I had been here for so long. To be honest, the world out there didn’t really concern me any more. The little patch of sky just visible through the window really wasn’t much of a clue, and I had tired of the constant rubbish on TV long before. It was just noise.
“I’m sorry I haven’t visited for so long,” she said.
Liar, I thought.
“I’ve been away.”
Like I cared. Like she really cared. Why was she here? I gritted my teeth (I thought about gritting them, anyway) and willed her to stop looking at me ‘like that’. Nobody else gave me that look any more, they’d got used to it. Even I had got used to it, after the first few times I’d seen the new me reflected in the wobbly mirror. They shave me once a week. Not for my benefit, of course. Heaven forbid I should make the place untidy.
“I got married you know.”
And? Why wouldn’t you? I never asked you not to – even if I could open my mouth, the words wouldn’t come out. Not my decision, really. What did she want – forgiveness? Acceptance?
“Shall I tell you where I – we – went? Shall I, David?”
“We went on a fabulous cruise – round the world. He – Brian – made a real success of his business…”
And so she carried on. The dry, cracked syllables mingling with the daytime blurb from the TV. I let my thoughts wander, imagining picking up the heavy glass tumbler from the bedside cabinet and smashing it over her head, picturing her scalp separate, revealing the bone underneath and blood gushing down her forehead, dripping onto her nondescript skirt, spreading fibre by fibre into the warp and weft. Now that would liven up this drab, beige place…
“… anyway, they got a call to us – me, on the ship and luckily it was near the end of our trip so when we docked into Southampton, Brian drove me straight here. He’s such a pet like that. Would you like to meet him? He’s just sitting out in the hall.”
No, I would not. And what the hell are you doing here? It’s been years since the accident and at least one has passed since you last bothered to turn up? What do you want?
“You look well, David, considering.”
Considering? What? That I’m a husk? A disfigured husk at that? Thanks for the compliment, Mrs Brian-Made-A-Real-Success-Of-His-Business.
“I feel a bit strange talking to you like this, after all this time.”
Well, don’t. Really. Save your breath. Which is a bit unsavoury, by the way.
“So, they told me that you’ve developed a condition…”
What was this? ‘A condition’? You, who never shied away from uttering the proper medical terms for all of the things that went wrong with me? You used them all to hide behind, so I remember. Are you lost for words?
This was not good.
I laughed. In my head, I heard myself laugh. I wonder what it would really sound like now, if I could. All this mirth, it was pure irony, of course. Nothing was good about this situation.
Which meant it was really, really bad.
She swallowed – I could see the muscles contract, rise and then fall underneath the wrinkled and strangely bronzed skin of her neck. How do you get a sun tan on your neck? I pictured her lying on a sun lounger, large pieces of foil propped underneath her chin to capture the sun’s rays. So a melanoma was always a possibility.
“David, darling. I need to tell you what’s going to happen next.”
Which is exactly what she did. Funny how she got to know every detail of the medical disaster that is my body before I did. But the nurses and doctors who dealt with me these days weren’t the same as the ones who had welcomed me here, all those years ago. Back when I could still command my fingers to tap out a Yes/No form of communication. Not that I stopped being able to do it, not at first. I just – got bored. What was I really adding to society, the common good, performing like a trained seal? So, one day, I just stopped. Now – well, the new team don’t ask, and I don’t tell. And I’m not sure those fingers of mine have the will, or the strength, to bother any more.
Of course, she’s just told me that I have a nasty, aggressive form of cancer. Even if I was walking about like a normal human being, it would be touch and go. The words chemotherapy and radiotherapy flit above my head like ominous ravens.
“… and of course, David, we need to put all of this in some form of perspective, things being what they are. It’s all about balancing resources. You know, the medical insurance ran out a long time ago. The state is paying for your basic needs and Brian is – I am paying for all the rest.”
At least she had the good grace to look a little uncomfortable at this point. Now, it all began to slot into place. The Newish Husband had snapped his wallet shut. I imagined ‘all the rest’ disappearing from my oh so exciting daily routine and wondered what it would be like without it. Would the TV be gone? Would I now be the proud owner of a beard befitting a desert island castaway? Oh, well…
She suddenly reached forward, touching my arm.
“Remember, I still have power of attorney, and what this means, David, oh David…”
Crocodile tears, darling. Get it over with.
“You’ve suffered enough.”
No, you have suffered enough, putting up with the burden of my soon-to-be-dead weight for so long. The guilty conscience is etched all over your face.
“So, the doctors agree that offering any treatment is not in your best interests and we’re turning off your life support today and it will just be a matter of maybe a few hours and here they are now to remove all that nasty machinery.”
No, no, no, no, no!
A flurry of white coats, no words, many hands unhooking this and turning off that, the squeak of soft-soled shoes on rubberised flooring. It was suddenly quiet as the TV screen turned black. The only sound, the beep beep of the heart monitor, marking out my time.
You have no bloody right! I screamed in my head. No! Stop! I want –
“Don’t worry yourself, Mrs Anthony. Near-death signs of life are not uncommon. He was lucky, to go so quickly.”
“But he tapped, twice, quite deliberately, I saw it! It was our joke, before the accident. ‘Knock once for Yes, twice for No’ like a medium in a seance! He did it again, after all these years.”
“I think you may have imagined it, if you don’t mind me saying so. It really is so traumatic, taking this decision, we understand.”
9 thoughts on “Solitary”
Very harrowing and powerful piece! A colleague of mine had to take this kind of decision regarding her father after a bike accident. She is still haunted; all the more so as they were no longer on speaking terms before he was knocked over by a lorry.
I hope I never have to be in either position – the decision-maker or the person lying in the bed. Even more traumatic if the relationship has soured. We can never know what’s going on inside the mind of someone in a coma or worse, so we have to rely on medicine at a time when we are in an extremely vulnerable situation. For myself, if I could no longer communicate, I would probably go crazy.
It is a gut and heart-wrenching decision, even if the ill person wants their life to end, wants to be out of their misery, etc., especially if nothing can be done for them, medically, other than medication for pain.
Your story is very powerful, and I can so relate to it.
I’m so pleased I have not had to face this kind of decision so far in my life. I admire the courage of anyone that has to deal with this in their own life.
Often we have to regard the wishes of a parent, even if it is not your own wish. It is a quandary, you want them to be at peace, yet you want them living. They have had enough, and for them, their time has come…
My Rabbi told me, years ago that there are different levels of healing that we might not be cognizant of, including death. I thought about that for years after my mother died. It comforted me.
I createdf a statement from his message, “G-d will heal a person in whatever way he sees fit, and if healing means that it is the end of time, so it will come to pass”. I keep it in my heart, and use it in my prayers.
That’s a very thought-provoking and thoughtful approach to death – your Rabbi was obviously very wise. Of course, I think that we all understand that death is a form of healing for the person concerned, but for those of us left behind and bereft, it is very difficult to accept at the time.
I love the statement that you created – it is very comforting.
A topical theme – and you pulled it off so well, Freya.
I thoroughly enjoyed this read.
Thank you, Eric
Thank you, Eric, I’m pleased that you enjoyed the read.