Part 1: A Life In Pieces (click here) Part 2 Another Life In Pieces, part 3 A Life in Anguished Pieces, Part 4 A Life in Mobile Words, Part 5 A Life in Coffee Part 6 A Life in Loneliness, Part 7 A Life In Rags, Part 8, A Life in Confusion and Part 9, A Life In Families
A LIFE IN MEMORIES
“Was that my Rusty?” asked Agatha, trying to feel comfortable even though the bed she was lying on felt as if it was one of those Asian beds of nails that were meant to test the will of any who lay on it.
The nurse nodded. “He came to see you,” she said, obliquely.
“I feel … strange...” whispered Agatha. “I feel … different. Did ...?”
“Yes?” asked the nurse, sitting on the edge of her bed.
“Did he say anything?” The question was asked weakly, though the nurse could tell from the look in those eyes that the answer would mean a great deal.
“Like what?” she asked, lightly. This patient needed light rather than dark, she decided, after so long a sleep.
“Can I talk to you?”
She is talking to me, thought the nurse, and I'm sitting here on her bed in her territory … of course she can talk to me...
“Of course,” she said, smiling.
Like many skilled nurses, the was good at smiling. It was a skill as vital to some of her patients as administering drugs was to others.
“We didn't get along,” sighed Agatha. “I suppose it was me, really.”
“You?” prompted the angel of mercy.
“I … I suppose you might say I was impatient...”
“Look, Agatha, I'm going off duty soon. I'll tell you what: when I come back this evening … I'm on a split shift and I hate them because most of the patients are comatose, which is what I want to be in the evening … if you're awake and feel like it, you can share anything you like with me.”
“Yes. And you can call me Jane. That's my name. Nurse Jane to the others, but Jane to you. I've got a little boy and I have to see to him, but I'll be back.”
“Of course I do! Now the best thing you could do is get a little sleep. Proper sleep and not that wretched coma you've been in.”
She's nice, the sort of girl a woman could talk to, thought Agatha, and she lay back, thinking.
She could remember everything right up to running out of the front door with Rusty, furious with her and almost in tears, bellowing that she must go away and never darken his doorstep again. Then there was a sudden pain and she was plunged into sudden night until she woke up, here, in this ward in a nursing home.
I dared say I did try his patience, she thought, but I couldn't help is... Geoff, my ex, the devil take him, had been such a bully and I must have worked out the only way to have any kind of relationship with a man must be to get in there first...”
The rest of the day passed with her dozing lightly and stirring and waking up and dreaming. The dreams were the worst because they were somehow totally detached from her own life yet always verged on a world where everything was dark, where night dominated day in much the same way as Geoff had dominated her when they'd been together.
It didn't take me long to find Rusty, and I'd moved in with him straight away. That had been my doing, of course. The only way I could get away from Geoff was to have somewhere to get away to … and as we never went to the trouble of getting married there were no legal strings attaching me to him... I wouldn't have married Rusty either... he wasn't my sort, not really...
Nurse Jane returned after tea, as promised. She was young – too young to have a child, surely? But weren't all the nurses these days? And fresh faced and pretty.
Jane bustled about for a bit, attended to the other patients – two of the beds in her little ward were empty - most of the people went to that home to die or recover and some died – and the one remaining woman needed to be turned regularly to prevent too many pressure sores. She wasn't in a coma, though, just spent most of her time sleeping.
“She's sleeping her last few weeks away,” whispered Jane, “she thinks she's got nothing left to live for, and she may be right.”
“I almost know what she means...” murmured Agatha, feeling stronger than she had earlier.
“This job has taught me that there are as many dark dreams and fading hopes as there are people to dream or hope them,” said Jane.
“It must be … depressing,” replied Agatha.
“You were telling me about the man you live with,” prompted the nurse.
“Oh. Rusty. It was all my fault, you know.”
“I guess I'm not the nice person I'd like to be,” sighed Agatha.
“None of us live up to our fondest ideals,” nodded Jane.
“I'm not so sure … but I wanted him to know who was boss and whose opinions were correct. My last bloke, the one before Rusty, did his damnedest to bully me into submission, and I didn't want that sort of thing again.”
“Why stay with a bully?” asked Jane.
“I … I need a man,” confessed Agatha. “I don't want that to sound smutty, though. It's not all sex, sex, sex with me … I just need a man around... I'm not entirely sure why...”
“Sex isn't smutty,” the nurse told her, “I've been in this ward for only five years, but in that time I've dealt with quite a lot of ladies of, shall we say, a certain age … and they all seem ashamed of the physical things they've done, as though they should be brushed under some metaphorical carpet as if they'd never happened.”
Agatha smiled at her. “There were lots of remnants of Victoriana in my childhood, and things like that stick,” she explained.
“That's what I call it. The time when women were supposed to lie back and think of England with their legs apart whilst the menfolk conquered them.”
“It's never really been like that, surely?”
“I wasn't around, duckie, but there are things said, references to the starchy submissive women who had their duty and performed it with stalwart reluctance... Anyway, remnants of that have coloured the lives of generations. Even when I was young it was most improper to be seen to know anything about that sort of bodily function, and knowledge of men's … willies –- was hardly de rigueur.”
“Anyway, the man you were with before your accident … he's visited you at least once a week whilst you were in your coma and he talked to you a lot.” Nurse Jane smiled. “I heard some of it and it was clear he was telling you off!”
“Yes. So what went wrong?”
Agatha shrugged as best she could in the prone position in the bed. “I was a bitch,” she said. “His wife, Connie she was called, was with him for a lifetime and died, and from his accounts she was some kind of angel. He told me they never even rowed, not in all the years they spent together! And he expected me to be like that, which is as much against my character as smothering a nuisance patient in the dark of night is against yours!”
“Don't put ideas into my head,” teased Nurse Jane, smiling.
Agatha smiled back. “Anyway, it was a clash of personalities. That's the kindest way of putting it, and I did my damnedest to come out on top. Oh, how I hated his Connie! She'd been everything I could never be - or wanted to be. I never met her but … but from what he said there wasn't a sicklier, sweeter woman under the sun. Oh how I hated her memory! And that hatred made me more and more argumentative, like I was trying to say look at me, I'm not her, and I've got needs too...
“But it was always Connie this and Connie that until I could have screamed!”
“Is that why you'll be homeless when you leave here?” asked Nurse Jane, quietly. “Is that why he says he never wants to see or hear about you again?”
©Peter Rogerson 16.03.14