?”
    “It’s a beautiful hospital building, built in the nineteenth-century.”
Asylum for disturbed writers
    Hárshegy – I thought this place had been abandoned? What am I doing in an abandoned hospital? How on earth did I get here?”
    “We were sitting in the Snail Cafe in District VIII. You’d pulled an old train ticket out of that plastic toy dinosaur and were in the middle of telling me all about your adventures in Paraguay. Then you just tipped forward, knocked over the cucumber soup and sort of fell asleep on the table. Lulu called an ambulance. You’ve been here ever since.”
    “Blimey, how long?”
    “Three weeks.”
    “Three weeks!”
    Diogenes peers through the blinds then frowns at something happening outside. He’s paranoid at the best of times.
    “Yeah,” he continues, “you’ve been talking in your sleep. Holding imaginary conversations with dead serial killers, talking about film footage of the 1950s and all sorts of stuff I couldn’t even work out.”
    I bite my lip. I’m sure I’ve got a very urgent appointment; supposed to be somewhere unloved but interesting. After all, us writers are always on the move.
    Diogenes sighs, steps away from the window and returns to my bedside.
    That smell of lavender again.
    “Do you want the good news of the bad news, Jack?”
    “I need cheering up. Give me the good.”
    “Admiral Horthy says you should be out by the end of the week.”
    “Who in hell is he?”
    “Your doctor.”
    “I’m sorry but I thought you said ‘Admiral.’ You know, as in commander of fleets not a medical practitioner in a Victorian asylum.”    
    “I only call him that because in his spare time he designs computer games about speculative history.”
    I prop myself up on my elbow.
    “And what,” I say slowly, “is the bad news? Come on, out with it.”
    Diogenes rubs his beard again – now I know he’s nervous.
    Suddenly the door flies open.
    “That is,” he says.