Joyce’s last day on earth began with an almighty row. Frank, frustrated with my reticence to press her further on the location of his cash, dragged me back to his yard.
“Where the fuck is my stash?”
“Frank, shouting at me won’t help matters.” My cheek felt as though I had just returned from the dentists. Raw and tender, gingerly I fingered the contusion.
“Do you want another one? No? Well get back to the hospital and quiz her some more. Now go!”
Examining my face in the window of a parked car, I reckoned that a trip to hospital might actually have a duel benefit.
The curtains were around Joyce’s bed.
“Excuse me, but is Joyce ok? ” the nurse looked up from her desk.
“Who put the screens around?” She said. I followed her as she walked briskly to Joyce’s bed.
“Can I help you ?”
Jumping back from the bed, Martin and Greta attempted a smile. The nurse, eyeing the unwelcome visitors suspiciously, pushed past them to examine Joyce.
“Who has messed with this drip?
“We’ll see you soon Mother. Take care.”
The two dumpy siblings retreated, scowling as they shuffled past. The Nurse fussed around as Joyce tried unsuccessfully to sit upright.
“Those two ungrateful buggers wanted me to sign this.”
Joyce held up sheaves of yellow paper. “It’s a new will, leaving everything to them. When I wouldn’t sign they got angry. I’m glad you’re here Tom.”
Using the unsigned document to wave away the nurse, Joyce beckoned me closer.
“I feel it draining out of me.”
“What’s draining out of you?”
“Life. It’s ebbing away. I can feel it.”
“You’ll outlive us all Auntie -”
“Don’t say foolish things Tom!”
Her outburst seemed to tire her further. She looked up at the red mark on my face.
“You tell Frank if he lays one more finger on you I’ll haunt him from the grave.”
She touched my cheek. “And he can whistle for his cash.”
“But it is his money, Auntie Joyce. And anyway, I thought you said -”
“Never mind what I said. He is a thief and a crook. Anyway I have plans for it. The money is -”
But before Joyce could continue, she was overtaken by an horrendous coughing fit. The nurses rushed over and told me to leave.
Sat in the corridor, I watched the business of the hospital pass by in front of me. Chattering Nurses wearing little blue cloaks, porters idling along pushing hospital beds containing grey looking patients. The same Porters returning with their beds empty. Visitors holding flowers. Eventually, I was allowed back in.
“Goodbye Tom. Bugger. So much to do, so little time.”
She was fading fast. I placed my ear to her mouth. She whispered something indistinct. A doctor raced towards us. I had seconds left.
“Auntie Joyce. If you pass over before I can speak. Give me a sign from the other side.”
Joyce shook her head. But the nurse and the doctors surrounded her. It was pointless. The heart monitor raced to 140, then 180, then 34. Soon all the machines gave off warning beeps, like the instrument panel of a stalling aircraft.
Her life flashed in front of me. Joyce and my Nan laughing. Sitting in her kitchen watching her gut rabbits. The pigs head, the spells, the old dears handing over money. The memories intensifying as life dribbled out of her body.
Eventually, the nurses turned off the machines, their frantic buzzing now redundant. Only the heart monitor remained, silently calling out random numbers, like some morbid lottery contraption. 28, 39, 70….then, nothing.
Almost immediately her face fell in on itself and turned a dark shade of brown. Then her lips went black. It was as though some invisible spiritual make up artist was preparing her for the trip up to heaven, or the crossing of the Styx.
Her offspring, despite their skepticism over her powers, used some of their own to magically re-appear just as their Mother breathed her last.
“You here again? You have no business here.”
“Here.” I shoved the unsigned testament back into Martin’s hand. “You might as well have this back.”
A doctor approached. “Who is next of kin ?”
“Ok if you come with me I can complete the paperwork and release the body to the undertakers. Have you contacted anyone?”
They looked at each other. Undertakers. That meant final expenses and Money. Muted sullen nods followed by a shuffling away to an office.
Now I had to report back to Frank. I turned my collar to the wind and pressed on into the night.