The Language of Dying

The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough

Book: The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough Read Free Book Online
Authors: Sarah Pinborough
Tags: Fiction, Literary, General
saw what I made in ceramics this morning. Then they gave up. I don’t think they wanted me infecting the rest of the inmates with my free-thinking attitude.’
    ‘And what exactly did you make today?’
    You pull the ashtray from your pocket and put it on the breakfast bar. I stare at the misshapen blob, but I know you well enough to know what it is. I smile a little and chew my lip. You’re grinning at me.
    ‘Oh Dad, you are awful. A bloody ashtray.’
    ‘Uh-huh. And it’s better than that. I made four. I left the other three in the TV room just in case anyone fancies starting a smoking rebellion.’
    I look at you and still can’t tell if you’re being serious. We burst into laughter together, snorting into our tea and then go to find an old detective show rerun to watch.
    You take the ashtray with you.
    I look at the ashtray in Davey’s hand and the memory seems to be too far away, not only a month or six weeksin the past. The ashtray is a relic from a lost civilisation. ‘Look after it, won’t you?’ Davey nods, and goes into the kitchen to zip it away safely in his holdall. The doorbell goes.
    ‘I’ve brought this for you.’
    Behind Barbara a middle-aged man carries what looks like a folded wheelchair. ‘Upstairs with it, love,’ she tells him. ‘Just along the corridor.’
    She looks back at me and squeezes my arm. ‘I thought it might make things a bit easier.’
    Davey and I follow her upstairs where the man is unfolding the contraption. It isn’t a chair at all. It’s a commode. It is ugly and out of place and, just like at the cemetery, my empty thinking space is filled with images of concentration camps. I don’t know why. As far as I know they didn’t have commodes in Belsen. Maybe it’s just the sheer loss of human dignity that overwhelms me. Is this what it comes to, then? All that life and music and madness leading up to a grey steel chair with a pan in the seat?
    The chair glares back at me. I don’t want to touch it. I think that if I do then I will somehow bring it to life. Maybe it is haunted by all the bitter dying souls that have used it. For a second I see tormented faces in the weave of the canvas and then I blink them away and curse my empty thinking space.
    I tell Barbara about you getting out of bed. I don’tneed to explain too much because even now one of your arms keeps rising from the covers. She nods.
    ‘That’s the terminal agitations starting.’ She squeezes my arm. ‘They’ll probably last a day or two and then he’ll settle back down.’ I love the lilt in her voice. It flows over me like a balm, even when I don’t want to understand her words. They exist separately in my head and neither is good. Terminal. Agitation.
    ‘But what is he trying to do?’ I look at her as if she has all the answers. She doesn’t, of course.
    ‘I don’t think he’s trying to do anything, love. I don’t think he knows he’s doing it. His body’s just shutting down.’ She tucks your arm back under the cover. ‘I know it looks disturbing, but it’s normal in this situation. It’ll slowly happen less and less as he slips further away from us.’
    She is respectful, Barbara. She doesn’t pretend to share our emotion, but she certainly understands it. That’s what the night-shift nurses don’t have. They don’t have her
. It is a special thing, that care. I hope someone in her life appreciates it.
    ‘Shall I arrange for a Macmillan nurse to sit with him tonight?’ She looks right inside me. ‘You look like you need a decent night’s sleep.’
    I nod. That would be good. That would be very good.
    When she’s gone I clean out your mouth and talk toyou. I think you’re listening. Your eyes watch me as I moisturise your mouth. Your teeth are too big in your cheeks and I work the damp cotton bud gently around them, cleaning out the scum and saliva residue that’s collected there. It doesn’t bother me. Not like the jar used to. I guess we all adjust to

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