I wrote Forever and Ever about a million years ago. Like football it was a game of two halves.
After the birth of my daughter, hormones ran wild in my body and tried to kill me, or at least drive me insane (not a great design feature for all you intelligent design types out there). I cried every day for months and months and then I got better. One particular bout of crying was triggered when I was nursing my beautiful, too good for me, baby and I wondered who would look after her when she was an old lady. I wouldn’t be there! Oh god, how that upset me (did I mention the hormones?). So I stored the feelings away for later use, shoved ‘em in the rusty filing cabinet in my brain with all the others.
A couple of years later, I wrote Forever and Ever. My Dad hadn’t technically been diagnosed with dementia at that point, but he had started to change. I am a poor student of alchemy, but one tries with a series of wonky alembics, to distil the poison and turn it into something safe. I daren’t say ‘pure’ or ‘gold’ on the off-chance you read my shit 😉 But you know, something better— extract the sting, tell myself a story that makes sense where there doesn’t appear to be any. Anyway. It’s a vampire story, and a love story, and it still makes me cry.
Forever and Ever
Bath Time was always special. After Bath Time, more so. That was when the lights were dimmed, and the frantic pace of the day slowed, when cuddles and conversations were had and stories were told.
“Mummy, will you always love me?”
“Even when I’m dead?”
He didn’t mean to upset her, but he knew he had. She pulled him close and held him, the soft towel wrapped tightly around him. He was damp from the bath, but warm. She smelled of perfume.
“Don’t worry about that; you’re going to live a long, long time.”
He had only just started thinking about death, he didn’t understand it. He knew it was bad when he said the word or asked about what it was like, his parents always paused and a sad expression would cross their faces, and a change of subject followed. Yes, death was a bad thing, he was certain of that. This time was no exception, his mother hugged him, the towel drew tightly around him, he was damp, but warm…
He was damp and warm, but the warmth was fading. There was no soft towel, there were over starched sheets and rough blankets. He was in bed, but it wasn’t his bed. His bed was small and cosy, old wood, that smelled of beeswax polish. This bed was huge, it was made of metal, the pale paint was chipped. Why wasn’t he in his bed?
He’d wet himself. He was lying in a cooling puddle of his own urine, not the warm residue of his nightly bath. He hated to wet the bed, even though he could feel the slide of plastic beneath the greying sheet. He hated his weakness; he was a big boy now, he shouldn’t be doing this…
She smiled, and kissed him, she smelled of sleep. His father picked him up and cuddled him on the little sofa in his room while she flipped, folded and tucked, soon he was back in bed, sandwiched between clean dry sheets. He started to cry.The harsh over-bed light was too bright, his dream had slipped away, only the deep, hallucinatory fuzziness, remained. He could hear the soft murmur of his parent’s conversation; still feel her soothing touch, the kiss on his forehead…
When he woke up again a woman he didn’t recognize was leaning over him. She gently brushed his hair back from his forehead. Where was Mummy? The woman was wearing a plastic apron and plastic gloves that crackled when she moved. He watched the stranger roll up the soiled sheets and toss them into a trolley. This was not his room, the walls were bare green, where were the pictures of the trains? Where were his book shelves? He was confused, tears brimmed.
He tried to roll over, to get up and go into his parents’ room. Something was sticking in his arm, it was in deep, a long cold splinter, the tears made it hard to focus, he couldn’t find the strength to pull it out. Where was he? Panic rising, his heart struggled in his chest, his eyelids fluttered — terrified moths, washing away the blurring tears. Then he saw her: Mummy was here. She stood in the doorway talking to the strange woman, her long thin fingers danced to and fro and the woman nodded her head, led by the orchestration of his mother’s movements she pushed the trolley out of the room and into the darkness.
Mummy was wearing a beautiful dress, silken flowers shimmered in the fabric, her hair was pulled back, and she smelled of perfume, she smelled of her. The babysitter said something, but he wasn’t listening, he was transfixed by Mummy. She pulled off her gloves and came over and sat down on his bed. Her dress spread like a flower across the patchwork quilt. No, not flowers, not a dress at all, she was wearing trousers and a long coat. She tucked the coat beneath her as she sat on the bed, the plastic sheet crackled. She was pale and she looked sad, but it was Mummy and everything was going to be alright.She brushed his hair back from his forehead, her fingers felt like feathers against his skin.
There he lay; her baby, her child. He looked so small in the hospital bed; his blue eyes looked too large for his head, pale and fever bright, as pale as a summer sky. With every passing moment she could feel herself turning to stone, her veins cracking like fault lines shattering inch by inch, her baby, her child, was dying.
“I missed you Mummy.”
“I missed you too.”
She slipped her arm beneath him, it hurt, but it didn’t matter, not now. He nestled his head against her chest; the slow rhythm of her heart tamed his own and drew it to a matching pace. She rocked him, patting his back in time to a song neither had to sing.
She looked down at her son, the wisps of his pale hair fell like dust against his head, every vein that enmeshed his skull, ever laborious pulse of his heart clear to see. He slipped his hand around her neck; it was as light as a breeze against her skin. The canula was a brutal, futile intrusion; she gently eased it out of his tired veins. a tiny spot of blood bloomed on the back of his hand, she covered it with her thumb, holding the life in.
“Will you love me forever Mummy?”
“Yes, baby. Forever.”
“Even when I’m dead?”
“Forever and ever.”
She held him against her, the towel was tight and snug, he felt warm, she smelled of her, he was safe.
Ever so gently, she laid him down. It was a late summer evening, tired from play, too tired to wash, too asleep to wake, she undressed him and covered him with the quilt pulling it up snugly beneath his chin. He did not stir.
The hospital blankets were rough; she carefully tucked them around her son’s body. He looked so small in the ugly hospital bed. Her cold heart finally stopped beating, as she leant over and kissed him goodbye. She picked up the chart that had been left on the bed. Harold Harris; Ninety two, the rest was a blur of insignificant data. She hooked it onto the end of the bed. Her mobile phone vibrated like a trapped wasp. She slid it out of her pocket, her fingers felt numb, thick and hard as stone.
“Where r u? Hurry up.” The message read. She should leave, dawn was breaking.
He looked so sweet curled up in his bed, the mahogany frame, the soft quilt, his innocent face unlined by care or wont. It had been a long day. She curled around him; his warm breath washed against her face, his damp hair smelled of him, she was safe.
Sister was forced to give the night nurse a write-up and a verbal dressing down, not because the old chap had died and nobody had noticed. He was on the way out when they’d brought him in. It was the dust all over the poor old man’s bed that really pissed her off, and the fact that nobody knew anything about how it had got there, so poor Ting had got it in the neck. It probably wasn’t her fault, she was a good kid, but she was responsible for that bed. The family would go up the wall if they’d come early and found their Granddad covered in ash.