One Last Time – published by Brave Voices Magazine
It’s been a while. I’m so close to finishing a piece and I’ve yet to decide what I’m going to do with it. I’ve also completed the first draft of the longest story I’ve ever written. Keep an eye out.
In the meantime, I’m posting my story One Last Time which was published by Brave Voices Magazine in 2019. They’ve since changed their focus to poetry only so this story is no longer on their website. If you like poetry, check them out here.
Here we go:
One Last Time
by Ian Blackwell
“We could just turn off his life support. There is very little chance he will recover. But even if he does he will be back within a few weeks. And what’s more, deserving people could do with the organs.”
“Hmm . . .”
“Except his liver, of course.”
One man’s laughter pokes Liam, disturbing his slumber. His consciousness drifts out of the fog, barely floating in this sea of sadness called life.
Damn. Still alive.
He waits for the dehydration to squeeze his brain. He waits for the invisible knife to stab him in the abdomen, just like it has done repeatedly for several days. But the assault doesn’t come.
He still feels like all of those bottles he’s opened over the last several months: empty. But this emptiness is different. He can’t feel anything. The Fear he has grown so used to waking up to is not there; the urge to get another drink has gone.
He tries to lift his eyelids: he can’t. He tries to move his arms and legs: they don’t respond. He can’t even feel any part of his body. His mind is trapped in an impermeable bubble. All he can do is stare into the darkness behind his eyelids. Yet he is calm and everything is alright.
The bubble starts to rise.
The brownness turns to grey. Then it brightens. The hazy curtain draws back.
Beep . . . . . beep . . . . . beep . . . . . beep . . . . . beep . . . . .
Cardiograph’s leads are plugged all over a man’s yellow chest below him. He’s propped up in a bed with the blanket stopping at his waist. His arms hang by his sides, lifeless. A cannula sticks out from one of them. His eyes are closed. Tubes hide the lower part of his face. His ribcage rises and falls in obedience to the ventilator stood at the bedside, pumping life, demanding he hangs in there.
The shape of his head. The hair that’s too grey for a man who’s maybe in his forties . . .
“His GGT is the highest I have ever seen.”
Two males in white coats and with stethoscopes hanging from their necks stand to the left of the bed.
“Same,” the red-haired one says.
“If he recovers it will be a miracle,” the dark-haired one says.
“It would be a waste of a miracle though.”
“Hmm . . .”
“Plus our resources are stretched more than ever before. We could really do with the bed,” the dark-haired one says, motioning at the comatose man. “Give it to someone worth helping.”
“You can’t say things like that.”
“Smell the drink on him. If you lit a match in here he would explode.”
Liam looks at the patient.
I could’ve ended up there. Heaven knows I drink too much. I lost my job. My wife and kids are gone. Emma, young Louise and Michael. I miss them so much. I have to get off the booze and sort my life out. Why am I seeing this? Am I dreaming? Last thing I remember I was walking home sipping gin . . .
His head. That hair. Dear Christ . . .
Liam tries to cry out. He tries to thrash and wave. But it’s hard with no body.
Hey! Don’t kill me! I’m alive! I’m right here!
Liam torpedoes his thoughts at the doctors, one after another. The red-haired one seems to shiver.
“How about we give him another six hours? Then we’ll see.”
The dark-haired one’s eyebrows mash together.
“A waste of money . . .”
“It’s someone’s life we’re talking about Dr Ingis. I’m sure you’ll agree that as doctors it is our duty to put the wellbeing of our patients first.”
Dr Ingis’ face stretches.
“But of course! But what I am saying is there is no point in keeping someone alive that has extremely little chance of recovery. It is our duty to allow our patients a dignified death. Plus there are many other patients who need our help.”
“Of course. But we’re giving him six more hours.”
Dr Ingis sighs.
“Okay, Dr Murray. We will go with your suggestion. We will come back in six hours,” Dr Ingis checks his watch, “at 6.27pm.”
Dr Ingis leaves the room and Dr Murray follows, writing on his clipboard.
Liam fights to do something; the only thing he has control over are the thoughts firing around the invisible cloud he has become.
I’m not dead yet. I can’t let them kill me. I’ve got to get back to my body. But how . . .
He peers down at his body. Its heart still beats and its lungs still breathe thanks to modern healthcare. But its brain is vacant.
Please let me go back. I’ll never drink again. I’ll make amends. I’ll start being a father again and get my family back. I’ll sort myself out. I’ll make the most of my life . . .
A voice invades Liam’s mind: The things one has are never truly appreciated until they are taken away.
The thought tears off the shackles holding Liam to the ceiling. He floats downwards, downwards to the temple which was once his, his to drown in the poison that put it there. He can see the years it has burned into his body. He realises the drinking is not the ultimate source of his yellow skin. It really came from his heart and mind: his willingness to numb himself to life. But hiding only allowed them to grow, fuelled by the drink he threw at them, all the way from his lips down into the empty pit of his soul.
The lowering stops inches above his head, allowing Liam one more look at the tiny, red tracks on his cheeks disappearing under the strap and tape, those self-inflicted scars of self-pity. The thinning hair starved of nourishment.
Everybody is a slave. But you have the choice of what to be a slave to, the voice says.
Liam starts to lower again. The cloud of his mind densifies. He can only see the worn paths of age crossing his forehead. These blur into the yellowness. Everything turns grey, then dark.
“You came close to death. You will never know how close you were,” Dr Murray says.
Luckily Dr Ingis didn’t have his way, Liam thinks.
“You must stop drinking. Totally stop. If you’re not willing to do that, then there is nothing anyone can do for you. Here.”
Dr Murray hands Liam a large envelope.
“That contains a copy of your discharge letter which we’ll be sending to your GP today. But I’d like to draw your attention to the list of local support services that can help you. I strongly recommend you make use of it. These organisations have helped many good people. But remember: no one can help you if you don’t want to be helped.”
“I still can’t get over how you’ve recovered so quickly. Your liver function tests tell me you’ve now got a healthy liver. Unbelievable. I will never forget this. You’re very lucky. Many aren’t as fortunate.
Liam nods again, staring at the door.
“Have you any questions?”
Liam turns to him.
“Well then I wish you the best. You should make an appointment with your GP in a week for a routine follow up.”
Liam offers his hand: Dr Murray accepts it and they shake. They both stand and leave the room, going separate ways in the busy corridor.
Liam glances down at the envelope in his hand; a near-collision with a young nurse who ignores him forces him to focus on where he’s going.
He looks ahead planning his exit, slowing down and speeding up, side-stepping through the human obstacles. His dry throat cries out inside him to quench its thirst.
Suddenly Liam spots someone further ahead strutting out onto the corridor. His white coat threatens him through the people between them. The sandpaper lining Liam’s throat hurts him more with each step they grow closer. The face of the judge of life and death is tight with the inconvenience of those blocking his path.
Their eyes meet.
Liam stares at the man that wanted to kill him; Dr Ingis shifts his gaze past Liam’s shoulder. Liam beats the urge to lean over so their shoulders clash.
“No miracle is ever wasted,” Liam says.
Dr. Ingis looks at him and stops; Liam keeps on walking.
The heat dissipates into the air as Dr Ingis starts to become a horrible memory; a boogie man haunting the nightmares of the vulnerable.
The thirst remains.
I’ve made a right mess of everything. Good friends are gone. My family. But I must get myself right first. My house is a disgrace. Better clean the vomit off the stairs.
The barbed wire twists inside his throat. He exits the hospital into a warm, sunny day.
I nearly died in there. A pointless death it would’ve been. Like a rabbit in the middle of the road, flattened by someone rushing to be somewhere unimportant.
He sucks his cheeks in, concentrating the little saliva there is. He swallows: his Velcro throat nearly seals itself closed.
I should celebrate.
He arrives at the front of the taxi rank, climbing into the first taxi.
“Right mate. Where to?” the driver says.
“Do you know Westfarm Drive?”
“That’s where I’m going. You know the off-licence on Benton Road?”
“I want to stop there for a minute.”
“Sure thing boss.”
The black taxi rolls off.
I’ll only have a few drinks when I get home. Today I’m celebrating. I’ll start sorting myself out tomorrow.