She had been dreaming, she could still hear the echo of Joe’s voice, still smell his maleness. She felt irritation at being awoken by the giggling coming from the far end of the ward, someone must have passed away, they always giggled when they were laying them out.
The dim nightlight, the snoring, and the muffled noises associated with the wee small hours, told her it was still the night shift. She couldn’t move her head to see the clock above the door but she fancied she could hear it ticking.
She had recently suffered a major stroke. As she lay in her hospital bed, limbs twisted and awkward, unable to move or call out, she wished fervently that she had died.
She was eighty eight years old, and no one was bothering that seriously to try to help her to get well again; if she were honest she didn’t want them to.
Before her stroke she’d possessed a needle sharp mind, had been an intelligent woman with a great dignity. She found her present plight made her waking hours a nightmare, so at every opportunity she escaped into her dreams of Joe. For now though, the muffled giggling and whispering continued.
She was thirsty, but she knew her thirst would go unslaked, there was no way for her to call to a nurse or ring her bell; she was locked tight into her broken body. After a while she heard the sound of curtains being pulled all along the ward, then those in front of her bed were drawn shut; she heard the squeak of the trolley as it was pushed toward the end of the room, more giggling, more whispering, the slapping sound of sheets being stripped off the bed and once again the squeaking trolley returning with its occupant. She envied the trolley’s passenger.
Often during the following days, she was privy to conversations not really meant for her ears; nurses and doctors alike tended to ignore her slight figure lying unresponsive in the bed nearest the nurses station. Inside her head she couldn’t help but smile at some of the things she overheard, however nothing registered on her lined and skeletal face. The conversations were a revelation, she got to know who had had sex with whom the night before, those who were gay, every piece of hot gossip she became aware of purely by default.
She was lying in Joe’s arms, laughing up into his mischievous eyes that were alight with love for her and with the happiness they had discovered so unexpectedly. He was a full decade older than her, this man she adored so completely; yet she was aware of the guilt hovering there on the periphery of her conscious mind, nudging, niggling away for her attention. She steadfastly shoved it aside, ignoring it’s accusing murmurings .
The night air caressed and kissed their bodies; naked flesh pressed against naked flesh. He had plucked a head of perfumed Lilac crushed it in his hands, scented her soft skin with it like some wild creature marking out his own territorial boundaries. His lips trailed a path, he alone decreed; his tongue lapping up the sweet nectar as it travelled its highway to the heaven they both sought so greedily.
She woke breathless from the dream, startled unable at first to identify the cause of her unease; slowly her eyes focused and she became aware of the two grey suited men who were deep into an earnest discussion, it took her a while to realise that she was the subject of their attention; she who was so used to being ignored and bypassed.
“It can’t be allowed to go on of course, she has no relatives and all the nursing homes are refusing to take her, they just don’t have the resources. It’s out of the question she stays here, I mean, she is just taking up valuable space, a state of affairs that could go on for weeks at this rate.” There came a short thoughtful pause, then the voice continued cautiously.
“Off the record Simon I really feel this is a case for withdrawing all treatment and sustenance, giving palliative care only, make her comfortable with painkilling drugs; slowly increasing the dosage until she slips quietly away.”
The words came to her quite clearly and to her it seemed to her like justice at last, she was to be executed; after all these years of living with the guilt over Lily and the children.
Joe would never have any of it though… She saw him clearly, she could feel Joe’s fingertips brush a wayward strand of hair from her eyes, whispering her name over and over, telling her it was no ones fault, Lily was deranged, had driven him away from her with her wild jealous ways; until at last he had finally sought and found love elsewhere.
She knew the truth though, the terrible truth, whichever way she looked at it she couldn’t get passed the facts. Lily had killed her children then taken her own life, because Joe had preferred other loving arms to those of a termagant, her own warm and ever open arms.
“Demented” Joe had said, well of course Lily was demented, she would have to be, to do what she had done, but if Lily had been demented, then she been obsessed; forever taunting her, telling her what a pathetic sight she was. Hinting to Lily about Joe’s love making, bragging about how crazy he was for her, how easy it would be to steal him away… It was her fault, she had driven Lily to it, she had been too eager, too ready to take Lily’s man away, to steal Joe from his children…
She felt the needle go into the thin layer of flesh on the back of her hand, felt the plaster being put in place to hold the Cannula there and finally the cold liquid as it travelled up into her vein.
Lily was up to her elbows in soap suds and her once pretty golden hair hung lank over her tired face, she kept blowing at it as if to clear her view, in the end shoving it angrily away with roughened red hands, leaving tiny soap bubbles on her forehead. She turned her wild eyes upon her and screamed “Go on then! see if you can missy! Joe belongs to me, to our children, he would never give all that up for a silly trollop like you!”
She grinned at her,
“Look at yourself Lily.. Have you looked in the mirror lately? Listen to yourself, Joe needs a real woman, someone he can talk to without her whining back at him. He needs someone to hold who doesn’t stink of baby puke.. You’ve had your turn sister dear, he’s mine now”
Joe hadn’t known about her taunts at Lily, had never heard one spiteful word leave her soft full manipulative lips, only she knew the truth…and God of course, was that why Joe had been taken from her so cruelly and so soon? Killed by the freak weather of 47.
Was that why she had had to go on living so long alone with only her memories and her guilt to torment her? Was that why now, God had decided she should die this slow and undignified death?
She came awake once more, her tongue filling her parched mouth, choking her, dimly she could see a slight figure bending over her, gradually a face slipped into focus. A pretty face with soft golden curls framing it, cherry red lips that were smiling to show a row of small perfect teeth. A sweet throaty voice crooned to her,
“ Hello my pet, comfy? I’m Sister Lillian, your named nurse for today, time to rest now dear, you’ll soon be at peace.”
The nurse’s pretty face seemed to shimmer and fade as she carefully slipped the needle into the Cannula and sent the cold liquid spurting into her slowly cooling bloodstream…