'Waiting' by Tracy Kuhn



A hospital bed. In a room with five identical hospital beds. All dry, starchy corners and curved metal edges. Except this bed has my Grandad in it and I think he's dying. I sit and watch him with a smooth, round ball of emotion in my stomach and try to find the words that he will never hear. Why now? Why did I wait? Because this is how I am, how I have become, how I let myself be. Inside I will rage and love and live and not let anybody see that I am feeling. I guard my feelings, unsure of how to deal with them, not wanting to draw attention to myself, like when I buy something new.
"New shoes?" Someone will ask.
"Oh no, I've had these a while," I'll say, willing the shininess away, not brave enough to look someone in the eye and admit that yes, these are the shoes I wanted, that I decided to buy.

A breeze comes in through the open window, carrying the smell of his hair oil and I realise that I've never seen him without his steely-grey curls tamed by this stuff. Who is doing this for him? Nobody else comes, at least nobody I know about. They'll all come afterwards, when it is done. They'll all care then. His newspaper flutters unread in the breeze and the family of the man at the other end of the ward look pointedly in our direction, fanning themselves and exhaling loudly. I know they don't think it's fair that Grandad is next to the open window, he hardly opens his eyes. But just because he doesn't look doesn't mean he doesn't know. I learnt that about people a long time ago.
I look down at my notebook. The words twist themselves into sentences in my head, like strings of DNA and I write them down quickly, desperate to capture them before they unravel and float away again. They are the code for what I am feeling, I'll read it later and it will all make sense.
A nurse walks past.
"He's lucky to have you." She smiles. What does she know?  I just shrug. It's not her fault. To look at him you'd never guess at what he's capable of. The hands in the dark. The sweets behind his shed.
So I wait. Because when he's gone, I am free.

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