Authors: Charlotte Castle
? Mum!” Simon put his knife and fork down, shock coursing through his body. He caught sight of his ludicrously attired arm and for just a moment felt like the fourteen-year old boy that had received the dressing gown one Christmas. “Mum – I don’t believe it.”
“Oh, don’t make a fuss, Simon. It was a couple of tipsy kisses and tickles a long time ago. Your father forgave me, though he was bloody cross at the time. Only fair. What I’m trying to say – do take that outraged look off your face, Simon – what I’m trying to say is that marriages go through bad patches. You pull through. Stick together. If divorce wasn’t so ruddy easy these days there would be a lot of much happier people around. With happier children.”
“Staying together for the children doesn’t really apply in my case.” Simon pushed his eggs away, ignoring the hurt look from his mother. He was angry. He knew he was being petulant and he didn’t care. A fissure had formed in the previously solid foundations of his life. The formerly familiar walls of the kitchen seemed to mock him. What had they witnessed that he had not?
Barbara pursed her lips in motherly disapproval. “Life is never straight forward, son. God knows you’ve been served some curved balls in your time, and no one is as sorry as Dad and I to see what you are going through. But life goes on, Simon. You have another forty years on this planet, maybe more. Don’t ruin your future. I don’t agree with Melissa – I’m dratted angry with her, if you must know. But you’re going to need someone in the coming weeks and you’d be better off remembering your marriage vows and sticking together.” Barbara got up, took the half-full plate and scraped burnt egg whites and oil into the bin. “That said, I don’t like interfering. Too many mothers meddle with their son’s lives. I’ve told you my thoughts. But whatever happens, you know we’re here for you. It’s your life. You’d best do with it what you will.”
“Yes, Mum. It is my life.”
* * *
Simon strolled down to the allotment with his father, where he made suitable noises over seedlings and tutted at correct moments regarding the Great Compost Theft. Terry didn’t ask, didn’t probe. He never did. Simon naturally enjoyed the quiet companionship of the older man, although today the unspoken catastrophe only simmered below the surface of amiability. Terry seemed a little distant, more reserved. Just as he had always been when Simon had done something wrong as a boy.
Only I haven’t done anything wrong
, thought Simon, nodding enthusiastically over a crop of early lettuce. It was not he who had manufactured the catastrophe that boiled beneath the surface of potting shed congeniality.
Simon waved his parents goodbye and set off back home. Porridge, in disgrace for rolling on a newly sown bed, sulked muddily on the back seat.
He would go straight to Madron House, Simon decided. It was Monday afternoon and a final decision would be made as to whether Sarah was ever to return home. It was ninety percent certain that she would not. Percentages again, thought Simon grimly.
Simon did not know whether or not Melissa would be there. It was her habit to visit in the afternoons, when Lorraine, her partner at the florists, took over. They would, he supposed, have to see Rhonda together. There would be a show of unity. Not to disguise a crumbling marriage would appear disgracefully selfish under the circumstances.
Melissa had not attempted to make further contact and he had no wish to call her. For Simon, it felt almost as if she had never been. She didn’t exist. As he sank into the ghastly reality of his immediate life, Melissa’s part in his past and future seemed negligible. Through the words on one lilac-colored
, Melissa had become merely a woman with whom he would need to do business. Form-filling. Banks, mortgages. Signatures would be required.
There was no emotion. No bitterness, no gnashing of teeth, no desperate feelings of abandonment. They had parted. The end.
The house? Again, Simon felt anesthetized. He was dully aware that he should feel some kind of anger at Melissa’s presumption to their property, but was unable to muster the necessary emotions. If anything, the loss of the house seemed a blessing. A specter of past happiness haunted the rooms, and he had no desire to sit amongst the relics of his previously perfect family, waiting for the sand to drain from the hourglass of his daughter’s life.
Melissa was welcome to the beautiful, bright kitchen. To the Rayburn, to the cushion covers that had taken so ridiculously long to choose. She could keep the sleigh bed and the antique armoire and the
mirrors and chandeliers. She could rot in the Italian marble sunken bathtub. And mostly, most definitely, she could be the proud owner of a million Barbie dolls, plastic ponies, toy prams, Disney jigsaws, dress up clothes, play kitchens, toy tea services, tennis balls, bouncy balls, scruffy stuffed puppies, broken board games, Mr. Men books, coloring books and snapped Crayolas.
Oh yes. Melissa could have that problem – the … disposal problem. She could be the one to sit crossed-legged on Sarah’s bedroom floor and sort through the lifetime acquirements of a wealthy and slightly spoilt seven-year old. Charity shop,
, charity shop,
– Oh look, Sarah’s hand decorated photo of the three of them at a theme park. What to do with the doll’s house she had spent so many hours re-organizing – charity shop or bin? The dolls she had loved so much, despite the severe haircuts she had given them. Surely the charity shop wouldn’t take them like that?
. The half-used coloring books.
. The tubs of play dough, her little fingerprints still pressed into the drying balls inside.
Belongings. Possessions. They tethered you to life. Simon needed to be free.
“Ooh, I do like a custard cream, don’t you?” Rhonda offered the plate in Simon’s direction.
“I’m sorry, what? Er, no thanks.” Simon waved the plate away irritably, biscuits not at the forefront of his mind. Despite Rhonda’s many qualities, her constant chipper outlook and bluntly cheerful demeanor grated. Granted, the hospice manager could not play the role of constant professional mourner, but inane biscuit chatter was tiring.
Melissa, beside him on the sofa, also declined with a tight smile. The small leather settee in Rhonda’s office dipped in the middle and he noticed that Melissa’s thigh muscle, like his, was clenched in a determined effort to keep their legs from touching. After twelve years of marital union, their bodies had become separate, suddenly their own. They guarded their personal space jealously, the air between them crackling with hostility.
Rhonda smiled at each of them. “I hear Porridge is something of a celebrity?”
Simon gripped the arm of the sofa, levering himself a little further away from his wife as the saggy seat threatened to roll him into contact with Melissa. “He’s done a tour of the hospice, yes. Generally well received. He’s sleeping off his afternoon’s social engagements in Sarah’s room now. Thank you for allowing him in. I can’t tell you how much it means to Sarah. And Porridge.”
“Yes, she seemed delighted.” Melissa spoke softly. “Though she seems very distant now. She’s sleeping a lot.”
Rhonda helped herself to another custard cream and flapped a hand in front of her mouth in the universal gesture of
hang on, I’ve got my mouth full.
“Yes. Sarah is a lot quieter now. You will find that she sleeps around eighty percent of the time. Talking will tire her, and whilst we are controlling her pain, I’m afraid the anti-nausea drugs don’t completely stop her feeling sick. Given your daughter’s exuberant personality …,” Rhonda popped the last of the biscuit in her mouth and repeated her earlier performance, “ … sorry, I missed lunch … given your daughter’s personality, the change will seem particularly marked to you. She will have better days, but I think it is safe to say that we are now firmly in the Palliative end of her care and that the Sarah you have known will start to slip away from now on.”
Melissa sat forward and took a deep slow breath in, as if steeling herself. “How long?”
Simon closed his eyes.
Rhonda dabbed at the corners of her mouth with a napkin. “A month at most. It could be two weeks. I’m afraid it is very difficult to say. Certainly you should be coming to terms with the fact that Sarah will be gone very soon. She won’t be coming back to your family home again. I’m very sorry to have to tell you this.” Rhonda pushed a box of Thomas the Tank Engine tissues towards the couple, in a clearly well practiced move. Neither took one.
“Is she scared?” Simon’s voice trembled just slightly. “Has she said anything? Does she understand?”
Rhonda put her head on one side and smiled sympathetically. “Sarah is desperately poorly. She’s really too tired to be scared. As your wife will be moving into her room with her …”
“What?” Simon cut the woman off.
“Well, I presumed that you knew …” Rhonda trailed off, confused.
Melissa turned to Simon. “I’m moving into Madron House in a day or two. A camp bed can be put in Sarah’s room, though as there is only room for one of us and you’re going back to work, obviously it will be me.”
“But I don’t have to go back to work. And what about the florists? Are you just going to shut up shop? Couldn’t we have talked about this? When was this decided?” Simon stood up, unable to keep up their farcical ‘togetherness’ act any longer.
“I spoke to Rhonda last night. You weren’t here. You were staying at your parents.” Melissa spoke in an accusatory tone.
“For one night. I phoned ahead and made sure Sarah was alright. I spoke to her on the phone. I couldn’t come all the way back from Barnsley for an hour. Surely we should have spoken about this. I want to be with Sarah. I want to be there. You can’t just push me out like this. Damn it, Melissa, she’s my daughter, too.”
Rhonda stood up awkwardly. “Would you two like a little privacy? I have a few things to do at the front desk and it seems that you might like to talk. Shall I …” She trailed off, apparently aware that neither Simon nor Melissa were paying the least attention to her. “Right. I’ll just be through here.” She slipped out of the door.
Simon rounded on Melissa. “You can’t just call dibs on staying with Sarah, Melissa. We don’t know when she is going to be awake and I want to be there when she is.”
“You can’t, you’re working.”
“So are you!”
“Lorraine can cover most of my shifts and we’ve got a student starting. Anyway, you’ve got Porridge.”
“What? You said that wasn’t decided. Besides, Porridge can come with me.”
“Not all the time, he can’t. He’s only meant to come as a treat. He can’t sleep the night here. You’ll have to look after Porridge while I stay here. It’s obvious that’s the only solution.”
“I want to do my share, Melissa. I’m only working Thursdays, Fridays and Mondays. I could sleep here at the weekends and Tuesday and Wednesday.”
“What about Porridge?”
“What? Well, you’ll take Porridge when I’m not here.”
“My dad doesn’t think it’s a good idea, your being left alone with her.”
“What?” Simon nearly tripped over a waste paper basket. He booted it out of the way.
Melissa looked at the disturbed bin, litter scattered around the floor and raised her eyebrows archly. “Because we don’t feel that you are in a stable psychiatric state nor that, given your self-confessed suicidal feelings, you are an appropriate person to be with Sarah alone at the moment. Dad spoke to a psychiatrist friend and …”
Appropriate fucking person?”
Simon, still pacing, accidentally banged into Rhonda’s desk, causing an impossibly high stack of papers to collapse, shuttering off the desk and scattering the carpet with documents. “
is going on here, Melissa?” Simon clutched at his hair, shaking his head in horror and disbelief. “Have you told them that you think I’m going to hurt my daughter?”
Melissa sniffed. “My father and I thought it best that the hospice be fully aware of your mental state and that precautions should be made …”
Simon howled. “I got pissed one night, Melissa. I’m not a bloody monster!” Simon kicked the bin again, finding it an inadequate release to his anger. His frustration made him want to tear curtains down and smash windows. “I - AM – SARAH’S - FATHER.” Simon was shouting and crying now. “All I want to do is protect her and be with her. I don’t want her to die. But if she has to, I want her to not be scared. And if that meant being with her then, yes. Yes, I’d make sure we died together. Why is it so difficult for you to see that? Why is it so hard for you to understand the pain I’m feeling at the moment? You stupid, stupid, insensitive
The door burst open and Rhonda, wild-haired as ever, walked in briskly, accompanied by a burly man in a physiotherapy uniform. “I think that’s enough now, Dr. Bailey. I’m sorry, but you will have to leave.”
“You see how he is!” Melissa wailed, gesturing to the knocked over bin with its spilt litter and the documents from the desk that strewed the floor. “He’s not in his right frame of mind. He’s completely unbalanced. Did you hear him admit he’s suicidal? He said that
he’d make sure they died together.
What does that mean? That he’ll take her life as well? He’s not safe. He’s not well…”
Simon roared, looking around for something to throw. He found nothing within reach, so stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him. He headed back towards Sarah’s room, breaking into a jog as he heard an announcement break into the background music that played throughout the common areas. “Staff member to room nine, staff member to room nine, urgently please.”
Simon reached room nine, Sarah’s bedroom, and stalled for just a moment, composing himself. He made an effort to shed his anger and calm his face and body, then entered. Porridge gave a whining yawn, stood up, stretched and padded over to him. He sniffed Simon quizzically, the Labrador’s acute senses picking up distress instantly, then he enquired into his master’s condition in the only way he knew how. He barked. Loudly.