You Thought It Was About Tobacco
by Stephen Clark
Kelly is sitting in her room, leaning her head against the wall.
    Flames from her cigarette lighter flicker near her face, burning the wall paint. I can hear her breathing in and out, and each breath becomes more stilted and irregular. She presses her lips against the wall and tries to suck it, while the flame comes and goes with each snap of her thumb. It is a pitiful sight.
    Everyone thinks she's crazy, but I know what she's trying to do. She's trying to smoke the wall. She knows the wall is made of tobacco, and it's one of those days when cigarettes just can't be found.
    The building is made of tobacco.
    All the buildings in the hospital are made of tobacco, though nobody wants to admit it.
    When you check into this hospital, you are immersing yourself in tobacco. All newly shipped from the tobacco farms in secret, they build the walls, the floors, the ceilings and the doors out of it.
    It hangs over us.
    It supports us.
    It imprisons us.
    The buildings are always burning down, because of people like Kelly who try to smoke the wall, but new buildings are built on the ashes of the old. When fire razes the wards to the ground, the giant mass of cigarette butts becomes the foundations for new buildings.
    The ground is made of cigarette butts.
    The hospital is built on cigarette butts.
    The remnants of hundreds of years of smoking.
    You can see them scattered all over the ground, but they go right under the surface too, all the way down. No one can remember how many buildings have risen and fallen with the passage of time, but there is no real earth underneath the hospital, any more than there is real life inside it. It is built on the ruins of itself.
    Deep down under the hospital, a sub-terranean river flows through the cigarette butts. It is not a river of water, but a river of coffee. Flowing unceasingly, it has no beginning and no end. Pure. Dark. Strong.
    A pipe runs up from the river to the hospital, and coffee is pumped into all the buildings. There is a neverending supply of coffee. Everyone drinks it. No one drinks water. You turn on any tap, and coffee comes out.
    The patients are coffee-based life-forms. It fuels them, keeps them going. They pretend it's just a pleasant tasting beverage that they like to drink, but secretly they know that without coffee, everything will slow down and stop.
    Hundreds of gallons of coffee are pumped up from the unseen river each day. It flows into their cups and into their mouths, sometimes dribbling down their chins, mingling with the tobacco on the floor, soaking into the cigarettes in their mouths. When one cup is finished, they go back to the tap for another one.
    They can't get enough.
    It's the only thing that keeps them going.
    Kelly sits on a chair outside, taking sips from her coffee cup. I can see her revitalising with it, as if each sip is a breath of life. Then a nurse comes out.
    "Kelly, what are you doing?"
    "Just having a coffee."
    "Don't you remember you're having brain surgery tomorrow? We told you no food or drink before the operation. Did you forget?"
    "No, but -- I really need this coffee."
    "I'm afraid I'll have to take that from you."
    "No! NO!"
    "It's for your own good."
    Kelly struggles to hold the half-filled cup, but the nurse takes it from her and empties it on cigarette-butt ground. Kelly is desperate. She sees the coffee sinking down, tastes the flavour fading in her mouth. SHe can smell it. Then she turns to look behind her, through the lounge room window. There's a patient sitting in there, watching T.V. and holding a cup of something -- it's -- it's --
    "Coffee!" With wild eyes she plunges her hand through the window, shattering the glass. The other patient looks up in astonishment as Kelly grabs the cup out of his hand. SHe has what she wants -- her coffee break is resumed. As she raises the cup to her mouth, nurses and patients come running from everywhere to see what all the commotion is about. Kelly doesn't notice the pulse of coffee starting to flow from the veins and arteries in her arm. The broken glass has made a mess of her wrist. Gashed open, with all the coffee flowing out. "Call the ambulance! She's bleeding to death!"
    Kelly drops the cup and starts drinking from her ripped arteriy. The stream of half-digested coffee spills onto her face and down her neck. I think she's enjoying it. She drops to her knees in the muddy brown pool as someone rushes forward to try and stop the flow, and save her life. She doesn't want her drink to be interrupted, but she's too weak to protest. Here comes someone else with the bandages and the stretcher. They're hauling her butt into the surgery. Here comes a patient on his hands and knees, couching over the puddle of coffee and licking at it before it sinks down through the cigarette butts, all the way down to the dark silent river below.