'Have you heard the magpies singing?' by Peter Sutton
I sense I am finally dying. Alone, apart from the spindly nurse. At home, thankfully. In my own bed. It will be today. I can feel it. I would say ‘in my water’ but I’ve not felt that for some time. Catheters, bottles, medical equipment best not thought about. The room is intimate, we are old friends. I caress it with my eyes. The nurse moves asynchronously across it now and again. Rod-like arms pump in and out as clever hands turn this, pat that, fluff the other. I am grateful, but her starched white uniform denotes suffering as well as the alleviating thereof.
I have spent many hours staring at the ceiling. The artex waves resolving into shapes for my amusement. Horses gambolling, bears fighting, alien spacecraft descending. She reads to me too sometimes. When my needs are cared for quicker than expected. I am unable to do so for myself. I am unable to do anything for myself. I hope that she can read gratitude in my eyes. My slack mouthed smiles. My gurglings of pleasure. I am infantilised by cancer. Her marionette face is hard to read.
I turn my head to the left. That wall is a glossy green. I am above it looking down. Floating. It is grass. In my hand a scythe. I grab a tuft and pull myself closer. Swing my other hand and smell the aroma of freshly cut grass as I drift slowly upwards again. The long locust finger lifts from the morphine button. My head moves mechanically so that my eyes come to rest on her. Behind her is a dark threshold. She stares at me with concern. I hear fluttering. Their claws against the smooth tiles. Wings of shadow unfurl as her mannequin eye looms close. Then all clashes back into place.
I turn my head to the right and the dove wing coloured wall is above me as the marshmallow ground hugs me. I imagine clouds stretching as far as the eye can see. Moving at a speed faster than the ground can imagine. There is another squirt of ice in my vein. More morphine dreams. It will not be long now. I lie on my back, the restless sheets my white wings.
The psychopomps gather overhead. One, two, more, six, eight. I can hear their calls. The room dilates. The lights flicker, plink, buzz, fluoresce. Not long now. My breathing is more shallow. The stick arms holding white funereal sheets flap past, the face above them a round pink o. Twig at the end of the branch. Morphine. Underwater dreams. Silk. Velvet. Drums. The sound of the equipment. Soon. Soon.
Inhale. Exhale. Systole, Diastole. Pause. Repeat. Longer pause. Repeat. Stop. Rest. My last breath leaves with a clattering, a strangely wooden sound, like two grooved sticks rubbing together. An echo. Their voices lifted in song above me, their wings like distant thunder as they leap into the air at last.