Taken from my Marion Grace novel, THE GODMOTHER, fully written but awaiting editorial attention. Dysfunctional family wrestles in the aftermath of two World Wars in pre-Millennium Britain.
Gabriel had often imagined his wife's last moments, what he would do, what he would say, how he would feel. He had been in thrall to her spell since the day she'd defended him over some damaging lacuna in his contract with the opera company. He was delighted at getting in with a prestige outfit straight after graduation and hadn't cared to investigate the small print.
Soon his life and horizons had been wholly ingested by hers, by theirs, and he hadn't wished it otherwise at first. Her outrageous demands had even amused him. After surgery, her increasing disability gave him no choice but to stride out alone and he had embraced opportunity with a fervour which amazed him. The trouble was, Jessica was temperamentally unsuited to the peripatetic life of the musician. Keeping tabs on its personnel was exhausting. Her jealousy had blocked many a path to advancement. Nor could she commit to anyone else in the driving-seat. Before the stroke, she told Gabriel she meant to find her own sheltered pad. Frequently depressed, she had downed compound medication with bulk booze, bringing herself within an inch of death on occasion. It had proved an unfailing method of restabilising the order she craved.
There were no half-measures with Jessica. It was all or nothing, and of those two, the former.
London was overcast, the Captain announced. The jigsaw shape of the English coast could be discerned through a thinning mist. Gabriel’s stomach lurched. The ground loomed larger, tilting at an illogical angle. At Stansted, the plane skidded and bumped down on the tarmac, the full power of reverse thrust suddenly reining its brute dynamo.
He was through Customs in double quick time and hired a taxi to Fenbridge. Down in the thick of life, nothing appeared quite as clear-cut as it did up in the clouds when you were fooled by notions of hegemony. Before he knew it, the state-of-the-art building that was Addison’s Hospital filled the cab windows and set his heart banging against his ribs.
“She’s stable, Dr Silk,” the Sister told him. “Yes, you can go in. Fourth on the left. It’ll buck her up no end to see you.”
Beached on a stack of pillows, he found his wife predictably hooked up to a drip and a heart monitor. Her face was the colour of whey, its texture like the dragged skin on the top of boiled milk, and the lips cyanosed. The finely tailored nails were blanched with the effort of clinging to mortality. But half-open lashes revealed eyes of watchful brightness. She made no response to her husband’s greeting, merely smiled a faded Gioconda smile.
“It’s nice here,” she said. “Like coming home.”
“You’re certainly no stranger in the camp!”
“We’ve spent a good many hours in here together.”
The digital readings were blinking and changing. “So they brought in Professor Finnegan?”
“I told them he’d want to see me to update his research. He’s astonished by my progress since last time, says the brain learns new tricks.”
“Shall I re-arrange your pillows?”
“Hold my hand,” she said, beginning to lever herself up a fraction. “No, not that side. Numb.”
“It’s bitterly cold outside, miserable. The sun was shining in Venice this morning.”
“What day is it?”
“Can we go on a picnic soon? Winsmere?”
Gabriel rose readily to the bate, knowing that his function was to comply. “As soon as you’re fit. We could take smoked salmon and champagne, strawberries. Like at Ascot and Henley. I’m not putting on a striped blazer, though!”
Afflicted as she was, Jessica’s reflexes were wired up to the life-force. She imagined his dimpled haunches, the thrust of them, and the delicious curve of his buttocks. The rake of his shoulder blades was decidedly masculine and the pectoral muscles nicely toned which suggested that he could shoulder any burden. He had the magic touch that brought her into harmony with herself. Away from him, she grew listless with a corrupt apathy, wanting someone else to endure her existence for her. It made her want to hurl a grenade into the arena to see what would happen. And he was so like Joshua, her firstborn, who had met his fate on the circuit at Silverstone in a pyre of honour.
He’s mine, she thought. Mine! “I knew you’d come.”
Gabriel’s stare was fixed by the blotches of primary colour framed on the pale grey walls. A nurse came in to check the drip. Even as they talked, the blood-thinning solution in its see-through pouch was visibly running down. He tried not think of clots lodged in an artery, or ruptured veins. He had lost his bearings. The place was sterile with defused trauma.
“It’s airless in here. They keep it so warm.”
“I want to come home. I want to live with you all the time.”
His heart pounded. He spoke with the steady reasoning he might use with a querulous child. “That’s not a good idea, now is it?"
“Afterwards...when I’m better...”
“We sold the house, didn’t we, so that you could have proper care?”
“It’s big enough...in the Close...to turn the wheelchair.”
“I do have to earn a living. The bills have to be paid.”
“You wouldn’t know I was there.”
“I’ll talk to Finnegan,” he promised wearily.
Later that afternoon, the fabled David Finnegan materialised, remarked on his patient’s improved colour, and took Gabriel aside in the corridor. He was one of the old guard, sporting a dark three-piece suit and spotted bow tie. In the past, Gabriel had found him direct and whimsically Irish; today there was something new about him that was tantalisingly familiar.
“Your wife is an astounding woman, Silk. She constantly manages to baffle us. I’m no longer confident of making any prognosis. Sure, she’s the will of Finn MacCool himself.”
“On Monday, she’s to have a CT scan? What then?”
“If that shows nothing untoward, we shall continue treatment for a few days and hope to restore normal functioning. I’d say there’s every chance, judging by today’s headway. Equally...”
“What Jessica needs is stimulation. She’s not getting that at the Residential Home. She’s lost quite a lot of potassium which causes the pulse to race. That’s often a sign of stress.”
“Talk to me!” shouted the patient on the sidelines. “I want to hear what’s going on!”
In a flash, Gabriel saw his whole future swallowed by some deep eleusis in which veneration of Jessica was the only way of being. Hell is other people. “I need to work...” His voice cracked. Stupidly, he was clutching his hair. “It’s impossible when she’s...”
“Yes,” sympathised Finnegan. “Frankly, there’s no simple answer. It’s a question of contriving day by day. Of tapping into available services and relying on a network of good friends.”
But she’s so exhausting, Gabriel wanted to say. No one can keep pace with her demands. “In some ways,” he confessed, “it was easier while memory and reason were dormant. I’ve come haring back from Italy under the impression that she was at death’s door.”
“Heart patients,” sighed the surgeon amiably, touching Gabriel’s elbow. “They rule the world, you know!”
They returned to Jessica’s bedside. Where the room had earlier seemed occupied by the barest scrap of life, like a tiny animal cowering in the corner of a cage, now it was filled with a lioness’ presence. “I’ll look in at breakfast, Mrs Silk,” said the Professor. “I’ve just been telling your husband that if you sustain this excellent recovery, we’ll be discharging you very soon. Then I shan’t want to see you back in the depot until it’s time for a service!”
“Great!” said Jessica when he had gone. “Could you lift me now, darling...and turn me? This bed is like something out of a Plantagenet plot. I could do with one of those neck pillows. They’ll be round with supper in a few minutes. You’ll be able to help me with my soup.”
“I’d better find out about trains and connections before it’s too late. A taxi will cost the earth!”
“Oh, aren’t you going to stay the night?” demanded Jessica in childish disappointment.
“There’s work to catch up on. Need to get in some organ practice before Sunday for starters.”
“It’s high time we had a long holiday. I was thinking....a month in Cornwall would be lovely at the end of term.”
“I don’t even know which direction to take for the best. The car’s stuck in a parking bay at Gatwick!”
“Bloody Wandering Jew!” Jessica spoke in the terms of ironic effrontery she most commonly employed with Gabriel. “No one needs to tell you to ‘get lost’. It's taken you long enough to get here.”
“I came, didn’t I? I cut short the tour.”
“You didn’t bring any flowers!”
Causes Rosy Cole Supports
World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...