I was still lying there, enjoying the coolness of the crisp hospital sheets. So smooth. Ours at home were rather bobbly and old. ‘Pilling’, they call it in the textiles trade apparently. These hospital sheets were luxury itself.
Next to me the machines hummed softly, familiarly, and beeped out my heartbeat, gasped for me as they forced the air in and out of my lungs for me. I knew the one monitoring my brain activity was showing a flat line, that had happened yesterday and the doctors and everyone had called a meeting about it. Brain dead. That’s what they said and I thought it sounded more like an insult than a medical diagnosis. Away by the door to my private room I could hear several hushed voices. I recognised one immediately.
Simon! Simon was here.
In the background my favourite Billie Holiday CD was playing. My parents had brought it in for me on the second day. At their insistence, nurses put the music on for me – I never tired of Billie, Nina, or Ella. In my mind, my ‘brain dead’ mind, I sang along to those long ago songs. Billie was just finishing That Ole Devil Called Love, and knowing the order of the CD by heart, I knew that at any moment she’d start singing Easy Living which was my all-time favourite song, by her or anyone else. As soon as the first bar of the piano’s part trickled through the air, I felt that same wave of pleasure wash over me. The prickle of anticipation, the plaintive, love-lorn lyrics hanging on the air.
Another day, I thought, just like any other. How long had it been now? A month? Five weeks? That’s a long time to just lie in bed and do nothing. Although there had been rainy winter Mondays in the past when I longed to do exactly that. Sometimes here I hear the patter of rain on the window if the wind is blowing in the right direction. Such a comforting sound.
I felt Simon take my hand in his warm one. His hand seemed so warm, so big, it seemed to swallow mine up inside it and I felt safe, protected. I could feel the roughness of the dried-on blobs of paint on his fingers and there was a definite aroma of turps. He’d been decorating again. Other husbands have to be nagged into DIY but Simon had been using it as therapy to help him cope since my accident. He’s such a sweetie. I reckoned he must have redecorated pretty much the whole of our little house by now. But I didn’t want to think about our little house – it made me feel so homesick. You had to curb your emotions in here; after all it still might be weeks before I could go home.
It was amazing really – Simon doing painting and decorating at home – and him from a very wealthy family, but he had never wanted to use his family’s wealth to make his way in the world, he wanted to be his own man – so he had started at the bottom of his father’s firm and it had taken him years of hard work to make his way up the ladder. Our house was small and modest; everything we had we’d worked hard for, and were justifiably proud of what we had achieved together – building our life together from almost nothing. We had never had much money but we had each other, and that was the way we liked it.
His visits never seemed to be as frequent as I would have liked, so I looked forward to them, knowing he was working very hard and couldn’t always get in to see me. When he did come in, he would sit and hold my hand and talk to me about his day at work, about the petty squabbles between staff members or tell me about meetings. Sometimes he’d read minutes to me, or reports. Poor Simon. It wasn’t very interesting stuff but it was so good to hear his voice. And at least I was able to feel that even just by being there, by listening, I was able to make a contribution to our relationship.
But now it dawned on me he was trying to tell me something, and there seemed to be something important he needed me to know. I was still half listening to Billie in the background:
Living for you is Easy Living
It’s easy to live when you’re in love
I’m so in love, there’s nothing in life
I was just dreaming along with the music, head full of dancers in speakeasies, swaying to the music amidst a fug of cigarette smoke and bootleg liquor. Suddenly I felt a strong pressure on my hand as Simon squeezed it when he turned around to shout over his shoulder at someone, anyone.
‘For God’s sake, turn that bloody racket off!’ His voice broke on the last words and there was a click and an abrupt silence. I felt Simon turn back to me, and now I knew with a shock that he was crying! That nurse came over to try and comfort him, but he shrugged her off. A Jamaican woman, she always sounded so big and black and vibrant. She always brought a rush of energy and life into the room with her. She was my favourite. She always had time to gossip and laugh, always made me feel like she knew me and cared about me. Some of the things she told me you’d never believe! Things about the other patients, or which nurse was sleeping with which doctor and of course I wasn’t going to tell anyone, was I?
Someone whose voice I didn’t recognise was on Simon’s other side, and there was another new man in the room too. My favourite doctor, Dr Nadim was not there, which was strange. Dr Nadim was another really nice person – so considerate – never treated you like a nameless lump of meat. Even if there’s no one else in the room, it’s always, ‘Mrs Cooper, I’m just going to do this’, or ‘Good morning Mrs Cooper, how are you today?’ So kind. So reassuring. He must have known how frightened I was at first. I’d never been in hospital before.
One of the other men told Simon that he was doing the right thing, no matter how hard it may seem. What did that mean, I wondered.
Everything had seemed so nice and normal, so everyday-ish, that I was really startled when I heard a couple of clicks and realised that the humming, beeping and gasping next to me had stopped. The machines that had been my constant companions for months had been switched off. The room seemed loud with the silence that followed.
At first I thought they were going to wake me up. I felt such a surge of excitement. After all this time, it had finally happened! I was better! They must have discovered I could breathe on my own now. But Simon’s hand clutched mine even more tightly, his other hand snagged in the bedclothes and his sad, silent weeping became anguished sobbing, and then slowly it began to dawn on me that whatever this was, it wasn’t good.