I sit in the waiting room, listening. The cacophony of sounds resonates like a badly rehearsed orchestra:
The mezzo-piano hum of computers,
The strident tick-tocking clock,
The discordant phone ringtones,
The rhythmic banging of doors as doctors and nurses hurry through.
Every now and then the hospital receptionist softly calls out her melodic solo: ‘Mr. so-and-so please.’
When my name is sung I glide, andante, across to my husband, who looks lost and confused. Music used to be his life. I suppose it still is…in some ways.
“All seems to be well, Mrs. Miller.” The doctor addresses me, his tone implying finality.
I put my arm around Jonathon’s shoulders as I used to hold my cello. He seems to have shrunk so quickly. He was once a handsome man; his dark eyes so passionate; his hair so thick. And he held himself confidently. Now, he’s like a frightened boy; his eyes wide and bewildered, his hair sparse and he hunches over. I guide him down the corridor, his faltering steps out of sync with the hospital’s rhythm.
The clouds outside are black and angry. Thunder crashes above us before the rain begins to fall and my husband starts, his eyes darting around, seeing everything and nothing all at once. They settle on me and I pull him close as we complete the short walk home.
Our house is warm and cosy when we enter and an expression of relief floods Jonathon’s face. I sit him in his chair and he watches me, as though I am about to serenade him. I prepare our evening meal and he tunelessly hums an aria to himself. He once knew every word.
Matthew lollops into the kitchen and pulls out a packet of crisps from the snack drawer. His hair is unwashed and his clothes are scruffy. He used to be such a happy child, always smiling. Not anymore. He flits in and out of our world, his life contrapuntal to ours, perhaps like any 18 year old, though he seems even more distant since Jonathon’s rapid decline. They don’t say a word to each other, and as I slice and rinse and boil, I sink into a melancholic state of lethargy, listening:
The metrical chomping of my son’s teeth,
The whine of the boiling kettle,
The popping of the bubbles in the saucepan.
Only my husband’s gentle refrain reminds us of how things once were.
Mum and Dad are back from the hospital. Good. I’m hungry.
My friends say I’m not, like, sympathetic enough. That I should spend more time with him, or I’ll regret it later.
But they don’t know what it’s like.
He used to be a cool dad. A bit embarrassing at times with his unfunny jokes and, well, his random dress sense, but he was always up for a laugh.
She used to be alright too. Typical mum, telling me off and stuff, but I dealt with it. Now she hardly ever says a word to me. She probably thinks I’m, like, disloyal for not wanting to spend every minute with a man who’s losing his mind. Who knows though? It’s not like she ever talks about it. She cooks for him, cleans for him, works 8 hours a day to pay for him and soon, they say, he may not even recognise her. What’ll happen then?
I can’t – I don’t want – to cope with it. And soon I won’t have to. Just got to get through the summer. Then I’m off to Edinburgh uni. Get as far from London as possible. She’ll let me. She wants me to be happy, and that’s what’ll do it.
He won’t even notice I’ve gone.
I can’t remember what goes next. Maria plena? Is that it? “Sarah what’s the next line? … Yes, I thought so.”
I don’t remember a lot of things anymore. Don’t know –
We’re eating dinner now. Sarah’s cooked my favourite. I love chicken. “Sarah, I love chicken.” She’s smiling at me, nodding. She takes my hand and rubs it.
Loud noise. Too loud. Sarah says, “It’s ok, it’s just the doorbell. Just the doorbell.”
She says, “Matthew, go and answer the door.” He does. Sarah stays with me and rubs my hand.
Matthew clomps back into the kitchen fortissimo, with his girlfriend Lucy at his heels. She flashes an awkward smile at me and ignores Jonathon altogether. The kids speak to each other about the coming weekend while Matthew shovels forkfuls of food in his mouth and chews with his mouth wide open.
Jonathon looks at me not saying a word.
In a sudden movement that causes Jonathon to flinch, Matthew stands up, his chair legs scraping loudly on the floor. “We’re off. I’ll be home around midnight,” he says. He doesn’t wait for us to respond.
Jonathon and I resume eating. When we have finished, I guide him back to his chair in the living room and it doesn’t take long before a piano calm fills the room interrupted only by his occasional snores.
And now I wander about my big, empty house; a house that once used to be so full of life, of energy, of happiness. But more noticeable than the emptiness and worse, by far, is the
Natalia Godsmark recently resigned from her day job as a Compliance Officer in an Asset Management organisation (but she’s a much more interesting person than that makes her sound). She has a one year old and is currently trying her hand at writing flash fiction and short stories. In April this year, she was longlisted for the OhZoe Rising Talent Award with two children’s story manuscripts.