Working the night shift does strange things to your head. Walking down darkened hallways without light or life to distract you gives your mind the opportunity to focus on other things. Around the eight-hour mark my imagination tends to take over. It turns the rooms I look into as I pass gateways to different places inside my head. The absence of colour and conversation creates a blank slate, perfect for projecting mindscapes onto.
One room I look into is calm and quiet and the smell of lilies hits me all at once. Now the chairs and tables and hospital bed are gone, replaced by a large green open space. There’s a chill in the air from the open window in the room I’m ignoring, making the flowers I imagine bend back and forth in the breeze. There’s no one else there, just the grass and the calm, so I move on.
There’s no patient behind the next door, but I look in anyway. It’s habit. I turn the handle and open the door into a tranquil void. The curtains framing the window opposite are open, the night sky inky. My shadow waits quietly on the floor by my feet. The glass shimmers and stretches out until it covers the wall, and the stars start to move beyond it. Suddenly I’m traveling.
I move on, careful to tread lightly in shoes that have started to pinch. There’s a small noise coming from the room I stop at this time and I put a smile on my face. The woman is in her eighties, bending over a frame and concentrating. She tells me she’ll be all right, but I wait for her to finish anyway. I look at the get well cards and art work her grandchildren have given to her. There’s a photograph of one of them on her beside table. They have the same nose.
Further down the corridor there’s a storage cupboard, equipment scattered everywhere and left idle after the evening rush. As I stack wheelchairs, hoists and stand aids, there’s a glint of something on the floor which I lean across a rota stand to pick up. As my fingers graze it, the floor falls in. The ridges on the carpet melt into the centre of a new space, smoothing out and dripping down into nothingness. I shake my head, grab the pen from the floor and stand up again. The floor fixes itself behind my back as I walk away.
I shine a small pen light into another room, making the sleeping figure across from me frown. I lower my hand, watching the swirl of unconscious thoughts that manage to escape hover a few inches above their head, before floating away through the ceiling. I turn away as the snoring begins.
The bed opposite begins to beep, and I glide forward to push the mute button on the small box hanging from the end of it. A few still beats signal no one’s been thrown from sleep and I crouch down, looking at the LED display on the top. I have to blink before the words come into focus. A heavy thumb to another button prevents more noise pollution and I get to step out into the hallway again.
Yawning the rest of the walk back, I’m rewarded with a mug of coffee and a seat behind a desk. Here the walls are too busy to project onto, computers and folders, files and company all too much of a distraction. Time passes far quicker. My second wind, the last energy boast before the end of the shift, arrives with the dawn an hour later.