Home > The Good Samaritan(9)

The Good Samaritan(9)
Author: John Marrs

We were kindred spirits, bound together by the atrocious actions of others. I had chosen to soldier on. He, however, was done. And as our conversations became more frequent and our emotional connection grew, I found myself wanting to keep him alive for selfish reasons. I needed our discourse, I needed to hear him speak and I needed him to need me. I veered away from my well-trodden path and threw myself into trying to help him see that if only he could fight that little bit harder and stretch his hand out that little bit further, his might reach mine and I could save him. My objective became to keep him with me, while his was to convince me that he was better off dead. I already had my anchor and I was willing to be his. But I was being selfish. I just didn’t want to let him go. And eventually, although it broke my heart, I conceded defeat.

David’s biggest challenge was that he didn’t want to leave this life alone. So my biggest challenge became trying to find someone willing to end theirs with him.

Then suddenly she came along.


I was grateful the house had more than one bathroom when the side-effects of my slimming tablets began making themselves known.

I found myself glued to the en-suite toilet for the best part of half an hour. Afterwards, with the smell of Febreze in the air but still with a cramping tummy, I examined the side profile of my torso in the mirror. There were definite signs it was becoming a little flatter, even in the last week. I ran my fingers across it and imagined they belonged to Tony. I could burn at least two hundred more calories that morning if I did the school run by foot rather than by car. If I kept making this kind of progress, he might really see me again.

I loaded the dishwasher with my breakfast dishes and saw Tony had used one of the good mugs for his coffee again, much to my irritation. Outside, it was warmer than the tubby weatherwoman on breakfast television had predicted, so I tied my hoodie around my waist and thought of how it didn’t seem like five minutes ago when I’d taken Alice for her inaugural day in reception class. Week in, week out we’d make the same journey as I had with Effie, who’d eventually thought herself too cool to be with us so skipped a few feet ahead. Alice would hold my hand, singing the chorus of a song she’d heard on the radio over and over again, driving me mad with her love of repetition. I’d squeeze her fingers just hard enough to make her squeal and beg me to stop. Nowadays, neither wanted to hold Mummy’s hand and that suited me. And by the time I arrived at the school gates, Alice was already in the distance running around the playground with her friends.

For a moment, I considered trying to engage in conversation with a few of the other mums as they took up their regular positions in the morning gossip circle. ‘The Muffia’, Tony had nicknamed them. But it would have been pointless, because there were never any vacancies in their superficial little clique. I’d see them on the gym floor like a pack of hyenas, their knowing glances tearing strips off any woman above a size ten. Then I’d watch them from the back row of a spin class and imagine them sweating out their skin fillers onto their white towels below. Afterwards, I’d be quietly amused as they devoured sugary smoothies and pastries in the café. They fascinated and repulsed me in equal measure.

My journey from school to my next destination took exactly twenty-two minutes, a time I used to smoke a cigarette and empty my head of all negatives. Because whenever I went to visit my anchor, I needed clarity. I wanted my thoughts and my heart to be as pure as his.

Before long, the Kingsthorpe Residential Care Home loomed ahead of me. It was a large, rectangular building with wings sprouting from each side like branches from a tree. Broad, established oak trees flanked the brick-paved driveway that led up a slight incline towards the frosted-glass double doors of the entrance. It was surrounded by rolling landscaped gardens and a lake.

I smiled at the young receptionists and signed the visitors’ book. I checked to see if Tony or the girls’ signatures had been added since my last visit, but their names were absent. They were always absent. None of them knew I went four times a week.

I was buzzed into the communal area where I found Henry with a small group of his peers, all sitting separately and all preoccupied with different objects.

He sat almost motionless in his wheelchair and didn’t acknowledge my presence. I’d come to expect that and it didn’t matter. I could tell he knew I was there. Call it a mother’s intuition.

My son’s head had drooped to the right but his eyes remained transfixed on the television attached to the wall. I never really knew just how much he was taking in, but he appeared to be concentrating intently on a Peppa Pig cartoon. A thread of saliva, as faint as a spider’s web, had fallen from the corner of his mouth, down his chin and onto the breast pocket of his T-shirt. I took a tissue from my bag and dabbed at it, then used my fingernail to gently prise small crumbs of breakfast from the other side of his mouth.

I slid my hand under the straps holding him firmly in his wheelchair to check they weren’t too tight around his waist or shoulders. I’d yelled at a nurse once when I found the belts had left deep impressions in his skin. I hated that he might be in pain and unable to express it.

I stared into Henry’s eyes; once upon a time they could light up a room, but now they seemed to be losing their shine. It hadn’t been an immediate transformation but I was scared I was beginning to lose him. I had no one to share my observations with, because I was the only one who ever came to see him.

I ran my hand through his fine, mousy brown hair. It had been combed forward even though they knew I didn’t think that style suited him. So I splashed some water from a plastic cup over my fingers and rearranged his fringe into a side parting. That seemed to be the favoured style with the boys his age at Alice’s school.

Henry’s sinewy arms and legs jutted out from beneath the clothes they’d dressed him in. He’d not put the weight back on that he’d lost when he developed pneumonia. I’d spent the best part of two weeks here sleeping by his side in an armchair, then again later, in hospital, when his lungs needed draining. It was just my son and me together and it was the longest period of time I’d been able to spend with him since before the ambulance arrived at our house to take him away from me.

I was the first to admit those early days with Henry hadn’t been easy, from his weak immune system that rendered him susceptible to all manner of infections, to the screaming fits that lasted the best part of a day. Of course he was a lifelong commitment, but then what child isn’t? But try as I might, I couldn’t get Tony to accept him. Towards the end, he could barely even look at his son.

I knew I’d never walk Henry to school, watch him play with his friends, or be the mother of the groom at his wedding. We wouldn’t share memories and I’d never really get to know what he was thinking. All the dreams and plans I’d made for him when I was pregnant had long since evaporated.

So I developed new hopes instead: I wanted to help him become the best version of himself that he could be. Even the smallest of achievements, like identifying shapes and colours, became massive and all-consuming. Gradually I learned to accept the now and not hang on to what might have been.

His mind would never grow older than one year old or become jaded. He’d never expect anything more from me than I had to give. To me, Henry was a perfect seven-year-old, just in his own individual way.

I’d desperately wanted to remain Henry’s caregiver because he was part of me. And we were muddling along just fine until my cancer diagnosis ruined everything. The treatment required was urgent and rigorous and left me hospitalised. By the time I returned home weeks later, Henry had vanished. At first Tony claimed he was in respite care and would return when I was well enough to look after him. But when my strength came back, he gave me an ultimatum – our marriage and the girls, or Henry and me, on our own.

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