A Big red bus

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Three months.

That is what the doctors gave me, almost three months ago to the day.

Three months to live. That is not long, not long at all; a microsecond of the life I thought I had ahead of me.

I am uncertain if it is better knowing.

Maybe an unexpected death, an instant death; like getting mowed down by the proverbial bus is better. That way you can be happily going about your regular everyday business and BANG.

Nothing.

That is it. Finito.

This way is worse. This way everybody around me is living on tenterhooks. No one knows what to say, how to act or what to do.

There is nothing they can do.

I did not, still do not, have the time or the inclination, to do all those things I have never done in my life before. Like driving a Ferrari around a racetrack, base jumping into a canyon, or running naked through the snow in Finland.

I shall never get to empty my bucket list.

I could do them, some of them at least. I cannot afford to go to Australia, or for a space flight to feel weightlessness. I could do some of the other things; but truthfully, I cannot be bothered to make the effort.

You see, the whole point of doing such things is not so much for the ‘doing’ of them, however exhilarating they may be in the instant. It is what they leave you with after the events, what you carry away with you, the experience, the memories.

Memories which will last you a life time.

Yet a lifetime is something I no longer have.

So, to do all ‘that stuff’ seems a waste of the time I do have left. All those things I should have done before now, could have done when I was younger, fitter, stronger and of course, healthier.

The strange thing was I did not feel ill, not even in the slightest.

I have done. Two months ago I felt terrible, sick, dizzy, lethargic. You name it, I felt it. But now that has passed.

The doctors said it sometimes affects people in that way. It comes and goes in stages.

I had things to do. Make a new will. Organise my life, my ‘estate’ as the solicitors called it. My own thinking was more in line with Johnny Cash’s lyrics, “You can have it all, my entire empire of dirt”.

I know that is a slight misquote of the lyrics, but it is my version.

Hey, look on the bright side. I got to choose my own coffin! I was going out in a style I have chosen myself, not some pimped up piece of shit foisted on my dead corpse. Not many people get that opportunity.

Basically I was set. I had written letters to those I loved which they would receive after I had been interned. I have also made a video to be played at Christmas. In which I wish them all happiness and joy, explaining they should all do their ‘stuff’ now. Not put it off as I had, or else they too might never get the chance to do whatever wants they secretly harboured.

I have accepted my demise.

I am pensive, but only about the dying bit, not death itself. I do not want to suffer or be in pain. I do not think I could handle that well. But being dead, I am certain, is not painful at all.

At the time of writing, according to the doctors, l have three more days to go. I still feel good in myself and was wondering if it will just hit me. If it is to be like a countdown, a stopwatch, and at midday on Friday my lights will just go out.

Click… game over!

But I know timing is just an estimate, a guess. But that still cannot stop me wondering about so many things, like a miracle cure, or the discovery of a new procedure, or Martians landing on earth with a cure for all ills and the formula for everlasting life.

I suppose even though I have accepted death, I do not really want to die, not yet anyway.

I suppose these are the type of thoughts which run through everyone’s mind when considering one’s own death, imminent death.

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These are the thoughts running through my mind when the doctor arrived at the house.

Usually, once a week, the nurse comes and checks me out, takes blood and writes a lot of notes on her charts. I do not think a single notation, a single word, scribble, line or mark on those charts and papers actually had anything to do with trying to making me better. My suspicions they are records for protecting the doctors own backsides in case of any litigation if the future. But maybe I am just being cynical?

Anyway, this morning the doctor came with the nurse. This is it, I thought, this is the bad news, this is when the doctor tells me I shall deteriorate fast from this point onwards. This is when the pain starts, where I become incontinent, where my dignity as a human disappears.

I am not ready for that.

Dignitas becomes an appealing option.

“Mr Harvey”. The Doctor started to speak in a slow and deliberate voice.

He was rubbing his little goatee beard with his hand. Nervous tension. Although why he would worry was beyond me, it was I who was dying, not he.

“I am not sure how to explain this to you”. The Doctor sighed. I noticed the nurse was concentrating on inspecting the toes of her shoes.

This was it I suspected. This was the worst news. If a professional was having trouble telling me, I was to steel myself as best as I could.

I stood in the centre of my lounge, clenching my jaw and trying not to shake. I felt cold sweat forming on my brow and palms.

I knew this was coming, was inevitable, but I still felt like vomiting.

“Mr Harvey, there has been a mistake”. Again, the doctor paused.

“Your notes were mixed up I’m afraid”. The Doctor stopped speaking, he just sat there looking straight at me. The Nurse looked up too. She was chewing on her left cheek, just where her top and bottom lip met.

I watched as her tongue flicked out and licked a trickle of blood which was seeping from the biting.

I frowned and shock my head. “I don’t understand’.

“You are not going to die, Mr Harvey, at least not yet”.

My mind went blank. My head dizzy with confusion. I heard what the doctor said, but honestly did not comprehend a single word.

Again I said  “I don’t understand’.

The doctor spoke again. “Your notes, Mr Harvey were miss-filed, you ended up with another patience’s diagnosis in your file. You are well. You are fine. You are nowhere near deaths door”.

Slowly it began to sink in. I was not going to die at midday on Friday, or the next Friday, or the one after that. Not unless that bloody bus ran me down!

I was relieved. I was happy. I was angry.

In fact, I was bloody furious.

How dare these so called medical professionals put me through so much grief, so much mental torture for so long? How can they justify putting my wife, my kids, my family and friends in this position for three whole months?

I stood up. My mouth was running away with me. I cannot tell you what I said, because one half of it I do not remember and the other is unrepeatable and unprintable. Suffice to say I let go a tirade of verbal abuse for a good fifteen minutes, in which time I do not think I stopped to draw breath, even once.

To give the Doctor and nurse their due, they stood and took my entire sermonising diatribe on the chin without flinching. When I eventually ran out of words and expletives, I was panting like a hound after a long run. I collapsed back into my chair sitting silently and awaiting a response.

I would have said I was awaiting an answer, but I do not think I asked a single question during my ranting rage.

“We understand your frustration Mr Harvey, which is why I wanted to pass this news on to you personally” said the doctor quite calmly.

I could feel my hackles rising once more. How dare he be so controlled after the months of tourture he has put me through?

“I would like you to consider, if you will” the doctor continued, looking directly into my eyes, “that I have to speak to the patient whose notes were confused with you own”.

“What on earth has that to do with what you have put me and my family through for all these months?” I asked indignantly.

“Because, Mr Harvey, we have to give the other patient the news that he has only a matter of days to live. A man we told was only slightly ill, that would soon be better and back to his old self again. If you think you have been inconvenienced, how do you think he is going to feel when we tell him he is about to die?”

I must admit, I have not stopped thinking about that poor man.

I do not call him ‘poor man’ because he is about to die, but because he has so little time to come to terms with dying.

I had three months. Little time, but enough to accept the inevitable.

I wonder if the other man ever drove a Ferrari around a racetrack, or visited Australia?

I do not envy him. But I have concluded it is far better not to know your own future, especially when it involves your own demise.

From now on I shall live my life one day at a time.

When the reaper eventually comes for me, I hope he will be driving a big red bus.

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END

© Paul White 2017    

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My confession.

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I am guilty.

It is not your normal, regular, run-of-the-mill, kind of guilt.

This is far, far more…incomprehensible. One, which is as impossible to escape from, as it was to have been entrapped within.

You see, I loved him.

Once.

That once, now seems so long ago it never truly belonged to me; which in all reality I do not suppose it did.

All I had, as you may have now, is the belief life would keep its promise.

I never asked for anything more than was possible; I never asked for the fairy-tale ‘happily-ever-after’.

I was not so foolish to think such things exist.

But, I did want it to last longer.

Yet still he has been taken from me, inexorably, imperceptibly, little by little, piece by piece; until there is nothing left but a thin parchment of skin hanging onto a frame of crumbling bones.

My love is in mourning for this body’s previous tenant, the man who was part of me, of who I am, my husband, my lover, my best friend.

I fear each day that passes I should forget his voice, of how his hands once held me firm. I fear of losing the sound of his laughter, the remembrance of deeply breathing in his scent. These things are only with me now as past memory. 

I worry they too will be stolen from me, now someone else is living in his body.

I feel nothing for this interloper. I do not know him. I have never known him and have no wish to know him. That is why there is a distance between us, one which stretches much farther than the few inches apparent to the casual observer.

Yet there are social expectations which I must meet. So, I simply ‘go through the motions’, to satisfy the anticipations of others.

This is the guilt I carry, the burden which weighs heavily upon my soul, a guilt I have no way to assuage.

This is my confession.

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© Paul White 2017

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Dawn. (a short story)

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This morning two men walk with me into the courtyard.

I am centre, they one on each side. We do not rush, we amble. We do not talk; but take in the freshness of a new day, each lost, deeply lost, in our own thoughts.

The sun lifting itself over the horizon. A lazy stretch of glowing amber soaking into the fading darker blue at the edge of night.

 The sun’s rays fall upon my face, the chill air recedes, letting the light gently warm my skin.

I hold my cigarette before me, one eye squeezed shut, matching the glowing end to the suns circumference.

I breath out, slowly watching the smoke. Momentarily it is there, almost solid, a thick clump of particles hanging in the air, moving oh so slightly, before twisting away on the light breeze, dissipating and…. gone.

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It is amazing how you see things when you only have the moment, how the commonplace, the everyday, the simplest of things become detailed, become special.

I would like to be gone from here, to fade into the ether like the smoke. There is much I should like to do, much I would to see and so many places I would rather be, than here.

But I have no choice. Circumstance dictates today, not I.

Far to my left the two men who walked with me into this courtyard lean against the wall, their heads turned, not looking my way, trying not to make eye contact.

Before me stand fourteen more men. One, the officer, standing at my shoulder, waiting for me to take the last drag from the cigarette.

I suck the filter, the acrid, bitter taste of tobacco flowing into my mouth. I breath in, pulling it down, down inside. A slight dizziness buzzes in my head, I purse my lips, let the smoke slowly out, a steady stream.

Flicking the butt away casually, watching as it bounces once and rolls across the compact dirt of the ground. It stops, the filter burning away. Soon it will be gone.

As shall I.

The officer offers me a black band, a blindfold. I shake my head.

Rifles levelled, pointing at the small white cotton square pinned over my heart.

I stare back, looking my executioners in the eyes.

The officer shouts his command, “Ready”

His voice echoes from the walls.

“Aim… Fire”

I hear a crackle, the discharge of those rifles.

I do hear not the echo reverberate from the walls of this courtyard.

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© Paul White 2017

Lavinia

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Lavinia

Her name was Lavinia. She was tall and slim, or dare I say thin?
I ask because I am no longer sure if that word is an acceptable term today.

Yesterday ‘thin’ was fine; you could say thin without heads snapping to look at you with sneers of derision plastered upon them.
Even ‘skinny’ was allowed if used in the right context, say when describing the ‘cut’ of a denim jean or milk in a café latte.

I am never sure which words are in fashion, in season, which have been cast aside or banished. I am not ‘with it’ any longer, or so it seems.

However, I wander far from the main thread of this tale; a tale about an elegant woman named Lavinia, who I saw frequently working out at my gymnasium.
Such an unusual presence was Lavinia, as she ran on the treadmill or pumped away on the cross-trainer, in comparison that is to all the other people there.

Long before I introduced myself, long before I knew her name, Lavinia fascinated me.

Clearly, she was not a ‘spring-chicken’. I guessed she was aged late sixties, possible early seventies. Yet here she was, several times a week, working out and putting many of the younger folk to shame.

Then again that should be no surprise, because many of the regular visitors to this gym were not here to follow any physical fitness routine. Many, mostly the younger women and several young men, used the gym as a place of preening and for posing.

I found their pretentious posturing and outright displays of vanity rather entertaining. Watching them often helped while away the time when working up a good sweat during a training session.

Now, back to Lavinia.
One day she was on a treadmill next to my own. I could not help but occasionally glance at her. She always looked so neat, so prim and proper and she had a certain air, one of elegance and athleticism combined.

I asked “Are you a dancer?”

She replied with a question “Why do you ask?”

I thought I detected the slightest of blushes.
“The way you move your hands, the way you hold them when you bend”.

She smiled; bright, kindly, understanding and motherly all at the same time, but not with a slightest hint of patronisation.
“I have studied dance” she said, “a long time ago”.

I worried myself, afraid I had embarrassed her and tried not to watch her after that conversation. But she was so poised, so collected and unself-conscious it was impossible not to occasionally glance her way.
It sounds stupid for a mature man, a man of my age, but I never worked up the courage to speak to her again.

I think I was looking for an excuse to start a conversation, a reason to say something, something I thought would not sound pathetic.
Each time I found something I could say, another part of me said I was being foolish, that she would most probably dismiss me if not laugh at me.

Then Lavinia missed a few of her regular sessions.
I asked the staff if they knew the reason that she was not as regular. I was answered with shrugs and a shake of the head.
Even if they knew, they said, it was against company policy to divulge any information about any client.
Fair play I suppose.

After a while Lavinia stopped coming to the gym altogether.
I asked around, speaking with some of the other women I had seen her associating with.

It seems she was a widow and the gym was her way of coping with grief. She wanted to meet people, to make new friends.

Could I have been one of those friends if I had not been so shy?

I shall never know, because I was informed that Lavinia died alone and lonely in her small flat.

It seems few people spoke more than the obligatory, almost necessary, ‘passing words’.

Or maybe they, like myself, are just as lonely as Lavinia, yet too afraid to venture beyond the fear of rejection?

Perhaps we shall never know, until it is too late?

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© Paul White 2017

I don’t love you.

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I poured another whisky.

Amber liquid flowing smoothly, small waves licking the side of the tumbler. The aroma rose, oak-wood, peat and alcohol.

Twisting the glass, looking through it, into it, my words came back, like an echo, a haunting.

“I don’t love you”.

I lied.

But that is what anger does, frustration. Temper.

It makes you a liar.

I twisted the phone in my hands.

I was not sure if I was going to make the call, or if I was waiting, hoping, willing for her to call me.

Of course she wouldn’t. Not after what I had said. Not after those words.

I did not blame her.

I would not call. Not if that was said to me. Not by someone I loved. 

Which is where she was at now. Crying. Huddled, cuddling her pillow. Teardrops and mascara soaking into the crisp fresh white linen.

I drank the whisky. All of it. One gulp.

It burnt. All the way down.

I poured another. A large one. Larger than the last.

My heart was heavy for her. But why, oh why…and how can a woman, a woman you love more than life itself, make you so angry, so easily?

Was it me?

Am I an angry man? Do I have a short temper? An uncontrollable rage?

No.

No, I do not.

I am mister average. John Doe. Fred Bloggs. A.N. Other.

I am angry now. Frustrated now. Or am I?

I have so many emotions, questions, feelings spinning around my head, my mind, I do not know what I feel.

I know how I feel.

Lost.

Sick.

Bewildered.

These sensations are not just in my head; they are flowing through my whole body. I feel sick, hungry, anxious, wild, sad, tearful, from the pit of my stomach to my fingertips and toes.

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The whisky should help. It should deaden the senses.

But it doesn’t.

Still, I tip the glass, letting the smoothness of single malt drizzle onto my tongue. I savour it this time, taste it.

It still burns, but a pleasant pleasing burn, warming. Comforting.

I pick up the phone again. My fingers dance over the screen. I am shaking. Scared.

Scared of what I ask myself?

I have lost her already. I have nothing more to lose.

Except myself.

Myself. I chuckle at that. I hold no value of me.

I am worthless. So again I have nothing to lose.

Nothing.

This time, I fill the glass, almost to the rim.

I drink a third. Three quick sips.

There is no burn anymore, just the warmth, a silky warmth tinged with a hint of sadness. A lingering aftertaste of longing.

I slide a cigarette from the pack, resting the filter against my lips as I breath in, pulling the flame closer. The cigarettes end glows red.

I exhale, softly, slowly. Letting the smoke twist its way upwards, towards the ceiling. Here and gone.

Dissipated.

As I wish my words had.

The table holds a few items. Whisky bottle, glass, lighter, cigarettes, phone, Colt 45.

I have used four items.

Just the phone and gun to go.

Call her?

Or not?

If she says she hates me. No loss.

Nothing of value to lose, except a single shell.

If she does not answer. No loss either.

I will still get the message.

Or not to phone.

Not to chance her wrath.

Just pick up the 45.

Get it over with.

Why do I want to call her? I wonder.

To say sorry?

To say I was wrong?

That I made a mistake?

Feeble.

“I don’t love you” is not a mistake. It is a clear, precise sentence.

A sentence I uttered.

Foolishly. Unmeant. Stupidly. Without thought.

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I stroke the black glass of the screen once more, a little to firmly. It lights up and there she is; smiling at me, laughing.

I should delete her picture. I think.

I don’t want to press call.

I am scared, frightened. Yet my finger squeezes down.

Dialing…

I want to stop it.

Connecting…

I cannot move. I cannot function.

Her voice.

“I love you” she says, “I am sorry. I’m missing you”.

I still can’t move.

“Can I come over…like now, right now. Because I need you. I want you to hold me, tight, forever”.

I lift the phone and say…

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 © Paul White 2016

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Georgina.

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Looking in the rear view mirror I could see her scribbling away, scribbles, shapes, stick men, stick cats, dogs, all sketched on small yellow sticky note squares. Some were now stuck to the door, others at odd angles on the window and, no doubt, many stuck to the back of my driver’s seat.

It was the quietest Georgina, my four year old daughter, had been all day. I kept glancing back, often taking my eyes from the road longer than I should, longer than was truly safe. But Georgina mesmerised me. The way her curly golden hair framed the pale unblemished skin of her face, the sparkle of her blue eyes and the way she bit down on her bottom corner of her lip as she concentrated on drawing with the brightly coloured felt tip pens on those little yellow pieces of paper.

I know, as her father I am somewhat prejudiced in saying she was the most beautiful child in the world; but that is my right, my unquestionable belief and my own undeniable truth. Yet, still I challenge anyone to declare Georgina is anything but stunningly gorgeous.
The radio was turned down low, the music nothing more than a gentle tempo, a harmonious accompaniment to the sound of the tyres rumbling over the tarmac.

After some time I was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable, neither Georgina nor I had uttered a word for the last ten or eleven miles. I think it is an adult thing, a sense of duty, a sense of being expected, obligated, to do something more than just sit in silence when you are charged with the care of a child.

So I spoke, hoping to engage Georgina in some form of conversation.
She was drawing with a day-glow pink pen when I asked “Do you like pink?”

“Yes” she replied, not looking away from her work.

“Is that your favourite colour?”

Georgina said “Yes. They are all my favourite colours. I like all the colours”.

“And what are you drawing?”

“A cow”

“What is your favourite animal?” I asked.

“I love all the animals”.

I was bemused, continuing I asked her “Which day do you like best?”
Georgina stopped colouring and lifted her head, her clear blue eyes looking directly at me. “I love every day Daddy, don’t you?” She smiled and settled back to her drawings.

I let her be, left her to sketch uninterrupted.

A large smile spread across my face as it dawned upon me, I had just been taught an amazing lesson by the innocence of a young child.

© Paul White 2015


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