Philip Mortimer keeps his Friday afternoon appointments a secret from his closest friend. It’s not that Francis would be angry, but he would probably worry and he definitely wouldn’t understand. Francis has a gift for putting his emotions away until needed. If Blake does something that causes him guilt, he works it away as quickly as possible and moves on. Blake would not approve of Mortimer’s feeling and would have to restrain himself from using the word “wallowing.”
The staff at Bethlem Hospital know Mortimer by sight and greet him with the nods and slight smiles merited only by those who visit reliably, a sadly elect group. As always, Mortimer is struck by a wave of depression when he reaches the correct ward. The room is plain and impersonal and smells of carbolic. The men here no longer have a purpose; the fight has gone out of them. The only time they are roused to action is when Olrik leads them in the chant: “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” Mortimer witnessed this only once and had nightmares for days.
Olrik is in his usual chair sitting completely still as a young nurse – Annabelle Pritchard– wipes the slight traces of soup from the corners of his mouth. Mortimer is struck by the memory of the night when the Septimus Wave did its work. He’d reached for Olrik’s bleeding nose with a handkerchief half expecting – hoping – to have his hand slapped away. Instead, Olrik had suffered his touch passively until Mortimer had given up on the blood and called an ambulance.
“How is he today?”
Pritchard is always cheerful, not matter what news she has to give. Olrik is the same. All the men are the same, but the doctors are looking into new treatments.
Mortimer hands her the package he has brought for the patient.
“Oh, that’s a very nice robe, professor. I’ll put it on him right now.” None of the nurses ask why Mortimer brings these unappreciated, unnoticed gifts and for all anyone knows, Olrik really will be more comfortable with the robe over his shoulders.
Olrik responds to Pritchard’s guidance by standing, unsteadily, as they draw the sleeves over his arms and adjust the sash. At least none of the men are completely immobile. At least they are all still alive. At least the doctors are trying new things all the time.
Pritchard directs Olrik back to his chair and moves on to then next man. Mortimer sits in front of his old enemy and talks. He summarizes the news of the day. He explains the newest developments in physics. He makes a good case that a manned ship will reach the moon within thirty years. For the first visits Mortimer attempted to keep to topics that would likely be of interest to Olrik, but now he just talks. Maybe one day Olrik will snap at him to shut his damned mouth. Mortimer watches Olrik’s face for signs or exasperation, or interest, or simple comprehension. Sometimes he’s sure there’s a flicker of, well, something in those staring eyes. Almost sure.
As he comes to the end of the hour he allots for each visit, Mortimer takes hold of Olrik’s cold, unresisting hands.
“You will never believe me but I am truly sorry this happened to you. You were ready to die, but I know you weren’t ready for this and no matter what you deserve, this should not have happened. I won’t stop looking for a cure until you are well… or dead. I am sorry.”
Mortimer’s apology is neither accepted nor rejected, as usual. He picks up his hat and turns to leave.
“See you next week, Professor.”
“Good afternoon, Nurse Pritchard.”
It is a good afternoon, as it turns out, crisp and blue and golden. Mortimer’s steps are a bit lighter as he makes his way back to the lab. It’s good to appreciate the small moments in life while you can. He smells the leaves and allows his thoughts to drift freely from the plight of the men in the ward, to the Mega and Septimus waves, to the birds and squirrels busying themselves within the shedding trees. Gradually Mortimer becomes aware that there is a thought stirring in the back of his mind, struggling like a new moth. Mortimer knows from experience that this is the beginning of his breakthrough process, something that can’t be rushed. Mortimer deliberately lets it go and turns his mind to other things. After work he’ll go to the gymnasium for a hard workout and some sparring practice. This weekend he’ll try to get out for some fishing or maybe a bit of horseback riding. Stimulating the body and soul stimulates the mind. Is that perhaps the key? Mortimer quickens his pace and hurries back to work.