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Page 11

There was silence at the other end of the phone, then the voice said, "I think you'd better come down to the Hospital, Mister Hoyle. All your questions can be answered here."

"Yes, yes, of course. But will I be able to talk to her? Will she recognise me?"

"Yes, I believe so. She's been asking to see you, Mister Hoyle."

"She has? Are you sure?"

"Well, she's been calling out your name." There was a pause. "Your name is David, isn't it, Mister Hoyle? You're listed as 'D. Hoyle' in the -"

"Yes. Yes, I'm David," he said.

"Well, she's conscious and her condition has been stabilised. I'm afraid I have to warn you, though, that she may not be quite the same."

"Not quite the same as what?"

There was another pause, then the man's voice became suddenly brisk and efficient. "I'd rather not go into that over the telephone, Mister Hoyle. If you could come down to the Grainger General Hospital, we can answer all your questions here. You do know how to get here, don't you?"

"Yes, I know where the General Hospital is."

"Good. I really think it would be beneficial to your wife if she could see a familiar face, a face she loves." A pause. "Good. We'll expect you in about fifteen minutes then?"

"Yes. Fifteen minutes." He put the receiver down.

He stood by the phone for several minutes, staring at it.

She was calling out his name.

When the interior light of the car came on, he saw a dark stain on the passenger seat. He left the driver's door open so the light would stay on. He reached over and brushed the stain with the palm of his hand. It was a hole, as though a lit cigarette had been dropped onto the seat. He knew the hole wasn't there yesterday and he'd given up smoking years ago. He must have left the nozzle of the squeezy bottle open when he threw it onto the seat, and some of the acid had dripped out. He poked a finger into the hole. The stuff inside felt soft against his fingertip.

He closed the driver's door and the light went out. He put the seatbelt on and started the engine. Clunk click every trip.

As he walked up to the reception desk his hands felt empty, as though he had put something down for a moment and forgotten to pick it up. He felt that he should be carrying a bunch of flowers, or grapes perhaps. If the shops had been open he would have bought some on his way over, to give to Anne.

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