Sunday, 14 December 2008

SHORT STORY: Dying to be free

The horizon hummed in the distance. The silence of early dawn drowned by the waking landscape. Laurie took a sharp intake of breath, drinking in the freshness of first light. Martin stood apart lost in his own thoughts. Both figures: reflecting on their future.

Their conversation the night before had been difficult. In thirty-five years of marriage there had rarely been a raised voice.
‘I can’t do this anymore. I want to die,’ she had told him, in a muted calm tone.
She observed the anger carved in the heavy lines of his brow.
‘How can you ask of me such a thing?’ he had shouted.
‘I need permission to die with dignity. I have nothing more to offer this world in this condition. I will only get worse. I choose not to live like this.’ There had been very little emotion in her words. Dead-pan, she had delivered her thoughts with a steely look.
‘What about me? And the girls? We need you.’ He declared before dissolving in a torrent of tears with the distress of a petulant toddler. No more words had been said as she cradled his head on her lifeless lap.

This morning it had been her wish to see the sunrise. The cold air lapped around her face and she closed her eyes. She allowed herself to be submerged by the atmosphere’s embrace. Her mind travelled to a time in the distant past. She recalled the house she was raised in: the old, rambling cottage in Port Talbot; sprawled on a hill. Nine years old, her legs worked then. A tom-lass, she’d loved running through the overgrown grassland or climbing up the oak, birch and ash. A laugh rose and rippled in her throat as she remembered their honey-coated Labrador chasing after her, drooling and wagging. Ringo Starr, he’d been called; after one of the members of the Beatles - her mother’s favourite rock band.

In the depth of her daydream, she was transported to the cycling accident that had taken her life. Sure, it’s true that physically she wasn’t dead, but the spinal injury had destroyed her life. Or at least, any life that was worth living. Her strength, her joie de vivre, her independence – all gone. ‘Her independence,’ she sighed heavily. Since the accident, it had been up to Martin to care for her. Ten years of routine that she no longer handled on her own. Never again would she be able to: brush her teeth, blow her nose, cook, dress up, or walk their dog – Millie. Even after ten years, she still had days like this… when she ached to be her old, able self. She longed to walk again away from her wheelie, as she affectionately called it – like the invalid in the bible who ‘got up and walked’ when Jesus gave the command ‘get up and walk’. If only.

‘You alright, love,’ Martin whispered from behind, rubbing her shoulders in a gentle massage.
Her eyes darted open. ‘Yes – yes. This spot is beautiful.’
‘A beautiful place,’ he echoed.
‘Martin,’ she began.
‘I want you to help me with something.’
‘Go on…’ he changed his position and knelt in front of her.
‘I’d like to create a memory box. For the girls.’
‘We’ll have to tell them soon.’ Hs eye-lids drooped, and his head fell forward. Reminiscent of a sad clown, Laurie thought. But said nothing. Only turned her face away from his gaze. She didn’t want to think about it. Telling Poppy and Zahra, it would break their hearts. It would be hard on both of them. Twins, they were in their second term at Brunel. She imagined how they might react; probably, not dissimilar to Martin’s reaction.
‘Yes – I will have to find the time to tell them. First things first... I want to create a memory box for them.’ The thought of the project brightened her spirits and forced the other niggling, not-so-uplifting thought to the back of her mind.

Poppy called a few days later and Laurie asked if she and Zahra would visit during the long Easter weekend coming up. ‘I’ve got some important news to share with you both.’ It was a matter-of-fact request in her bid to keep the conversation light. ‘Is anything wrong?’ ‘No – no. Everything is fine. It’s nothing to worry about.’

After this phone call Laurie summoned the energy to begin creating her memory box. ‘I want every item to mean something,’ she told Martin, as they began rummaging through the boxes Martin had lugged down – almost twisting an ankle – from the attic. It was a time-consuming and tiring process. Martin held up each item. If Laurie shook her head in the negative, he returned it back in the box. When she said ‘perhaps’ he placed the item in Laurie’s hands. Sometimes, she would be silent and at other times she talked about the memories behind each article – resurrecting them from the buried years. Over the course of a month, she decided on her ten items. The diary she kept during her first year of marriage; a scrapbook she had created in secondary school; a pair or earrings that had been passed down from Grandma Alma; an empty locket her mother had given her on her sixteenth; a collection of short stories by Katherine Mansfield; and five journals filled with poems she’d written over the years. Martin, she told him, was to give Poppy and Zahra the box after she’d gone. She hoped that by leaving a part of her in this way, she would ease their pain somehow.

‘Zahra, you’ve lost a lot of weight,’ Laurie reproached when the younger twin stooped low to give her a hug.
‘Mum, don’t start,’ she giggled. ‘And, you’re looking great.’
‘Yes – I suppose I am,’ she winked, ‘I had my hair styled yesterday.’
‘Very chic, Mum,’ Poppy said, leaning over to give her a kiss.
‘How are things going with you both?’
‘Where’s dad?’ Zahra asked, as she arranged herself cross-legged on sofa.
‘Sorting out tea, I think.’
‘I’ll go and see if he needs a hand,’ Poppy said, vanishing to the kitchen, carried by her long lissom stride.

After their evening meal, Laurie decided to tell them. It was a staggered confession of sorts – her decision. She steeled herself as she watched each face drain its colour. She knew she had to hold it together – for her sake and theirs. Poppy was the first to speak.
‘I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I don’t believe what you’re saying.’
‘I know this will be difficult on all of you. But I’ve thought about it long and hard, and for me,' she paused, 'it’s the answer.’
‘To give up,’ Poppy half-shrieked. Her eyes flashed with fury and brewed with tears.
‘What would you have me do? To stay? Unhappy and useless?’
‘No – yes – I don’t know. To stay for us,’ she whimpered. A strained smile formed along Laurie’s lips as she noticed her daughter's clenched fist. From birth, Poppy had always been the stubborn and feisty character. As a baby, her trombone sounding lungs had always given clear guidance on her likes and dislikes. Not selfish exactly, just wilful. She wished she could reach out and stroke her daughter’s wet cheeks.
‘I have to do this,’ Laurie said resolutely, in no more than a whisper.
‘Dad, what do you make of all… all this?’ She threw her hands in the air, unable to find any other words. Three pairs of eyes gathered to stare at Martin.
‘It’s your mother’s decision. I – we – have to respect that,’ he said, uncrossing his legs. While he spoke, Laurie noticed how grey he looked. Like a wilted plant. A twang of guilt washed over her. Was this really the only way?
‘I agree with dad,’ Zahra said. It was the first time she’d spoken. ‘If it’s what Mum wants to do – we have to respect it.’ At this point, Poppy stood up and ran out of the room. In turn, Zahra came forward and knelt down to give her mother a hug.
‘I love you, Mum,’ she said, squeezing tight.
‘I love you all very much.’ Laurie said, kissing her daughter’s recently shampooed locks, ignoring their tickle on her nose and chin.
‘I’ll go and check on Poppy.’ She unclasped her arms and disappeared.

Later that evening, before Laurie turned in, she stood at the doorway watching Poppy and Zahra sleep. Lying in beds side-by-side in the room they had always shared. She heard Zahra’s gentle snore – purring rhythmically. Poppy, as she had done since infancy, lay curled up in a cat-curl deep under the duvet. Some things never changed.

The rest of the weekend had been difficult. Poppy remained moody while Zahra put on a brave face. On the Monday, the girls left to return to their lives in Middlesex. And as they were leaving, Poppy embraced Laurie and made a strange remark: ‘I won’t let you do this. I can’t and I won’t.’

Catherine Mark

I've decided to post this short story (WIP) that I'm working on... I have an ending in mind... but I thought it might be fun to see what endings my blog readers come up with:) Let me have your thoughts/ideas/comments... Thanks for reading!!!


June Saville said...

G'day Catherine
Thanks for following my blogs. I see we have creative writing in common - I'll put a link on Journeys and be back ... looking forward to reading your stuff.
How about a comment or two on my novel - if you get around to reading it?
June in Oz

CathM said...

Hello June. Thanks for visiting my site. I'll def be popping in to read some of your work once we break up for the Christmas hols (in a week's time - yipee!!!). I'm really looking forward to having the space to read stuff and write too (lol)!