Frank had a cold. A really bad cold. And his central heating didn't work. His room was cold and damp. He'd put on two sweaters and wrapped his duvet around him, but he still felt cold. All the extra layers made him sweat. He lit a cigarette, but didn't like the taste. That was a first. He was thirsty, but the few steps towards the wash stand were too much. He stayed put, and tried to sleep. If only his nose would stop dripping. He didn't have any tissues left, so he blew his nose on his duvet cover.
Downstairs he heard shouting. Upstairs someone did tap-dance exercises on a wooden floor. His head hurt. He was used to that. A hair of the dog usually did the trick. But he knew he didn't have a hangover and he was out of alcoholic beverages anyway. His shivering became worse. His neck started to ache as well. He tried to stretch it, but found it hard to do. His eyes hurt. He put out the light and lay down again.
He must have slept. When he opened his eyes again his room was pitch black. It must be night. His entire body was sore. He tried to get up, but failed. No way he was going to stand up and walk to the tap.
He slept again. This time he dreamed. He was in the middle of a vast desert, and extremely thirsty. In the distance he could see palm trees and the glistening of water. He crawled on all fours through the smouldering sand. It took him ages. Halfway he had to rest for a bit. His sun-exposed face was burning. Why the hell was he wearing his black coat?
At last he got to his destination and discovered that the oasis he'd seen was in fact nothing but an illusion. All he found was sand, more sand, and dead camels. Dozens of dead camels. His throat hurt and he cried. But all his tears had dried up.
A sudden roar made him look up at the sky. It was a small airplane. Flying doctors, he knew instantly. A blonde female doctor got out and stopped in front of him. "What have you done to those camels? They're an endangered species, don't you know? Whereas you are not. Plenty more where you come from." She turned and boarded the plane again. Not a flying doctor, but a fucking animal cop. "Water." He tried to say, but he couldn't make a sound – his mouth was full of sand. And then he woke up.
He lay on the floor, his mouth open. The grains of sand he tasted were in fact crumbs and flakes of dust. He spat and got up. The entire room started to wobble. He leaned against the wash stand. His head in the mirror gave him a fright. He turned on the tap, drank from it and almost choked on the water. He couldn't find a glass, so he grabbed a saucepan from the sink and filled it with water. Stumbled into bed again, the saucepan by his side.
A voice. It was that doctor again. But this time she was a brunette. The bright lights hurt his eyes. He tried to look away, but found he couldn't move his head. "Sir, can you tell us your name?" she said. You wish, he thought. And give me a fine for those dead camels? I don't think so. "Just try." She insisted. He sighed. Suddenly his stomach lurched. He swallowed. "Frank. Not Francis." He said, and vomited over her white coat.
"You'll be fine." Daniel was sitting next to his bed. He looked ill-at-ease. Frank was puzzled. He was convinced there had been a wall on the spot where Daniel was sitting. And he couldn't remember opening the door to let Daniel in.
"Nice pajama's." Daniel said. Pajama's? Frank, who'd stopped wearing pajama's when he was fourteen, couldn't help but look. Instead of one of his worn T-shirts he was wearing what looked like a nightshirt, white with blue polka dots. And there was some kind of tube connected to his left wrist. "Fuck." He said.
"Well, no. Yes. Hospital. The doctor says it's bacterial meningitis. Your next-door neighbour's here as well. Martha's send you flowers, by the way. I expect Laurence will be here tomorrow." In the window-sill Frank could see a large vase full of yellow flowers. The yellow hurt his eyes. "God, you've given us a fright, Frank. Don't ever do that again."
Frank was furious and threatened to kill Daniel. And not for the first time, Laurence thought. They were on their way to dinner. They hadn't seen one another for a couple of weeks, since Laurence's return from Iceland. Martha had moved in with him.
They'd enjoyed the hot springs and volcanic rocks, but Iceland hadn't turned out to be the country of their dreams. And Laurence had missed his friends. When Daniel phoned him to tell him Frank was in hospital, he hadn't hesitated and booked the first flight home. Martha had joined him.
"Just like with the French actress." Laurence was being helpful. Frank shook his head. "No. No! Nothing like that. This is worse. That man has no consideration whatsoever. How could he? He bloody well knew I liked her."
Her was Sherry, a nurse Frank had become particularly fond of during his stay in hospital. Unfortunately Daniel, who had been a frequent visitor to his friend in hospital, liked her as well. Liked her a lot, and had asked her out on a date, while Frank was still in hospital.
"I could have fucking died in there. While he chats up the one woman he knows I like. Why couldn't he choose one of the other nurses? Or doctors, for that matter. Real classy, a doctor. Bloody traitor. I'm gonna break his fucking nose."
Laurence sighed. Much as he loved his two friends, he sometimes tired of their constant bickering. He couldn't honestly imagine someone named Sherry as the object of a serious permanent relationship. Not that Frank, or Daniel for that matter, had ever been in a serious relationship with anybody.
"So what else are you going to break? Let's get this over with, Frank. I'm really not interested." He heard himself say. Frank stopped, and frowned. The couple behind them bumped into him. "You better watch where you're going." Frank said. "Sorry." Laurence corrected him. Frank snorted.
They chose an Indian restaurant. Frank was still seething. "Maybe he met her first." Laurence suggested. "I don't think so. I might have been unconscious, but I'm sure I met her first." Frank wasn't very hungry. Laurence watched his friend as he rearranged the food on his plate with a fork. Frank had grown thinner. Paler as well.
"Maybe nurses are not supposed to date their patients." Laurence chewed on some naan bread and watched his friend. "No, that's doctors. And I'm not her patient anymore. I don't think Daniel even likes her. He does it just to spite me. A true friend would never do such a thing. He's mean." Frank pushed away his plate.
"Have you told him you like her?" Laurence asked. "No, why should I? He knew I liked her. You were there, remember?" Laurence did remember the visit to the hospital, where both Frank and Daniel did their best to chat up the young nurse. A redhead she was. Yes, she was friendly and she smiled at them. But she smiled at the old man in the bed next to Frank as well, and he must have been at least eighty.
"I don't think he knows." Laurence said carefully. Frank watched him for a moment. "Well, in that case he's even more stupid than I thought he was. And why didn't you tell him?" Frank put on his coat and threw some small change on the table. "I've got to go." He slammed the door of the restaurant as he left.