drove past Malvern Street Hospice on his way to work every
day. Nowadays he never gave it a second glance. Its faded
Georgian facade just seemed to blend in with the other buildings.
He was much more concerned with trying to negotiate the
contraflow system, which involved him changing lanes to
join the stream of traffic which flowed into Cathedral Row.
More often than not, the lights would turn red at exactly
the wrong moment. Or some flash bastard in a Porsche would
cut him up. By the time he arrived at the Agency it would
be half past nine and he'd have to make the usual excuses.
route to work also took him past the first flat he'd shared
with Carla after they'd got married. Of course, it was a
top floor flat, so that even if he'd leaned out of the car
he'd have been hard pressed to see it. As it was, it just
flashed past him as he turned the corner of Corporation
Parade into Malvern Street. In any case, Jeremy wasn't at
all interested in the past. Whenever Carla showed friends
their photo album he'd squirm in his seat. "You really
used to look like that...", they would laugh.
did his best to avoid anybody who'd known him when he'd
looked like that. Luckily, hardly any of them called by
these days. Often, Carla would nag at him to call Josie
and Terry but he usually found some way out, thank God.
Sometimes old Spike would stop by and bore them stupid with
stories about his bloody job at the Advice Centre. Stupid
turd could be earning a decent roll. Instead he spent his
time dealing with deadbeats and dossers who probably deserved
all they got. As Jeremy always said to Carla, none of the
old gang were like them. They just hadn't moved with the
Street was jammed solid. Jeremy tapped his foot on the clutch
impatiently. A lot of copy to catch up with today. No doubt
Williams would be waiting with his usual sneers. Late again,
eh, Jeremy. Been calling in on that Hungarian piece again
for a swift one before breakfast, haw haw. Creep. He wound
his window down and wiped his brow with his tie. This was
the last thing he wanted. He'd even made the effort to think
up an excuse to tell Carla why he'd have to leave for work
early. Terrible traffic congestion. Then that bloody bitch
Michaela turned out to be at the wrong time of the month.
He leaned over and tuned in to Metropolis Radio. G'morning,
punters! It's Ken Bright's Breakfast Show,coming up. The
light stayed red. But now it's nine o'clock, so it's over
to Jan Michaels at the Metropolis Newsdesk. Beep beep beep.
hands sweated on the wheel. Some old codger in a dirty grey
mac was taking ages to get over the pedestrian crossing.
The old sod looked like he'd be better off put out of his
misery. And finally, reports from Heathrow say that passengers
can expect delays of up to eighteen hours at major airports,
due to a strike by air traffic controllers. He eased into
first gear. All he'd have to do was remove the handbrake,and...
the old man stepped up onto the pavement. That's all from
the Newsdesk. And now back to Ken. Metropolis Radio, ooo
ooo ooo. Welcome back, punters. It's Ken Bright here. Bright
and early. Ho ho. The light turned green. Jeremy lurched
forward. 'I should be so lucky', the radio played. 'Lucky,
of the corner of his eye he saw the juggernaut turning out
of Cathedral Circus. He slammed on the footbrake and the
clutch. In the split second before impact the only thought
he had time to have was that the car had been through an
M.O.T. only two days ago, and that everything had been checked
out, certified, stamped AOK.
invisible force lifts Jeremy up. The car is knocked up onto
the pavement outside Malvern Street Hospice. His head is
crushed against the dashboard. There can only be a split
second between when he is hit and when he passes out. But
in that second, everything goes into slow motion. The steps
of the Hospice come closer and closer. At the top of the
steps sits Hilda. She is alive, in a long white nightgown.
Her face is cracked and smiling. Her hands are held out
in an open gesture. She is calling, calling to him...
first thing Jeremy saw when he woke up was a dark shadow,
which loomed over him, threatening him. He sat up, gripped
the shadow by the throat and twisted, like he was holding
a steering wheel.
dark shadows, actually two other nurses and a hospital porter,
arrived to rescue Nurse Cathleen. Jeremy's hands went limp.
He lay back on the hospital bed. "Lucky..." he
mumbled. "Lucky, lucky, lucky..."
all the saints be praised!" Nurse Cathleen rubbed her
neck gingerly. "At long last he's come round!"
But when she looked down again, he had relapsed.
eyes are wide open. Hilda sits at the end of the bed. She
smiles radiantly. She looks younger, like she was when she
first moved into that flat below them, before the chemotherapy
and the operations. Her silver-grey hair shines. Her eyes
sparkle. She smooths a long, thin, hand on her white nightgown.
"I've come to see if you've kept your promise..."
Her voice is serene. "Remember?"
Hilda, I-" He holds out his hand. But when he touches
her, the whiteness of the crisp hospital bedsheets and the
whiteness of Hilda's nightgown merge into one.
looks like you're coming round again." Nurse Cathleen
stood at the end of the bed, two clean white towels folded
neatly over her arm. She fingered the bulky stop watch on
the front of her apron. "You wouldn't be thinking of
strangling me this time, would you?"
blinked. He tried to sit up. "Just settle down now.
Don't be getting yourself excited." Nurse Cathleen
busied herself rearranging the Get Well cards that had built
up by the bedside. 'BEST WISHES FOR YOUR RECOVERY' said
one, 'FROM ALL AT OPEN REEL'. "I'm sure you'll have
a lot of questions to ask. We'll deal with that tomorrow,
or the next day. Right now you need some rest. You've got
to get your strength up."
whiteness of everything in the room is dazzling. The weakness
is overcoming Jeremy again. Cathleen's voice chatters on,
then gradually fades away. Faces and places sweep before
his eyes, so fast it's impossible to make them out at first.
There is Carla, shaking her fist accusingly at him. His
mother, shaking her head. How can you possibly think of
going out looking like that? All the old gang crowd around
the bed, laughing and pointing. Spike and Netta and Josie
and Terry and Charlie. Then Williams and Robson and Jane
Smart from Open Reel advancing, pushing the old gang out
of the way, crowding him. Then hundreds of Open Reel ads
in fast motion...
Pure sophistication. Wicked delights. A dark, slinky woman
in a black leotard raises one eyebrow slowly, flickers her
devouring eyes, licks her lips, and sensuously consumes
every last mouthful of the Coffee Creme. She licks her lips
Cut. A screaming guitar intro. Yeah, Go For Freedom. Go
For Comfort. Go For Style. A Man Can Go Places In A Volvo.
Close up on the hand gripping the gear lever, thrusting
to tyres screeching.
to Jeremy's wedding day. Carla's dress billowing . Whiteness.
Sheer Whiteness. From Miracle Acdo. The One That Gets To
The Heart Of The Wash.
to the Damned gig at Bolton Poly. Jeremy jumps high, sends
out a line of spit. It hits Rat Scabies square in the face.
to Malvern Street Hospice. In the background, the nuns glide
silently around. Hilda makes the effort to raise herself
up. She is weak, but there is a faint gleam in her eye.
"Finally managed it..."
shows Jeremy and Carla the painting she has just completed.
It shows a young woman with short spiky black hair and a
young man with his head shaved up one side, leaving a narrow
strip of hair standing up. The strip is dyed green at the
back, purple at the front. The figures lean together. They
are both naked. The girl's breasts are pressed into the
man's chest. His hand rests on her thigh. The painting is
not in Hilda's usually sharply-defined style. The colours
are blurred, the lines unsteady, the proportions of the
bodies somehow not quite right. "It's beautiful"
says Carla. "It's a pile of garbage" Hilda tells
them. "My hands won't stop shaking any more. Look-"
hands are bony, wasted. The skin is drawn tightly across
her trembling fingers.
"I wanted the two of you to have it." "It's
a brilliant likeness," says Jeremy. "Don't patronise
me." Hilda's face flushes momentarily. "You're
just trying to keep a dying woman happy." Carla leans
over the bed. "Hilda, you must rest. Don't get yourself
so worked up. Let me help you with your pillow." She
smooths the pillow down. Hilda slaps her hand down. "Stop
fussing. There's no time to mess around. I may be going
to meet Him...." She points upwards, with a sly grin.
"...soon, but I have a little spirit left in me yet.
Now listen, you two. I've got something to say. Something
I won't have vthe strength to say again." She leans
forward and takes both their arms in a faltering grip. The
corner of her mouth shakes. The words are slurred. "Now
listen to someone over twice your age who's made an awful
lot of mistakes. This is something I really care about.
I've lost a lot in my life. Family, friends, lovers... Now
I'm on the way out myself. But since you moved into that
flat you've been like a real son and daughter to me."
wheezes. "I've got one last wish. Now, I know you've
both been seeing other people on the side. Don't look at
me like that. I wasn't born yesterday. I've prayed and prayed.
I've searched for guidance. Now God has given me the strength
to tell you both to stop this nonsense." Her grip on
their arms tightens. "I want you both to swear to me
that you're going to stay together. You're throwing away
everything. Don't try to deny it. I can read the signs at
my age. You shouldn't mess your lives up like I did. You
know, when I was younger, there was this man. This man on
a cruise ship, who... but I don't have the strength to tell
you. You wouldn't want to know about it amnyway. Now look
me in the eyes. Promise. I'll be your witness." "Of
course, Hilda," says Jeremy. "Of course..."
"Yes..." Carla sobs. "Yes..." Hilda
gives them one of her long, penetrating looks. Then she
relaxes her grip. "Bugger off now," she says.
"Time I got some rest."
Cathleen checked Jeremy's temperature, and tucked in the
crisp white bedsheets. For a few moments she stood with
her arms folded, observing him breathing. Every so often
his whole body would jolt slightly. She fingered her stop
watch and sighed. Such a pity. And there had seemed to be
so much hope for him. She fought back a tear. No use letting
it get to you in this job. She shook her head. Certainly,
the Lord worked in strange and mysterious ways.
better wait here." Carla leaned over the passenger
seat to give Jack a long, lingering kiss. "I shall
be as quick as I can." "You're sure this is really
worth bothering with? What's the point of seeing him? He's
practically a stiff as it is. " "It's all panning
out fine with the insurance money. Best not to take any
chances, though. They did tell me he'd actually woken up.
Hard to believe, I know, after six months. But don't worry.
They say there's very little chance he'll make a recovery.
Eventually he'll just stop breathing. Then we'll get the
full dividend. In the meantime, let's play everything cool."
Jack kissed her again. "I should have fixed those brakes
better than I did. Still, how was I to know he'd crash outside
a bloody hospital? Suppose you've gotta take the rough with
the smooth." She felt his hand squeeze her left breast.
"For God's sake, Jack." She laughs."People
can see us." "What the hell. Hey, why don't you
just slip a pillow over his head while nobody's looking,
put him out of his misery?" He ran his other hand up
the inside of her thigh. "Cut it out! Save that for
later. Meet me here in half an hour."
do wish there was more hopeful news," Nurse Cathleen
told Carla. "So sorry to get you here on a false alarm.
But I swear that yesterday he did look as if he was going
to wake up. You must be so brave..." "Some things
you just have to get used to..." Carla twisted her
handkerchief between her fingers. "I keep hoping against
hope that one day he might speak to me again, just once..."
She sniffed. "Don't be upsetting yourself, my dear.
It may have been a false alarm this time. But who knows?
It may be a good sign. Now you get yourself home."
"But I can't leave him. What if..." "Don't
let's be having all that again. You go home now. No point
in upsetting yourself so." "Yes, yes... I suppose
The reels of film spin in an endless loop, faster and faster.
The slogans keep flashing in front of his eyes. Don't be
Bitter with Burton's Bitter. Happy Dogs eat Happidog. When
your kidsa go off to school, don't forget the golden rule.
Dress them bright, dress them in white. Wash their clothes
in Miracle Acdo. Miracle Acdo. Whiter than White. Whiter
than White. Whiter than White...
Cathleen had just cleaned Jeremy up as usual. She arranged
his head carefully, so it was supported by the pillow. He
looked so peaceful now. And so handsome. She glanced behind
her quickly, to make sure nobody was approaching, then leaned
over and stroked his thick black hair. Then she reached
further down to pull up the bedsheets. It was impossible
not to notice the erection stirring in his pyjamas. And
he felt so warm...
gave another quick glance behind her. Then she sank to her
knees by the bedside, crossed herself, closed her eyes,
clasped her hands together tightly and begged The Lord for
guidance, and for mercy.