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The field hospital was exactly what it sounds like. It was in a field, and it had “hospital” painted on a sign outside. Actually, I shouldn’t laugh. My fellow nurse, Miss Barnes, had gone to a lot of trouble to reconstruct what she imagined a Civil War era facility might look like – a bunch of surgical instruments from somebody’s tool box, a mountain of brown-looking bandages and half a dozen shop window dummies, daubed in scarlet and missing sundry limbs. When she described our charge as the day’s first “human” patient, I sincerely hoped she wouldn’t try for a little extra realism in that department. As it turned out, he was going to get a lot more realism than I’d ever expected.
His torso spattered with crimson gore, Gavin Black gazed up at me. ‘Am I going to live?’ he asked.
I smiled and, following Miss Barnes’ directions, mopped his fevered brow with a rag liberally soaked in alcohol. ‘We’ll do our best, soldier.’ I smiled as I said it, partially out of astonishment that I’d ever been press-ganged into this pantomime (I’d always managed to wriggle out of the annual invitation in the past), but also because I knew Gavin of old, and he was far from soldierly as you could imagine.
When I was in my early teens, he was the “hip dude” in the town’s only record store, the only one who knew what you were talking about when you asked for Elvis Costello and Iggy Pop records. He was the manager there now. I’d not been inside the place for years, but he was obviously doing well. I wondered if he was still considered hip by the latest wave of music-buying kids? Or whether he’d employed his own new dude to cater for the latest tastes?
I remembered other things. There’d been precious few interesting guys of my own age, and very few single ones, anywhere in town. Gavin, though he was probably six or seven years older than me, was one of the few who seemed even remotely attainable. For a time, I’d had quite the schoolgirl crush on him. I wondered if he ever realised?
The medics had already stripped off his uniform, leaving him clad in just an old vest and long-johns; I stepped back while Miss Barnes commenced encasing his entire lower torso in a spider’s web of dirty bandages (‘I soaked them in tea,’ she’d explained earlier. ‘It makes them look more authentically unsanitary’).
I watched her working; then, when she announced that she was urgently required at another of the hospitals, I took over. The crafty cow was probably off to the refreshments tent for the rest of the day. You couldn’t really blame her either. She was one of the motivating forces behind the entire re-enactment committee. If anyone deserved the day off, it was her.
I turned my attention to Gavin, lying grinning on the workbench. ‘Dying soldiers should maybe look a little more like they’re dying,’ I admonished him, drilling a finger into his abdomen. He gave an involuntary ‘ouch’, and I smiled. ‘Ouch. Yes, I’m sure a lot of them say that. So, how did you get “injured”? Just so I know where to put the most blood.’
‘I was trying to reload my musket. I caught a couple of balls in the stomach.’
Oh dear. What an unfortunate turn of phrase. But I resisted the temptation to deliver the first words that came to mind (‘I usually catch them in my mouth’), and pressed on. ‘So, the abdomen. Messy. Very messy.’ I grabbed a bottle from under the counter and uncorked it. ‘This might be cold. But you’re a brave soldier, you can handle it.’
Upending the bottle, a torrent of dark red liquid splashed across his bandages. ‘Cheap red wine. Adds an antiseptic air to the surgery, and looks absolutely lifelike. Doesn’t taste bad either.’
‘I’ll remember that,’ he laughed; and then, ‘you know, I was just remembering you as a kid. Do you still have all those records you used to buy?’