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Page 12

"Hi," he said. "I'm here to see Mrs. Anne Hoyle. I'm her husband. I received a phone call this evening saying that my wife has been hurt. How is she?" he asked.

The receptionist smiled at him, her face smooth and friendly in an impersonal sort of way. "Yes, of course, Mister Hoyle. Your wife is in a stable condition. If you just -"

"I was told I could see her."

"Yes, certainly, Mister Hoyle. Mrs. Hoyle is in Room..." - she glanced down at a large notebook on her desk - "...Room 119. If you just follow the signs, down that corridor and to the left, Mister Hoyle, it's not far from here." She pointed down one of the brightly lit white corridors and smiled at him again.

"Thank you," he said.

"You're welcome, sir," she said.

He walked down the corridor. There were signs hanging at intervals from the ceiling, with thick black arrows beside words he didn't understand. He was surprised at how busy the hospital was, even this late at night. His hands still felt empty.

He found the door to Room 119, knocked and opened it. Ian was standing at the other side of the room, beside Anne's bed, staring at him with a strange expression on his face.

David stopped, his hand still on the door handle.

"Hello Ian," he said.

Ian's face was white and his eyes were red-raw. He said, "Anne was mugged at the off-licence. At the off-licence where she works, she was mugged. For a few fucking quid from the till." There was a strange quivering of the rolls of fat beneath his t-shirt and David realised that he was crying. He had never imagined that Ian could cry. He felt disturbed by the sight, as though witnessing something unnatural, something that should not exist. He closed the door behind him and stood beside Anne's bed. She was lying on her back, hooked up to a saline drip, her face swaddled in bandages and gauze. The edges of the gauze were stained yellow with some kind of ointment. There were slits in the bandages for her eyes and her mouth.

"Oh, Anne," he said. "Who could have done this?"

"The doctors have said she'll be scarred for life," Ian said. "If I ever get my hands on the bastard who did this to her...." David saw him clasp Anne's hand as his face seemed to crumple and tears dribbled down onto his double chin. He sniffed loudly.

Anne opened her eyes. David clasped her other hand. The bandages on her hand felt rough against his palm, like a cat's tongue. He leaned down towards her and whispered, "I'm here, Anne."

Her fingers tightened around his hand and he heard her say, "David. David." Her voice sounded strange and for a moment he wondered whether it was really Anne under the bandages. Then she said, "I'm glad you're here, David," and he realised she was trying to speak without moving her mouth.

He glanced up at Ian. They looked at each other across the bed for a moment, then Ian looked away. When David looked back at Anne, he saw her eyes staring at his face as though trying to memorise it. She said, "I've been so wrong, David."

He stroked the back of her hand. "There, there, it's all

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