Illness. This is the word that has plagued my life.
"His illness prevents… he has an illness… his illness is progressing… we can cure his illness… we can't cure his illness." Omens spewed forth from the mouths of so many white-clothed prophets and soothsayers. They are paraded around my bed on a daily basis; grim-faced apparitions bedecked in the colour of angels but carrying the devil's tools. Hope and misfortune.
The ringmasters of this morbid circus stand behind the flowing line of white; their faces permanently blackened by the shadows of their creases. The daily baptism of tears never seems to wash them away.
This is the image I have fixed in my mind of my paternal shadows because they rarely approach me, preferring distant love to nearby grief. When they do lean over me the light over their head creates a halo encompassing the forced smile and dying eyes. I'm not sure which is worse: the silence of shadows or the falseness of light.
In times of blessed solitude, free of the constant intrusion of cold metal and colder niceties, I survey the room. It is the only entertainment available to me. It is my earliest and, indeed, only memory. It is not very large, completely bare of furniture apart from my bed. The walls, oh the walls, are extravagantly dressed, however: an assault of colour, a bombardment of images.
Cards, photographs, flowers, paintings… all as colourful as possible. Individually they are pleasant enough but together the effect is overwhelming and extremely nauseating; one is put in mind of a masquerade, a hysterical and sinister masquerade where the masks are the most honest things present; for, in reality, the colour is just a mask, a lie to dispel the truth of my illness.
The only natural light in the room comes from a small, circular window. I often look up at it; cursing the fact I am too low to be able to gaze out at reality, straining to bathe my senses in but the smallest shred of Outside. It is hopeless, however, my body is atrophied and it is too high and too thick to provide anything but a shaft of light, an apology of sorts I suppose.
Usually, I exist in a state of bright delirium: my mind thickened, weighing my thoughts down and my senses assaulted by the facade of my walls. The tightness of my blankets, the looming medical apparatus, the piercing, artificial light, the heaviness of my thoughts and that hideous display entombs me.
I cannot think. I cannot talk. I cannot move. I am solely an observer of my own misfortune but to observe I must live. Vitality, no matter how dim and cracked, spurs my heart.
Recently there has been a more permanent face amongst the line of false prophets. It is a kindly one: creased with pitied happiness and framed with lustrous blond hair. The most glorious part of him, however, are his eyes, not pools of shadows like my parents or dead like the other doctors, but alive and radiant.
The deepest blue reminds me of the sea I shall never experience, the blond the fields of wheat I shall never touch and the happiness of the joy I've never witnessed. He is of the Outside. His presence comforts me and the shaft of light agrees; spilling approvingly around his body.
My memories are a series of episodes; brief flashes of illumination in darkest oblivion. What I can remember I remember vividly: the motherly embraces, the picture books she used to show me of the outside, the long, lazy winding smoke trails from my father's pipe as he read me stories. The pain. The fear. The tears. The shouting. Then worse: the numbness. The creeping, perfidious numbness that infected my limbs and then spread to my parents. The tears of love replaced by the tears of habit. The colours of life replaced by the colours of desperation. It is better not to remember.
The smiling face has been looking at me differently recently; the smile is less happy and more piteous. The eyes less radiant and more piercing, less ocean and more drowning, less wheat field and more bile, less joy, more hysteria. The room is infecting him. I have caught the odd glances, the pained expressions, the dark resolutions forming slowly behind his gaze. My illness is his illness.
I suppose, in the time when I was in bed but not bedridden, I have been outside. I have walked. I dream of it occasionally but it is a vague and poorly painted dream. I can hear the murmuring of a lot of people but it is distorted, their faces are blank… not blank but indistinct. I am surrounded by these people while I walk down an avenue lined with trees. The buildings are blurred but I catch glimpses of signs offering things I have no knowledge of.
There is a creeping sense of unfamiliarity as it continues and things become increasingly alien to me: the people are more in focus but their features are abhorrent to me, the avenue is flowing together, the trees are larger and more verdant.
The signs I can see no longer make any sense at all and there is a frightening element to their gaudy brightness and nonsensical language. I realise that it is not the place that does not belong but myself and this sickens me. I fall to the ground and the people offer hands to help but I cannot touch them. My head falls; I stare into the blue sky (the only thing I recognise) and then I wake, staring at the window.
The smiles of the Outside man have become friendlier again but this strikes me as much worse; a resolution has been made but I am powerless to comprehend what it is. I am painfully aware that I can do nothing but wait.
The Outside man has replaced my other doctors: the shadows have taken a liking to him. He is around more and more. Leaning in, mumbling that it shall all be alright. I have nothing to fear. Hope is eternal. Death is a kindness to the dead. I am alive however and try to tell him this with my eyes. The desperate stares seem to encourage him and, on my part, I cannot stand to gaze into the certainty of his.
The time has come. He is stroking my hair and whispering in to my ear.
"It will all be alright. I am here to help you. I love you," he announces in his kindly, fatherly tones whilst reaching into his doctor's bag.
He withdraws a small syringe filled with a clear liquid. I stare at it, then him.
"I am alive! Alive!" my eyes scream, desperately fighting the befuddlement of my heavy thoughts.
"That's right, I can cure your pain. Your misery. I have seen the desperation in your eyes, I understand what you want," he replies with a bittersweet smile.
The more I fight the more leaden my mind becomes but I redouble my efforts; screaming at every part of me to move if only to save itself. My little finger twitches. It twitches and the pain returns. The pain long absent returns to remind me that I am alive. Elation swells in my breast and I determine to try once more.
Again it twitches. Again there is pain. Again I am overjoyed. I return my gaze to him as if to scream triumphantly but he has not noticed. My hands are covered by my blankets. I twitch and twitch but am unable to disturb what is quickly becoming my tomb. He smiles at me once more before piercing the tube of my IV drip with the syringe needle.
As his thumb nervously hovers over the plunger I am aware of a faint tapping outside. My mother opens the door and walks into the scene. I am saved. Her eyes grow wide as she gazes at the doctor, realization slowly dawning. She screams and lunges at him, he falls over waving his hands and trying to explain.
"You sick bastard!", the first time I have heard my mother's voice in years, "he's my son! How could you? How could you!".
"He's sick and he's never going to get better. I am offering him the only peace he will ever have," he replies, the illness pouring from his mouth.
Then, my mother faltered. Then stopped. Horror, blackest horror, and betrayal fills my mind with its bile. My mind is tarred shut. He stands and walks to the corner of the room, she follows and they murmur quietly. I strain to hear, desperate to know my fate but I can discern nothing but the occasional sorrowful glance back to me.
When they have finished she approaches me, sitting on my bed she strokes my face and looks into my eyes. I pour my heart, my soul… my very life into my gaze. I look at her. She at me. Then, with a genuine expression of love, she turns to him and nods.
My life is forfeit. He returns to the syringe and pushes down. My delirium intensifies, my ears are filled with the murmuring of the people on that dream street. I scan the room from them, from the detestable walls and finally to the window. As I feel my vision fading I grasp at it mentally; my one solace. My mother and the doctor lean over, blocking it from view. I see the illness in their eyes.
Credited to Alistair