|Mum, in the last days|
A door opens behind me, but who comes in I don't know. It could be anyone: a nurse, my son or daughter, a cleaner, a murderer. Unless they come round the bed, I won't know.
They're doing something. Clinking. water pouring. It smells of food. The door is open. There are voices, two women talking to each other, laughing, outside the room. For a moment life reaches me, touches me. Then the door is closed, and I'm left alone, surrounded by silence. Oh to hear something, anything. I close my eyes to shut out the emptiness and will myself to sleep. Sleep doesn't come. So quiet. So still. Why do they close the door? They think I'm already gone.
I open my eyes again. I can see some photographs on the wall. My family as a child: one with us all, my mother and father and two brothers, and I'm smiling. An aunt had caught us in a moment of collaboration, when we had finished eating dinner and would rather have not had to smile. But the familiar words, 'say cheese' brought automatic smiles. That first picture was long gone. This one was of that moment after, when false smiles broke into real smiles for that favourite aunt. This one captured the true family, my mother looking at my father, my older brother pulling a face at my younger.
Another picture beside it, a younger me, before I left school, with a brother each side of me. It's a studio picture, and we're all smiling. A day a lifetime ago, when we were made to pose for a photographer, our hair brushed and formal. Our smiles false and for the camera. What were we wearing? Smart clothes we never wore except for the camera. It wasn't us. Every family had one of these perfect pictures, no more real than statues. No more real than I was now.
To them, that is
They think I'm gone. They think I don't know they're there and I don't know what's going on. I've tried. I've tried to tell them, to signal, to will them to know. I've tried to tell them with my eyes, but they don't see, and carry on around me as if I'm a corpse. Sometimes one will talk to me as if I'm a small child, with an over-cheery, 'Good morning, Mrs G. What a lovely day it is today! The sun's shining and we'll change your sheets in a bit'. As if changing the sheets makes it a good day. Changing the sheets makes it a bad day. I will be crying out in pain, every part of me hurting as they lift and turn me, but they won't know, and they'll do it anyway.
There's nothing else I can do but look at the photographs. Time moves on. There's my other family, the family I made for myself, with my husband, long dead, my children, long grown up or dead. My daughter, her face so full of radiance, so full of expectation of the lifetime ahead of her. So unfair she didn't live it. No parent should watch their daughter die. It was their task to watch you die, as you had been forced to see your own parents go before you. Someone so vital should be allowed to hold on to the life they loved. Let the others die, the ones that hated it, like me, but not someone who enjoyed every day given to her. My days I could forgo, easily, I had nothing to live for, but she had. Everything had meant something to her. As it did once to me. When I was part of it.
The door opened again. It wasn't the movement of air that told me, or even the sense someone was in the room, but the noises of life coming to me from outside. The humming of a vacuum cleaner; someone shouting, 'Help! Help!'; footsteps; the clatter of a trolley, far away voices that had no distinguishable words, but must have meaning to those that talked.
If this was all that life had left for me, what purpose did I have in it? Was I merely here to acknowledge it, to record it in my dying, useless brain? For what purpose? When I was gone, so would be the record. If it was merely for my benefit, then I would rather the window was opened so I could hear the birds, the rain, the wind, and perhaps again feel the cold splashes of wet from the sill on my face again. Perhaps they would turn me toward the window today, and I would see the tree wave at the edge. That little bit of moving green was far better than staring at pictures of people no longer who they were, put there to comfort me, but only tormenting me. Far better than longing for a past that no longer existed except in me. My young children in the picture - Sophie, that died, Rachel and Gavin - they're gone now. I don't see them any more.
Hands come to take me under the arm. Someone comes between my pictures and me, and takes the other underarm, and they lift. Though I can't sit up, they balance me with cushions, me with my legs that have set into lying position. My knees sit up in the air. They cover them up with the blanket. I'm lying on the curve of my back, that I've been unable to straighten, or move, for such a long time. Lying down, the pain stops eventually. But it doesn't stop while I'm sitting up like this. It hurts all the time.
Then comes the cold food. How long ago had that other one set it down? I suppose they think I don't notice, or that I'm past caring, but I do care. I long for a hot meal. Fish and chips on the beach, or a bite of something real. Pizza, maybe. Vegetables. Mother's Sunday roast. Anything that has a shape and flavour of its own, and is hot. Not luke warm, but so hot that it has steam coming off and you have to blow on it so it doesn't burn your tongue. Individual tastes of sweetness or saltiness, bitterness or even sour. Anything. Anything but this mush. Always the same. Every flavour liquified into a spoonable savoury smoothie. I never did like smoothies, taking the flavour of different bananas, grapes, apples, berries and mixing them into an amalgamated 'fruit' drink, losing the delectable taste of each delectable fruit.
What I like or don't like doesn't matter any more, if it was ever important. The one with the short dark hair, I haven't seen her before, she dips the spoon into the grey-green stuff in the bowl and puts it to my mouth. I clamp my lips together. I don't want it. It will make me live longer, and I choose not to.
'She's being stubborn again. Come on Mrs G, open up. It's Shepherd's Pie today'.
No it's not. It's mush. Shepherd's Pie never looked like that. Mother taught me to make the best Shepherd's Pie ever, with meat cooked in rich brown gravy, extra onions in the sauce, and mash potato forked into little peaks on top so all the raised bits would go crisp and brown. Peas and carrots on the side.
Not this stuff. Liquidised meat, potato and vegetables. Worse. Cold, liquidised meat potato and vegetables, with no individual taste. Just another paste fit for a baby. And nobody's told them I don't eat meat anymore, not for years. Not because I don't like meat. I do. I like the smell and the taste, but I don't want to eat it when every animal is a miracle of life. Once I realised that, I stopped eating it. I don't want to eat another life when I can live happily without.
But they make me here.
They make me eat what's in the dish.
They make me eat meat.
They make me eat mush.
They make me eat when I want them to stop feeding my body, keeping it alive.
'Now, Mrs G, eat up. You'll like this.' I press my lips more tightly together. 'Mary, will you do Mrs G? She just won't take it from me.'
The other one comes and takes the first one's place. I know this one. She's rough with me. She doesn't think I'm anything or anyone. She thinks I'm just a body she has to keep alive.
So, her name is Mary.
'You just have to get it in at the right angle,' she said. 'Like this.'
Mary tips the spoon up so her hand is in front of my eyes, and the handle runs the length of my nose. The cold edge of the spoon catches under my top teeth, and she levers it down and thrusts the bowl end of it in, then uses my top lip to wipe the contents of it into my mouth as she tips it like a dumper-truck.
'See?' she said
She removes the spoon and immediately dips it back into the bowl. The cold food sits on my tongue, I don't want to swallow, but another heaped spoon is coming. She repeats the levering move, even though I still have a mouth full.
I don't want to swallow.
I tell her with my eyes.
I don't want to swallow.
I tell her so hard, staring at her, willing her to know. I blink and a drop falls from one eye.
'She doesn't like it,' said the first. 'She's crying.'
'Nonsense. She always does that. She always eats it all though,' said Mary, my feeder.
No. I wouldn't.
Not if I didn't have to.
'Look, I'll show you again.'
Mary dumps the another spoonful in on top of the second. My mouth is too full. I can't breath. I have to swallow. Some slips out of my mouth, she catches it on the spoon and puts it back in again.
She doesn't hear my protest.
Another tear falls.
'See, I told you. You try,' says Mary.
She doesn't see my protest.
The other girl takes the spoon and sits in the vacated seat. She fills the spoon and holds it to my lips. No, I tell her. No more. Please, no more. I press my lips together again and try to shake my head. She doesn't see either.
'She doesn't want it,' said the new girl. 'Wish she wouldn't cry like that.'
'She's not crying. Like I said, she always does that,' said the harder one. 'If you get it between the lips, you can lift up her teeth with the edge of the spoon.'
The new girl presses her lips together in concentration, then parts them, as once I did when feeding my babies, hoping I will mimic her. She does as instructed and pushes the food in my mouth. I spit it out, but, like the other girl did, she scrapes it up from my chin and shoves it in.
'See? It's not so hard.'
Why wouldn't they let me die.
Why wouldn't they just. let. me. stop.
They get nothing out of keeping me alive. I am no use to anyone or anything. Nothing and nobody has a use for me.
I am nothing. Not because I'm not here, but because I shouldn't be. I should be nothing. They keep me alive when my body should be ashes, and I nothing.
I have no energy to protest every mouthful, so I am forced to swallow, and swallow, and swallow again, until finally there's nothing left in the bowl. If that was me, the food, and the empty bowl my life, I would be done. But they haven't done with me yet.
'Water, Mrs G?'
The new girl picks up the lidded toddler cup and puts it to my lips. I put my tongue against the holes to stop the flow, water keeps you alive, but the lid is loose and water runs down the cup and over my chin, trickling down my neck. My top soaks it up.
'Oops!' she says. 'I forgot to put the bib on.'
'Don't worry,' says Mary. 'It's warm in here. It'll dry.'
The new girl reaches over and takes a tissue from the box by the bed, and wipes me down. My top is still wet and sticking to me. It's uncomfortable.
'Come on then, Lucy. We've still got fifteen others to do. Can't spend all day on this one.'
Lucy. That's the new one. Lucy quickly, wipes my mouth with the wet tissue and pops it into the empty bowl. Then she picks it up and they leave the room, and me, propped up here, in pain and wet.
Another tear falls.
There is nobody to see it.
This one's only for me.
|Mum, as I remember her|