Richard, a successful businessman, is deep in a coma. Unknowingly to all, he can hear everything said around him. He has no choice but to listen as his wife Anna and daughter Ella long for his passing. He also has a son that no longer acknowledges his existence. His family lay in waste, the fallout of his selfish life spent pursuing money and excess. Frustrated by what he has now learned about his family, he wishes someone could hear him so he could apologize. Just as all is lost, a voice, inside his conscious says, “I can hear you.”
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Jonny Gibbings is the author of the shock comedy 'Malice in Blunderland' and renowned for his humor. He is also critically acclaimed for his emotional pieces that draw on a painful past. He lives in Billingshurst, UK.
Read an Excerpt
Remember to Forget
By Jonny Gibbings
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2013 Jonny Gibbings
All rights reserved.
'And' is a word that shouldn't be able to cause such pain, it is a functional word not a provocative one. There are so many words that could be loaded with the bullets of hatred or ignorance or bigotry that would never be directed at him, delivered with such potency that they could penetrate his thick hubristic skin. Yet the ones he did qualify for, what hatred he warranted, he had defended against with vainglorious armour hewn from a life he now knew to have been selfish. A fact that was every bit a revaluation. Hindsight, he thought, was a pointless and painful endeavour, in much the same way as truth is. They say, 'With the benefit of hindsight.' The only benefit he knew of that resulted from hindsight was the knowledge of what was done was already done. Unlike the truth. Truth was like air, it surrounded him, and so he hid from it in a vacuum and slowly suffocated.
He knew Anna was in the room due to her perfume. It clung to the air, sweet and floral, yet exotic. It triggered a distant memory that seemed to not want to reveal itself, of a long ago time on far away shores. Under any other circumstance he might have smiled, let a crease creep across his mouth and announce pleasure. But he knew his wife Anna wasn't wearing perfume for him, it was for Robert. He didn't know who Robert was, but he seemed to make her happy, he made her laugh. Richard was like a child that has walked in halfway through a movie, he had no point of reference as to how long this affair or fling or love or whatever it was called had existed. The only time he would hear Anna's voice was when she was on the phone to him. Once she was embarrassed to take the calls, it wasn't decent to conduct herself in such a way in front of him, Anna always was classy like that. But now she did. She discussed post-him plans, of a future and its arrangements, of them staying at her hotel and soon the flat, and when it got sexual, she would speak in low hushed tones, embarrassed and accented by a uniquely abashed laugh. He knew this, because he knew this.
The exception to this was of course her monosyllabic responses to the nurses. Usually 'Thanks' or 'Okay'. Or when trying to instil some semblance of the seriousness of the situation to her errant daughter, who like her mother, scheduled ever-waning visits due to being obligated to appear to care. Presumably only to each other.
"Ella, for Christ sake, what do you mean you won't be able to visit for a couple of weeks? You've seen your father for an hour at best."
"I'm going to Kavos," she said with defiance, placing a clutch of large boutique shopping bags on the floor.
"Ella," Anna pleaded. "You do realise your father might very well die this week?"
The heaviness of the small, empty word worried little about his armour, overwhelmingly crushing him as it fell from his daughter's lips. He was a vessel, his family his cargo that he selfishly sailed into oceans of isolation and regret only to foolishly run aground. His family now waited on the shore for him to sink from view so they could profit from what flotsam and jetsam would wash ashore. He wanted to open his eyes and look upon his wife. She was the star he once navigated by. He wasn't foolish, he knew just as all stars, what he saw and what is, were not the same. The distance between him and his star so vast that the love that once shone so bright died so very long ago. Even if he were able to open his eyes they were taped down to protect them from drying out. Not something he needed to fear now. Two tiny globes of tear formed in the cusp of each eye, and rivered down his cheeks.
Silence quickly filled the void in the room, what wasn't said so much more painful than any words that could have been weaponised and used. Anger he could cope with, but nothing? No response. At best he was an inconvenience.
They were both still there in the room. He could hear the gentle tap of lacquered acrylic nail upon smartphone and the digital notification that whomever Ella was talking to had replied. He imagined 'SOZ not ded yet lolz' being typed. He could hear Anna rubbing cream into her dry ageing hands that protested with a whispering rasp as she tried to erase evidence of liver spots. He could hear perfectly well. They didn't know that, nobody did; but he heard everything.
The nurses spoke to him for a time. They would say 'Morning, Richard, how are we?' Or 'Can you hear me, Richard?' They would ask and engage him as if he were still the person that he once was as they fluffed pillows, took blood, applied a clip to his finger to register heart rates. Over weeks Richard became Mr Price. Now they addressed him in the indefinite, 'the patient', almost existing in past tense as they readied Anna progressively for bad news.
Except for one nurse who sang each attendance of joy and hope. She had what he believed was a Caribbean or Jamaican accent, he wasn't sure though if they meant the same thing. She smelt of biscuits and when she walked her feet slapped the floor as if her legs were accidentally too long or the floor simply surprisingly nearer than she expected. He imagined her overweight, in slippers, like the black woman in the Tom and Jerry cartoons, seeing her illustrated only from the calf down and in red slippers. He worried if thinking as such was racist. He had spent far too long thinking about what to be rather than who he was, to have previously suffered such dilemmas.
He heard the nurses' intimate conversations, grievances with work, heard when the breakfast and lunch trolleys arrived. He heard the cleaners, the porters and how the nurses spoke differently to people when doctors were doing their rounds. He heard everything. His hearing registered as brain activity on CT scans and was the one thing keeping the machines on continuing his life. He knew this, because Dr. Raul told his wife, who said, "That is fantastic news."
As soon as the doctor had left, she growled, "Hurry up and die, you old bastard."
He had been ready to die, happy to go in fact, knowing he had provided for a family and that they were cared for, right up to where they accidentally informed him that he hadn't.
He couldn't sink yet. He had to find some way to swim to shore and build them a raft of salvage and sail them to safer waters, away from the bleak and barren wastes he had beached them upon. Except that he couldn't.
He wished they could hear him, hear him say sorry. To tell them now was their time to blossom. But he couldn't. Denied even the ability to physically manifest his anger and grief, God, I wish someone could hear me, he wished.
'I can hear you,' a voice said.
Richard lay silent. For all the many weeks he lay prone, mania had set in, he was sure of this. What little grasp on reality existed in his black world had more suffered a tectonic shift than a slip. He could hear his daughter sigh. Smell Anna and feel some third party busy with the chart at the bottom of his bed.
'Hello?' he said.
'Hello,' the voice replied.
'You can you hear me?'
'Am I imagining this?'
'Prove it,' Richard said, believing solely in his doubt.
'Then I don't believe you're real.'
'What the fuck do you mean okay? It doesn't bother you that I don't believe you?'
The darkness seemed limitless, where thoughts and regrets collected along a sluice of reminiscental loathing. The longer he spent prone the longer he had to harvest memories and for them to now spill everywhere due to the intrusion of an unexpected voice. A voice not in any way intimidated by him, and this too was an alien concept. 'Fine, I will ignore you then.'
Stubbornness abandoned Richard, he couldn't fill the space with silence for very long. His mind was all he had left and he feared he was losing it, he was lost to grief. 'Please,' he begged. He realised even his thoughts were shouting, he imagined speaking softly as he thought, 'If you are real, please show me.'
'Okay,' the voice said.
'What do you mean okay?' There was no answer. 'Hello?' Richard resigned to the sullen belief that the voice was indeed imagined and that he was indeed losing his mind.
Time now uncalendared, everything painfully slow once in the situation where you simply exist, waiting for an ending. When the voice spoke, it was after a punishingly long time.
'The next voice you will hear will be your daughter. She will sigh. Once done replying to her friend on her phone, she will say to Anna, your wife, that she has to go. She will call Anna "Mother", not "Mum", such is the detachment you burdened your family with. Anna will ask her to think about what she said. Ella, your daughter will reply, "All I am thinking of is Kavos" and will then leave.'
'Oh god,' Richard thought. 'I hope you are a cruel imagination, please don't be real.'
'Why?' the voice asked.
'Because I would rather go mad, lose my mind than know my daughter thought that little of me. Please, I beg you, don't be real.'
'I'm sorry,' the voice said.
Ella sighed. Her long bejewelled nails danced across the glass screen of her phone as a message was composed then sent. "Mother, I've got to go."
"Ella," Anna chided sternly, "you should think about what I said."
"All I am thinking about is Kavos," she replied, collecting her bags and leaving.
Richard was consumed by the agony of bereavement, because he loved her. He loved his daughter so much. He hated the isolation and disunion he had infected his family with like a disease. He called out childhood names, 'Pinkie' and 'Minxie-may' but to no avail as the wailing existed only in his mind. Not long after his daughter left Anna followed so she wouldn't appear to be the one who didn't care. Leaving Richard alone and adrift. Clinging to weathered timbers, sinking slowly, aided by the dark truths so heavy they were a big black anvil that lay in his thought and would drown him further amongst the wreckage of his life. The silence that followed an eternity uncounted.
'It's okay,' the voice finally spoke.
'No, it isn't.'
'Okay,' it said.
'How can you hear me?' he asked.
'Are you what I think you are?'
'So you are not what I thought you were?' Richard thought.
'I am. But the term you use is a manmade one. Angel, is is a label made of men, there is no such thing.'
Richard thought carefully how he would ask his next question. After much consternation about phrasing the question to provide a more favourable if less honest answer, Richard decided it was the blunt brittle truth he needed. 'Am I going to die?'
The answer as cold as the chronicle of disengagement that he had written in ink of ostentation. The loss of his family greater than that of his own passing. 'Will you help me?' he thought.
'I don't want to die.'
'Well, you are.'
'Can you buy me some time?'
'Buy? Your money holds no value to me, Richard.'
'That's not what I meant. Could you give me more time?'
'As a gift?'
'If that is what it would be, I need time.'
'To fix things.'
'Because I can't leave my family like this. They don't ...'
'They don't what?'
'Fit together, my family is broken. It's my fault isn't it?'
'How? I gave them everything they ever wanted. I worked my ass off to provide them with wonderful things, so how did this happen?'
'You gave them everything you wanted. You never listened to what they wanted. You worked hard because you wanted to win, not to provide.'
'I need time to try and make things better. I can't leave a daughter who is so cold she doesn't care if her father dies and a son who cares even less. I know I am going to die, I'm not asking for me, it's for them, my family, I need to ...' He hated the admission that he was to blame, he struggled to offer up the words to beg with.
'To what?' the voice asked.
'Repair what I've made, because it's my fault. Am I too late?'
'For them or for you?'
'I don't think so, there is time.'
'Can you help me? I'm begging you.'
'I will try.'
'What do you mean "try"? Can't you do godly doings and just make it so?'
'No. I have to ask. We are not so different to you, we have people we are answerable to. Bosses if you will. There is a balance, there are weights and measures, checks and balances that need to be applied. But I will ask.'
'You don't have to thank me.'
'What do I call you?' Richard asked.
'I am called many things.'
'Do you have a name?'
'I have many names, Michael, Gabriel, Samael, Yama, Azrael, take your pick.'
'If you wish. Richard, I am going to seek the answer to your question, if I might help you. You must do the same, because if so, you will not have much time. I need you to understand what the problem is to fix it.'
'No, you don't. You see it but you don't understand it. They are two very different things.'
'I don't know what that means.'
'Then I cannot help you.'
'If you were to help me, you would show me what that means. I'm asking for help, not for you to fix everything.'
'Okay you will help or okay you won't?' Silence returned. 'Gabriel?'
* * *
Richard slept in a matryoshka doll of other sleeps, such was the world of being in a coma. There was awake-sleep, sleep-sleep and the hours of mindless numb, that was not unlike the place you go to when in a daydream that was a cul-de-sac of thoughts, but unable to escape. Early nurses didn't bother with the bother of him, just a cursory glance at his outputs. Richard was thought of as more taking up space than a patient, and one that the machines simply prolonged the inevitable outcome of and his wife didn't care too much about. Had the nurse checked the brain output or printed its receipt, she would have seen activity reminiscent of the measurement of an earthquake. When exhaustion hadn't fed sleep, Richard was at a loss as to his conversation with the voice. Was it a dream or was it simply his own reconciliation of how over time he had bullied his family into becoming emotionally disabled? Sense and reason informed him the voice couldn't have been real just as the tooth fairy wasn't, but he had never wished more in his life for reason to be wrong.
'Richard, open your eyes,' the voice said.
'Thank God, I thought I imagined you.'
'Open your eyes.'
'I can't, they are taped down.'
'Your tears have moistened the tape. The light will hurt for a while, but it will get better quickly so don't worry. Open your eyes.'
Richard felt the tension lift as the adhesive let go and his eyes opened, only to slam shut. The light was like fire. Squinting, he blinked. The small room pulled into focus, smaller than he imagined. Tattier too. He could see the age on the door frame, a piece of the laminate missing from the cabinet beside his bed, the curtains shielding from the grey outside faded somewhat. The observations brought a deep joy. He tried to speak but the endotracheal tube denied him his words. 'Thank you,' he thought.
'Richard, look at your bedside cabinet. What do you see?' Atrophy made it difficult to turn, as did the thick hose that coiled into his person, but could not resist the freedom of his eyes. Upon the cabinet sat a framed picture of a little boy, four years old, excavating a hole in the wet sea sand. A beaming smile through a zinc-white slathered face. More sand in his hair than in his bucket. Anna was behind, cutoff jeans unbuttoned and unzipped as they struggled to contain the baby weight that once packaged a baby now nestled in his arms. He was still slim. He and Anna were laughing. He recalled the day clearly, joy radiated from the memory. 'A picture,' Richard replied.
'It isn't just a picture, Richard. What is the picture?'
'Not who, what?' the voice said.
'Yes. Tell me about that day.'
'It was when Ella was about eight months. It was the first time we all went to the beach as a family. Ella had bad colic, she cried and cried. It exhausted Anna. This was when things got better and we walked to a little quiet beach. Anna was lactating, she had these little pads to absorb her milk but she went through them in seconds. It left great wet pools on her bikini top, she was so embarrassed she kept going in the sea to hide it, we laughed for ages.'
'So why do you think she selected this picture, Richard?'
Excerpted from Remember to Forget by Jonny Gibbings. Copyright © 2013 Jonny Gibbings. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.