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Return of the Vicious Circle

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"Ain’t gonna be no afterwards. Those matchbook diploma quacks are not shark-attacking me again."

Claire flinched at the snap of latex gloves from behind the curtain. She tried to ignore the sounds that followed; maybe it wasn’t Mrs. Engesett moaning, maybe they were just prying up a loose floor tile or re-shaping the bedrails with vice grips. "Can you wheel me down to the lounge for a smoke?"

"They’re letting you smoke?"

"Sure."

"Claire…?"

Claire lifted one corner of her mouth. Almost had him there. Though her throat was still too sore from the sour backwash of this morning’s powdered orange juice and the effort of never, ever crying, it was easier to stay tough with a Players Plain in your face.

"Glad to see you haven’t lost your sense of humour," Abdalrahman said.

"Yeah, I still got a mouth on me, eh? I bet old Mitchelson would like to amputate that tomorrow too."

Across the room a sad moomphing from Mrs. Engesett was followed by apologetic murmurs. Something slooshed. Christ! What were they doing – a liver transplant? Breast reduction surgery?

Claire breathed shallowly; the hospital was full of the taste of other people’s suffering.

"Shall I let the physio and occupational therapist know you’ll talk to them this time? No more throwing food?"

Claire’s eyes flicked to the greasy Rorschach blots where she’d flung the Salisbury steak and the fish fingers. "That one –" Claire pointed to another spot on the wall – "wasn’t me, it was Mrs. Engesett. Chicken pot pie."

A shadow swooped behind the curtain and something clanged into a metal bowl. A groan escaped. Claire winced. "What the hell was that?"

Dr. Abdalrahman patted her arm. "The occupational therapist can help you resume your old job – whatever it was – with modifications."

"Modifications? How many one-legged dancers you know?"

Abdalrahman hesitated, blinked, recovered. "There are related areas – teaching dance, choreography."

"What the hell are you talking about? Exotic dancers don’t have choreographers. Peelers don’t go to bloody finishing school. I was a stripper at the Boot Pub."

Abdalrahman flushed. Claire laughed but it came out like the sound from one of those specialty dogs that can’t bark. "You thought I was Swan bloody Lake in a tutu. Jesus."

Across the room someone turned on a pump. Now they were sucking out all Mrs. Engesett’s internal organs with an undertaker’s trocar.

Claire swallowed. Her own tomorrow waited with a red vengeance. She was as condemned as a lab rat. "I hate them. I hate this."

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