The café was mercifully quiet when Mel entered. The off-to-work crowd had departed and the mums-and-toddlers had yet to arrive. She loved this quirky spot with its eclectic mix of old sofas, scrubbed bare wooden tables and artwork old and new. The building had originally been part of an old factory and had even retained the original light fittings and some of the work benches. Open all hours, it was a trendy hotspot in this up and coming part of town and attracted all sorts. She had grown to relish this quiet hour to work on her laptop and found the atmosphere supportive. She shared office space (or a so-called hot desk) in a modern block in the town centre but she was beginning to realise it wasn’t working for her. Some raved about this new “co-working” but she found it tiresome and sterile and had decided to give it up at the month end. For Mel, the café had it all.
Sipping her flat white, she heaved a big sigh. The last few years had been a nightmare but things were starting to go her way. Her freelance career (as a fashion and current affairs blogger) was on the up and the panic attacks were few and far between now. She had begun to feel that, perhaps, the past really could be left behind.
‘Morning Mel, how’s you?’
Mel looked up to see Carol smiling down at her. They had met at the café and had formed an easy-going friendship. Carole had a job at a company in town but had flexible hours. Glad as she was to see her friend, she wanted to get the piece she was working on completed. Ah, well.
‘Hey Carol. I’m good and you?’
‘Wonderful, thanks. And how is that man of yours? Has he decided to move things forward yet?’ She was referring to Nick, her boyfriend that she’d met a few months earlier. She’d mentioned to Carol recently that they had discussed moving in together and now she asked about progress whenever they met.
‘We’re good, thanks. Taking things one step at a time. Didn’t you say you were going away this weekend?’
‘Yeah, it’s my Dad’s birthday. Ever since his divorce, we always go away somewhere together. Last year we went to Venice, had a wonderful time! He’s such a great dad, I don’t know how I’d exist without him!’
She sees Mel’s faint smile twist and her face start to crumple.
‘Oh, my God, Mel! I’m so sorry. I’d forgotten! Wasn’t that when your Dad died?’
Mel suddenly, found herself struggling to breathe. Her mind went into overdrive.
Her mother calling urgently a year ago. Please, would she meet her at the hospital? Somehow, she agrees and sets off but loses count of the times when she almost turns back. She finds herself shivering again, unable to catch her breath. People on the train are staring at her. She remembers the full-blown panic attack, unable to move, frozen in the hospital reception. She resists help, pulls herself together, tells herself she can do it.
Down endless corridors she walks, searching for ward numbers but wanting to be lost forever. Wishing she never had a past, hating the present and fearing the future. All around she knows there is sickness and death. Birth is present too, somewhere here, lost amongst the corridors, birth is bringing forth another generation. A new generation at the mercy of a population that calls itself human, the primal soup of hopes, fears, realities, heartaches and despairs. Oh, yes, some claim happiness, that fleeting illusion but what lies beneath that thin veneer?
She finds herself at the ward she is seeking. Forces herself to walk to the nurses’ station. Is shown to a side room. Hears the staff nurse speaking but the words don’t register. She clings to the doorknob, waiting for the nurse to leave her, hoping to find it locked, or the room empty. Then she could tell herself the visit was in vain, a mistake.
She manages to open the door. The room is brightly, starkly lit. Avoiding the bed, she looks around, relief in finding that her mother has not yet arrived. She forces herself to look at the bed.
Surrounded by medical paraphernalia, there is a shrunken shell of a man lying captive in the bed. An oxygen mask covers his lower face, the rest is sunken, muscle gone and skin like paper. Tubes run to and from his arms and elsewhere.
She sees the man who is her father. He is helpless and alone. She approaches the bed, gazes down at his face. He opens his eyes…a glimmer of recognition crosses his face. Remembrance floods back to her. She leans over him.
‘Do you still believe in God?’ she whispers in his ear.
A pause, then a slight nod.
‘Then I shall pray for you.’ She sees a faint smile crossing his face.
‘I shall pray, with every ounce of religious fervour I can summon, that you rot in hell for all eternity!’