Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches”
— Margaret Atwood; The Haidmaid’s Tale.

(broken Latin, meaning ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’)

Many will recognise this quote from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (and the subsequent – and epic – Hulu adaptation for the small screen). But where does this ‘fake’ Latin phrase originate? Michael Fontaine, a classics professor from Cornell University; and this blog’s author, Ryan Vandeput, an English Literature Masters Graduate from the University of Leicester, took their best guesses.

“It was likely an old school joke, for those who took Latin class. It’s not really ‘true’ Latin; rather, it sounds like something a school pupil made up for fun. It might even be something Margaret Atwood remembers from her schooling & childhood” surmised Vandeput. Another similar Latin joke phrase with the same supposed translation is “illegitimi non carborundorum,” which Fontaine noted was equally fake—though it’s perhaps a little more legit as Latin, since it at least doesn’t use the made-up “bastardes.”

“Illegitimi is a real Latin word,” Fontaine continues. “It could indeed mean ‘bastards’ (though it’s not the usual word, which is spurius or nothos).”

“My guess is that c. 1890-1900, some American people thought it would be funny to pretend like ‘carborundum’ was actually a Latin word meaning ‘needing to be worn down’ or (making allowances for ignorance, which is surely part of it) ‘to wear down.’ If the phrase was originally illegitimis non carborundum, then the original idea was that ‘there must not be a wearing down (of you) by the bastards,’ or in plain English, ‘don’t let the bastards get you down.’ Either then or soon after, illegitimis would have become illegitimi, which changes the grammar, but most English speakers can’t tell because our grammar doesn’t work that way. That would pretty quickly give you illegitimi non carborundum”

“The key to the mystery is knowing that carborundum was a trade name (for an abrasive scrubbing powder used for cleaning),” he continued. “Whatever it was, it’s not in use any more, so we’ve lost all memory of it. Nowadays it just looks like a strange, broken Latin word to us,” Fontaine concluded.

— Ryan Vandeput, 2018

Wrong Rooms to Conclude This Weekend @wrongrooms

Posted from: LE2 0JH, UK

The Twitter Microfiction ‘Wrong Rooms’ is set to reach it’s ultimate finale this weekend, with new updates already being published on twitter. The secret-author hinted on his personal feed that the ending would come ‘sometime’ this weekend.

This signals that the story will finally be wrapped up after several months of silence – the unknown author published a tweet from his personal account saying ‘time to lay this ghost to rest.’ Could this indicate the story is based on real events?

Shortly afterwards, the latest updates to Wrong Rooms were all published live on twitter within seconds of each other, indicating the ending has already been written. The question remains… why wait five months before picking up the story again? More intriguingly, there are strong rumours that a major publisher is attempting to secure a contract with the author.

Do you have any insight? Please leave your comment below. In the meantime, catch up with the story at www.twitter.com/wrongrooms

UPDATE:
The story so far can be found at http://www.uselessdesires.co.uk/wrong-rooms

The Afterlife? A Perspective.

Posted from: Blaenau Gwent NP23, UKIn the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together…

You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on a toilet.

You take all your pain at once, all twenty-seven intense hours of it. Bones break, cars crash, skin is cut, babies are born. Once you make it through, it’s agony-free for the rest of your afterlife.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always pleasant.

You spend six days clipping your nails. Fifteen months looking for lost items. Eighteen months waiting in line. Two years of boredom: staring out a bus window, sitting in an airport terminal. One year reading books. Your eyes hurt, and you itch, because you can’t take a shower until it’s your time to take your marathon two-hundred-day shower. Two weeks wondering what happens when you die. One minute realizing your body is falling. Seventy-seven hours of confusion. One hour realizing you’ve forgotten someone’s name. Three weeks realizing you are wrong. Two days lying. Six weeks waiting for a green light. Seven hours vomiting. Fourteen minutes experiencing pure joy. Three months doing laundry. Fifteen hours writing your signature. Two days tying shoelaces. Sixty-seven days of heartbreak. Five weeks driving lost. Three days calculating restaurant tips. Fifty-one days deciding what to wear. Nine days pretending you know what is being talked about. Two weeks counting money. Eighteen days staring into the refrigerator. Thirty-four days longing. Six months watching commercials. Four weeks sitting in thought, wondering if there is something better you could be doing with your time. Three years swallowing food. Five days working buttons and zippers. Four minutes wondering what your life would be like if you reshuffled the order of events…

In this part of the afterlife, you imagine something analogous to your Earthly life, and the thought is blissful: a life where episodes are split into tiny swallowable pieces, where moments do not endure, where one experiences the joy of jumping from one event to the next like a child hopping from spot to spot on the burning sand..

Copyright © 2010 Ryan Price

Related link:
Hell, by Cecilia Weightman:
http://www.uselessdesires.co.uk/hell-a-short-story-by-cecilia-weightman

Wrong Rooms so far

A grey haze distorted his vision. A salty taste of blood oozed into his mouth & waves of nausea took hold. It had been 7 days.

7 days since the last time this happened. 7 days since the time before that. Almost like sadistic clockwork. How am I going to tell him?

His body ached from the latest beating. Bruises splattered his body like drunken art. His ribs creaked with the age of old oak floorboards.

But despite the physical pain, the emotional agony of keeping this secret any longer was becoming unbearable. I will tell him. I will.

* * *

In 7 days time, it would happen again. But I won’t let it. The beatings, this weekly physical onslaught was consented to. I agreed to it.

Besides, I still needed to tell him. There’s only so much I can physically hide. The next chemical assault would have to wait. I love him.

I love him. Too much sometimes. And sometimes, I love him badly. In a bad way. A cruel, selfish way. But I have to keep him. He can’t leave.

Without him I might as well be dead anyway. But if I tell him, he might leave. But he might stay. I’m sure he loves me just as much?

The poison coursing my veins also clouds my judgment. My thoughts are completely disordered. This poison is supposed to fight the disease.

But for what? Months of agony and the prospect of a life alone? If I’m to survive this as half a man, alone and lonely, life can fuck off.

I take another handful of pills. And the pain starts to slip away. I’m on a pastel coloured ward, and it’s shining. How did I get here?

Around me, smiling angels drift down the length of the ward, wearing nurse’s uniforms. I’m in a blue pastel gown. On a blue pastel ward.

I feel so light. Free from pain. Free from disease. Floating the length of the ward, gazing into wrong rooms full of familiar faces…

Solitude replaces loneliness. I feel at peace. I actually feel the light around me. It’s almost divine. Then something unexpected happens.

* * *

It really is him.
“Jacob!” I shout.
But it may be the pills at work. He gazes right through me.
“Jacob?!”
I start running towards him.

It’s a blue, bright blue Saturday. I’m running down this pastel blue ward. It’s still shining. But he doesn’t get any closer. He just gazes.

He doesn’t smile; a blank face. My backless hospital gown billows pastel blue behind me as I run. Why can’t I reach him?
“Jacob! Please!”

Tears cascade down my crimson cheeks. Panic rips through my body. My heart wants to crash through my chest. Every part of my soul vibrates.

Then, I trip and fall to the highly-polished floor of the ward. My head is a dead-weight. I struggle to lift it. Blood seeps from my nose.

I can feel a frothy salty taste filling the back of my throat. I want to vomit. I drag my head from the cold floor and look up…

At first, I just see his trainers. He always wore those damn trainers. They were comfortable, like he was to me. I struggle to lift my head

As my eyes fall upon each part of his body, my eyes like virtual feet on an imaginary ladder, I crane my neck until I see his face.

His head slowly drops forward to look down at me. His glassy eyes start to weep tears, which drop onto my bloodied face.
“Jacob?” I cry.

Slowly and with purpose, his mouth opens. His lips pursed to form a word and speak. But with no warning I start to choke. I cough violently.

As I open my eyes from coughing, I’m no longer on that pastel blue ward. There’s no shining light. And I’m not at Jacob’s feet anymore.

* * *

I’m lying face down on the floor. But not on the highly-polished floor of a hospital ward, but on the grubby beige carpet of my bedroom.

I start retching. Blood splatters the carpet. In another Valium-induced hallucination, I’ve fallen off my bed. Too many pills. Body aches.

I haul my bruised body onto the bed and collapse on my back, staring up at the ceiling. I’m so disorientated. So very tired. So sick.

I rub my eyes, trying to shake off the grogginess of my dream or hallucination or whatever it was. I try to make sense of it all. I’m alive.

I listen. Birdsong drifts through the window, a dog barks, a door slams, keys jangle. A child giggles. Traffic hums along. Life goes on.

I’m warming up to cold reality again. I stretch my arm out to the other side of the bed to feel for Jacob, for comfort. He isn’t there.

Opening my eyes, I notice his pillow still has a soft dent from where his sleeping head rested hours before. The cold sheets lay crumpled.

I remember he’s at work. Which is where I should be. He’ll start to realise if he hasn’t already. I’ll tell him tonight at 7, after dinner.

* * *

I start to drift off to sleep again, sinking down in hot sleep and white sheets, with the traffic of mad men and maniacs invading my mind.

It won’t be long now…

The sound of the telephone wakes me. I feel confused. I don’t answer it. The coarse ringing tears through my fragile head. It’s still light.

It’s seven minutes past three. I let my mind wander after taking my pills. More pills. Mostly medicinal. I start to think of Jacob. I smile.
We met at Uni. He was beautiful. Four years younger than I, with olive skin and a dazzling smile that would make the hardest of hearts melt.

He was studying history, I was studying pharmacology. He was in his first year, I was in my second. We met in an awkward, crowded canteen.

A cliché maybe, but it was love at first sight. There was only one table free. Fate made sure we sat at it. We started making small talk.

I have no idea what we spoke about. All I remember was how shy we both were. He kept looking down, smiling. I kept apologising.

But I remember every little practical detail. How he walked. His mannerisms. What he was wearing. Those damn lovely comfortable trainers.

I smiled, remembering those first moments. Its hard to believe it was over 7 years ago. 7 years 7 months to be exact. I felt a glow inside.

I needed a shower. I needed to change the sheets. Blood over my face and the bed wasn’t something I wanted him to see. I need more pills.

Again I hauled my aching body from the bed, and clutching my side, I hobbled to the bathroom, bottle of wine, corkscrew and glass in hand.

Jacob would be home in twenty-seven minutes, like clockwork. Predictable. Constant. I drank, showered and made the bed. It was almost 7pm.

* * *

Like clockwork I heard his key turning in the front door. I hurried with cooking dinner. I saw his face as soon as he opened the front door.

His unforgettable smile greeted me, and deep inside, an old low light switched on. Warm and familiar. It was always so good to see him.

In our dining room, we ate, drank, talked about our day. I listened, mostly. Music played. Track 3 on a CD he’d made for me caught my ear.

Jacob cleared the table, I poured more wine. He asked me if I was ok. I smiled, concealing my anxiety.
“Sit next to me” I said.

Three hours without a word, and he stroked my arm. The old low light in me switches on.
“I’m tired” he sighs.
“I love you” I reply.

He asks again if I’m ok. He must know something isn’t right. He looks worried. I start to tremble, my voice shakes as I try to speak.

* * *

Just as I find the courage to open my mouth to speak, the silent tension is pierced by the coarse ringing of our 1960’s bell telephone.

I leap from his side, snatching the receiver from its cradle. Hysterical & quite the drama-queen, I yell “WHAT?” into the green plastic.

“Good evening. I’m calling from Alliance Personal Finance. Do you have a few minutes to talk about the credit card you have with us?”

My reply is hardly welcoming. “What?! Do you know what bloody time it is??”
“It will only take a few minutes” comes the scripted reply.

“Fine” I sigh. More tedious, scripted talk follows. I make impatient noises. Hurry up. He says his name is Ben. They’re always called Ben.

“We’ve noticed your card is over its limit and you’ve recently missed your minimum payment. We can help by increasing your credit limit”

I feel something dark bubble inside me. Almost like the rumble of a plane flying low and slow overhead, or of a volcano about to erupt.

“Yeah, sure! That would be great. Go ahead. Increase my limited. Fuck the interest. Let’s do it. I’ll probably be dead in six months anyway”

Too late. Breaking point has been reached. The switch has been flicked. My next irrational outburst is unpredicted and surprises even me.

My arm slumps and I carelessly drop the receiver onto the cradle. My head drops forward. I lean on the desk, struggling to support my body.

My back is turned to Jacob. My body starts to tremble uncontrollably. Tears roll down, dripping from my face, splashing my hands below.

I feel the warm, tender hand of Jacob slide across the back of my shoulders. His strong, gentle grasp tries to turn my shoulders towards him.

I feel the warmth of his body at my side and smell aftershave entwined with undertones of his own, personal scent. It comforts me. I turn.

Both hands cradling my face and with gentle thumbs, Jacob softly wipes away tears from my blurred eyes. And I notice tears in his eyes too.

Then, with conviction he softly says “I know.”
My eyes meet with his crying, sad, scared but beautiful eyes. Ashamed, I find nothing to say.

* * *

“I’ve known for about 7 months. Sam told me. I hoped it was a one off, I hoped I could carry it alone. But it’s breaking me” he continued.

Now I’m confused, but I realise when Jacob mentioned Sam, he was clutching at the wrong end of the proverbial stick. I feared the worst.

I start to feel sick again, my head spins and I make a clumsy, fumbling retreat to the bathroom. Jacob mutters “coward” under his breath.

I haven’t the strength to answer, and as soon as my back hits the back of the bathroom door shut, a ripping pain stabs through my stomach.

I slump to the floor and drag my body across the white marble to the toilet. Hauling myself up to the toilet basin, I throw up. It’s blood.

Blood strikes a shocking contrast against the white marble and I hear Jacobs’s fragile voice calling out “I’m staying at my mum’s tonight.”

The last thing I hear are his keys jangling and the front door slamming. A grey, cool curtain envelops me and I fade into unconsciousness.

It’s sunny on the other side. Warm. Fresh. Birdsong floats on the air. A cat rolls around in a flowery meadow, chasing an elusive butterfly.

I lay on my back, sun cascading beams of haze upon me. I feel a healing sensation. Inner warmth. The smell of grass and summer is tangible.

My head drifts to one side. In the middle of the field, there’s a bright white, clinical-looking door. I’m puzzled. The door begins to open.

Rolling grey clouds start to form overhead and the distant rumble of thunder causes anxiety to well-up in my stomach. The door swings open.

The birds stop singing. The cat runs for shelter. Life itself wants to hide. There’s a pungent smell of sulphur and chlorine in the air.

It’s getting very dark. The oppression is almost paralysing. A figure in white starts to emerge from that surreal door. A man. I know him.

I also know where this is leading. And despite being lost in another fever-dream or hallucination, I’m acutely aware of my physical body.

I also know that I’m not in my body, but watching from the outside. Almost like a ghost. I start to focus on the man in white. It’s Sam.

* * *

In white, with his foot stopping the door from shutting, Sam stretches out an open hand, beckoning me towards him. I notice someone else.

It’s my angel from the blue pastel ward. My nurse. She’s just over Sam’s right shoulder. Smiling. Welcoming me. I drift closer to them.

Closer still, I start to hear familiar voices in the background from behind the door. Incomprehensible sounds, but comforting all the same.

The smell of sulphur fades. I smell pollen and chlorine. A weird flowery clinical smell. I know it. I’m at the door. It looks dark inside.

With the dark, cold, barren landscape behind me, the door looks just as unwelcoming. I’m actually scared. If Sam is there, it must be ok?

I take his open hand. The radiant angel behind him smiles and fades away into the dark room beyond the white door. Sam pulls at my arm.

I start to resist but Sam’s firm grasp pulls me through and I’m in. It’s so dark. A darkness I’ve never felt before. It’s deathly quiet.

The only sound I hear is my own fast, shallow breathing. My heart thumps like the beat of a drum. Sam isn’t holding my hand anymore.

I’m cold and alone. I’m afraid to move in case I fall into whatever might hide in the pitch-black void. I think I hear something. I can.

Muffled voices. Like when I was a kid and I could hear Mum and Dad downstairs, laughing and talking late into the night. I smile. I listen.

I start to recognise voices. It really is my Mum. But not Dad. The man’s voice is Jacob. My heart leaps. I’m scared to move. More voices.

I strain to listen. Mum & Jacob are talking about me; I hear my name through the muffled chatter. I hear a brassy accent from New York.

Her voice is fresh from The Bronx. My American Angel! She’s here after all! I hear her interrupting Mum and Jacob. She’s says “it’s time.”

* * *

The black dark void lightened to grey, to milky white, to misty, pastel blue. Slowly, hazy shapes started to take shape before me. I blink.

I’m no longer standing. I feel a gentle breeze push me upwards onto my back. I feel my body float down as softly as a feather onto my back.

With a jolt, I feel as though I’ve fallen from a great height. My body bounces as I land on something padded. Senses pour through my body.

I’m no longer in that other place. Becoming aware of something very real again, I can smell familiar smells. I’m in a room. It feels wrong.

My body aches again. My mind is hazy, detached, tired. There’s a sharp, river of needles burning fire up my arm from the back of my hand.

As the burning spreads through my body, I feel my senses stirring. Waking. Coming alive. My eyelids flicker through cloudy, watery eyes.

I start to see a white, blurred figure standing over me; the hazy outline of a woman. There’s a glorious circle of light around her head.

My focus shifts slightly. I make out the shape of another light-being. A man this time, standing next to the woman. My vision sharpens.

I see it’s Emma, my Nurse standing over me, with Sam, my Doctor and friend next to her. I notice Emma is wearing her pastel blue uniform.

She’s standing below a light which hangs over my hospital room bed. The top of her head is a silhouette against the light above. No angel.

No halo. Then, triggered by someone holding my clammy hand, my vision shifts to my right. I see Jacob and my Mother sitting at my bedside.

I’m in a hospital bed. This isn’t good. This is bad. Very bad. Wrong, even. All these people should not be in the same room together.

I know every one of them. But to each other, they are strangers. Think. How did I get here? My thoughts are interrupted by Emma’s voice.

“Well hello sleepy head. You had us all worried for a minute.” The brash Bronx accent makes me smile. It’s reassuringly coarse. Comforting.

Sam, my Doctor speaks next. “We’ve woken you from a medically-induced coma. Don’t try and speak. Just rest now, we’ll explain more later.”

I don’t know if I could speak. My throat is so sore. I’m thirsty. Intuitively, my mother tilts my head forward and gives me a sip of water.

Resting my head back, my Mother starts to cry. Emma tells her to go home and rest. I notice Emma is wearing a pendant of the Virgin Mary.

My Mother starts talking. “Thank God you’re awake. I – we thought you about to die. When were you going to tell us you were so ill, huh?”

I try to answer but a rasping sound comes out instead. I croak “ what’s happened?” She tells that Jacob found me in the bathroom unconscious.

She continued, saying if Jacob hadn’t forgotten his mobile phone, he wouldn’t have found you and “Christ knows what would have happened.”

My mother never swears and hates blasphemy. She must be fraught. I notice Jacob hasn’t looked at me since I woke. “So you’ve met Mum” I say.

The pieces are coming together slowly, as is my memory. I remember Jacob leaving me. It’s day-time now. I ask Jacob why he left last night.

“Last night?” he replies. “That wasn’t last night. That was over a week ago. You’ve been out cold for seven days”

Emma returns and asks quite assertively that Jacob drives my Mother home. “He needs rest now. So do you two” she insists. “Come tomorrow.”

Mum kisses me on the forehead, says goodbye and leaves, putting on her trademark long coat as she walks away. Jacob leaves without a word.

As Jacob opens the door to leave the room, Sam comes in. Jacob glares at Sam, Sam looks down, looking ashamed. Jacob pushes past and leaves.

Sam says he’ll talk to me tomorrow and says to Emma “Nurse Prior, give our patient 5mg diamorphine and 10mg Cyclizine IV.” This is weird.

Emma returns with the drugs drawn-up ready to inject into my cannula. As she does so, I look into her eyes. “How much do they know?” I ask.

She won’t look up. She injects the drugs into the back of my hand. She just says “Rest. We’ll talk tomorrow.” My head starts to float away.

* * *
My body feels heavy. I’m not asleep, just very relaxed, fuzzy. I turn towards the window to the left of my bed. Smoke begins to gather.

The smoke forms a shape which in turn, forms a translucent figure; an older lady. She sits carefully in the armchair next to the window.

She lifts her head, turns and smiles gently, blue twinkling eyes looking right at me. It’s my Grandmother. My stone-cold dead Grandmother.

I’m freaking out a little. The shock that this sweet old lady is actually my dead grandmother freezes me. “Jesus Christ!” I blurt out loud.

“Now, now. Enough of the language. You’re not too old to be put over my knee. We raised you better than that. Aren’t you pleased to see me?”

Her reply shocks me more that the spectre itself. I shout “shit!” and quickly apologise for swearing. She smirks. It really is her.

She’s dressed exactly as I remember. Pencil skirt with thick tights and sensible shoes, a mauve cardigan under a pale blue nylon tabard.

The tabard pocket, with the odd fag burn has a familiar rectangular bulge in it. She confirms my thoughts by taking out a packet of fags.

Pulling one out, she brings it to her lips, lights it, inhales deeply, exhales and sends plumes of blue woodbine smoke high into the room.

Her face looks younger but familiar all the same. Her face is smooth, slim and healthy, despite years of smoking, hard work and old age.

Her hair is set perfectly, as always; soft grey-bluey-white. The silver locket hangs low from her neck, her gold wedding band gleaming.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on you. What a tangled web you’ve weaved. Jacob still doesn’t know. Not about Sam or why you’re in this mess.”

Her voice is gentle, soft, but very real… just like it was before. But she had a matriarchal sharpness to her tone that demands respect.

“You’ll be ok this time, but there might not be a next time. I can’t stay long; your Nurse is about to come in. Tell Jacob everything…”

“Except this bit. Don’t tell him I’ve called by. He’ll flip and think you’re nuts and won’t believe anything you say.” She smirks again.

“well, must love and leave you. Look after yourself. Your time isn’t now. Don’t do anything silly. God bless.” The smoke fades. As does she.

Within a second of my grandmothers rushed departure, Emma comes in. She frowns, sniffs, opens the window and says “Have you been smoking?”

* * *

Days pass. Jacob doesn’t visit. I can’t seem to get rid of my mother but in the moments I’m alone, I think, rehearsing my speech to Jacob.

Emma and I talk a lot. Usually for just minutes at a time, but she always leaves me something to think about. Sam tries to stay away.

Sam has always been my best friend, even before I got ill. I can’t understand why he’s been so distant recently. What’s up with Jacob too?

I remember what my Grandmother said. Did I dream that? She told me to tell Jacob everything. Great. He doesn’t even want to come near me.

I ask Emma to call Jacob for me. I tell her I need to see him. She calls him, and tells me he’s busy working. I think she’s lying. Or he is.

My mother tries her best. She doesn’t understand why “in 7 years” she hasn’t met Jacob. I don’t say it’s thanks to my bastard of a father.

Or the dysfunctional embarrassing fake family he represents. He’s a total shit. A violent drunk. Yet I still love him. Maybe I’m the shit.

It’s 7pm. I’m alone, staring out of the window from my bed. Embers like fireflies dart round the room and smoke forms over the armchair.

Again, my Grandmothers figure starts to form. I can’t say I welcome this, and although I don’t think I’m insane, I am questioning my sanity.

She lights a cigarette. She’s not here for small talk. She tells me Jacob will come tonight. It’s raining hard, and she wants to get back.

She tells me she needs to dash & get the number 47 bus home. I’m not even curious why a spirit needs to catch a bus. Where the hell’s home?

She stands up, fixes her hair, throws on a clear plastic rain cap, buttons her coat up, waves and promptly walks through my 3rd floor window.

I smile, look away from the window and instinctively look towards my room door. A soaking wet figure in a rain-coat staggers in. It’s Jacob.

* * *

“You haven’t started smoking again, have you? It’s smells like your Nan’s woodbines in here” he says.
“She’s been dead for 7 years” I say.

“It’s good to see you, love. I’ve missed you” I say, reaching for his hand. He doesn’t take it, but sits on a blue plastic chair nearby.

“So is it your appendix? Or has the booze finally knackered your liver or stomach?” Jacobs outburst hurts & I’m confused by his hostility.

“A crazy old lady spoke to me at the bus-stop. I talked about you and what a shit you’d been. She told me to come here tonight” he laughs.

“Really. And I’m the total shit. Thanks Jacob. Care to tell me what I’ve done wrong this time? What bus was this woman getting?” I ask.

“The 47. Stop changing the subject. Why are you interested in some mad old woman?” I’m offended. “Don’t speak about her like that” I argue.

He looks at me with suspicion. “Never mind; can we talk?” I calmly say. “Okay let’s get this over with.” Jacobs reply catches me off guard.

I had a speech prepared but I can’t seem to put the words together. Which is just a well, as Jacob jumps in with verbal steam-roller tirade.

“I know you had a thing with Sam. He told me you’d slept with him. 7 bloody months ago. But I loved you so much. I was afraid to ask you.”

“I thought I could carry that by myself, thinking it was just a one off. I was afraid of asking you in case it was true. But Its broken me.”

“I was so in love with you I couldn’t bear to find out if it was true. I couldn’t ask you just in case it was. It would have destroyed me.”

“But now, after 7 months of secrets, jealousy and suspicion, I’m in pieces. Thinking I could pretend everything was nothing. Not anymore.”

I sit upright in bed. My mouth open, brow furrowed, tears in my eyes. “It’s not true. I’ve never slept with him. Why would you think this?”

“Didn’t you hear me the first time? SAM TOLD ME. When and what happened, and even where it happened. In a hospital on-call room. Classy.”

Jacob slumps back into the chair, a single tear streaking his flushed cheek. He’s shaking and fidgety. “May I speak?” I tentatively ask.

The pieces are falling into place. “7 months you say? 7 months ago, something did happen between Sam and I. But it’s not what you think.”

“Oh for god’s sake, spare me that old chestnut. ‘This isn’t what it looks like blah blah blah.’ Grow up.” His face contorts with tension.

The tension is causing me physical pain. “Look, if you want to know what really happened between me & Sam, you’d better shut up and listen.”

* * *

Jacob is startled at my assertiveness. He stands up, takes off his raincoat, hangs it over the back of his chair, sits down and says “ok.”

“Okay. 7 months ago I was doing on-call work, remember? It was a pretty quiet night-shift in A&E. Sam was on-call too. He didn’t seem busy.”

“I decided to take a nap and told Sam to bleep me if he needed me. I told him I was going to on-call room number 7 to sleep for an hour.”

“I headed off across the other side of the hospital, found the room. Took off my uniform tunic and lay down under itchy hospital sheets.”

“I’d been unusually tired lately, and within minutes I was sound asleep. I didn’t even hear the door opening, or feel Sam sit on the bed.”

“I woke up to Sam smoothing my hair and stroking my cheek. Half asleep, I smiled and asked if he was ok. You knew he was like a brother.”

“Sam told me he was in love with me and he couldn’t bear the thought of seeing me with you. I laughed, thinking he was joking. He wasn’t.”

“He leaned towards me and kissed me. I didn’t realise what was happening. I tried push him away, but he resisted. I pushed him harder.”

“I pushed him to the floor. Sam said he was sorry, He said I loved him too. I told him I did, but not in that way. I loved him as brother.”

“He said you didn’t love me. He insisted that you didn’t treat me well. I told him to stop and I told him that I was in love with only you.”

“Sam cried. He begged me to reconsider. I told him I will always care for him but I was not in love with him. He left, saying I’d be sorry.”

“I didn’t know what he meant by I’d be sorry. But I was pretty shaken up. He had such hurt and anger in his eyes. I just went back to work.”

“I found Sam as I walked home from my night shift. He was sitting by the canal. He knew I took that route home from work. I sat next to him”

“It was a bright, sunny morning. I said hi, sat next to him and asked him if he was ok. He had finger-nail marks in the palms of his hands.”

“He looked tired. He looked like a man on the edge. I’d never seen him this way before. He had a look of madness in his eye. He grabbed me.”

“He grabbed hold of my upper-arms and said ‘tell me you love me’ while squeezing tighter and tighter. ‘I can’t’ I said. He was hurting me.”

“He pushed me back into the bench and stormed away. He looked over his shoulder as he went, and with rage said something frightening to me”

“He said if he couldn’t have me, nobody could. We barely spoke after that. From then on, I distanced myself from Sam. It was too awkward…”

There was a long, uncomfortable pause. Then, with no emotion, Jacob looked coldly through me. He started slowly but deliberately clapping.

* * *

He keeps clapping, glaring at me, stopping only to say “that was quite a show, very entertaining. But it’s over now. We’re done. Finished.”

I attack with such venom “Fuck you, Jacob. Fuck you.” I immediately apologise. Jacob leaves his seat & stands at the window, his back to me.

Emma walks in, she heard the commotion from the Nurse’s Station. She tells him to cool off or leave, saying I can’t argue in my ‘condition.’

Jacob turns around. “What ‘condition’ exactly is this? Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s self-inflicted. You always did demand centre stage.”

Emma’s insists “That’s enough. Please leave now. Come back tomorrow when you’ve cooled off.” Jacob grabs his coat and pushes past Emma.

I slump into the bed, suddenly exhausted. I’m shivering. Emma checks me over and tells me I have a fever. She calls Dr. Raven. Great. Sam.

* * *

Sam comes in and behaves ultra-professional. He’s cold in his approach and treats me like every other patient. I thought I was his friend.

He examines me, takes bloods and starts me on intravenous antibiotics. There’s no way I’ll be well enough for my next therapy session. Shit.

I ask Sam if he’s spoken to Jacob recently. He says not. I ask him if there is anything he would like to tell me. He says a firm “no.”


* * *

Another lonely few days spent in varying hospital rooms passes. Tests continue. My thirst for normality increases. Jacob doesn’t visit.

I’m growing stronger again, and although they want me to stay, I want to go home so very badly. I’m so sick of this clinical prison cell.

I speak to Emma, and tell her I want to go home. She reluctantly agrees. I ask her to telephone Jacob to collect me. My Mum doesn’t drive.

By the end of the day, I’ve a huge bag of medications, discharge papers and a taxi to take me home. Emma couldn’t get in contact with Jacob.

Now in the taxi, I’m in that vacant time I often find myself in while on public transport. Precious thinking time, watching life pass me by.

I’m starting to think that I’ll just have to face this demon alone. Fight it, conquer the beast and be strong. And maybe win. Without Jacob.

* * *

When I got in, there were 7 messages on the phone answering machine. None were from Jacob. It looks like he’s really moved out and left me.

I rip the tape from the answering-machine and fling it across the room in temper. Dusk descends. It’s cold, I’m hungry, drugged and tired.

I’ve been home for a few days. I feel emotionally numb. I try reading, watching TV, and avoid going out at all costs. It’s gloomy in here.

I put some music on. Goldfrapps ‘Seventh Tree’ record. It’s beautiful. I cry a little. It’s her breakup-album apparently. How appropriate.

The ghostly melodies and the floating vocals haunt my thoughts, and even when the music stops, I feel the music rolling over and over.

It’s dark now. I heave my now underweight body from my oversized sofa, down the last of the wine and drag my aching bones up the stairs.

I notice the bed is unmade on Jacobs side. I sit on the bed, and softly lay my hand in a dent in the pillow where his head once rested.

I notice there’s a letter on my pillow. It’s in a wax-sealed envelope. Jacobs distinctive handwriting flourishes my name across the front.

I turn the envelope over to open it. Before I break the seal, I notice he’s written “remember I always loved you – don’t think bad of me.”

I sigh and reluctantly break the red wax to open the letter. A few random words jump out at before I even start reading. I fear the worse.

I can’t see his words any more. My eyes are blurring and a sorrow-laden tear collides with the paper, making the fountain-pen ink disperse.

If I hadn’t slept on the sofa for the past few days, I would have seen this sooner. Things may have been different. I can’t read this now.

I get into bed, on Jacob’s side. I curl myself up into a ball, my head resting where his head lay. Tears clouding my eyes, I fall asleep.


* * *

I’m not asleep for long when I hear a soft voice calling my name over and over. I open my eyes and I’m dazzled by a bright shining light.

Shielding my eyes from the glare, it’s becoming clear that within this explosion of ethereal light stands a tall, familiar, glowing man.

It’s Jacob. I squint from the relentless light shower and hurt my eyes to focus on my lover before me. He’s holding the letter by his side.

Somewhere in the distance I am aware of the sound of a siren, life’s soundtrack to trauma, pain, desperation and human suffering.

Yet I am more attuned to the surrounding silence. Jacob stands over me, a shimmering luminous corona casts his slender body into silhouette.

I can’t see his face but I get the feeling that Jacob is happy. Everything feels peaceful, if a little surreal. He holds out the letter.

He wants me to take it. I reach my hand out to take the letter but my hand just passes through it. I try to touch Jacob, but feel nothing.

The circles of showering white light around Jacob intensify. I can no longer watch. A roaring wind blasts deafeningly down from above.

With a palpable sense of void, of oblivion, it’s suddenly silent. I open my eyes. It’s dark and still. It’s normal. I’m still on my bed.

But there’s fear in my belly. A warning maybe. A feeling of unease, of anxiety. I roll onto my back, and see something. Something familiar.

I look up to see the letter floating down from the ceiling. It falls softly to my chest. Then, a white feather lands gently on my cheek.

I hear a quiet, breathy whisper in my ear. A soft female voice, strangely familiar. But she isn’t speaking in any language I know.

“Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, ha‑gomel lahayavim tovot sheg’malani kol tov.” Then silence, as though someone left the room.

* * *

I nervously open the letter again, and notice where my tears had streaked the ink the last time I tried to read it. My pulse increases.

Jacob was always a man of few words, somewhat a non-communicator. Never before have I seen such strong, eloquent sentiments from him.

He tells me again how much he loved me. How heartbroken he was. I note the past-tense. Then he deals the ultimate, mind-blowing body-blow.

“A life without you is no life at all, but a life with the agony of betrayal is more than I can handle. So, I’m ending it once and for all.”

“I loved you, and probably still do, but I loved you too much; you completed me. Without you, I’m nothing. See you on the other side. J x”

My head spins in turmoil. I frantically punch his number into my phone. No answer. I call his father, something I hadn’t done in 7 years.

It rings and rings. Seconds feel like an eternity. Jacobs father finally answers. He’s old and pretty deaf. I ask if he’s heard from Jacob.

He hears me perfectly well. I hear Jacobs mother shouting profanities in the background. “Shup up Sophia. I can’t hear” he yells at her.

I ask again where Jacob is. He tells me he doesn’t know. I hear his mother shout “tell that whore he’s pushed our boy into an early grave.”

I’m losing patience. I insist he tells me what’s happened to Jacob “RIGHT NOW.” He whispers “Listen kid, he’s at St. Mary’s, on ward 7.”

After thanking him I ask what’s happened to Jacob, but the click of the receiver tells me he’s hung up already. I thank God, and leave.

* * *

It takes about 20 minutes to get to the hospital. The cab driver tries to make conversation. I tell him I can’t talk. He won’t take the hint.

I glance at his eyes in the rear-view mirror. I catch his eye. His eyes are old, warm. There’s a twinkle in his eye. His eyes smile at me.

“You don’t look too well. I hope they sort you out” he says. I tell him I’m just visiting. I see the iron gates of St. Mary’s loom ahead.

I fumble for some cash as the driver pulls up outside the hospital and thrust a note into his hand; “keep the change.” It’s raining hard.

The driver thanks me, quickly twists his body around and looks me square in the face. With piercing eyes, he searches my soul, saying:

“Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, she‑hehiyanu v’kiy’manu v’higi’anu la‑z’man ha‑ze.” My jaw drops. “What the hell?” I exclaim.

In the blink of an eye, his face and eyes soften. He looks startled. “I just said I hope your friend will be okay, that’s all” he replies.

I apologise, and step out of the black cab, into harsh wind and torrential rain and hurry through the ornate entrance gates to the hospital.

Through the doors. A high, vaulted ceiling hangs above a polished blue floor. Victorian-splendor entwined with clinical, modern necessity.

Instinct pulls me forward. I know this place too damn well, and find Ward 17 before I realise it. I hurry towards the nurses station.

Before I get there, a side-room off the main ward catches my eye. The door is slightly ajar; on a small name-board it says ‘Jacob White.’

I hesitantly push the door open wider. Inside, cleaners are mopping the floor and stripping the bed. One wipes his name off the name-board.

Tears fill my eyes, the enormous sense of despair floods my body. A Nurse approaches me, and asks if I’m ok. I slump into a nearby chair.

* * *

~ Visit www.twitter.com/wrongrooms
for the very latest on the story as it happens.

~ Visit www.uselessdesires.co.uk/wrong-rooms
for the main weekly update, usually every Sunday.

~ Always get it first on Twitter
www.twitter.com/wrongrooms

NB ~ This is not the final release, and is very much a daily work-in-progress project. As I write the each installment, you get to read it first, raw and unedited. As such, this free-style of writing in 140 characters of less may give rise to the odd typo, mistake or something! Please let me know of any errors by leaving a comment below or emailryan@uselessdesires.co.uk

Wrong Rooms ~ A Special Early Blog Update

Instead of the usual Sunday Story update of Wrong Rooms, I’ve published what’s happened so far already – a Friday treat for you. Here’s the link: http://www.uselessdesires.co.uk/wrong-rooms

Always follow @wrongrooms on Twitter for the story as it unfolds, usually several times a day.

The Sunday Story is what’s happened so far, published on my blog, in the correct order.

To follow the author of Wrong Rooms, visit www.twitter.com/uselessdesires or follow @uselessdesires on twitter.

~ Visit www.twitter.com/wrongrooms for the very latest on the story as it happens.

~ Visit www.uselessdesires.co.uk/wrong-rooms for the main weekly update, usually every Sunday.

~ Always get it first on Twitter www.twitter.com/wrongrooms

NB ~ This is not the final release, and is very much a daily work-in-progress project. As I write the each installment, you get to read it first, raw and unedited. As such, this free-style of writing in 140 characters of less may give rise to the odd typo, mistake or something! Please let me know of any errors by leaving a comment below or email ryan@uselessdesires.co.uk

Update and Q&A: Wrong Rooms ~ A Twitter Microfiction

Ryan Price (@uselessdesires)
08/04/2010 11:37
~ I’ll be releasing a few more snippets to @wrongrooms later today. Things are about to get serious. More at www.twitter.com/wrongrooms

The latest installment ~Wrong Rooms (@wrongrooms)
06/04/2010 20:54
I leap from his side, snatching the receiver from it’s cradle. Hysterical & quite the drama-queen, I yell “WHAT?” into the green plastic.

~ catch the ongoing drama only at
www.twitter.com/wrongrooms
(new installments published most days) 
~ also updated weekly on Sundays at
www.uselessdesires.co.uk/wrong-rooms

~ ask the author about the musical, literary and personal influences behind the theme; ryan@uselessdesires.co.uk or post a comment below…

Wrong Rooms

Foreword

Twitter seems to be the writer’s social network of choice. More than offering a direct line of communication for readers, following their favourite authors, Twitter has also provided a new platform for flash fiction and serialised micro-fiction. Ryan Price’s paranoid, romantic micro-fiction, Wrong Rooms, was delivered in a series of tweeted bursts over several months. The limitations of each tweet resulted in fragments of prose that would gleam like shards of broken glass. From this staccato structure we begin to piece together a story of obsession, jealousy and the darkest strain of desire, centred upon the elusive character of Jacob.
Now these tweets have been collected together in one continuous form (although spaced and formatted as originally tweeted). I hope you enjoy them, and the story they tell.

Joe Evans   |   www.quirkyjoe.wordpress.com

SpringA grey haze distorted my vision. A salty taste of blood oozed into my mouth & waves of nausea took hold. It had been 7 days.

My body ached from the latest beating. Bruises splattered my body like drunken art. My ribs creaked with the age of old oak floorboards.7 days since the last time this happened. 7 days since the time before that. Almost like sadistic clockwork. How am I going to tell him?

But despite the physical pain, the emotional agony of keeping this secret any longer was becoming unbearable. I will tell him. I will***

In 7 days’ time, it would happen again. But I won’t let it. The beatings, this weekly physical onslaught was consented to. I agreed to it.

Besides, I still needed to tell him. There’s only so much I can physically hide. The next chemical assault would have to wait. I love himI love him. Too much sometimes. And sometimes, I love him badly. In a bad way. A cruel, selfish way. But I have to keep him. He can’t leave.

Without him I might as well be dead anyway. But if I tell him, he might leave. But he might stay. I’m sure he loves me just as much?The poison coursing my veins also clouds my judgement. My thoughts are completely disordered. This poison is supposed to fight the disease.

But for what? Months of agony and the prospect of a life alone? If I’m to survive this as half a man, alone and lonely, life can fuck off.I take another handful of pills. And the pain starts to slip away. I’m on a pastel coloured ward, and it’s shining. How did I get here?

Around me, smiling angels drift down the length of the ward, wearing nurse’s uniforms. I’m in a blue pastel gown. On a blue pastel wardI feel so light. Free from pain. Free from disease. Floating the length of the ward, gazing into wrong rooms full of familiar faces…

Solitude replaces loneliness. I feel at peace. I actually feel the light around me. It’s almost divine. Then something unexpected happens.He’s here.

***It really is him. “Jacob!” I shout. But it may be the pills at work. He gazes right through me. “Jacob?!” I start running towards him.

It’s a blue, bright blue Saturday. I’m running down this pastel blue ward. It’s still shining. But he doesn’t get any closer. He just gazes.He doesn’t smile; a blank face. My backless hospital gown billows pastel blue behind me as I run. Why can’t I reach him? “Jacob! Please

Tears cascade down my crimson cheeks. Panic rips through my body. My heart wants to crash through my chest. Every part of my soul vibrates.Then, I trip and fall to the highly-polished floor of the ward. My head is a dead-weight. I struggle to lift it. Blood seeps from my nose.

I can feel a frothy salty taste filling the back of my throat. I want to vomit. I drag my head from the cold floor and look up…At first, I just see his trainers. He always wore those damn trainers. They were comfortable, like he was to me. I struggle to lift my head

As my eyes fall upon each part of his body, my eyes like virtual feet on an imaginary ladder, I crane my neck until I see his face.His head slowly drops forward to look down at me. His glassy eyes start to weep tears, which drop onto my bloodied face. "Jacob?” I cry.

Slowly and with purpose, his mouth opens. His lips pursed to form a word and speak. But with no warning I start to choke. I cough violently.As I open my eyes from coughing, I’m no longer on that pastel blue ward. There’s no shining light. And I’m not at Jacob’s feet anymore.

***I’m lying face down on the floor. But not on the highly-polished floor of a hospital ward, but on the grubby beige carpet of my bedroom.

I start retching. Blood splatters the carpet. In another Valium-induced hallucination, I’ve fallen off my bed. Too many pills. Body aches.I haul my bruised body onto the bed and collapse on my back, staring up at the celling. I’m so disorientated. So very tired. So sick

I rub my eyes, trying to shake off the grogginess of my dream or hallucination or whatever it was. I try to make sense of it all. I’m alive.I listen. Birdsong drifts through the window, a dog barks, a door slams, keys jangle. A child giggles. Traffic hums along. Life goes on.

I’m warming up to cold reality again. I stretch my arm out to the other side of the bed to feel for Jacob, for comfort. He isn’t there.Opening my eyes, I notice his pillow still has a soft dent from where his sleeping head rested hours before. The cold sheets lay crumpled.

I remember he’s at work. Which is where I should be. He’ll start to realise if he hasn’t already. I’ll tell him tonight at 7, after dinner.I start to drift off to sleep again, sinking down in hot sleep and white sheets, with the traffic of mad men and maniacs invading my mind.

It won’t be long now…***

The sound of the telephone wakes me. I feel confused. I don’t answer it. The coarse ringing tears through my fragile head. It’s still light.Its seven minutes past three. I let my mind wander after taking my pills. More pills. Mostly medicinal. I start to think of Jacob. I smile

We met at Uni. He was beautiful. Four years younger than I, with olive skin and a dazzling smile that would make the hardest of hearts meltHe was studying history, I was studying pharmacology. He was in his first year, I was in my second. We met in an awkward, crowded canteen.

A cliché maybe, but it was love at first sight. There was only one table free. Fate made sure we sat at it. We started making small talk.I have no idea what we spoke about. All I remember was how shy we both were. He kept looking down, smiling. I kept apologising.

But I remember every little practical detail. How he walked. His mannerisms. What he was wearing. Those damn lovely comfortable trainers.I smiled, remembering those first moments. It’s hard to believe it was over 7 years ago. 7 years 7 months to be exact. I felt a glow inside.

I needed a shower. I needed to change the sheets. Blood over my face and the bed wasn’t something I wanted him to see. I need more pills.Again I hauled my aching body from the bed, and clutching my side, I hobbled to the bathroom, bottle of wine, corkscrew and glass in hand.

Jacob would be home in twenty-seven minutes, like clockwork. Predictable. Constant. I drank, showered and made the bed. It was almost 7pm***

Like clockwork I heard his key turning in the front door. I hurried with cooking dinner. I saw his face as soon as he opened the front door.His unforgettable smile greeted me, and deep inside, an old low light switched on. Warm and familiar. It was always so good to see him.

In our dining room, we ate, drank, talked about our day. I listened, mostly. Music played. Track 3 on a CD he’d made for me caught my ear.Jacob cleared the table, I poured more wine. He asked me if I was ok. I smiled, concealing my anxiety. “Sit next to me” I said.

Three hours without a word, and he stroked my arm. The old low light in me switches on. “I’m tired” he sighs. “I love you” I reply.He asked again if I’m ok. He must know something isn’t right. He looks worried. I start to tremble, my voice shakes as I try to speak.

*****Just as I find the courage to open my mouth to speak, the silent tension is pierced by the coarse ringing of our 1960’s bell telephone.

I leap from his side, snatching the receiver from its cradle. Hysterical & quite the drama-queen, I yell “WHAT?” into the green plastic.“Good evening. I’m calling from Alliance Personal Finance. Do you have a few minutes to talk about the credit card you have with us?”

My reply is hardly welcoming. “What?! Do you know what bloody time it is??” “It will only take a few minutes” comes the scripted reply.“Fine” I sigh. More tedious, scripted talk follows. I make impatient noises. Hurry up. He says his name is Ben. They’re always called Ben.

“We’ve noticed your card is over its limit and you’ve recently missed your minimum payment. We can help by increasing your credit limit"I feel something dark bubble inside me. Almost like the rumble of a plane flying low and slow overhead, or of a volcano about to erupt.

Too late. Breaking point has been reached. The switch has been flicked. My next irrational outburst is unpredicted and surprises even me."Yeah, sure! That would be great. Go ahead. Increase my limited. Fuck the interest. Let’s do it. I’ll probably be dead in six months anyway”

My arm slumps and I carelessly drop the receiver onto the cradle. My head drops forward. I lean on the desk, struggling to support my body.My back is turned to Jacob. My body starts to tremble uncontrollably. Tears roll down, dripping from my face, splashing my hands below.

I feel the warm, tender hand of Jacob slide across the back of my shoulders. His strong, gentle grasp tries to turn my shoulders towards himI feel the warmth of his body at my side and smell aftershave entwined with undertones of his own, personal scent. It comforts me. I turn.

Both hands cradling my face and with gentle thumbs, Jacob softly wipes away tears from my blurred eyes. And I notice tears in his eyes too know.“ My eyes meet with his crying, sad, scared but beautiful eyes. Ashamed, I find nothing to say.

* * *"I’ve known for about 7 months. Sam told me. I hoped it was a one off, I hoped I could carry it alone. But it’s breaking me” he continued.

Now I’m confused, but I realise when Jacob mentioned Sam, he was clutching at the wrong end of the proverbial stick. I feared the worst.I start to feel sick again, my head spins and I make a clumsy, fumbling retreat to the bathroom. Jacob mutters “coward” under his breath.

I haven’t the strength to answer, and as soon as my back hits the back of the bathroom door shut, a ripping pain stabs through my stomach.I slump to the floor and drag my body across the white marble to the toilet. Hauling myself up to the toilet basin, I throw up. It’s blood.

Blood strikes a shocking contrast against the white marble and I hear Jacobs’s fragile voice calling out “I’m staying at my mum’s tonight."The last thing I hear are his keys jangling and the front door slamming. A grey, cool curtain envelops me and I fade into unconsciousness.

It’s sunny on the other side. Warm. Fresh. Birdsong floats on the air. A cat rolls around in a flowery meadow, chasing an elusive butterfly.I lay on my back, sun cascading beams of haze upon me. I feel a healing sensation. Inner warmth. The smell of grass and summer is tangible

My head drifts to one side. In the middle of the field, there’s a bright white, clinical-looking door. I’m puzzled. The door begins to open.Rolling grey clouds start to form overhead and the distant rumble of thunder causes anxiety to well-up in my stomach. The door swings open.

The birds stop singing. The cat runs for shelter. Life itself wants to hide. There’s a pungent smell of sulphur and chlorine in the airIt’s getting very dark. The oppression is almost paralysing. A figure in white starts to emerge from that surreal door. A man. I know him.

I also know where this is leading. And despite being lost in another fever-dream or hallucination, I’m acutely aware of my physical body.I also know that I’m not in my body, but watching from the outside. Almost like a ghost. I start to focus on the man in white. It’s Sam.

* * *In white, with his foot stopping the door from shutting, Sam stretches out an open hand, beckoning me towards him. I notice someone else.

It’s my angel from the blue pastel ward. My nurse. She’s just over Sam’s right shoulder. Smiling. Welcoming me. I drift closer to them.Closer still, I start to hear familiar voices in the background from behind the door. Incomprehensible sounds, but comforting all the same.

The smell of sulphur fades. I smell pollen and chlorine. A weird flowery clinical smell. I know it. I’m at the door. It looks dark inside.With the dark, cold, barren landscape behind me, the door looks just as unwelcoming. I’m actually scared. If Sam is there, it must be ok?

I take his open hand. The radiant angel behind him smiles and fades away into the dark room beyond the white door. Sam pulls at my arm.I start to resist but Sam’s firm grasp pulls me through and I’m in. It’s so dark. A darkness I’ve never felt before. It’s deathly quiet.

The only sound I hear is my own fast, shallow breathing. My heart thumps like the beat of a drum. Sam isn’t holding my hand anymore.I’m cold and alone. I’m afraid to move in case I fall into whatever might hide in the pitch-black void. I think I hear something. I can.

Muffled voices. Like when I was a kid and I could hear Mum and Dad downstairs, laughing and talking late into the night. I smile. I listen.I start to recognise voices. It really is my Mum. But not Dad. The man’s voice is Jacob. My heart leaps. I’m scared to move. More voices.

I strain to listen. Mum & Jacob are talking about me; I hear my name through the muffled chatter. I hear a brassy accent from New York.Her voice is fresh from The Bronx. My American Angel! She’s here after all! I hear her interrupting Mum and Jacob. She’s says "it’s time.

* * *The black dark void lightened to grey, to milky white, to misty, pastel blue. Slowly, hazy shapes started to take shape before me. I blink.

I’m no longer standing. I feel a gentle breeze push me upwards onto my back. I feel my body float down as softly as a feather onto my back.

My body bounces as I land on something padded. Senses pour through my body.

I’m no longer in that other place. Becoming aware of something very real again, I can smell familiar smells. I’m in a room. It feels wrong.My body aches again. My mind is hazy, detached, tired. There’s a sharp, river of needles burning fire up my arm from the back of my hand.

As the burning spreads through my body, I feel my senses stirring. Waking. Coming alive. My eyelids flicker through cloudy, watery eyes.I start to see a white, blurred figure standing over me; the hazy outline of a woman. There’s a glorious circle of light around her head.

My focus shifts slightly. I make out the shape of another light-being. A man this time, standing next to the woman. My vision sharpens.I see its Emma, my Nurse standing over me, with Sam, my Doctor and friend next to her. I notice Emma is wearing her pastel blue uniform.

She’s standing below a light which hangs over my hospital room bed. The top of her head is a silhouette against the light above. No angel.No halo. Then, triggered by someone holding my clammy hand, my vision shifts to my right. I see Jacob and my Mother sitting at my bedside.

I’m in a hospital bed. This isn’t good. This is bad. Very bad. Wrong, even. All these people should not be in the same room together.I know every one of them. But to each other, they are strangers. Think. How did I get here? My thoughts are interrupted by Emma’s voice.

"Well hello sleepy head. You had us all worried for a minute.” The brash Bronx accent makes me smile. It’s reassuringly coarse. Comforting.Sam, my Doctor speaks next. “We’ve woken you from a medically-induced coma. Don’t try and speak. Just rest now, we’ll explain more later.”

I don’t know if I could speak. My throat is so sore. I’m thirsty. Intuitively, my mother tilts my head forward and gives me a sip of water.Resting my head back, my Mother starts to cry. Emma tells her to go home and rest. I notice Emma is wearing a pendant of the Virgin Mary.

My Mother starts talking. “Thank God you’re awake. I – we thought you about to die. When were you going to tell us you were so ill, huh?"I try to answer but a rasping sound comes out instead. I croak "what’s happened?” She tells that Jacob found me in the bathroom unconscious.

She continued, saying if Jacob hadn’t forgotten his mobile phone, he wouldn’t have found you and “Christ knows what would have happened."My mother never swears and hates blasphemy. She must be fraught. I notice Jacob hasn’t looked at me since I woke. "So you’ve met Mum” I say.

The pieces are coming together slowly, as is my memory. I remember Jacob leaving me. It’s day-time now. I ask Jacob why he left last night.“Last night?” he replies. “That wasn’t last night. That was over a week ago. You’ve been out cold for seven days

Emma returns and asks quite assertively that Jacob drives my Mother home. "He needs rest now. So do you two” she insists. “Come tomorrowMum kisses me on the forehead, says goodbye and leaves, putting on her trademark long coat as she walks away. Jacob leaves without a word.

As Jacob opens the door to leave the room, Sam comes in. Jacob glares at Sam, Sam looks down, looking ashamed. Jacob pushes past and leaves.Sam says he’ll talk to me tomorrow and says to Emma "Nurse Prior, give our patient 5mg diamorphine and 10mg Cyclizine IV.” This is weird

Emma returns with the drugs drawn-up ready to inject into my cannula. As she does so, I look into her eyes. “How much do they know?” I ask.She won’t look up. She injects the drugs into the back of my hand. She just says “Rest. We’ll talk tomorrow.” My head starts to float away.

* * *My body feels heavy. I’m not asleep, just very relaxed, fuzzy. I turn towards the window to the left of my bed. Smoke begins to gather.

The smoke forms a shape which in turn, forms a translucent figure; an older lady. She sits carefully in the armchair next to the window.She lifts her head, turns and smiles gently, blue twinkling eyes looking right at me. It’s my Grandmother. My stone-cold dead Grandmother.

I’m freaking out a little. The shock that this sweet old lady is actually my dead grandmother freezes me. “Jesus Christ!” I blurt out loud.“Now, now. Enough of the language. You’re not too old to be put over my knee. We raised you better than that. Aren’t you pleased to see me?”

Her reply shocks me more that the spectre itself. I shout “shit!” and quickly apologise for swearing. She smirks. It really is herShe’s dressed exactly as I remember. Pencil skirt with thick tights and sensible shoes, a mauve cardigan under a pale blue nylon tabard.

The tabard pocket, with the odd fag burn has a familiar rectangular bulge in it. She confirms my thoughts by taking out a packet of fags.Pulling one out, she brings it to her lips, lights it, inhales deeply, exhales and sends plumes of blue woodbine smoke high into the room.

Her face looks younger but familiar all the same. Her face is smooth, slim and healthy, despite years of smoking, hard work and old age.Her hair is set perfectly, as always; soft grey-bluey-white. The silver locket hangs low from her neck, her gold wedding band gleaming.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on you. What a tangled web you’ve weaved. Jacob still doesn’t know. Not about Sam or why you’re in this mess."Her voice is gentle, soft, but very real… just like it was before. But she had a matriarchal sharpness to her tone that demands respect.

"You’ll be ok this time, but there might not be a next time. I can’t stay long; your Nurse is about to come in. Tell Jacob everything…”“Except this bit. Don’t tell him I’ve called by. He’ll flip and think you’re nuts and won’t believe anything you say.” She smirks again.

“well, must love and leave you. Look after yourself. Your time isn’t now. Don’t do anything silly. God bless.” The smoke fades. As does sheWithin a second of my grandmothers rushed departure, Emma comes in. She frowns, sniffs, opens the window and says “Have you been smoking

* * *

Summer
Days pass. Jacob doesn’t visit. I can’t seem to get rid of my mother but in the moments I’m alone, I think, rehearsing my speech to Jacob

Emma and I talk a lot. Usually for just minutes at a time, but she always leaves me something to think about. Sam tries to stay away.Sam has always been my best friend, even before I got ill. I can’t understand why he’s been so distant recently. What’s up with Jacob too?

I remember what my Grandmother said. Did I dream that? She told me to tell Jacob everything. Great. He doesn’t even want to come near me.I ask Emma to call Jacob for me. I tell her I need to see him. She calls him, and tells me he’s busy working. I think she’s lying. Or he is.

My mother tries her best. She doesn’t understand why "in 7 years” she hasn’t met Jacob. I don’t say it’s thanks to my bastard of a father.Or the dysfunctional embarrassing fake family he represents. He’s a total shit. A violent drunk. Yet I still love him. Maybe I’m the shit.

It’s 7pm. I’m alone, staring out of the window from my bed. Embers like fireflies dart round the room and smoke forms over the armchairAgain, my Grandmothers figure starts to form. I can’t say I welcome this, and although I don’t think I’m insane, I am questioning my sanity.

She lights a cigarette. She’s not here for small talk. She tells me Jacob will come tonight. It’s raining hard, and she wants to get back.She tells me she needs to dash & get the number 47 bus home. I’m not even curious why a spirit needs to catch a bus. Where the hell’s home?

She stands up, fixes her hair, throws on a clear plastic rain cap, buttons her coat up, waves and promptly walks through my 3rd floor window.I smile, look away from the window and instinctively look towards my room door. A soaking wet figure in a rain-coat staggers in. It’s Jacob.

* * *“You haven’t started smoking again, have you? It’s smells like your Nan’s woodbines in here” he says. “She’s been dead for 7 years” I say

“It’s good to see you, love. I’ve missed you” I say, reaching for his hand. He doesn’t take it, but sits on a blue plastic chair nearby.“So is it your appendix? Or has the booze finally knackered your liver or stomach?” Jacobs’s outburst hurts & I’m confused by his hostility.

“A crazy old lady spoke to me at the bus-stop. I talked about you and what a shit you’d been. She told me to come here tonight” he laughs.“Really. And I’m the total shit. Thanks Jacob. Care to tell me what I’ve done wrong this time? What bus was this woman getting?” I ask

“The 47. Stop changing the subject. Why are you interested in some mad old woman?” I’m offended. “Don’t speak about her like that” I argue.He looks at me with suspicion. “Never mind; can we talk?” I calmly say. “Okay let’s get this over with.” Jacobs reply catches me off guard.

I had a speech prepared but I can’t seem to put the words together. Which is just a well, as Jacob jumps in with verbal steam-roller tirade.“I know you had a thing with Sam. He told me you’d slept with him. 7 bloody months ago. But I loved you so much. I was afraid to ask you.”

“I thought I could carry that by myself, thinking it was just a one off. I was afraid of asking you in case it was true. But Its broken me.”“I was so in love with you I couldn’t bear to find out if it was true. I couldn’t ask you just in case it was. It would have destroyed me.”

“But now, after 7 months of secrets, jealousy and suspicion, I’m in pieces. Thinking I could pretend everything was nothing. Not anymore."I sit upright in bed. My mouth open, brow furrowed, tears in my eyes. "It’s not true. I’ve never slept with him. Why would you think this?”

“Didn’t you hear me the first time? SAM TOLD ME. When and what happened, and even where it happened. In a hospital on-call room. Classy."Jacob slumps back into the chair, a single tear streaking his flushed cheek. He’s shaking and fidgety. "May I speak?” I tentatively ask.

The pieces are falling into place. “7 months you say? 7 months ago, something did happen between Sam and I. But it’s not what you think.”“Oh for god’s sake, spare me that old chestnut. ‘This isn’t what it looks like blah blah blah.’ Grow up.” His face contorts with tension.

The tension is causing me physical pain. “Look, if you want to know what really happened between me & Sam, you’d better shut up and listen.”* * *

Startled at my assertiveness. He stands up, takes off his raincoat, hangs it over the back of his chair, sits down and says “ok.”“Okay. 7 months ago I was doing on-call work, remember? It was a pretty quiet night-shift in A&E. Sam was on-call too. He didn’t seem busy.”

“I decided to take a nap and told Sam to bleep me if he needed me. I told him I was going to on-call room number 7 to sleep for an hour.”“I headed off across the other side of the hospital, found the room. Took off my uniform tunic and lay down under itchy hospital sheets

"I’d been unusually tired lately, and within minutes I was sound asleep. I didn’t even hear the door opening, or feel Sam sit on the bed.”“I woke up to Sam smoothing my hair and stroking my cheek. Half asleep, I smiled and asked if he was ok. You knew he was like a brother.”

“Sam told me he was in love with me and he couldn’t bear the thought of seeing me with you. I laughed, thinking he was joking. He wasn’t"He leaned towards me and kissed me. I didn’t realise what was happening. I tried push him away, but he resisted. I pushed him harder

"I pushed him to the floor. Sam said he was sorry, He said I loved him too. I told him I did, but not in that way. I loved him as brother.”“He said you didn’t love me. He insisted that you didn’t treat me well. I told him to stop and I told him that I was in love with only you.”

“Sam cried. He begged me to reconsider. I told him I will always care for him but I was not in love with him. He left, saying I’d be sorry.”“I didn’t know what he meant by I’d be sorry. But I was pretty shaken up. He had such hurt and anger in his eyes. I just went back to work.”

“I found Sam as I walked home from my night shift. He was sitting by the canal. He knew I took that route home from work. I sat next to him”“It was a bright, sunny morning. I said hi, sat next to him and asked him if he was ok. He had finger-nail marks in the palms of his hands.”

“He looked tired. He looked like a man on the edge. I’d never seen him this way before. He had a look of madness in his eye. He grabbed me.”“He grabbed hold of my upper-arms and said ‘tell me you love me’ while squeezing tighter and tighter.’ I can’t’ I said. He was hurting me.”

“He pushed me back into the bench and stormed away. He looked over his shoulder as he went, and with rage said something frightening to me”“He said if he couldn’t have me, nobody could. We barely spoke after that. From then on, I distanced myself from Sam. It was too awkward…”

There was a long, uncomfortable pause. Then, with no emotion, Jacob looked coldly through me. He started slowly but deliberately clapping.* * *

He keeps clapping, glaring at me, stopping only to say “that was quite a show, very entertaining. But it’s over now. We’re done. Finished."I attack with such venom "Fuck you, Jacob. Fuck you.” I immediately apologise. Jacob leaves his seat & stands at the window, his back to me.

Emma walks in; she heard the commotion from the Nurse’s Station. She tells him to cool off or leave, saying I can’t argue in my ‘condition.Jacob turns around. “What ‘condition’ exactly is this? Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s self-inflicted. You always did demand centre stage.”

Emma’s insists “That’s enough. Please leave now. Come back tomorrow when you’ve cooled off.” Jacob grabs his coat and pushes past Emma.I slump into the bed, suddenly exhausted. I’m shivering. Emma checks me over and tells me I have a fever. She calls Dr. Raven. Great. Sam.

Sam comes in and behaves ultra-professional. He’s cold in his approach and treats me like every other patient. I thought I was his friend.He examines me, takes bloods and starts me on intravenous antibiotics. There’s no way I’ll be well enough for my next therapy session. Shit.

I ask Sam if he’s spoken to Jacob recently. He says not. I ask him if there is anything he would like to tell me. He says a firm “no.”* * *

Another lonely few days spent in varying hospital rooms passes. Tests continue. My thirst for normality increases. Jacob doesn’t visit.I’m growing stronger again, and although they want me to stay, I want to go home so very badly. I’m so sick of this clinical prison cell.

I speak to Emma, and tell her I want to go home. She reluctantly agrees. I ask her to telephone Jacob to collect me. My Mum doesn’t drive.By the end of the day, I’ve a huge bag of medications, discharge papers and a taxi to take me home. Emma couldn’t get in contact with Jacob.

Now in the taxi, I’m in that vacant time I often find myself in while on public transport. Precious thinking time, watching life pass me by.I’m starting to think that I’ll just have to face this demon alone. Fight it, conquer the beast and be strong. And maybe win. Without Jacob.

When I got in, there were 7 messages on the phone answering machine. None were from Jacob. It looks like he’s really moved out and left me.I rip the tape from the answering-machine and fling it across the room in temper. Dusk descends. It’s cold, I’m hungry, drugged and tired.

I’ve been home for a few days. I feel emotionally numb. I try reading, watching TV, and avoid going out at all costs. It’s gloomy in here.I put some music on. Goldfrapps ‘Seventh Tree’ record. It’s beautiful. I cry a little. It’s her breakup-album apparently. How appropriate.

The ghostly melodies and the floating vocals haunt my thoughts, and even when the music stops, I feel the music rolling over and over.It’s dark now. I heave my now underweight body from my oversized sofa, down the last of the wine and drag my aching bones up the stairs

I notice the bed is unmade on Jacob’s side. I sit on the bed, and softly lay my hand in a dent in the pillow where his head once rested.I notice there’s a letter on my pillow. It’s in a wax-sealed envelope. Jacobs distinctive handwriting flourishes my name across the front.

I turn the envelope over to open it. Before I break the seal, I notice he’s written “remember I always loved you – don’t think bad of me."I sigh and reluctantly break the red wax to open the letter. A few random words jump out at before I even start reading. I fear the worse.

I can’t see his words any more. My eyes are blurring and a sorrow-laden tear collides with the paper, making the fountain-pen ink disperse.If I hadn’t slept on the sofa for the past few days, I would of seen this sooner. Things may have been different. I can’t read this now.

I get into bed, on Jacob’s side. I curl myself up into a ball, my head resting where his head lay. Tears clouding my eyes, I fall asleep.* * *

I’m not asleep for long when I hear a soft voice calling my name over and over. I open my eyes and I’m dazzled by a bright shining light.Shielding my eyes from the glare, it’s becoming clear that within this explosion of ethereal light stands a tall, familiar, glowing man.

It’s Jacob. I squint from the relentless light shower and hurt my eyes to focus on my lover before me. He’s holding the letter by his sideSomewhere in the distance I am aware of the sound of a siren, life’s soundtrack to trauma, pain, desperation and human suffering.

Yet I am more attuned to the surrounding silence. Jacob stands over me; a shimmering luminous corona casts his slender body into silhouette.I can’t see his face but I get the feeling that Jacob is happy. Everything feels peaceful, if a little surreal. He holds out the letter

He wants me to take it. I reach my hand out to take the letter but my hand just passes through it. I try to touch Jacob, but feel nothing.The circles of showering white light around Jacob intensify. I can no longer watch. A roaring wind blasts deafeningly down from above.

With a palpable sense of void, of oblivion, it’s suddenly silent. I open my eyes. It’s dark and still. It’s normal. I’m still on my bed.But there’s fear in my belly. A warning maybe. A feeling of unease, of anxiety. I roll onto my back, and see something. Something familiar.

I look up to see the letter floating down from the ceiling. It falls softly to my chest. Then, a white feather lands gently on my cheek.I hear a quiet, breathy whisper in my ear. A soft female voice, strangely familiar. But she isn’t speaking in any language I know.

"Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, ha‑gomel lahayavim tovot sheg’malani kol tov.” Then silence, as though someone left the room.* * *

I nervously open the letter again, and notice where my tears had streaked the ink the last time I tried to read it. My pulse increases.Jacob was always a man of few words, somewhat a non-communicator. Never before have I seen such strong, eloquent sentiments from him.

He tells me again how much he loved me. How heartbroken he was. I note the past-tense. Then he deals the ultimate, mind-blowing body-blow.“A life without you is no life at all, but a life with the agony of betrayal is more than I can handle. So, I’m ending it once and for all.”

“I loved you, and probably still do, but I loved you too much; you completed me. Without you, I’m nothing. See you on the other side. J x"My head spins in turmoil. I frantically punch his number into my phone. No answer. I call his father, something I hadn’t done in 7 years.

It rings and rings. Seconds feel like an eternity. Jacobs father finally answers. He’s old and pretty deaf. I ask if he’s heard from Jacob.He hears me perfectly well. I hear Jacobs mother shouting profanities in the background. "Shup up Sophia. I can’t hear” he yells at her.

I ask again where Jacob is. He tells me he doesn’t know. I hear his mother shout “tell that whore he’s pushed our boy into an early grave."I’m losing patience. I insist he tells me what’s happened to Jacob "RIGHT NOW.” He whispers “Listen kid, he’s at St. Mary’s, on ward 7.”

After thanking him I ask what’s happened to Jacob, but the click of the receiver tells me he’s hung up already. I thank God, and leave.* * *

It takes about 20 minutes to get to the hospital. The cab driver tries to make conversation. I tell him I can’t talk. He won’t take the hint.I glance at his eyes in the rear-view mirror. I catch his eye. His eyes are old, warm. There’s a twinkle in his eye. His eyes smile at me.

“You don’t look too well. I hope they sort you out” he says. I tell him I’m just visiting. I see the iron gates of St. Mary’s loom aheadI fumble for some cash as the driver pulls up outside the hospital and thrust a note into his hand; “keep the change.” It’s raining hard.

The driver thanks me, quickly twists his body around and looks me square in the face. With piercing eyes, he searches my soul, saying:“Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha‑olam, she‑hehiyanu v’kiy’manu v’higi’anu la‑z’man ha‑ze.” My jaw drops. “What the hell?” I exclaim.

In the blink of an eye, his face and eyes soften. He looks startled. “I just said I hope your friend will be okay, that’s all” he replies.I apologise, and step out of the black cab, into harsh wind and torrential rain and hurry through the ornate entrance gates to the hospital.

Through the doors. A high, vaulted ceiling hangs above a polished blue floor. Victorian-splendour entwined with clinical, modern necessity.Instinct pulls me forward. I know this place too damn well, and find Ward 7 before I realise it. I hurry towards the nurses’ station.

Before I get there, a side-room off the main ward catches my eye. The door is slightly ajar; on a small name-board it says ‘Jacob White.’I hesitantly push the door open wider. Inside, cleaners are mopping the floor and stripping the bed. One wipes his name off the name-board.

Tears fill my eyes; the enormous sense of despair floods my body. A Nurse approaches me, and asks if I’m ok. I slump into a nearby chair.* * *

“Where’s Jacob White?” I stutter. The nurse ushers me to a relatives room and asks me to take a seat. “I’ll be back in a minute” she says.I don’t trust her, but again I find myself in the anxious austerity of more wrong rooms. More waiting. More uncertainty. More tension.

The room is scattered with cushions on soft furnishing. Cheap art hangs. All designed to make the uncomfortable feel comfortable. It fails.I stare out of the window. I’m sure a prisoner stares through cell bars with the same desire for freedom. The rain stops, the clouds clear.

Gazing at the black raven birds contrasting against the blue sky strikes an ominous feeling of dread. The door opens and the nurse returns.Clutching an overnight-bag follows a grey, gaunt-looking man in a familiar raincoat. Even with his head down, I immediately recognise him.

It’s Jacob. He’s alive. At least I think he is. He’s almost a shadow of his former self, a faded photocopy of the man I last remember.I stand from my chair; he stands in the doorway. The nurse stands between us. She tells Jacob to sit. Jacob does as he’s told. I sit again.

The awkward silence is interrupted by the nurse telling us that Jacob and I should talk. She encourages Jacob to start, and leaves us alone.I ask Jacob what’s happened. He lunges across the room and throws his arms around me, sobbing. He keeps saying sorry, over and over again.

With his cheek is pressed against mine, I taste the saltiness of his tears. I embrace him and my tears merge with his. We hold each other.Eventually, after the crying, we pull away from each other’s grip and look into each other’s bloodshot eyes. Jacob returns to his seat.

He’s wringing his hands, fidgeting and looking at the floor. He’s trying to speak, but his thoughts fail to make the connection to talk.I notice the back of his hand is bruised, with a bloody dot at its centre. It’s a cannula site. Another tag to label you as a patient.

I’m finding the tension almost infuriating. I break the silence and ask him to tell me what’s happened. “I’m trying” he mumbles.A single bead of sweat trickles down his temple, joining his tear-streaked, sallow cheek. “Can we please just go home? Together?” he says.

I say “of course” and pick up his overnight bag. I hold open the door for him and without a second-look, we leave the hospital; for home.* * *

Two days pass and we talk very little. I spend my time caring for Jacob. He sleeps a lot, but his sleep seems disturbed, almost violent.By the third evening I’m feeling exhausted. My body aches and my mind is numb. I’m also aware that I have to go for my weekly treatment soon.

I’m slumped in front of the TV watching the news. I’m trying to resist the urge to fall asleep. A world in turmoil flashes before me.Selfishly, I’m angry. I care little for what’s going on outside. What about me and MY world? I shake an angry fist at the God who left me.

I hear movement from above me. Jacob must be awake. I pull myself up and head towards the kitchen to make Jacob some supper. It’s 7pm.I lay out a tray with soup, bread, hot tea and fruit juice. When I get upstairs, Jacob isn’t in bed. I’m puzzled. I hear water running.

I rest the tray on the bed. Then I panic. He’s trying to kill himself again. I run across to the bathroom and crash the door open.Jacob is sitting on the edge of the bath, startled at my impromptu entrance. “What are you doing?” I demand. “just running a bath” he says.

He’s looking better. Almost human again. “Come scrub my back for me, love” he says. I smile, and happily agree. He slowly gets in the bath.The warm bubbles swirl around his tender body. I kneel to the floor and dip a soapy sponge into the water. I wince with pain as I bend over.

Jacob notices me flinch. He asks me if I’m okay, but I brush it off saying I’m just tired. I’m acutely aware of disease ravaging my body.I gently soap his back, washing his neck, his shoulders, and all the way down to the small of his back. We remember happier times.

Happier times when washing each other’s backs was a pleasure not a duty. But wonderfully, it’s starting to feel like it used to. Warm, close.Although he’s tired by the ordeal of recent weeks, he’s glowing. He looks happy, relaxed. Almost serene. Its effect if rubbing off on me.

Intimacy seems to be creeping back at last. I let Jacob relax in the bath while I get into our bed. I resist sleep, just to wait for him.I start to doze off when I feel a warm body climb in next to me, a gentle arm holding me. Before long, we fall asleep in each other’s arms.

Many hours later, I gently wake up. I’m refreshed and Jacob is still holding me. Sunlight cascades with birdsong through the open window.Jacob looks childlike in his slumber. Not wanting to wake him, I just lay there, holding him, listening to his soft, steady breathing.

But despite how beautiful all this is, unwanted thoughts wander into my mind. I am reminded that I have to be somewhere unpleasant today.Carefully as I can, I slide away from Jacob and shower. I make breakfast for us both, leaving his by the side of the bed with a note.

Soon, I’m at St. Mary’s Hospital. I’ll be here for most of today, so I take a few Valium in readiness. I seem to live and work in hospitals.* * *

After the obligatory pre-assessments and the ‘how have you been doing’ and the rehearsed ‘I’m fine’ lines, it’s radiotherapy day today.I lay on a rubber mattress on a stretcher, stripped of my identity and wearing a pastel blue hospital gown. I stare up at the death ray.

I call it a death ray, but it’s supposed to help me, it’s supposed to give me life. It’s about to zap me with invisible killer radiation.How can something so benign make me feel so utterly exhausted and awful afterwards? At least the chemotherapy is in the past. I hope it is.

My weekly voluntary exposure to radioactive assault is over, I dress, say thanks to the radiographer and leave the room, into the corridor.Head down, I fumble with my bag and jacket, and collide with someone walking past. I drop my bag, and we scramble to pick up our things.

My mind is elsewhere, but I would recognise the hands picking up my bag anywhere. My eyes focus on a familiar raincoat. Shit. It’s Jacob.* * *

AutumnIt’s been several months since I bumped into Jacob at St. Mary’s Hospital. Now, crisp autumn leaves are scattered along avenues and lanes.

Long gone are the days of warm, summer mornings and long, hazy evenings spent on the terrace. Gone are the sounds of familiar laughter.With the changing of seasons, autumn triumphantly heralds a new beginning. With renewed vigour, winter no longer seems so bleak a prospect.

But despite living apart from Jacob for five months, I no longer feel alone. I no longer feel the need to answer to him or be accounted for.No more secrets. Every lie unhidden and swept out into the cold. Every sordid truth laid out painfully in ugly, abhorrent righteousness.

I sit by the window in my bedroom, overlooking the autumn trees in full fall, and reflect on the past few months since Jacob finally left.Disease still ravages my physical body, but my soul stronger than ever. My spirit uncompromising, I hold an air of serenity; of acceptance.

I realise it’s time to lay these ghosts to rest once and for all. Perhaps everyone reaching the end of mortal existence feels the same?I recount the events leading up to Jacob leaving me and remember the events between then and now. I remember how the truth finally came out.

I never kept a diary until I became ill. But I remember bumping into Jacob in that hospital corridor early last summer as clear as day.It turned out to be quite a fateful day, almost pre-engineered. I remember leaving Jacob sleeping in bed that morning while I slipped out.

Not wanting to wake him, I left some breakfast and a note saying “back soon” – not imagining for a second that I’d see him at the hospital.I had my radiotherapy as planned, and while bumbling around with my bag, collided into Jacob in the corridor outside the radiotherapy suite.

I love it how they call these misery-chambers ‘suites’ – chemotherapy ‘suite,’ radiotherapy ‘suite.’ Window-dressing for death and disease.Anyway, there he was. Looking just as surprised as I felt. “What are you doing here?” I asked, shakily. “Follow-up appointment” he said.

Lost my self-absorbed pity and plotting, I’d completely forgotten he was due a follow-up after the earlier ‘incident.’ I should have known.In his naivety he thought I’d come back to work. I couldn’t lie to him anymore. That was becoming harder than ‘living’ with the disease.

“Let’s get a coffee… We need to talk.” I said. He wanted to go home first but I couldn’t keep it in any longer. We headed to the café.* * *

We soon found the hospital canteen – another meeting place for the suffering. Almost feeling like strangers, we buy coffee and find a table.People all around us are huddled in conversation. Relatives that hardly see each other are brought together under unfortunate circumstances.

We soon take on the form of those around us and huddle in our own conversation. There’s a palpable tension between us. Familiar strangers.An elderly lady, who works for the WRVS, comes over to our table with a tray to clear the debris from those who sat here before us. I smile.

I notice Jacob is fidgeting with his hands. His head is down and he’s obviously tense. I look up at the elderly lady who smiles back at meCafé noise dissolves into peaceful silence. In another surreal, ethereal tremor, the lady’s face softens to that of my grandmothers.

I’m no longer as startled at seeing the vision of my deceased grandmother. Her visitations seem to be more regular since I’ve been sick.With the trademark twinkle in her sea-blue eyes, she smiles down at me, tilting her head to one side. “It is time” she softly whispers.

As quickly as she faded into view her face disappears back to that of the volunteer. She clears the table leaving Jacob and I alone to talk.I tell Jacob there’s something I need to tell him. I explain I’ll understand if he wants nothing more to do with me. Jacob insists he knows

I ask him how he knows. Jacob says he knows I’ve been sneaking off to the hospital regularly to see Sam. He thinks I’m having an affair. “No, that’s not it at all” I say. “I admit that I have been making regular visits to the hospital, but not to see Sam.” Jacob looks at me.

“I was certain you were having an affair with Sam. But I know you’re not a liar. At least, I hoped you you’re not a liar?” Jacob continued “Of course I’m not having an affair. But I have been hiding something from you. I was terrified of telling you in case you left me” I say

I see the worry across Jacobs brow increase. I explain “Now I understand I have to tell you. Keeping this to myself is breaking me apart.” Jacob was becoming irritable. “Can you just tell me what’s going on? Please?” he pleads. I take a deep breath, close my eyes and exhale.

“I’m sick. Very sick. I have been for almost a year. I’m not even sure how long I have left. I’ll understand if…” Jacob interrupts me “I never got to the bottom of why you were in hospital. I never believed you when you said it was an infection. Blood poisoning you said.”

Jacob is tense and angry. He continues “What is it really? Liver disease? Has your liver finally given up from the drink? The drugs? What?” I’m almost incensed with rage but remembering where I am, manage to contain myself. I notice disapproving glances coming from nearby tables.

I compose myself again, calmly reminding Jacob that I do not – did not have a drink or drug problem. He rolls his eyes and crosses his arms. There’s a throbbing in my temples and my head begins to swim. My vision blurs and I clutch onto the table for fear of falling off my chair

I feel quite physically sick. Even though my surroundings lack any vibrant colour, my vision begins to grey and I break into a cold sweat. The fear of being embarrassed in public by throwing up over the table is enough to send me into auto-pilot to the nearest toilet. I make it.

Once inside the cubicle, I’m violently sick. Ever since I was little, I was scared of being sick. I cried and panicked. Eventually it stops. Feeling better, I wash my face and drink some water. Looking in the mirror is something I now avoid, and for good reason; I look like death.

Acutely aware of Jacob waiting, I straighten my clothes, wash my hands and leave the toilet to find him. He’s not at our table anymore. It didn’t come as much of a surprise. I instinctively leave the canteen and head towards the hospital exit, hoping to catch up with Jacob.

Fresh air at last, the late evening summer sun still holds a comforting warmth. I see Jacob immediately, just outside the huge iron gates. There is no need for me to chase after him – he’s sitting on a bench near the gates. As I approach closer, I see he’s smoking a cigarette.

“When did you start smoking again?” I say, sitting down next to him. “About five minutes ago” he replied. I rest my hand on his thigh. To my pleasant surprise, he rests his free hand on top of my hand. I ask him for a cigarette. Two ex-smokers smoking hand in hand. Pitiful.

As our nicotine-smoke entwines in the still, warm air, I finally tell Jacob. It was without question the hardest thing I have ever done. * * *

So at last Jacob knew I was terminally ill. We sat in silence watching city life pass us by. Normal life continued as normal, ad infinitum.For now at least, we would attempt to stitch our lives back together with worn out thread, and join everyone else in their daily struggle.

After sitting in silence until the late afternoon turned to early evening, and sitting in silence, dusk began to fall. Time to go home.And home we went, together, walking through the city streets. The hum of the city seemed detached as we trod numbly on cotton wool emotions.

We got in, took off our shoes and coats, said very little and curled up in bed together. We collapsed into dreamless, hot, disturbed sleep.Over the next few days, maybe weeks (who knows), very little changed. We spoke little, ate little, did little and made love even less.

For a while, life was peaceful and we fell into a mutually-caring routine of consideration and egg-shell treading.Nevertheless, we grew comfortable in this new routine. It became a kind of pseudo-relationship, where daily life became tolerable. Mundane.

Becoming comfortably numb was nowhere near as bad as facing up to what lay ahead. At the time, it was what we needed to do to survive.Once-passionate kisses evolved into a mere peck on the cheek. Much like the kiss received from a friend, or worse, from a mother to child.

Eventually, the edges of our silk-like fragility began to fray. Jacob began to tire of being a reluctant carer and I detested allowing him.The painkillers did well to numb physical pain but also aided in numbing any extreme emotion. Feelings became an awful plateau of mediocrity.

No joy, no anger. Just flat-lining through a brain-fog of sedate nothingness. A poor existence. This wasn’t living. It wasn’t dying either.Despite lacking any focussed cognitive ability, I knew this couldn’t continue much longer. Things needed to change. And change they would.

Neither Jacob nor I could have predicted that things would take another ugly turn. Fresh hells were only just around the corner.* * *

Winter
One morning I awoke early; it was still dark outside. I had a compelling desire to go out and breath the cold, darkest-before-the-dawn air.

I pulled my on my dressing gown and stepped into Jacobs Wellington boots as I headed into our garden. A heavy frost blanketed our sanctuary.A full moon punctuated clear skies, bathing the darkness in a lunar veil. Iridescent shimmers of reflected moonlight danced upon the frost.

The celestial moonlight mirroring the incandescent stars that pierced the navy-blue velvet sky. In the dead of the night, I felt alive.I trod through the frost-encrusted, fragile grass and steadily made my way to the centre of the garden, where our ornamental sundial stood.

Once there I rest my hands around the dials circumference, my hands greeted by a ice-cold sharpness. I steadied myself to catch my breath. Plumes of white fog-breath burst into the air from my heaving lungs as I stood shivering. Such little exertion tired me so easily now.

I stroked the dial affectionately, dusting off the frost as I remembered late summer evenings on the lawn with friends and laughter. Such blissful, heady memories seemed so very far away, much like the many fair-weather friends who recently distanced themselves from us.

As I look down at the dial, I notice the moon casts a long shadow and seems to lead my gaze across the lawn to a bench under the plum tree. That little spot in the garden was always special. We would sit for hours in midsummer months, under a weeping umbrella of pink blossom.

We would drink wine and hold each others hand like an old fashioned love story. Things were so different then. Rose-tinted memories were all I had left. Suddenly, my eye caught something unusually familiar on the bench. I squinted and walked closer.

As I walked closer I seemed to enter an invisible bubble of warmth. It didn’t take long to realise what, or ‘who’ was sitting at the bench. Closer still, a radiant light-figure became clear. There she was again. My grandmother. But this time she looked and felt different.

When I had encountered my deceased grandmother in recent months, she always looked familiar, by resembling the living woman she once was. This time, although I ‘felt’ it was her, she looked more like a spirit is supposed to look. She even had a slight translucent appearance.

She was heavily gowned in white, floating robes and bathed in etherial light. Her transition troubled me slightly. An omen? I drew closer. I began to recognise her familiar face, but she looked youthful in appearance. Through the white aura, her face glowed a golden brilliance.

“Come, sit with me” she commanded. Seeing my hesitation, a slender arm reached out to take my hand. I took it and almost fell to the ground. A lightening-bolt of energy shot up my arm and tore through my body. My soul vibrated with shattering aliveness, and I sat at Her feet.

In those few moments, I felt no pain, no disease, no despair. I didn’t even feel cold from the harsh winters frost. I felt glorious peace. I knelt at Her feet and listened as she explained “My time is short” and that this was the last time she would visit me on Earth.

She gazed down at me. Her eyes bore into my heart as she said “Baruch dayan emet” and even though I did not understand, I felt at peace. As She stood to leave, a ruffling sound caught my ear, and to my awe, I saw two huge, white feathered wings folded neatly at Her back.

Clouds rolled across the sky, obscuring the moon and casting the garden into darkness again. I was alone but for my thoughts. * * *

I sit on the bench, in the cold until dawn breaks, heralding its presence with the aliveness of birdsong. How I would love to just fly away. I see Jacob standing near our house. He just watches me for a curious moment before coming over and wrapping me in a blanket from our bed.

He wraps his arms around my shoulders, without saying a word, and makes me stand to walk back to the house. I resist initially but give in. Dying is easy; but the living scares me to death. I could be so content hearing the sound of his breath, but I’m entwined in a glass ribbon.

A glass ribbon he wrapped me in, full for tenderness and weaved in fragility. But almost strong enough to face the dark road ahead. Almost. I loved him right from the start. But the more I want him, the less I get. I crave for life to be glorious but simple again, as it once was.

It’s still dark in the house but Jacob tries to get me back up the stairs. “I can’t see the stairs” I say, now feeling quite childlike. “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step” Jacob reassures. I found his words quite profound and started sobbing.

The next staircase I climb might be a stairway to heaven. Making little sense, I continue to cry. Jacob counts through one step at a time. After methodically counting “one step, two step, three step…” we reach the seventeenth step, where I see the low light of our bedroom.

Jacob rolled me into bed, and tucked me up warm and cosy. He smoothed my hair and kissed my forehead, telling me sleep. I soon drift off. * * *

My room here is bright, peaceful and airy, and I am in no pain anymore. They also tell me I am disease free at last. This is no fever-dream. I am surrounded by loved ones and I adore being with family again after so long. There are a few people missing, though. Notably, Jacob.

I still see Jacob often, although he never visits me. It’s okay; I can see he’s finding happiness again, and that’s my biggest wish for him. I call in on my mother whenever I can, and she often talks to me. My father is with me, but my mother always talks to my father through me.

Now everything is calm, peaceful, serene; being here is so happily uncomplicated, blissful, and joyous. * * *

It’s been a couple of months since Jacob found me dying in the garden. He carried my flailing body to bed and I slowly took my final breath. I realised I had been unusually but utterly selfish. My self-loathing knew no bounds, but I knew giving up on my life was no defeat.

So I did exactly that. I left. I passed over, and despite the agony, the heart-wrenching, tearing turmoil, I left my beautiful boy behind. I gave up on living just to give Jacob his freedom back – an existence I had inadvertently suffocated through my own selfishness.

I learned a selfless lesson. If you love someone so much, you should let them go. Set free the caged bird. Give him flight. And say goodbye. * * *

{the end}

Acknowledgements 
I would like to thank my friend Dee Lawson for her general unfailing honesty, even when things were going badly – her generosity of spirit knew no bounds; Adrian Graham for inspiring me with unending enthusiasm and giving me the idea to write again; Joe Evans for the forward-thinking-foreword and for keeping me almost sane with tea and sympathy during the writing process; Kathryn Williams for keeping me company with her beautiful music while I wrote and for giving me the occasional session of twitter-counselling; The lovely people at ‘Birdhouse’ for helping me publish this saga; Sam E Seddon for her literary prowess; and finally to Travis Toogood for breathing life into the old dog again – you mean more than words..
          And you, for reading this far – it couldn’t have been easy for you.

~ WRONG ROOMS was originally published on Twitter in bursts, from April 2010 until January 2011: www.twitter.com/wrongrooms

Apple Pie – Out Now!


“There is a magical place, filled with new friends and adventures – but once experienced, we can never return. For teenager Mark Logan this place has a name … Apple Pie.” Download or view now below (in pdf format), or from feedbooks

Written by Small Stories (follow on twitter here)
Cover by Ryan Price (
www.uselessdesires.co.uk – follow on twitter here)

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