AND DEATH SHALL HAVE NO DOMINION.
The room was light and airy. Decorated in restful pastel shades.
He set down the little suitcase and sat on the edge of the bed.
Pictures on the wall. A waterfall. A cornfield. Mountains with snowy peaks. A seascape and beach, waves crashing in.
His gaze travelled from one to the other.
He tutted and let out a sigh.
A nurse entered, with a water jug and tumbler.
"Making yourself comfortable?"
"Aye. Just about." He replied.
She set the jug down on the bedside table, bustled away.
Placing his case on the bed beside him, he unzipped it, and began to unpack the contents.
Arranging them carefully in the little compartments in the cabinet.
Shaving foam, razor, after shave. Soap, flannel. Shampoo. Toothbrush, toothpaste. Comb.
Into the wardrobe he hung his plaid dressing gown.
Slowly, deliberately, his long fingers unfastened his shirt buttons.
Trousers and underpants followed.
Into his striped pyjamas. Feet pushed into slippers.
Running his hands through his mop of unruly grey curls. He sank back on the bed, and closed his eyes.
A sound woke him.
Peeping around the door, a young face.
"Hello, Paddy. How are ye hen?"
"I was going to ask you the same?"
"Oh, I'm just fine, taking a wee nap."
She sat beside the bed, and began unloading a carrier bag.
"I bought you some stuff."
"You didnae have to do that hen."
Grapes. A newspaper. Books. Orange squash. A tube of peppermints.
Placed one by one on his wheelie table.
"Are you hungry? I could fetch you something."
"I cannae eat much hen, ma stomach gives me gyp."
"If there's anything you need from home, I'll bring it in for you."
"I'm gud, love. I don't need anything else."
She smiled at him, as he peered at her over the top of his black rimmed spectacles.
"You're a gud kid."
Reaching over she covered his hand with her own, squeezed it.
"You look tired Pete. I'll leave you to rest."
Shafts of sunlight beamed in. The curtains billowed, in a warm breeze which blew through the open window.
She sat beside him as he dozed.
Propped up with pillows.
Glasses off, folded neatly on the table in front of him .
Beautiful hands resting on the coverlet. Skin pale. Almost transparent.
His face relaxed in slumber.
Cheeks hollow, sunken. A slight dusting of stubble.
Hair longer, steel grey, still in curls.
Only the ticking of the wall clock.
Birdsong from outside in the walled garden.
His breathing shallow, skinny chest rising and falling, a slight rattle.
Mouth fallen open slightly, lips dry.
His eyes opened with an effort, heavy lidded.
She stood, took a feeder cup, helped sit him forward to take a drink.
A sip or two, then a dribble running down his chin, which she mopped with a tissue.
"Aye! Even nicer if it had a dram o whiskey in it!" His voice was a rasp, barely audible.
"How long ye bin sat there?"
"Not long Pete, just popped by, see how you're doing."
"I'm dyin'. How about you?"
"Young lass like you, doesnae need to come te a place like this. Don't come no more, hen. Stay away."
"I'm fine Pete. I like to come."
He sighed. Closed his eyes again.
Skin and bone.
A yellow pallor.
Paddy watched the languid drip......drip.......drip of the morphine from the IV line, into the back of one hand.
The blue of his veins through translucent skin.
The pulse in his neck. Throbbing.
Muscle and sinew, taut.
But he looked peaceful. There was a glow about him.
An aura. Visible. Tangible.
He was more often asleep than not.
But she liked to sit there, his hand in hers. Tracing her thumb across the back.
His head looked too big for his body somehow. It was all that hair.
He seemed shrunken, barely leaving a dent in the mattress.
Those blue green eyes stared huge from their gaunt sockets, liquid lapis pools.
Sometimes, when he saw her, tear would form on his long lashes, balance there for a second, then course down his cheek and Paddy had to swallow hard, try to smile.
Touch his brow, whisper to him, 'it'll be okay Pete.'
"Not long now, hen."
She was the only one. There was nobody else, not a relative, no one from the newspaper.
Determined. She was determined he shouldn't be alone.
He pointed a weak and trembling finger to the bedside cabinet.
She turned, opened the little door. Inside, a parcel, and an envelope.
"For you. When I'm gone."
"Please. Take it."
She nodded. Fighting back the tears.
She'd been there all afternoon.
Bunked off work.
He hardly knew she was there.
Balmy summer air filtered through the window, flung wide.
Somehow she couldn't leave.
The nurses said she could stay. Said it mightn't be long.
So she sat.
As the stars wheeled overhead, infinitely distant, innumerable.
How tiny we are, how insignificant.
The moon rose, high and waxy, peeping in through the glass, shining on his face.
Ghostly......a sheen on his brow. A silver hue, almost supernatural.
He looked serene. Beautiful.
Paddy dozed, head lolling against the back of the chair.
Something roused her, neck and shoulders stiff.
A change had come over him.
Each breath a battle fought.
Mouth open, glassy eyes not quite closed.
Chest lifting, then sinking......lifting.......sinking. A strange sound in his throat.
She stood up, moved forward, unhurried, resigned.
Picked up his cool hand where it lay on the counterpane, held it in both her own.
Clasped it very tight.
"Let go Pete. Be at peace." She whispered leaning in towards his ear.
His breathing hitched. Slowed. One more.......two more. Seconds passed.
The clock ticked on.
Then........he slipped away.
He was gone.
The funeral was over.
Rain fell in torrents.
The sky weeping for Doctor Pete.
There was no one else to cry for him.
At home afterwards, the sadness weighed heavy on her young soul, no one with which to share the grief she felt, because no one understood.
Why she bothered with that sad git, who drank too much, smoked too much.
They didn't see what she saw.
Didn't know his hidden depths, didn't care to see.
Finally she unwrapped her parcel.
His watch and chain. Precious. His father's before him. Engraved.
She would treasure it forever. Think of him every time she held it.
Opened with trembling fingers, and read with difficulty, blinded as she was with tears.........
I have no words to say what it has meant to me, you coming to see me these months.
Know that your kindness has been so appreciated and cherished.
I hope you will remember me fondly.
You will make a fine journalist. You have it in you.
Chase your dream. Make me proud. Do it for yourself.
I don't have much to leave, but what there is, is for you. My will is with my solicitor and he will contact you. It'll be enough to get you started.
Maybe get yourself a little place when you're ready.
Live. Love. Be happy.
Your loving friend.
This sonnet is one of my favourites, and it is for you.......
Bright Star. John Keats.
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.