There’s a god on the ceiling, looking at me, which is odd. I don’t think he knows me. Not god. No. There is no god. Insect. It’s an insect. Ladybird? I don’t know. Can’t quite see properly. The ceiling seems to be spinning round, anti-clockwise, which is also odd. I can smell something horrid. Think I’ll close my eyes for a bit. Jesus, I’m hungry. Bloody drugs.
Eyes open again. God is gone. Left the building. Heartbreak hotel. Ha.
Eyes open, again. Wish I could stay awake. Never realised how hard it is, staying awake. Sleep is easy. ‘Cept the big sleep. That’s hard. Too hard.
Drugs must be wearing off. Think I’ve been awake for a while. Daily exercise time. Roll the eyes. Up, down, left, right. Oops. She’s there, bless her. Watching me, with that look on her face: always watching, always there. Wish she’d bugger off. Wish she’d do something useful, something for herself. She can’t though, can she? I’m here.
Must’ve zoned out again. Here’s Doctor Dalek with his shining light and ice-cold stethoscope, listening to the burblings in my chest. I wish I could speak. I’d tell him to bugger off too. Don’t waste your time. Let me get on with it. I’m going to ignore him. I’m closing my eyes.
There were just the two of us at the start. Me and her. We went travelling after uni, went bloody everywhere. I remember one place in particular. I can see it now. The fields were so green, so bloody green. And the sun was so bright and warm and we were so happy. Where was that? Where did we do that? Was it England? Green and pleasant; must have been.
She’s still there and I love her. I hate her for being here but I love her for being here. I love her anyway. I know that she loves me. Jennifer Eccles. My Jenny. She’s just noticed my eyes are open. Here she comes; tissue for the drool; wipe, wipe. No smile this time: serious. Wonder why there’s no smile this time? Must be something serious. She’s worried about something. Must be me. It’s always me. Poor cow.
I never worried. Is that a bad thing? Does it mean I didn’t care enough? That’s not true. I cared, I know I did. I cared too much, if anything. If I hadn’t cared, all this wouldn’t be so bad. It wouldn’t hurt so much. Maybe I should have worried, though. If I had worried, if I’d thought about the things that might happen, I’d have been prepared for them. I would have had a plan. I could have had a stash of something ready for a situation like this so that I could just throw it down my neck and get it all over and done with. But you don’t, do you? Nobody thinks they’ll end up in this sort of position. So nobody prepares for it. And when it happens, it’s too late. It’s all too late.
Oh, God! What if it had happened to one of them! Jesus! The idea of any of them going through all this, it’s just too much. I can’t bear it. I’d be as helpless as they are now, standing around me, watching me die too slowly. What would I do? Would I be able to do what I want them to do for me? Could I actually kill any of them, even now, after all I’ve learned about dying alive? I don’t know. I hope I could. But I don’t know.
Think about something else. Think about killing yourself. Always cheers you up, that does. Close your eyes. Dream about it.
We’d finished the second year and decided to go on holiday in the Lakes. It was a beautiful day so we decided to go for a run. Ran for miles. We came out of some trees and kept running across a field. The river was in front of us. It was a scorching hot day. Finney shouted, “Last one in buys the beers,” and we all just galloped straight in to the water. It was bloody freezing. Finney was standing on the bank, arms folded, smiling. “You’re buying,” I shouted. “I was anyway,” he said.
Ouch, that hurt! What was that? That hurt. Someone’s trying to turn me over. Bedsore duty. Someone new: blonde. She’s looking at me. She knows she hurt me: blonde and red. I must have made a noise. She feels guilty now. Wish I could say something to make her feel better. It isn’t her fault that this bag of bones feels but can’t speak, can’t tell her what hurts and what doesn’t.
Oh, god. She’s trying to clean me up now: tugging and pulling and wiping and drying, trying to get rid of the shit. There’s so much about shit that is shit when you think about it: the smell of shit; the stickiness of shit; the shittiness of not being able to shit properly; the shittiness of someone else having to clean up your shit. I won’t miss shit.
Don’t. No, don’t. She’s going to, though, isn’t she? Yep. Here she goes. She’s talking. Mouth right in front of my face, loud voice, enunciating her words, a slow drawl as if she’s speaking to a particularly stupid child. Stop. Just stop it, please. I’m not an idiot. I’m a Cambridge educated engineer. I understand every word you say. It’s you that doesn’t get it. You don’t understand what this is like. Just lying here, with people like you having to do everything for me. I was so much more than this. I was.
The first dead person I ever saw was my grandfather. He’d had a heart attack in the night and was laid out on his bed. He was a big old, bluff old codger but he was always nice to me. Had legs so bowed they were laughable. He used to swear that tying cabbage leaves to his knees at night made the pain go away. And his eyes were manic, never still, zipping around their orbits like some kind of faulty electrical device. He came to me the other night and spoke to me. I’ve no idea what he said but he laughed afterwards and that made me feel happy.
Another dream. Drugs are great for that. Only thing worth hanging around for. They make me feel like I’m here and there at the same time: now and then. And, when I think about it, then seems sharper than it actually was at the time. More focused. What do I mean? I don’t know what I mean. But it’s great. It’s the reality that’s so bloody awful. Waking. Opening my eyes. Seeing everything. Not able to do anything. Not able to talk. It’s just horrendous, a torture. Hell isn’t oneself. Hell is living, like this, with no way out.
Blondie’s back. I must be due a top up. Go on then. Make it a big one. Make it big enough to really help. She just squirts a dose in to the canula and looks at me and smiles. Can’t stand that pathetic, feel-sorry-for-you smile. Don’t do it. I glare at her and she goes away.
Maybe I could send myself mad? If I went crazy none of this would matter, would it? Let me see.
I’m going to count. I’ll count off each second of the day. That’s the thing that’s unbearable about this anyway, isn’t it? The sheer scale of the time I’ve lost, and how much more I’ve got to endure. Yes, that will do it. I’ll be bonkers in an hour. Okay. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven…
Marie was the best baby. I can’t tell her that now of course, even if I could speak, but, out of the two of them, I liked her best as a baby. She just giggled all the time. As soon as she saw you her round pink face would tighten and her eyes would widen and then squeeze up and she would just smile and gurgle and laugh. She made everyone happy, even me: heart-hammering, throat-tightening, eye-watering happy. I remember every minute of her. I will always remember every minute of her; every minute.
Where did I get to?
Here comes the sun; the square sun on the ceiling. It’s all right. It’s morning and I’m all alone, which is good. It’s nice to be alone for a change, alone with the sun. There’s usually someone hovering over me and I wish they wouldn’t. I wish they’d all just go away and leave me alone. They can’t though. Leaving me alone would be a crime; not feeding me would be a crime; not trying would be a crime. They’d be locked up: locked in a cell: which would be quite ironic, actually.
It’s just such a stupid situation, isn’t it? All these people, all around me, all doing their best to keep me alive: which is the only thing I don’t want them to do. And what makes it worse is that they know. Jenny understands. She must have told them. When we worked out this eyelid-flicker messaging system, I think she was expecting me to say how much I loved them and to tell them what I needed. She wasn’t expecting the first message to be “tell them to kill me”. Upset her a lot, that did. But it had to be said. It’s what I want. It’s what they need, even if they can’t accept the fact. There’s no going back. I’ll never get better. I’m already dead, really.
Blondie’s back. Time for another shot. Is it me or are they becoming more frequent? Wonder if I’m on the pathway? Hope so. I bloody hope so.
I remember: putting the ring on her finger; Finney’s speech; driving to Cornwall with the top down, even when it rained; seeing my girls born; the school play, crying like a baby; decorating the bedroom of our first house and tipping the paint all over myself; the holidays, all of us together, having fun and laughing and enjoying everything. Everything. I remember everything.
Here comes the food. It isn’t food though, is it? It’s just mush: good, tasty food pulverised to mush so they can spoon and squirt it into my mouth. Then I’m supposed to waggle my tongue around to slide it down my throat. Only I won’t. I grit my teeth as she loads the spoon. She’s looking at me and I’m looking at her and it’s horrible. She lifts the spoon and tries to push it into my mouth but my teeth are clamped tight so it just gets smeared around my lips and she stops and cleans up. She’s not looking at me now. She’s looking at the bowl. She takes a deep breath and scoops out another sloppy spoonful and brings it up to my mouth and I bare my teeth and look at her and I’m crying and she sees the tears and then she’s crying and she can’t stand any more and she gets up and leaves. I can hear the unformed noise of my voice mooing like a cow as I try to apologise to her and swear at her and tell her how much I love her. Moo. Moo.
First kiss: a wet bus stop late at night after the pub. It’s been a good night, I’m not too pissed. She’s beautiful. She lives on the other side of town so she has to catch the bus and it’s a dark road and I want to make sure she’s OK so I go with her. The late bus only runs once an hour so we have a good talk while we’re waiting. I’m dopey-stupid in love with her but she’s miles too good for me. We see the bus coming down the road and we both go quiet. Just before it stops she turns to me and gives me a real, proper kiss; not a peck on the cheek; a kiss. She gets on the bus and waves through the window and I set off to walk home and start jogging and then running and I’m whooping. Whooping! Me!
Who decided to call it a stroke? It’s much too gentle a word. It should be something like stab or punch or crash. Yes, crash would be better. Stab and punch are just personal. Crash is bigger: a whole system, a whole body; a whole family; a whole life. Crash.
Marie’s here! And Jo! My beautiful girls! They’re both here, both smiling, both with red eyes. They’re trying to comfort me and make me feel better but they’re the ones who need comforting, not me. I can’t do anything. I can’t smile or speak or touch them. Jo reaches out and touches me. She looks at her sister and they each strangle a sob. It’s too much. Her hand is trembling. This is killing both of them. I wish I was dead.
I’m swimming. I can feel my legs again, I really can feel them open and flex and close, and the weight of my arms as they pull through the sea and push the waves behind me. I can feel the cool water around me and the drag as I push through the waves towards the shore. The sun is there again, bright and hot, high in the sky. There are some colours on the rocks and I see that it’s Marie and Jo and my beautiful, beautiful wife, waiting for me, calling to me. The water turns white, becomes heavy, covers me and clings to me, enfolds me. The voices are fading; the light and the colours are fading. I can’t decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t know if I’m scared or excited.
It’s dark. The night lights are on so it must be late. I can see all three of them though, my wife and my daughters, all around my bed. The Dalek is here too. That’s a bad sign. Or maybe it’s a good sign; it depends what I want. What do I want? I want to be free. I want to be locked out. I’m ready.
I just woke up dead one morning. I could hear everything going on around me but I couldn’t move anything, not any part of me. I couldn’t make a sound. She thought I was just having a lie in so she got out of bed and left me there. I could hear her cooking breakfast in the kitchen of the apartment. She made bacon and eggs and I could smell them and I was starving hungry. She called me and I couldn’t move. She came into the bedroom and called again. She leaned over and pushed me. Then she looked at my face and screamed.
I can’t breathe properly. I can hear myself heaving. That boiling-bubbling sound is my chest; the air I breathe passing through the gloop in my lungs. I hear voices, squeakier than usual, and the sound of blood in my ears. I can see people in the room hustling about, urgent little movements, trying to do something that can’t be done. I wish I could say goodbye.
I’m on my grandmother’s knee and my Mum is at the side of us. They’re both smiling. My Nan is playing the riding game, a family heirloom, balancing me on one of her knees, holding my hands out to the side, the thick lenses of her spectacles magnifying her lovely blue eyes. ‘A lady goes a nim-nim, nim-nim, nim-nim-nim,’ she is saying, sing-song. Everything begins to slow down.