UKArchive ID: 23580chrissytotoro
Originally published on July 13, 2009 in Fiction
This story is one of three monologues that make up the first story 'End Games' in my third collection of short stories of that title.
Land of mountains and cuckoo clocks and the Swiss Army penknife. For a long time I didn’t understand that. Why would the Swiss need an army when they’re neutral? And why would that army need such a special penknife. I’m not sure I get it even now. But there you are, that’s life and it’s a bit late now to start worrying about stuff like that.
I was thinking, just now when Marion left, this would have been a great place for a holiday. I mean it has the reputation for being very clean, beautiful, astounding scenery so I’m told. I wonder why we never came here. We’ve been almost everywhere else in Europe.
Oh, I’ve been everywhere, man, I’ve been everywhere, man. Of trouble I’ve had my share, man. I’ve been everywhere. Lonnie Donegan. I can see his face now. Smiling as he’s singing, I can hear that nasal voice. How amazing is that. They say everyone’s life has its own sound track. I suppose Lonny is part of my sound track.
Fifteen things to think about before you die. Mountains, cuckoo clocks, Swiss Army penknives and Lonny Donnigan.
I remember Christmases best. Our very first Christmas in Carreg Ddu. Dear Heaven, we worked so hard on that place. Two years hard labour. Well, nearer a year for me because I didn’t retire till December eighty nine. It was such a big house. Why the hell did we choose such a big house? Simple answer is because we fell in love with it. I don’t think there was a floor in that house that didn’t have at least one hole and one room had no floor at all. But we worked our arses off and we made it our home and that first Christmas when Marion had finished the barn... Oh Lord I remember that so clearly.
I’d been coming up on the weekends and she’d been so protective of what she was doing. She made me promise that I would not go in there until it was done. I kept my promise. Of course you could see the changes from the outside, if you picked your way through the scaffolding and the blue plastic sheets. But I never went inside until she was ready.
I was due home on 21st, the Thursday but something cropped up, some last minute thing before I said my final farewell to London, so I decided to travel on the Friday instead. When I rang her on the Thursday morning to tell her I was a bit put out by the relief in her voice. It was only later that she told me how close she’d cut things. She desperately wanted to have the Christmas tree there. The barn was well, a typical ‘barn conversion’ stuck on the end of the house, one big room with a mezzanine, they call it don’t they and she wanted the Christmas tree to be in there. She’d been up to the Forestry and chosen the tree and they had told her they would definitely deliver it on the Wednesday, but of course they didn’t. It didn’t come till the Thursday morning.
I will never forget that Friday.
Marion was like a child. She made me close my eyes and led me by the hand into her barn.
The smell of pine, the oh so delicate decorations, Victorian, beautiful. Everything was perfect that year.
“Are you asleep, Gerard.”
“No, no I was just thinking. It’s ...”
Her voice is soft, French. I feel her hand touch my wrist.
“You’re very cold. Are you in pain?”
“I’m always in pain and before you ask, no the pain relief is not helping.”
“I’m sorry. We should really take some time to talk but if you’re not ....”
“I can still talk. There may be times when I’m not making a great deal of sense, that’s the tumour talking, but I’m more or less able to talk rationally.”
I sense that she sits down in the chair next to my bed. This monster inside my head long ago robbed me of my sight but it’s true that your other senses compensate. I feel the displacement of the air as she moves from me to the chair.
“Is the pain worse today than it was yesterday?”
Her voice sounds a little tired.
“I find it hard to differentiate. Pain is pain and when it’s constant, it all tends to blur into one. I’m sorry.”
“It is I who should apologise. It was a stupid question.”
“But one you felt you had to ask anyway.”
“Yes. Is there anything you would like to tell me? Ask me?”
“A hundred and one things, none of which I can remember at the moment.” I think hard about what I’m going to say next because I don’t want to sound belligerent or angry. What ever the circumstances, this is nothing really to do with her but I need her to know exactly how I feel.
A movement she makes, I hear the faint rustle of her clothing, get an extra sense of her deodorant as she moves her arms and I think she might be standing up, getting ready to leave because she believes that there is nothing I want to say to her yet.
“You, I don’t know but I assume, have done all this before. I have not.”
She settles back in her chair and I feel her lean forward a bit. Is she trying to indicate that she’s paying extra attention.
“Of course,” she says softly.
“Have you seen many people die?”
“Too many,” she says and her voice is flat, like she can’t be bothered to put feeling in to it. “I am thirty two years old, Gerard and until Spring of this year, I worked for Medicine Sans Frontier. That is what I mean by too many.”
“You mean in horrible circumstances.”
“But you can’t tell me what it’s like to die, what happens inside the dying person’s head when they die.”
“I can tell you more or less the physical side of death but you are right, I can’t tell you what goes through a dying person’s mind.”
“What if the brain is active while the body is shutting down? You see my dear, that is what frightens me about dying. What if my last thought is; My God, I wish I hadn’t done this.”
“Do you believe in God?”
No one has asked me that question in years.
Marion, when we first met, what is now, twenty years ago, might have asked me. It was the sort of question she would ask. Do you smoke? Do you drink? Are you married? Do you believe in God? That was the sort of thing Marion would have asked. She was twenty when we got married I was forty two. Nobody gave us much of a chance but twenty years on she’s still my wife and I can’t remember if she asked or how I answered.
“As an insurance policy,” I tell Catherine and when she speaks I can hear the smile in her voice.
“A bit like a lot of people.”
“I question why God would let someone suffer like this but then I think maybe He doesn’t have time to bother that much with the drones and then I think, but God is supposed to be omnipotent, He has time for everything. Time is the one thing the old fella has a lot of. So I rationalise. I say that if God exists, He surely couldn’t bear to see even one of His creations suffering and therefore He either doesn’t exist or is such an uncaring God that He’s not worth believing in anyway.”
“For a man with a tumour the size of a hen’s egg in his head. Do you? Believe in God, I mean?”
“No.” She says it simply, immediately and I find myself wondering if she has ever believed or if some big trauma, maybe in some war torn city robbed her of her belief. I don’t ask.
“If I did, truly believe, I mean if I was absolutely certain, I couldn’t do this, could I?” I say and bring myself back to the centre of my own concerns.
“Because God would judge me, slam the door shut in my face as soon as I got there.”
“But what if there was a god and he was a different god, a god more given to understanding the human condition, a more forgiving god.”
“You have a point,” I say and then try to tell her that my understanding of God comes directly from the Old Testament and certain Charlton Heston films and my God is a vengeful and a jealous God who does not take so kindly to his role being usurped by mere mortals who can’t take any more but it all turns into the bollocks gibberish of a seizure and all my cleverness is lost and, when I can make sense of things again, all I’m getting from Catherine is pity.
I have been here for two days and Marion has hardly left my side except when Catherine comes to examine me. They don’t seem at all concerned that I’m taking up a room that someone else might have need of it. It wouldn’t be like this at home but then, I couldn’t be doing this at home. And thinking of home even tangentially, I suddenly know that this is not for me. I ask to speak to Catherine.
I can tell from the way she moves that she knows what I’m going to say but I say it anyway.
“I’ve changed my mind.”
Her one word response confirms that she knew.
“Do you think I’m being selfish? Inflicting this on Marion?”
“If your reason for coming here was only to negate the suffering of others then you would be here for the wrong reason anyway. This has to be only to do with you Gerard. Forget Marion, forget me, forget even god, think only of what you need.”
“I need to be at home. I need it to be Christmas and the decorations on the tree and I need to smell the pine and feel the stone and hear the snow falling making everything quiet even my soul and then I need to die.”
“You are very brave man, Gerard.”
“Am I? I feel like a selfish coward. I feel wrong for tying my wife to Lord knows how long with a blind, screaming, gibbering idiot who isn’t even an echo of what he was.”
“But you will face that and that is what makes you brave.”
On the 25th of December 2009, Gerard Morely died at his home in his beloved Wales, with his wife Marion holding his hand.
It was snowing.
Archived comments for Gerard
e-griff on 13-07-2009
classy writing, moving and scary. to tell you the truth, I got it before the end was revealed, as perhaps you meant us to with the reference to Switzerland. You could take that out, of course and see what happened. It might get more powerful if the reader wasn't guessing ahead (I'm always saying engage a reader make them guess etc, involve them, but here I think I was thinking 'hey, it's one of those clinics in Switzerland, aren't I clever' when I should have been worrying and guessing about him (if you see what I mean))
couple of small things - if you keep Switzerland in, I think you should signal the opening sentence is a quote - with quote marks or italics. and you misspelled Lonnie Donegan - SHAME on you!
John, much thanks for reading and commenting.
I think I wanted the story to be more about then end, about him thinking about what he was doing and coming to a different decision.
We really only ever hear about the people who go through with it, I wanted to write something that examined the process more than the actions.
Very sorry about Lonnie Donegan, SHAME on me indeed. I shall put it right with the "land of mountains cuckoo clocks" etc.
Sunken on 15-07-2009
Excellent stuff, Ms. Chrissy. It's hard to believe that it's only had one comment so far. Well done on the nib. Commiserations on the Bernard (-;
One typo (I think)
“It I who should apologise. It was a stupid question.”
Very much enjoyed the read and no mistake. I couldn't help but wonder if it was true?
Many thanks for reading and commenting. I'm a rather elderly lady and a bit cynical so nothing much in life surprises or disappoints me these days.
If 30 or so people have actually read it - not just clicked on it and buggered off again - and only two people can be arsed to make a comment, then that's up to them.
It does make me wonder a bit why I bother submitting but I pay me dues so I might aswell keep on subbing.
Will look at the typo.
Thanks for the Bernard a much treasured award.
Ionicus on 16-07-2009
Dear Chrissy, I can't speak for the 30 or so people who might have clicked on this and buggered off, but sometimes people have nothing constructive to say or feel that a story or a poem has hit the right note and comments are superfluous.
In other words their silence may signify a tacit approval. You shouldn't take it personally. Having read your monologue I too find myself lost for words of wisdom and can simply praise you for the excellent writing. The fact that it was awarded a 'Great Read' nib should convince you of its worth.
many thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
'In other words their silence may signify a tacit approval.'
I suppose I could put that interpretation on it but aren't the comments what we submit our work for? If I just wanted it out there for people to read, I could shove it up on my own website and hope that other people read it.
I can't be the only person on the site who wants other people's opinions of what they've written whether that's a simple 'This worked/didn't work for me' or a detailed critique of the work picking up errors or typos or whatever.
I'm not arrogant enough to put my work up on the site and say that if you read it I'll assume you love it. I want to know what people think of what I do or why bother to submit?
Much thanks again.
RoyBateman on 17-07-2009
Well, that nib was certainly deserved. I too realised what might be going on, as a similar story made the news this week. That didn't, however, detract in any way from the power of the ending, as I didn't see his change of heart coming anyway. You cover so many bases with this one: not only the vexed concept of assisted suicide, but also the nature of bravery. I'm not sure that I could define that...maybe none of us can. An excellent, thoughtful piece - and I wouldn't give a monkey's about how many reads or comments it gets - I'm surprised one way or the other every time I sub. If you're happy with it, stuff 'em all. Anyway, I was too...
Roy, many thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
Suicide, whether assisted or not, was once called the coward's way out. I've never thought that. There are so many reason why people choose to end their lives and I think not wanting to inflict your own suffering on those you love is perhaps the saddest reason in that it seems selfless but is actually quite selfish because you are denying those you love the chance to show how much they love you.
Human relationships are complicated and when it comes to matters of life and death they get very complicated indeed.
I'm glad you enjoyed this and took the time to comment and tell me that.