Apologies for the long absence. One thing led to another and this blog unfortunately got put on the back-burner a little bit. Hopefully I’ll be able to pick up again now I have a whole summer of nothing ahead of me.
Anyway, here is the second piece I wrote as part of my course. I feel like I’m moving in the right direction with it, and that it’s quite a bit more emotive than my first piece.
I hope you enjoy it!
A loud crash woke him with a start. It didn’t sound good.
Arthur let out a wheeze as he put his creaking joints into motion. He prayed it wasn’t an emergency. He couldn’t move fast enough for one of those. Damn, he’d left his walking stick somewhere. He steadied himself on the door frame and braced for the next leg of the journey. It was only four feet, but right now it seemed like four miles.
He eased the door open, afraid of what he might find. He was greeted by the odour of sickness. It was a clinical smell, like the disinfectant used in hospital wards. He had always found it stifling, and oppressive. Mary was hanging out of bed in a tangle of sheets and wires, like some sort of woeful marionette. She was a sorry sight, and he felt sick with pity.
“Mary, what are you doing?” He asked, unable to hide the frustration in his voice.
“I want my nice hat and gloves. And I need some makeup. Arthur is coming home and I must look my best.”
Arthur let out an exasperated sigh. She was completely oblivious to the mess she was in. Her mind was in another time. A happier time, hopefully.
“Mary, I’m Arthur. I’ve been home a long time now.” He thought there was a flicker of recognition in her glazed eyes, but it was nothing more. “Come on, let’s get you back into bed.” It was a struggle to lift her. She was no help, merely hanging limp like a piece of wet lettuce. His arms strained with effort as he heaved her back onto the soiled mattress. He pulled the sheets up to hide the mess. He was panting. It had been too much effort. His knuckles turned white around the arms of the chair as he tried not to fall back into it.
“But you can’t be. My Arthur is young, and you’re so old. Who are you?” She eyed him warily, cautious of the stranger in her house.
He hobbled over to the dresser and found their wedding photograph amongst the discarded pill bottles. He wiped off a thin layer of dust and looked at the grainy picture. The sunlight through the trees had illuminated her dress perfectly. She looked like an angel descending from heaven. He took the photograph back over to the bed and showed it to his wife.
“Mary do you remember this? Do you remember the beautiful church, and the service? It was the most perfect day, remember?” It was a long shot, but it had worked in the past.
“No, no. You’re wrong,” she said, visibly distressed. “Arthur has been stationed away for months. He’s due home today. I must get ready for him. He would be ashamed if he saw me in my night-dress at this time of day.”
Arthur gave up. It was obviously no use this time. He had stashed a bottle of Diazepam in her bedside table for just such occasions. He loathed using them, but sometimes he had no choice. He tipped one out into his hand and snapped it in half. She only needed enough to calm her down.
“Here Mary, take this and then we can see about finding your nice gloves.”
Mary eyed the pill in his outstretched hand, cautious like a wild dog being offered a treat. “What is it?”
“Medicine. You haven’t been well, remember?”
At his prompt Mary snatched the pill out of his hand and stuck in her mouth, swallowing without water. The pill seemed to have a placebo effect, and calm washed over her almost instantly.
She looked Arthur in the eye, happier already. “I’m rather excited to see him you know; I have so much I want to say. I think you’ll like him. He’s a noble man.”
Arthur’s heart fluttered. Even through the illness she knew she loved him, as if it was innate. She relaxed back into the pillows and began to sing. It came in fits and bursts, and she was very out of tune. She used to be such a good singer.
“What are you singing Mary?”
“Delilah. I like that Tom Jones, he’s such a handsome man. I sing to the children when they won’t settle.”
Arthur smiled. At least some of her was still in there. He reached out and took her hand. She flinched at his touch. It was almost invisible, but he felt it. The smile quickly left his face again.
Her hands had been so beautiful. She had long, elegant fingers, and she had always kept her nails neat and painted. She had been so talented with her hands. She could cook and sew, as any woman worth her salt back then could. But she had also loved to paint. They used to go out into the countryside and she would paint landscapes for hours on end. He would sit and watch her, always in awe of her talent.
He remembered how she always used to rub cream into her hands every night before bed. Lily of the Valley. That had been her favourite. He could recall the smell; it had become part of her after so long. Her hands were frail now, gnarled by arthritis. Her skin was thin and translucent, like tracing paper. She was a spectre of her former self.
How much longer could they continue like this? How much longer could he care for her? He had his own ailments, but they were nothing compared to Mary. He didn’t sleep much anymore, and when he did it was his tatty old armchair. It didn’t feel right in bed without Mary next to him. She hadn’t slept upstairs for months. Not since the fall. There wasn’t room for two in her new bed, she had too many machines keeping her alive.
He had taken it all in his stride. It was his duty as her husband. What kind of man would he be if he couldn’t even care for his wife? The kids had suggested that she be taken into care so professionals could look after her. But what kind of life would that be? Keeping her body alive long after her mind had died.
Eventually it would become too much for him, and then they could waste away in a home together. No, that wouldn’t do. They couldn’t lower themselves, become dependent on other people for their basic needs. Pride prevented him from accepting help, even if he wasn’t capable any more.
Arthur sat until dusk, deep in thought. Mary had drifted off to sleep some time ago, her delicate hand still enveloped in his. He knew what he had to do.
Arthur’s joints were stiff after being sat still for so long. He slowly made his way to the small kitchen at the back of the house and fetched two mugs from the cupboard. They used to have a little tradition, a glass of warm milk in the evening. Not since Mary got ill though.
While he waited for the milk to warm, Arthur stared out the window at the dying sun casting its warm glow over the garden. Mary had taken such pride in their garden. She loved to grow flowers; carnations, chrysanthemums, tulips and lilies. Tulips were her favourite. By summer, the garden would be a sea of colour; pinks, reds, yellows, and blues. It was beautiful. It was her. Tears welled in Arthur’s eyes. He wiped them away. This is how it had to be.
Arthur took the bottle of Diazepam out of his pocket and poured the contents onto the counter. He separated out five pills, savouring the crunch of each one as he crushed them with a spoon. He tipped the powder into one of the mugs and filled it with warm milk. Then, hastily, almost as an afterthought, he crushed up the remaining seven pills and tipped the powder into the other mug. Till death do us part.
“Mary,” Arthur gently stroked her hand to ease her awake. “I’ve made you some warm milk. Sit up and drink it.”
Mary roused and sat up, meekly accepting the mug, like a baby accepting a bottle. She inhaled the warm, soothing aroma and took a sip. She looked at Arthur and surprise crossed her face.
“Oh Arthur, it feels like an age since I saw you. How I’ve missed you!” She sounded happy, relieved almost.
He felt the tears coming, and didn’t hold them back. “Mary, my love. I’ve missed you too.”
Arthur climbed into bed next to his wife. He needed to feel her warmth on his body, one last time. She took his hand. He looked into her eyes and saw something new. It looked like understanding, or acceptance.
“We’ve had a good life, haven’t we?”
“Yes my dear, yes we have.”
“I love you, Arthur.”
“I love you too.”