Daniel Soule: The Switch

Your killer is in this room; I have to be here. You are a ghost under sheets, holding on, still haunting us. Your strong face has sunk in, and those full lips thin and cracked, collecting spittle. No one has cleaned you up. What would be the point? We’ve all gathered to do the deed, to switch you off. A mix of legal formality, medical oversight and social respectability. And how well we all do the respectability bit, in public at least. Jonathan and my angel are waiting in the carpark. Only members of the ‘firm’ allowed.

It’s kind of a sad song I suppose, the rhythmic huffing of the ventilator and the sharp metronome of the monitors keeping you alive, well, your body anyway; your mind died weeks ago. It’s a good job you are brain dead: it’s the kind of noise that would have irritated you to distraction. I quite like it though: there’s a comfort in it, a surety.

The consultant isn’t wasting his time on your no-hoper case. I remember them – doctors, shop assistants, car salesman, journalists, politicians, whoever – fawning, so eager to please you and your money. Instead, now when your money is about to go to all of us, you’ve been palmed off to a registrar and some junior doctor. Actually, they seem pretty good at the whole empathy thing. You played golf with the consultant.

“It’ll take a while for Henry to pass,” she uses your first name like she knew you. You would have hated that, and corrected her. She’s pretty though, in her white coat, young looking. You would have liked that.

Uncle Hilary asks how long?

“Hilary, don’t be in such a God damn hurry,” fat Uncle Sidney chastises.

“I didn’t mean that…” complains Hilary. He might well. I actually think he had a genuine question, maybe he’s even a little sad, but you can’t blame Uncle Sid for thinking otherwise. No one has seen Hilary for more than twenty years. They all think he’s back for a slice of your money, or rather their money. I was only eleven at the time and remember hearing the row from upstairs. You loathed him and he hated you. I liked him but then he left me, left me with this lot. It’s been so long and I’ve heard so many terrible things about him. On the other hand old, fat, sweaty Sidney, with his clammy hands and arse-breath, always too close, has got a bit of a cheek too. You may have tolerated his presence, found him occasionally useful – he was always good a watching for you – but you still hated him. He is weak and you never respected weakness. The pretty doctor again:

“No, it’s a good question.” She’s good: that was quite soothing. “It could take ten minutes, maybe an hour or longer. It’s hard to say. All you can do now is be here for him.” She doesn’t know how funny she is. I think you would have laughed at that one too.

We are all making a great show of it, heads hung, voices hushed, respectful. Aunt Maud’s holding your hand tenderly. I’m suppressing a smile. How you hated that bitch. The feeling was mutual. She’s a rich, little, wrinkly, old bitch now though. I think she’s suppressing a smile too, for different reasons. She out lived you and now she gets a big old chunk of the great man’s fortune. It’s funny: there must have been a time you were all children, siblings playing happy games together, who got up early on Christmas morning to sneak a look at your presents. Things like that. I remember an old black and white photograph of you all as boys, hanging out of the treehouse. I liked to think you built it together, while Maud played with that porcelain dolly in a Victorian pram. She still has that doll, creepy little thing. Doesn’t look like it was ever played with. What happened? I remember grandma and how you were always the golden boy, not that it stopped her getting the odd snipe in here and there. She used to pinch my cheek, like I was cute, and then nip it really hard right at the end and make me cry. I’d get in trouble with you for crying at her, which was worse. I hated making you mad; I loved you so much.

They’ve all wanted you dead I’m sure, but which one wanted it the most? Each one has so much to gain. Time to cash in the company shares. I noted sweaty Sid couldn’t resist rolling up today in a new red two-seater. So gauche. You would have told him so. Definitely compensating for that stubby penis of his. He tried to act like it was nothing when I saw him, not that he ever really acknowledges me in public. I might as well be the ghost.

They’d all have plenty of suspicion on them in a TV detective drama. Hilary the youngest brother, the prodigal son figure, who could be holding a grudge from a long running family feud. Sidney the difficult middle child, never good enough, the Freddo of the family to your Michael Corleone. Though Freddo was older wasn’t he? Anyway, he was always jealous of your success, your position in the family, always in your shadow. Jealousy a great motive. And then there’s Aunt Maud. Youngest sister. She’s the one you’d least expect but who in the end is revealed as the killer. Cunning, under the radar, no one suspects the apparently doting sister until the inspector digs a little deeper, uncovering all those not so little peccadillos. The prescription drug problem, the debts the family keep bailing out, and, oh yes, that cliché actor-fiancé who you paid to bugger off when she was still in her prime, and she’s never forgiven you for it, or found love since.

They all want it over now. I can see them starting to squirm. It’s a battle to see who’s going to break first and go for coffee. They all want to but they’ll deride the one who folds first, so they stand fast, playing the game. Each speaks to the others but not to me. No one says a thing about you, not about how you got here. The out-of-the-blue heart attack, making you fall down the stairs, where you bashed your head, leading to all the complications, ending with a massive stroke on the operating table of your golfing buddy. Sid and Maud made a good effort of sounding distraught and blaming the surgeon. Aunt Maud is a pretty good actor. That fiancé must have rubbed off on her.

“You said he was as strong as an ox, only last month,” she sobbed. Maud was right. The consultant did look perplexed, that god-like confidence shaken. The family will sue for medical malpractice.

“The heart showed no signs of disease, but sometimes we just can’t explain these things.” It was something he’d said before and he was very good at delivering it with the right combination of authority and sympathy.

Where were they when it was all happening? They were always in the house, lurking about, never too far away from your firmament, as if drawn to you, unable to resist your gravity. Like resentful moons caught between wanting to fly away and smash into you. When an influence pulls you in circles its maddening.

Aunt Maud is dabbing your brow. You aren’t even sweating. God, she’s good. I imagine you swatting the hand away and berating her fussiness. She jumps with a start as the fire alarm goes off. They all look at each other – but not at me of course – wondering what to do. We all sit, wanting to leave the scene of the crime but not wishing to incriminate ourselves. Finally, the pretty registrar returns.

“I’m afraid you’ll all have to leave. It’s not a drill. Only essential staff will stay. It’s probably just an alarm set off by accident but we’ll have to wait outside for the fire crews to arrive and give us the all clear.”

“Outrageous,” fat Sidney protests but we all file out secretly relieved.

The halls are heaving. Most people flow out under the flashing lights and blaring alarm, some staff rush against the tide to check on urgent patients. Not you though; you’re not urgent anymore.

Now’s my chance; I can’t risk them getting to you first. I drop a few steps back and a turn against the tide that wants to pull me away from you. They don’t notice me going, they never do. I’m dressed professionally enough to pass for a doctor in the melee: slacks and a smart shirt, my hair up, like that pretty doctor but without the badge. I’m back at your door. My heart is pounding in my throat. I hope I’m not too late. I don’t look around; I just open the door matter-of-factly, like I have a purpose for being here, which isn’t hard to do because I do have a purpose. I close and lock the door and walk over to the bed, like you used to do. The blinds are already drawn for privacy.

“You fucking bastard,” and I slap you. I’ve raised my hand to you for only the second time in my life. You somehow survived the first time when I pushed you down the stairs. They assumed you fell because of the heart attack but it was the other way around: the heart attack followed the fall. How could it have been otherwise? You never made mistakes. I pushed you because I’d had enough. I’d had enough of you coming into my room and locking the door like you have always done. Sometimes while Uncle Sid watched, and Aunt Maud could hear me crying from downstairs or form her bedroom next door. I’d had enough of being the one who is the victim, the one who no one ever sees. Uncle Hilary tried to stop you all those years ago. That’s what the argument was about, but he was a coward and ran away, or you made him run and leave me behind, with you, with them.

I pinch your nose together and cover your mouth. It’ll be quicker than what you put me through and you won’t feel a thing. I want to finish the job. I need it to be by my hand. I’ve had enough. I’m a woman now, a wife, a mother, and you aren’t going to lay another hand on me and you aren’t going to get the chance to lay a hand on her, once she’s grown old enough for your taste.

That day, two months ago, when you had finished with me again, as she slept in her cot at the foot of the bed. Jonathan, loyal, loving, caring Jonathan – everything you aren’t… weren’t – had gone to town. I saw how you eyed her as you left the room: covetously. Still zipping up your flies absentmindedly, like you’d just taken a piss in a roadside toilet, you crossed the landing to the top of those steep stairs, and I flipped. You couldn’t even conceive of it happening but I ran, quietly – you made me quiet – and pushed you as you began that first step. I hadn’t planned it but you fell, and fell, and bounced and thudded. It was terrifying. It was wonderful. You lay motionless at the foot of the stairs, not breathing. I went back to my room, to my baby and pretended to sleep. Then Maud screamed and the silly witch called for an ambulance and so you are here. They never see me so they never suspected me.

And Jonathan? “The Wet” as you called him, who I kept from you all for as long as I could. Funny, you’d think him less of a wet now. He knows what I did, knows what you did, what you all did, and he pushed the fire alarm for me today. He’s a strong man, a good man and he’s waiting for me with our angel, who you will never touch. You will not haunt her.

It is done; you are gone. I make my way to the crowds mustering outside. It only took a few minutes and so I emerge with the last of the stragglers.

“Where were you?” asks Uncle Sid. Now you notice me, do you? I ignore him and walk to the car, to Jonathan and our angel. We’ll wait to go back in and finish this charade.

“You okay?” he asks. I nod, nursing her. “Good,” he says, “he can’t hurt you anymore.” There’s a knock at the car window. Fat Sid’s leering face looms there. Jonathan lets down the window.

“There you are. We are all going back in now.” He looks at our angel. “There’s the little present”.

“Don’t you fucking look at her” I growl at him. He lurches back, wary. Does he see me? They’ll all be seeing me soon.

glasses

Once I was an academic but the sentences proved too long and the words too obscure. Northern Ireland is where I rest my bones for convoluted yet simple reasons. But I was born in England and raised in Byron’s home town, which he hated but I do not. They named every other road after him. As yet no roads are named after me but several children are. I write the kind of stories I want to read and aim for readers to want to turn the page.

black tree