Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Fiction #78: Lynda Curnoe

My Death                                                                                     

The very idea of their being witnesses to my death was outrageous to me. While I was in a great deal of pain from terminal lung cancer, the pain in my soul from these upstarts who insinuated themselves into my last days on earth was far worse and much more terrifying. I know they have been my wife’s friends for many years, but I have never considered them mine. Oh, I tolerated the dinner parties together and the odd theatre and concert evening, even the parties, since I was able to chat with people whose company I did enjoy.

My wife has been a friend of Brooke’s since they were at university together at Queens. I did not meet my wife, Judy, until we were both working in Toronto. When Brooke married this chap Freddie (oh, how I hate that name, when he has a perfectly good name, Frederick or even Fred) my wife was the maid of honour and I was assigned an ushers job, even though I knew neither one of them. But I was by nature an easy going sort of fellow, enjoying the wedding and reception, dancing and flirting like the rest of them. Little did I know we were to become best friends as two couples for the rest of our lives.

One thing that has been incomprehensible to me is how couples relationships begin and persist. I do not understand why it is assumed that when two women are close friends the husbands are expected to be buddies too. My wife has known all along that I did not particularly like Brooke and Freddie and merely tolerated them. Brooke and Judy’s relationship was solid, two friends who talked on the phone, discussed careers, children, all aspects of living as they lived their lives. There were times when we moved around with my work when we did not see much of them but, eventually, when we retired to live in Toronto 9 years ago we began to see them almost every weekend. I had many good friends of my own, but they and their wives always kept apart from us to a certain extent, although of course, we saw them at parties and the occasional dinner.

Freddie and I found enough common things to talk about, I suppose, but generally he was too conservative for my taste and more the sportsman while my interests lie in literature, reading Shakespeare’s sonnets, for example, carefully so that every word shines out for me, revealing layers of meaning. Mind you I didn’t discuss my serious interests with my own friends either, but we did discuss literature in general, the books we read and so on. How I would love to have seen them more often as I reached the terminal stage but they stayed away, except for the odd visit or phone call. They were all at the funeral, though. Some of my old friends were weeping.

Oh, what a terrible thing that I spent my last days with anger and hatred filling my mind. I lay there in my bed at home waiting for the next dose of pain medication, hoping that the dreaded doorbell would not ring and it was Freddy and Brooke again, with a little supper for us, some magazines for me or whatever. Their expressions so kindly with Freddie calling me old chap or some such kind of pseudo endearment. What I really wanted was to be alone with my wife and being able to read occasionally or watch old movies when the pain was not too bad.

But I do understand that Judy needed them around, they made her feel alive just as surely as I made her feel that death was all around.

I was always happy to see the children, and their phone calls would lighten up my day. Sometimes I wonder if they knew that. And to see the grandchildren, clustered around me, with their bright shiny hair and beautiful lips and eyes that I could gaze into until eternity. They were a little afraid of me, because I was so thin and I wonder if I had some bad smells perhaps from my mouth or from the many drugs that permeated my body and came out of my pores. But they did come as often as they could and these were always very joyful occasions to me. I would ask them to bring me the children’s books that we keep on a shelf in the living room and we looked at the pictures together while I asked them to tell me the stories.

Brooke and Freddie often arrived Sunday morning after mass, bringing with them some homemade soup, squash or lentil or some other healthy variety, that Brooke had made for our lunch. I have to admit it tasted awfully good but, since they were not eating with us, they hovered around almost like parents tending to a child, making sure the bib was properly fastened around my neck and that the soup wasn’t too hot or too spicy for me, as I couldn’t tolerate spices those last days. And Freddie again calling me old chap, smiling as he did sympathetically as though saying “I know how you feel.” But he didn’t-because he was not dying.

I tried to tell my wife how I felt and she would reply, “But they are our best friends.”

“Yours” I would say “not mine.”

Then she said, not too unkindly, “You don’t have any best friends.”

“Does that mean,” I said, “that these are my best friends by default and because I don’t have any obvious ones, these best friends of yours must do.”

But arguments were too exhausting we both realized, and we stopped this kind of nattering. I could never tell her how I really felt. Judy simply promised that she would tell Brooke and Freddie not to drop around quite so often, that they should call first and that perhaps they could speak more by telephone, as visits made me so tired.

“Yes,” I agreed. But I kept getting worse with less and less control over how I would be treated and soon wished to see only my family as the disease progressed. I knew I would have to go into palliative care at some point, when my wife was no longer able to take care of me.

My daughter drove me to see the hospice which looked like a comfortable hotel with large beautifully decorated rooms, reception areas with fireplaces and friendly staff. There were terraces outside, lined with flowers, and flowering trees, short walk-ways and landscaped lawns with large trees in the distance that you could see from the bedroom windows. How awful it all was. And I was told by a woman who came to our house, who specialized in such things that eventually I would begin to accept all of this and would not fight it anymore. That did happen.

Upon arriving, I told the supervising nurse about Freddie and Brooke, that I did not want them to be around me in the hospice and apparently she told my wife but they came anyway, to comfort her. No one listened to me or understood my position. Oh they kept out of the way, but I knew they were hovering nearby, perhaps in the lounge. And my wife would often mention them in conversation so I knew they were still very much a part of her life.

They were even there the night I died. I worsened quite suddenly early Saturday evening when my heart began to give out and unfortunately both my children were up at their cottages. They were called and wanted immediately to return to Toronto but my wife told them to wait until Sunday as she didn’t think they would be able to get back in time. There was simply too much to do with waking up the children and getting the car packed. She continued to call them every few hours throughout the night.

I was in no position to do anything about protesting that my children were not there as, by this point, I was drugged up to my eyeballs which remained wide open throughout the hours it took for me to die. No doubt I looked appalling, as I could not blink and just stared uselessly at a point somewhere across the room. My body was totally emaciated and my face looked like an orange skin-covered skeleton. What with my shallow raspy breathing and my creepy eyes, you would think Brooke and Freddie would be horrified and want to leave. But they did not.

They stayed there all night (I didn’t die till 6 am) alternately holding my wife’s hand, the one she was not holding my hand with, and, unbelievably, mine. I couldn’t see out of my eyes, mind you, as I was traveling in and out of my body throughout the night, sometimes hovering up around the ceiling, looking down on the horror that was me and the horror that was Freddie and Brooke trying to comfort me, and sometimes right inside my drugged unfeeling body as I worked on dying.

Nowadays I occasionally visit my wife in our home, being very quiet as I think she might be frightened or think that I was there to give her some kind of message from beyond which would be highly unlikely as neither of us had ever gone in for that sort of thing, either on earth or where I am now.

I never enter our house when Freddie and Brooke are visiting. I don’t even think I shall approach them when they come here, and I certainly hope they don’t recognize me.

My, what a joy they have been to my wife, she tells all her other friends, and I'm not surprised to hear her add, especially during the time of my death.

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Lynda Curnoe enjoys writing short stories and poetry and anything else that appeals to her. She lives in Toronto.

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