The Hambledown Dream
By Dean Mayes
ireadiwrite Publishing Copyright © 2011 Dean Mayes
All rights reserved.
How could it have come to this?
He had the world at his feet. He had a life that was the envy of all those around him. He was handsome and athletic, he was warm and funny. He had a loving and proud family. He had many friends. He was young and seemingly indestructible. With his university degree, he had a bright future to look forward to and could put his name to just about any architectural firm he wanted. It was said that he had wanted to draw buildings since he was six years old.
For this was his great love.
Denny Banister loved complex problems, raw ideas that could be assessed and developed and turned into a real thing: a building, a tower, a house, a home.
He was in love with a beautiful woman — a woman who was his kindred spirit. He secretly held a desire to ask Sonya Llewellyn to marry him once they had graduated. Well, it wasn't so much a secret between Denny and Sonya than something they wanted to wait for, once their respective degrees were out of the way and they could celebrate with their families. They had fallen in love through the guitar. He played for her, the most beautiful pieces — classical pieces, lyrical pieces, soulful pieces.
For the guitar was Denny's passion.
He played for her songs of love, of traveling, of life, of living. Denny had exquisite fingers, which were able to dance across the guitar as though they were floating on air. But more than that, he was able to evoke the most vivid musical imagery. He poured himself into a piece of music. Sonya had once joked that Denny had cast a spell on her, for his music was the most enchanting she had ever heard. It had hypnotized her.
Their conversation was intimate. It was synchronous. They had similar values, beliefs and viewpoints, yet each of these differed just enough so that they challenged one another. Sonya was studying law, so Denny knew very early in their relationship that in order to be a good lawyer, Sonya had better be able to deliver a damned good argument. Denny and Sonya's debates were the stuff of legend amongst their friends, that it was these that fired their imagination and gave a strength to their relationship. They were constantly challenging each other because they believed in each other.
For Sonya was Denny's life.
Together they dreamed of traveling. Of visiting obscure galleries in Europe. Of making love in a villa on the shores of Lake Como in Italy. Of skinny-dipping in the Mediterranean Sea near Valetta in Malta. Of growing old together in the house that had once been Sonya's grandfather's on a hillside overlooking a quiet stretch of tranquil Australian coastline.
Now it was all about to be lost.
Denny lay in the bed, a shadow of what he had once been. The life — that vibrancy that had so drawn others in — was fast disappearing from his sunken eyes. His face, once strong and proud, was skeletal; his skin was bruised and pasty. His beautiful light brown hair was almost gone; a few faded tufts were all that remained. Those fingers, which had once danced across the guitar with such beauty and grace, which had translated onto the page complex algorithms and intricate equations, which had held the fingers of Sonya's own hands. They were limp now, cold and barely useful. A warm feminine hand was entwined in them. He felt them, but he no longer had the strength to lift his own fingers.
It had taken mere months. It began as a few days of feeling unwell, with swollen glands in his neck. Denny had passed it off as the flu. Even though he had gotten better, the lump in his neck had refused to go away. Still he ignored it for a time, until it began to bother him. In what seemed like a matter of moments, it had become all too serious.
Under normal circumstances it was treatable, and the outlook for a cure was good. This, however, was a particularly aggressive cancer that had already metastasized before Denny even knew he had it. Lymph nodes, liver, one kidney, four ribs on the left side and most cruelly of all, his brain. He was doomed from the start. Treatment was a stalling intervention only, and not a very good one. All it really did was halt the spread of his dementia and rob him of his hair.
Denny was 25.
The room was nice. As far as hospice rooms went. There was a pretty rose garden through the single window. Denny had looked through there sometimes, but hadn't been able to venture out to appreciate them. Today, the sky was dark and brooding. A thunderstorm threatened.
A Simon Marty guitar stood on its stand in a corner of the room where Denny could see it. The handmade instrument had been a gift from his parents on his eighteenth birthday. For a while, just having it there was soothing. In his fractured mind, he could hear his favorite sonatas and fantasias and movements, and it helped him to block out the pain. Now the only thing that helped was the morphine that slowly dripped into his body from a pump via a needle in his arm. At the end of the bed lay his puppy Simon, a black-and-white crossbreed, curled up and fast asleep. Denny's nurse had allowed Simon to be here.
Sonya sat beside him; her head lay on the bed near his arm. He could smell her lustrous auburn hair, freshly washed. The scent was a combination of rosemary and mint — a shampoo she loved. He could hear her soft breathing, even and steady. He could feel the warmth of her skin, the touch of her fingers. Sonya had been there for days, or what had seemed like days. Denny was no longer sure of time anymore. All he was sure of was that she was still there. Occasionally she would stir, lift her head and gaze at him through those wondrous eyes. Though their world was falling apart around them, her face kept him anchored. She kept everyone anchored. Throughout their ordeal Sonya had never fallen apart. She tended to Denny's needs unfailingly. When others were losing control of their emotions, she was there for them too, with an arm around a shoulder, a hand in a hand, or a loving, comforting hug.
Now, in these final hours, they were all here. Denny's mother, father and younger sister, Sonya's mother and older brother. All sitting quietly, waiting.
Denny flinched reflexively, causing everyone else in the room to do the same. He grimaced and attempted to move himself, but was prevented from doing so. His abdomen was so distended from fluid collecting inside, it made simple movements impossible. The catheter that drained urine from his bladder caused him intense pain, and it had done so now.
Sonya squeezed his hand and slid hers up his right forearm, her gentle touch soothing him. Her fingers passed over a faded tattoo on the inside of his forearm — an inscription in a cursive font — Ancora Imparo.
How could it have come to this?
The single lucid thought punctured through his narcotic haze. The pain in his penis settled and he blinked, looking up at his family who were all gathered around his bed.
His mother and father, eyes reddened and tear-filled. His sister, normally vivacious, a perennial social butterfly, was stony-faced now, barely able to hold it together. Denny knew this must be ripping her apart. Sonya's mother, her brother — his best mate, similarly wooden with barely contained grief.
Denny turned his head slightly towards her. Sonya met his eyes with hers and held them. She stroked his brow gently and smiled warmly. Oh, how he wished to kiss those lips ...
His breath caught in his throat suddenly, and his eyes rolled up towards the ceiling. The room began to spin, and Denny's heart thumped noisily in his ears. He was overwhelmed by a surge of panic and with a great effort he grasped Sonya's hand as firmly as he could. When he looked back, Sonya's face had swollen with tears and a single drop trickled down her porcelain cheek. In that moment Denny knew.
It was time.
In that last terrible moment, when all else was spinning out of control, as lightning crackled ominously outside the window, Denny gazed firmly and deeply into his beloved's eyes. When he spoke, his voice had never sounded stronger.
"This is not over ..."
And with an abrupt finality the eyes fluttered closed, the body sank back, the life dissipated. Denny was dead. Simon the puppy let out a yelp, leapt from the bed and disappeared down the hall.
Sonya sat there stunned, the grip of his hand relaxed in hers. The warmth disappeared quickly. As the family gathered around her and held her collectively, Sonya's expression remained frozen. Tears welled in her eyes and they fell down over her cheek, but she did not cry. She could not bring herself to let go.
Everything seemed to stop. Time, space, air, life. And nothing would ever be the same again.
How could it have come to this?
The gurney rolled like a freight train down a dimly lit corridor, shepherded along by a medical emergency team dressed in green scrubs.
A doctor with a salt-and-pepper beard and gold-rimmed glasses rode on top of the gurney, straddling a limp figure beneath him. He was shouting desperately at his colleagues as he pumped the chest of the young man who lay lifeless on the gurney. The young man's skin was a pasty white. His eyes were ringed by dark circles, mascara stains had bled and ran along the tops of his cheeks. His black clothing was dirty and damp. Everyone was damp. One mother of a storm was brewing outside, and the team had barely made it indoors before being thoroughly soaked. Stringy, greasy vomit-stained hair covered the young man's face and chest. There were blood spatters everywhere, but no one had determined yet, where the blood was coming from. Nor had anyone had a chance to work out who he was. At this point, all they knew was that he was about 25 years old, that he had been found unconscious at some sort of rave party in the north of the city and that drugs were involved.
Yet another dead shit drug addict.
An oxygen mask concealed his mouth and nose as a nurse, Selwyn, pumped a balloon attached to it, forcing air into his lungs. Across from her, a second doctor, Kost struggled to secure a newly inserted intravenous cannula in the man's ragged arm to replace one that had failed in transit. A transparent bag of fluid hung from a pole, and as Kost checked a small chamber below it he saw, to his great relief, a steady drip, drip, drip inside it. The infusion was working.
The medical team fairly burst through a set of double doors and into a fully equipped trauma room. Lightning flashed through a window somewhere nearby. Already, additional staff were ready and waiting with emergency equipment set to go. The doctor astride the patient saw a young woman — a nurse named Ruddiger — approach with two familiar-looking paddles. He leapt from the gurney, nearly losing his glasses, as myriad hands went to work, applying lines to the young man's chest and abdomen. Another intravenous cannula was quickly stabbed into his opposite arm.
Satisfied the line was secure, a second flask of intravenous fluid was hastily commenced, the flow rate thrown wide open. Large pads were slapped down onto the man's chest, and for a moment all eyes in the room turned towards a monitor above the victim's head. An erratic green line squiggled its way across the screen accompanied by several other, different-colored lines that were equally chaotic.
Lifting his glasses so that they were perched just above his brow, the doctor grabbed the defibrillator paddles from Ruddiger beside him and shoved his dog tags — which identified him as Ellis — down the inside of his scrubs. Nodding to Selwyn, who was still manning the oxygen mask, then to Ruddiger beside him, Ellis adjusted his grip on the paddles and approached the victim on the gurney. Another crackle of lightning flashed nearby, seemingly closer this time.
Ruddiger turned a dial on the defibrillator and listened to a high-pitched whine emanating from within. Her eyes met Ellis' and she nodded. Everyone stepped back from the gurney on Ellis' command, and he positioned the paddles on the chest of the young victim before him. As he did so, a shrill alarm sounded from the monitor.
Though he had done this hundreds of times before, Ellis felt the same nausea ripple through him every time he shocked a patient. Forcing the sensation away, he thumbed the triggers on the pads, sending an electrical current streaming into the patient. The young man bucked sickeningly on the gurney, his muscles spasming and holding their tetany for a moment before he slumped back on the hard surface again. Everyone in the room looked back to the monitor.
Moments ticked by ...
The green line remained stubbornly flat.
As if reading Ellis's thoughts, Ruddiger immediately dialed up a higher charge and nodded to him. Ellis pushed down on the paddles and pressed the triggers again. The victim bucked wildly on the gurney, this time lifting a full three or four inches into the air.
Electricity crackled through his darkened mind, briefly filling his consciousness with a blinding white light. The light dissipated and, for a moment, there was nothing. He was gripped by sudden panic. He tried desperately to move his arms and legs, but couldn't. Wherever he was now, he was totally and utterly trapped.
How could it have come to this?
Beams of light stabbed through the darkness, somewhere nearby, yet not close enough for him to grab their attention. Steady beams of a torchlight. Were they searching for him? He tried to scream, but he couldn't fill his lungs. No air! Panic again!
But it didn't last. The panic melted away and was replaced by an enveloping peace. The beams of light continued to work their way closer to him. He was floating now.
The green line on the monitor failed to budge. Ellis spat an expletive so loud his saliva stippled the patient. Ruddiger dialed up the defibrillator once more. It was all or nothing now. Ellis slapped the paddles down and discharged them immediately. Kost, beside him, shuddered.
Blinding white light again. Where was it coming from? He became aware of a taste in his mouth now. What was it? No, it wasn't a taste at all. It was a smell. He let it fill his nostrils.
A herb of some sort, perhaps? Yes, that's what it was. Something he couldn't quite put his finger on. His grandmother used it in her cooking. Goddamn, what was that!? An oven door opens. Roasted meat — lamb. She had sprinkled some herbs on it.
Why would I remember that?
The oppressive blackness parted slowly, replaced by shades of gray. There was movement and shadow, texture and something else. What was it? The texture was incredibly soft. Skin, perhaps? Soft skin. A cheekbone. The cheek of a woman. A familiar woman? He couldn't be sure. A tear trickled down, over the cheek and down.
"This is not over," a whispered voice echoed in the gloom.
Ellis and Selwyn barely leapt back in time as the patient suddenly vomited a thick stream of detritus and began thrashing wildly on the gurney.
"We got him!"
Selwyn tossed the mask assembly aside and grabbed a suction catheter as the victim was quickly rolled onto his side to prevent him from choking.
Ellis leaned in close, stifling his sense of smell against the odor of vomit, alcohol and blood coming from the kid.
"We've got you! We've got you! You're all right! You're safe!"
The young man coughed and spluttered and retched over and over while Selwyn suctioned the offensive detritus from his mouth. Kost came in with another mask and positioned it near to his mouth and nose. He tried to resist, but Ellis held him firmly.
"Just relax. Relax. Let the air wash over you."
Ellis expected the kid to continue thrashing, but strangely, a calm seemed to come over him and he let his body go limp.
"What's your name, son? I need to know your name."
My name? What's my name? I can't remember!
Through a phlegm-filled throat came a single utterance.
"An ... Andy ..."
"Andy, my name is Dr. Ellis. You're in the hospital. You were brought here in an ambulance."
Ambulance? And what's with the weird accents?
"Can you hear me, Andy?"
Andy attempted to nod against the hand that was holding his head down. Ellis nodded to the other team members who were holding him. They relaxed their grip and stood back. Satisfied they had him under control, Ellis began issuing orders to all present. Bloods, chest film, CT, ECG, IV antibiotics, catheter.
Catheter? Oh Christ! (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Hambledown Dream by Dean Mayes. Copyright © 2011 Dean Mayes. Excerpted by permission of ireadiwrite Publishing.
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