Look at Hannah. She doesn’t breathe. She’s alive, but not like you and I. There’s a spark inside her, but it’s not connecting. She’s not listening. See her cheeks, rosy. See her skin, white. See her hair, lustrous. See Hannah.
There were people around her, waiting for her mouth to open and pull in a life-giving breath like a Sleeping Beauty having been kissed by her prince. But, month by month, the numbers dwindled down. They moved on. Losing hope. Losing faith.
I’m going to be the last one there. I don’t have faith or hope, but I’m stubborn, and I have a lot to make up for; because I was the reason she stopped breathing. It was me who put her there, and I’m going to save her, even if I lose everything I have in the process.
My name is Aamir. This is my tale.
Let’s be sensible here, now: it’s not that she’s really stopped breathing; that’s just a fairy story I made up to hook you in. I mean, how could she be alive if she wasn’t breathing? No, she’s merely lost the will to live, which is just like death, but without the actual dying. She is beautiful, though, in a waif-like way, and that’s part of her problem. You see, she doesn’t want to eat anymore.
Her will to live is gone and so she wants to starve herself to death. Or is it that she wants to die and so she’s not eating. Does she have a will for death or the absence of a will for life? I don’t really know, so let’s ask her.
‘Hi, Hannah, it’s me, Aamir. Look. I’ve brought you some flowers.’ I flourished the bunch as I flounced into her room.
Did I tell you I was gay? No, I thought not. Well, I am. And it’s nothing to do with my love for Hannah. That’s completely separate. That’s more about my heart and my gayness is more about sex and the act thereof. Anyway, she gave this weak sort of an excuse for a smile and so I went for my punchline. ‘I was going to get you chocolates but, you know.’ She smiled a little more.
‘Oh, Aamir, you shouldn’t have. They will die and remind me of my own impending death and you will be sad.’
‘Sad that you’re going to die?’ See, I’m nothing if not direct.
‘No, sad that the flowers will die … what are they, by the way: peonies? No, sad that they will die but you know that I will not be allowed the same courtesy.’
I should tell you at this point that Hannah, my darling sweetheart, is strapped to her hospital bed. They have her on suicide watch, which is a bit of a waste of time, to my way of thinking. I mean there’s no point in watching her is there! She’s going nowhere with her wrists and ankles velcroed to the steel bars of her bed. Unless by ‘watch’ they mean that they watch her peeing etc. Because that’s the only time that they take her restraints off.
Since she refuses to eat … Actually, that’s not strictly true; she eats, but then she vomits. Or, at least she did. Anyway, since she’s nil-by-mouth and has pipes going into her veins, they don’t even have to unrestrain her at mealtimes. Neat, huh? No? Yeah, I agree with you.
‘No, they’re dahlias, darling.’ I gave her my moue-mouth but smiled to let her know I was joking. She had enough sadness in her without having to cope with my petty, pretty-boy boo-boos too.
‘Oh, okay. You know where the vases and the water are.’
I did and, mission done, I popped them on her side-table.
She looked at them with a wistful expression on her face and then turned her head towards me. She was sat up on the bed wearing a pink gown that I knew was open up the back – I don’t know why she wouldn’t let me bring a decent one in for her – and her hair had been brushed. The light from the window streamed through it and turned it to spun gold. It also made her screw up her eyes rather unbecomingly.
‘Help me,’ she said.
‘Oh, okay,’ I said, thinking that she was talking about the curtains. I took a step or two towards the window and swooshed them shut.
‘Oh. Okay. No, not that, Aamir. No, help me to become like the flowers will be in a few days. Help me to be dead.’
I swooshed the curtains open again and turned to her with no small show of petulance, causing her to squint again.
‘Well actually, you can leave the curtains closed too if you like. That was nice of you to think of it.’
I swooshed them closed again, snagged the chair from by the door and dragged it over to her bedside. I flopped down and said, ‘so, remind me: do you want to die or do you not want to live?’
‘What’s this? Riddle time? Riddle-me-ree for I am … what rhymes with ree? Free, bee, tree, lovely? Yeah, lovely. Riddle-me-ree …’
‘You’re avoiding my question.’
She sighed. ‘Yes, I am. You should write a letter to your MP about that.’
She looked sad.
I mirrored her inner beauty and put a radiant smile on my face. ‘No, seriously, Hannah; which is it?’
Have you ever laid down next to someone and then got a distinct feeling that one of you had wet the bed? I have. It was two and a half weeks back. The holes in her wrist have just about healed up now. I’d laid down with her because I’d felt like she needed a hug. She’d had her hands velcroed to her side back then so it had been easier for us to lay together. The nurses had looked away. They’d trusted me. They shouldn’t have.
Hannah had found the pen in the front pocket of my slacks as I lay next to her. I’d forgotten all about it and, to be honest, I didn’t think that’s what she had in mind when she slipped her hand inside there. You see, I hadn’t always been gay and, after all, I was her husband and had been for almost eight years.
She’d worked the pen into every single vein in her wrist while she had murmured sweet nothings into my ear. Cunning little minx. Like I said, it was only when the blood had soaked through my slacks and underwear that I’d become aware.
‘Neither,’ she said, interrupting my thought process.
‘What you just asked. About dying. Are you even listening to yourself?’
‘Sorry, I was just thinking about … Never mind. What do you mean?’
‘Tell me about why you went gay on me and I’ll tell you.’
Touchy subject. She’d asked before but not without screaming with rage. And I mean screaming! Literally. So I’d never been able to tell her. Not properly.
‘You don’t listen when I try.’
‘I will this time. I promise,’ she said and then put her sincere face on for my benefit.
‘Well, okay. It’s not because I don’t love you.’
‘Liar,’ she snarled.
‘You see? That’s what I mean.’
She tried for contrite and landed on constipated. Near enough. I started again from a different direction. ‘I like … ah, Brighton rock.’
That brought a smile to her face. It quickly turned wry, but it was there all the same. ‘Tell me more. Why?’
Sensing that this could quickly turn into a porno if I wasn’t careful I carefully considered my reply.
‘Stop thinking, Aamir. Just tell me. Trust yourself.’
I looked into her eyes and then let mine lose focus as I tuned her out and went inside my head. When I started speaking, it was almost a whisper. ‘I was alright for ages. Years. I had the odd thought. Curiosity. But I’d always pushed it away. Thought it was wrong. Damped it down. Denied it. Then there was this guy at work. He was as camp as frick. He used to tease the young guys in the office. Make them blush. And I got to wondering why he never tried to make me blush. He just treated me like normal. So this one day; I don’t why but I started this fantasy as I was sitting at my desk. In my head, he started to tease me and he made me blush. Just by talking to me suggestively and looking at me in a kind of flirty way. Before I knew it I was there with a raging hard-on. I was shocked at first but then I thought in for a penny, and I went to the loo and, you know, relieved myself. In a sexual way. It was like nothing I’d experienced before. So intense. It was like arriving home after a long journey. And I’ve never been the same since. I mean, I tried damping it down, but something had shifted inside. When I tried to … You know … With you, it literally didn’t work anymore.’
‘I remember that.’
My eyes snapped back into focus. Hannah was crying; tears streaming silently down her face. She was looking at me but I could tell she wasn’t angry this time. Sadness had taken her over. Become her world. I know that I shouldn’t have because she was raw with pain, but I needed to know so I said, ‘now you. Tell me.’
‘Oh, Aamir. It isn’t you.’
‘Liar,’ I said. Going for the cheap laugh. She ignored me. Quite right.
‘It’s …’ She went quiet and looked away. ‘Give us a tissue,’ she said while she pretended to look at the flowers.
I pulled one from the box and dangled it in her direction. She looked at it then looked at me.
‘You’ll have to … Idiot.’ She sniffed wetly and smiled weakly as she nodded towards the hand nearest to the tissue.
I was an idiot. I’d forgotten. I drew a breath and it surprised me by juddering its way in. I wiped her face gently, dropped the sodden tissue into the bin, snatched out another and held it over her nose. ‘Blow,’ I said.
She blew obediently.
‘Thanks,’ she said and sniffed again, less wetly this time.
‘Welcome,’ I said and dropped it into the bin where it landed next to the other one with a plop. ‘Now, where were we?’
‘Death,’ she said.
‘Death,’ I repeated.
‘The last great adventure.’
‘It’s like this: I’ve nothing here and everything’s over there. Simple as.’
‘I want to go exploring, Aamir. You should know what I mean. You’re a Hindu.’
‘You don’t lapse from Hinduism. It’s in you too deep. You know when we first married and you told me about reincarnation and I ..’
‘And you made it into a joke about condensed …’
‘… milk. Well, I was thinking about that. In fact, it’s all I’ve thought about lately. It’s like an earworm only it’s an idea. It’s a new world and I want to go and live in it. And I want to go now. And, who knows, if I’m quick enough, we could grow up together.’
She stopped talking and just looked at me. I knew who she meant. It wasn’t me she was talking about; it was our daughter, Sumita. Three years, seven months and five days and never going to get a single minute older.
‘You’ll help me, won’t you, Aamir.’ She pleaded with her eyes. Blue as cornflowers.
I hesitated. Then, almost imperceptibly, I nodded.