Thursday, March 12

Old Love, Last Rites (Far Away)

MORE THAN ANYTHING, I thought that this was it (with ‘it’ deserving a capital letter). My mind was all a-flurry but I could distract it easy enough during work and find that I was not in touch with the world, as though the whole thing was a joke and I too serious for it. I bound out afterwards and I did not know what to expect. It had been a difficult week, but I was used to difficult weeks and really I was not so interested in anything anymore other than the progression of winter into spring; as I saw the mornings brighten and the weather become pleasant.
(All of this was gleeful to me and every time somebody asked me a question I thought—‘Spring is on its way!’ so that I thought things would surely get better and I would get better with them. But really all that befell me was misery after misery.)
I sat down on the train with my book between a fat man reading the paper and a middle-aged woman who wanted to be young so that all of her wrinkles were drawn in. I did not know what to expect but the train crept onwards and the old path that I recognised so well was rolled upon.
Only on new year’s day I had done that route. It seemed so long since then, what had happened to everything? Why had things not improved? Why had time passed only for me to feel so at the bottom-of-everything? I walked past the bright lights of the bus station and the takeaway, along with the fellow commuters and I walked towards the hospital.
I walked there, just as I had three months previous, and I saw a young boy dressed up as a cowboy so that it made me smile, he made me smile as he went by my waist with his mother shooing him across the road.
I went to the toilet then bought a cappuccino; a young nurse in front of me with thick eyebrows and a carefree expression smiled at me, her nurse friends all talking happily, out of sorts to their surroundings. I paid for it and checked the map, which made no sense.
Where was everything?
The endless white led to my uncle who was quietly staring into space when I saw him so that my touch upon his shoulder disturbed him—‘O, they’re all in there. Go in. Show your face.’
Nervously the curtain came open in my damp fingers, the smell of death and of hope side-by-side: deep breaths, a sip of coffee, dangling feet swinging over the hospital floor. I was interrupting. A priest was stood there and my mother and her siblings were gathered around my grandmother’s bed. Without a second’s thought, I had disturbed everything. I was perspiring. The bed was rectangle. My Nan’s frailness was concealed beneath the sheets, her dentures missing, a family scene penetrated. My grandmother was pale away from her Indian shade of skin and unresponsive, laid unglowing amongst bleeps and indicators, a sign with a name I was not used to written upon it, and my family looking downcast.
This was last rites.
The priest was a young man whom none of my aunts or uncles respected because he was younger than them and his stole hung over a flabby breast. The skin on his face was red with sores and broken in places; I pitied him, but one always imagines a resplendent priest delivering last rites at their deathbed. He was ugly and he told my dying grandmother that he might bring eucharist on Sunday if she was still there.
She was very slight underneath the hospital sheets as though she wasn’t fully present but halfway into the mattress, halfway into the earth. Her skin was paper on her flesh. I looked at her and turned away. Tears gathered in my eyes.
For the first time, in all the times I had thought about it, seeing her there, the hospital smell, the decay, the definition, I knew that she would die, eventually and definitely, sooner not later. I thought that she was dying in front of me, in the way that one leans down, determined and intentional, to deliver a full-stop on the page. There was never anything I could do other than be a delicate spectator. I turned away, and how skillful I was at that! turning, just so, that no-one see the tears streaming down my cheek. To look at her was damaging. My mother led me out into the hallway. Rather than wipe my face or sob, I let the tears come, preferring to pretend they weren’t there.
My mother and her eldest brother were unsympathetic, but used to the death. It was fair enough. So it was. I listened to their update—‘She took a turn for the worst at about four. Stewart called the priest in… was that last rites? It was.’
The lotion in the walls was pure alcohol and stung the dry winter hands.
Nurses walked around as though ballerinas on a stage, light and magnificent—‘That one in particular has been wonderful!’ Aunts and uncles were walking and talking on their phones, deciding what, if anything, they should tell the youngest son on holiday. It was a family matter that should be decided with all brothers and sisters present. I was asked to go and keep my grandmother company while it was agreed.
Fearfully, I reentered the curtained corner of the ward. Everyone else left. She did not move and was trying to sleep. I took her hand from my aunt and stood at her bedside, looking down in disbelief. Her body shuddered with each breath, the phlegm and meat in her throat crackling. She was in agony. Lights pipped. Little noises came from the machinery around her tiny body. Her skin was delicious to the touch. Rub the hand with your thumb while you hold it as a gesture of affection. The pillow was angled up against the side of the frame. After a few minutes of silence—
‘Who is this?’
‘It’s me, Nan.’
‘O, darling!’
I began to cry, but would not let the shivers go down my arm lest she sense it.
‘I love you, darling,’ she said.
‘Take good care of yourself,’ she said.
‘Give up smoking, my darling,’ she said.
Her good-bye to me and I cried hard. So much did I wish to tell her I loved her! The words would not come, stuck in the throat, lodged behind something square. I tried to speak those three words—‘I love you!’ but they did not come. So I shook with the tears and stroked her hand with my thumb. I knew that she would die and I would not have told her I loved her. She slept. Her body going up and down in the most timid imitation of life.
Ten minutes later the curtain flung back and the brothers and sister returned. Visiting time was over. I would have to leave. My aunt was going to spend the night, watching over her. My uncle went to her ear, woke her up—‘We’ve spoken to the doctor – it’s Stewart – we’ve spoken to the doctor and he says that you’re going to live another day so we’re not going to stay here all night pestering you. You rest.’
I choked back my emotions in their presence and, composed, I was able to tell her I loved her as I walked from the bedside. My mother, uncle and I walked back down the long white corridors.
And so, with my belongings and a strong wind blowing across the view, I left the hospital. I would never see my grandmother alive again. Four days later, she died. That is the full-stop.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blank Template By