Death Be Not Proud (Chapter 1)




Death waits for us all; it is only a matter of time

And the when and the where and the how

Are the only variations to the song we must all sing

I had good days and I had bad days.
It wasn’t as if I could blame anyone else for the condition I found myself in, so I didn’t look for any sympathy. I knew that my near-vegetative state caused my parents hours of anxiety, but I couldn’t face the questions that queued in my own mind, let alone answer any of theirs.

I stayed in my room. Where I lay at an angle on my bed, I could watch the winter sun cast canyons of light as it moved across the eaved ceiling. Sometimes the light was the barest remnant from a clouded sky; at others, so bright that the laths were ribs under the aged plaster, regular undulations under the chalk-white skin.

I hadn’t spent so long at home for many years. Here at the top of the house, the cars droned tunelessly as they laboured up the hill beyond the sheltering walls of St Mary’s Church. Below, the voices of the street were mere echoes as they rose up the stone walls, entering illicitly through the thin frame of the window. I listened to the random sounds of life; I watched it in the arc of the day. And the sounds and the light were immaterial – the days irrelevant – time did not touch me.

Sometime – days after fleeing Maine – my mother knocked softly on my door, her disembodied head appearing round it when I did not answer.
“Emma, you have twenty minutes to get yourself ready for your hospital appointment; your father’s getting the car now.” Her voice hovered in the air

above my bed, and I heard every word she said, but they didn’t register. I didn’t move. She came into the room and stood at the end of my bed, her hands on her hips, her no-nonsense look in place. The lines creasing her forehead were deeper than I remembered, or maybe it was the way the light from the window fell across her brow.

“I know you heard me; I want you to get up and get dressed now. I won’t keep the hospital waiting.”
She hadn’t used that tone with me for nearly twenty years and I found it comforting in its severity. “Emma!”

My eyes focused and saw her shaking, her hands clutching white-knuckled at the old iron-and-brass bedstead.

“Emma, I am asking you, please…”

My poor mother; with my Nanna in hospital and her youngest daughter tottering towards the edge of reality, she was strung out just as far as she could go, eking out her emotional reserves like food in a famine. I blinked once as I surfaced from the dark pool of my refuge, my mouth dry; I half-rolled, half-sat up. Wordlessly, I climbed off the bed and went stiffly to the bathroom down the landing, my mother a few steps behind me. I shut the door quietly on her, and turned to look in the mirror above the basin. Sunken eyes stared back from my skull-like head, skin brittle over high cheekbones. Even my freckles seemed pale under the dim, grim light from the east window. Mechanically I brushed my teeth and washed, not caring as the cast on my arm became sodden. The bruises above my breasts and below my throat stood out against my fair skin. I pressed my fingertips into them, hands spanning the space between each smoky mark. I closed my eyes at the subdued pain and remembered why they were there.