She was was stirred gently by his Boticelli fingers toying with his Fisher Price plaything strapped tightly to the pine bars of his cot. Knobs were turned, bells were rung and telephone dials clicked to his happy awakening. She smiled in that semi-conscious euphoria that only an early morning, pre-breakfast Sunday sleep-in can invoke.
She lay there waiting, dozing, her man beside her curled sleeping, breathing deeply, naked and vulnerable. She longed for an extra 15 minutes of respite with the birds chortling and spooning his shape in the warmth.
Her firstborn darling woke and wondered into their room, sleepy-eyed with tangled golden locks, smiling sweetly as she climbed above the covers and slid under the blankets for a Sunday morning snuggle, all warm and puppy-smelling, sweet and snooxy.
He stirred, groaned in that blissful Sunday morning early wakefulness, kissed her forehead and rose from their bed. Mother and daughter giggled and kissed, tickled and taunted, unaware of the time . . but he took a long time. The baby went quiet as if something was wrong.
He lay in the hallway, a grown man naked, limp and frightened as a child, "I don't feel so well". She scoffed and berated him for drinking too much the night before.
She told him gruffly that he was probably hungover . . but he was pale and weak and sweating in a way she'd never seen before. His eyes were glazing and his limbs shivering in away she'd never seen before . . he began to breathe in a way she'd never heard before.
. . . Her heart stood still at the sight of him and the panic struck.
They'd fought the night before, too much to drink, too much to say and she'd refused to make love to him before they slept. "Never go to sleep on an argument!" Her mother's words rang round and round like castigating black crows circling her head.
She scooped up the smiling four year old and placed her gently in the toddler's cot. They would play and amuse each other.
She rang 000 and told them her husband was ill, very ill, shaking and not responding . . . suddenly aware that she was naked, she covered herself with a loose dress and hurriedly tied up her hair. Such a silly thing to do given the circumstances, why tie up your hair?
She rang her parents . . .they too were not responding . . .
She rang 000 again and they swore they were on their way.
She covered him with a warm red blanket and slapped his face to try to revive him . . .feeling guilt at hurting his beautiful cheeks but he felt nothing.
She finally rang her in-laws, his mother answered the phone . . .
The paramedics told her to wait in the lounge of their shoe box palace. She did as she was told. She left him . . . she deserted him . . she put him in the hands of strangers/experts and waited in the corner, standing like an unadorned Christmas tree, shaking, wondering. Things will be alright he's only 34 years old, healthy, slim, sporty . . his life ahead of him. She heard the hissing and the smacking of air, she heard slapping and pumping and muffled voices, she heard the clattering of medicines being hurriedly sought and administered. She heard them speak in code and request another vehicle. She heard her children playing happily in their 'cage' and the Fisher Price thing twanging and buzzing and ringing and the intermittent giggles of joy.
Her now pale and panicked mother and father in-law arrived just as they were gently carrying his stretcher down their tiny front steps. He was asleep and quiet, now covered in a grey blanket and not looking right, then into an intensive care ambulance.
She was ushered into another while her distraught parents-in-law watched their son carried onward and promised to take care of the children. Tears poured down a devoted mother's face as she fought the urge to follow for the sake of her grandchildren and watched her son disappear amongst the wail of sirens and the flash of lights.
The world then slipped into a fantasy fog of slow motion alternating between high speed and pockets of slow. . like flying through clouds with little breaks of piercing blue then blur . . .
She, I and they, knew in our hearts he was long gone but they tried, they defibrulated and pummelled. They injected and intubated until his complexion bore an unusual pinkness.
She sat in a small musty office with no-one to keep her company, young and helpless and alone. No-one told her that it would be alright. No-one came . .it was early, the shift was changing, no time for solace or comfort for a distraught young woman. She cried, she sobbed, she hoped, she told herself she was silly and this doesn't happen to fit young men but she knew. She hoped, she prayed, she wished otherwise but she knew.
Then came a white overall, no face, no touch, just a white overall with "I'm very sorry . . ." Right then, at that moment, there was nothing more to say. No more tears to cry. Nothing to feel. The world ceased to spin. Time ceased to tick. Life ceased to exist.
And it all happened one beautiful Sunday morning, in the month of March, 22 years ago, just before breakfast.
Raymond Michael "Chooch" Bainbridge, 1952 -1988.
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