By the second week, I’d perfected the routine. Get ready in the morning, wipe the pool of water from last night’s rain off my bicycle saddle and pedal to work. Storm Irma had had England in its watery grip for days now. Potholes became little ponds I steered around. People walked with their heads down; their hoodies doing little to protect them against the wind and the lashing rain. Everything was steeped in a dull, dirty grey.
Work was a brief respite, a berth in the storm that swirled around me. I would reply to emails from various parts of the world asking why their Nomi Doll (Christmas Toy of the Year 2016) had stopped working and how could they get a refund. Every missive went off with some of my misery, each carefully crafted line, every full stop stemmed the tears that always seemed close. At 5pm on the dot, I’d turn off my computer and go to see Mother.
“Any change?” I asked the nurse behind the ward station desk. She was one of the nurses who had been there when Mother was brought in. She had flown from behind the desk, jabbing her finger at people and shouting orders like a military commander. She stopped me from following the stretcher through the doors as the building swallowed my mother up. She gave the familiar answer `Sorry darling.`
I took my usual seat, opposite the bed. Someone, Karen I guessed, had brushed Mother’s thinning hair so that it was spread out on the pillow. The machine keeping her alive worked in tandem with her breathing. Her rising and falling chest was the only indication she was still here.
Karen had also applied some blush to her cheeks and it almost made her look alive. More alive than when I’d found her. I had just come out of the shower when the smell of charred bacon hit my nose. The smoke alarm followed soon after. I ran down the stairs, shouting out to be heard above the insistent beep of the alarm:
“Mum can you smell that?”
I rounded into the kitchen, my wet feet slipping on the linoleum my towel almost falling out of my grasp. The frying pan was spitting fat out from underneath burnt black strips. Then I saw Mother’s pink fluffy slippers, the ones Tom had got her last Christmas. She was on the floor and I almost didn’t recognise her. Her dressing gown lay open and her night shirt had ridden up her thighs. Her hands were bent like a praying mantis about to spring. Her cold face was in a rictus. I quickly pulled close her dressing gown and I rang 999. She hadn’t woken up since then.
The doctor, a man from Bangladesh with a soft voice that never faltered, told us the news that my tummy already knew. Tom, Karen and I were huddled together in his office. There were scientific journals and oddly enough, a Glamour magazine on the desk that separated us from him. Karen’s polished penny loafers, still sparkling despite the best efforts of Irma, were turned away from mine and Tom’s soiled scuffed trainers. Subarachnoid hemorrhage. Bleeding in the brain. High blood pressure. She was never going to wake up We had to decide and sign her release.
Karen and Tom had been arguing ever since.
From my perch, I got glimpses of Mother whenever Karen and Tom weren’t whispering angrily to each other. The small room squeezed us together and made the foot of the bed the only possible battleground. Early on, they had both pushed me out of the conversation, saying I was too young. Tom didn’t want Mother to suffer any much longer. As good children, we must do what’s best, he’d say. Karen believed in God bringing her back. She clutched the gold crucifix dangling between her breasts every time Tom questioned how she could be so resolute in the face of science. Every night this would go on, and then we would part. Karen still standing firm in the word of the Lord and Tom relieved that she stood so resolute.
The last time I had spoken to Mother was the night before the stroke. We were in the living room when I’d told her that I was gay, that I was in love with the girl that had been visiting. She had turned a colour I’d never seen before, like a bruise creeping from under her chin until it covered her face. Mother crossed herself and kissed her crucifix, like she did whenever she saw something untoward on the television. She did not say a word but turned and went upstairs, her heavy tread sounding like damning judgement. The next time I saw her, she was on the floor.
‘I’ll do it. I’ll sign in.’ I shouted out, letting the warm tears slide down my cheeks unchecked.
It had been eight hard days of fighting and rain. Tom and Karen’s shoulders dropped, and their tears joined mine on the carpet.
Photo Credit: Mariusz Szczawinski | Dreamstime