It was another busy morning at the busy teaching hospital, Our Blessed Lady of the Holy Shoehorn of Saint Giles. Sandwiched between the radiology department and centre for iffy genital rashes was a desolate courtyard. Winona was here.
She was crying again. Silent tears coated her lashes and crept for freedom between her fingers. As her hunched shoulders rocked so the dandelion clocks of her hair shivered in time with the beat. Her boots scuffed his floor but he didn’t care. Today it was her Thursday socks that rose from the scarlet leather, twin tubes of purple climbing almost to knees that peeked from beneath the hem of a dress cut from rainbows. She was a slash of colour in this drab place, yet all they wanted was to drag her down to their world of beige and shoes with tall heels.
He would watch them in the cafeteria, see them call to her with their smiles.
‘Oh, please tell me where you got that outfit.’ Then see them whisper - (‘So I can go firebomb that shop.’)
And as she took their prompting and spun for them so did the plaudits follow.
‘You made that chunky knitwear yourself?’ (Made it in the dark did you?)
‘Oh, I think it’s perfect!’ (For a time travelling hippy.)
‘And that hair, well, it’s so, it’s so...’ (...so long boyfriend.)
She sat on the top of the steps, spirit hunched along with her body. He watched from his place in the shadows, peering between the crack he had eased between the basement doors. He clutched his mop, spinning the handle between his palms, not caring as the head danced and brought damp to his trouser legs and chaos to the floor he had cleaned.
Behind the wilted flower was her dark shadow, black eyeliner and skintight black leggings despite the sunshine. Comfort was needed yet all this friend could muster was a bored look and a tissue at the ready. Yet even as he cursed he loved her. She was the reason that he lurked, she was the reason he did not leave his cave and climb the steps to offer comfort. She was the reason, not the way his knees withered and his stomach trembled at the thought of it.
When they were gone he emerged blinking in the sunlight, wary lest other students notice him. The echoes of her sadness were fading from the concrete, the surface of the droplets puckering as they sank from view. It was a message for no one else. He raised his mop, and then he paused. It was the mop that travelled with him everywhere. To the labs where the caged animals sprayed their filth, to the medical rooms where the fresh young butchers emerged screaming, the afterbirth their last meal laid over the floor.
From the breast pocket in his overalls he took a packet of tissues. He laid one down over the fading tears, careful that his fingers handled only the very edges as he pulled it tight. Her sorrow pressed itself upwards, instant pinpricks that rushed and then swelled into fat circles. He folded the tissue and wrapped it inside two others before stowing it carefully in the pocket next to his heart.
He stood guard with his mop, waiting for the sun to finish the job.