It had been on Peter’s “to-do” list for some time now, so when he saw the tent at the village fete, he took it as a sign that he should stop talking and roll up his sleeve. He walked in and and said, quite clearly:
“I’d like to donate some blood.”
The young woman in the white uniform - presumably a nurse - didn’t say anything, but just looked at Peter with an slightly startled expression that remained fixed on her face.
“This is the donation tent, isn’t it?” Peter asked, a little less brazenly.
“Yes, yes, of course,” the nurse said. “Please, have a seat.”
She gestured to a low pop-up bed in the corner of the tent. Peter sat down and made himself comfortable.
“Been busy today?” Peter asked.
“Not really, no.”
“Oh. Why’s that, do you think?”
“Couldn’t say,” the nurse shrugged. She turned to Peter with a needle in her hand attached to a catheter and the collection tank. “Right-“
Peter drew back from the needle instinctively and both he and the nurse laughed politely.
“Ah… don’t you want to ask me some questions first?” Peter said.
“Questions?” the nurse asked. “What sort of questions?”
“I don’t know… medical history… whether I’ve got any diseases or anything.”
“Have any diseases?”
“No. At least, I don’t think so…”
“Well then. Just roll up your sleeve and lie back on the bed. This won’t hurt a bit.”
That last part turned out to be a lie, as it took the nurse several attempts to insert the needle into a vein and thus making the process a lot more uncomfortable than Peter had been expecting.
“Shit…” the nurse muttered as she dug away at Peter’s arm with the needle. “Fucking veins…”
“Everything all right?” Peter asked through gritted teeth.
“Shh,” the nurse hissed. “I’ve almost…. got it!”
Peter gasped as the needle slid into his arm and when he looked down he could see an ugly cluster of bruises that marked the nurse’s previous attempts at entry. Not only that, but he thought the needle was sticking out at a rather strange angle. This thought soon passed, however, when he saw the blood flowing through the clear plastic tube. He was surprised that the sight of it made him feel slightly woozy.
“Well, there it goes,” he muttered.
“Yup, got there in the end,” the nurse said, puffing away a strand of hair that had fallen on her face. “Not as easy as it looks, is it?”
“What?” Peter said.
“Just relax,” the nurse said. “It’s best if you stay calm. It won’t take long.”
“How long?” Peter asked. “And will I be alright to drive afterwards?” It occurred to him that he had come to the fete by himself and there wasn’t anyone to drive him home.
“Shhh…” the nurse soothed. “You really need to relax.”
Peter nodded and lay back on the bed. He laid his head on the thin pillow and felt the soft crunch of starched cotton as he made himself comfortable. The sensation of blood flowing out of his right arm was a little odd, but not too uncomfortable. He soon found himself relaxing into the process. Although the tent was set a little back from the rest of the fete, he could hear all the goings-on of the fair. He heard children laughing as they chased each other, weaving their way in and out of adult legs and tent poles. On the far side of the field, the brass band were tuning up and the sound of their trumpets and french horns mingled with the gossip of the women of the WRVS. Floating above all this was the flat monotone of Reverend Wellesby calling numbers from the bingo tent. Peter let himself drift in this sea of noise, ebbing and flowing with the tide of sound. Two fat ladies… talk about blancmange… while the kids… give a demonstration on fire prevention… and compare vegetables.
“I just need to change the bag,” the nurse said as she busied herself with the catheter. “Won’t be a minute.”
“Ok,” Peter said. “Whatever you need to do.” He found he was actually glad of this opportunity to lie down in the shade. The weather had turned hot a lot earlier than expected and it was nice to have this opportunity to relax. Truth be told, he felt like he could do with closing his eyes for a moment or two. He didn’t know if that was allowed or not, so looked up at the Nurse.
“Hey…” he said. “I feel sleepy. Is that normal?”
The nurse smiled and nodded. Peter smiled too.
He gave in to the weariness and closed his eyes.
The last thing he saw was the nurse hanging an empty blood bag next to the full one on the rack and switching the catheter from one to the other.
When the supervisor returned to the tent, he was surprised to see no less that eight full bags of blood in the storage container. He wasn’t quite sure how this could have happened.
“How did these get in here?” he asked the young volunteer. “Did Kevin come back and draw these?”
The volunteer looked at him, an expression frozen on her face.
“Well?” the supervisor asked.
“Yes,” the volunteer said. “He did. That’s what happened.”
“I suppose it means the day’s not a total waste…” the supervisor grumbled.
“Not a total waste. No.”
The supervisor looked at the volunteer. “Did we have a rush on or something?”
“Something like that,” she replied.
“You didn’t take any of them, did you? Because you know that’s against the rules…”
“I remember,” the volunteer said, nodding solemnly.
“Alright… well… maybe that’s enough for one day. Perhaps we should pack up the tent and head off.”
“OK,” the volunteer said.
The supervisor chewed his lip as the volunteer started to pack up the posters and leaflets. He couldn’t say the fact they had been so quiet was the girl’s fault exactly, but if she put him on edge she probably wasn’t that great for the donors either.
Perhaps he would call the asylum and tell them that he didn’t think this work-release programme was working out.