“That boy is too good-looking to want to be tied to a cripple like you!” I heard my wife yelling at my daughter, Vanessa. “Now he knows the family money’s all gone, you’ll never set eyes on him again!”
“No Mum! You’re wrong about him.” I heard her breaking down in tears.
“Where is he then? Now that your Dad’s bloody well lying here dying? Where is your precious Tom?”
“Shut up mum! Just Shut the fuck up!”
And then I heard the thump-shuffle-thump of my daughter’s peculiar walk, caused by her club foot, that I had grown used to hearing over the years.
Just like most folk, I had read about the possibility that people who are in a coma can sometimes hear what others are saying, and also think perfectly clearly, even though to all intents and purposes they are dead to the world. I discovered that this was true after I had a terrible car crash and had multiple injuries and was lying immobile in bed in hospital, no doubt looking as if I was one whisker away from the knacker’s yard.
It was the strangest situation I have ever been in and I can tell you that it was also perfectly and absolutely horrible. I had already heard my wife arguing with my sweet-natured daughter, and also fuming about ‘how I probably hadn’t even made a proper will, and had never considered her welfare,’ and what a selfish awful swine and generally horrible human being I was. I also heard colleagues who I worked with discussing the disastrous mistake we’d made as a venture capitalist investment company, resulting in the virtual bankruptcy of our organisation.
“Shut up!” I heard my eldest son Anthony saying to his mother one day when she was cataloguing my failures. “He may have had his faults but I love my dad, and whatever happens I’ll always love him!”
“Can’t think why – he always despised you,” said Marian, my wife. “He said you were a wimp – in thrall to that awful creature you married, who bullied you.”
How dare she say that? How dare she say that? It was completely untrue!
But I was trapped in my bubble, unable to intervene, to blink, to respond in any way. All I could do was listen and cringe inside and wonder how soon I was going to die.
“You’re a lying vindictive cow,” he told her. “And in one way I’m glad we’re losing the business and the house and everything, because you deserve to suffer! I don’t blame Dad for getting drunk and driving the car too fast when he got the news! He was just putting off the inevitable row with you when he had to tell you we were losing everything. A decent wife would try to offer a bit of support. Thank God that poor Dad can’t hear the awful things you’re saying about him.”
“It’s a pity he can’t!” she spat out as I heard her footsteps, presumably as she flounced out of the room.
Then Anthony’s voice became louder and I pictured him leaning across the bed:
“I’m sure you can’t hear me, but I’m going to say it anyway. Try no to worry, Dad,” he said to me kindly. “You’re in a bad way, but the doctors say there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make a full recovery – we just have to be patient.”
And some time later, to my delight, right out of the blue, I heard some music, the unmistakable beginning of an open-air pop concert in the West Country, that I had attended in 1968. It seemed that when Vanessa’s boyfriend Tom had heard about my accident, he’d rushed off down to Devon to search out music aficionado friends, in order to track down the rare recording, and he’d also accessed lots of other pieces of my favourite music Vanessa had told him about, and he had transferred all these hours of bands of the 1960s and 70s onto the computer that he’d brought, and thanks to him, the music was now playing constantly beside me. The wonderful escape to my youth, triggering off all those happy memories, gave me oceans and oceans of pleasure.
“Okay, chances are that he can’t hear anything,” Tom reasoned with Vanessa as he adjusted the volume. “But they said there’s just a chance he might be able to hear now and then, so it’s worth making the effort, even it it’s only one chance in a thousand. I know your dad thinks I’m a bit of a drip, but I always liked him and I’ll do anything I can to give him any kind of comfort I can. . .”
No, no, Tom, I thought frantically, I never thought that. But I confess I had sometimes wondered if he was only interested in plain, lame, Vanessa because she was from a rich family. I only hoped I’d be able to recover enough to tell him how wrong I had been about him.
And my friends visited too. My best friend was Arnold, whom I had known since my schooldays. At school, years before the crackdown on firearms, he had joined the army cadet force, and been a brilliant shot. He went on to join the army and did very well indeed, leaving after five years, having had a distinguished career. Then he went into what he called ‘management consultancy’ of some kind. He would disappear for weeks at a time, then come home and pursue his hobbies of playing golf and doing watercolour paintings of landscapes for a while, then go off again for another brief stint of work. He seemed to have plenty of money, despite only being employed for a few weeks of the year. Years ago I had asked him what he actually did.
“Well, people come to me and ask me to solve a problem for them,” he said. “So I travel to some far-flung place and do the necessary. Quite simple really.”
“But what do you actually do?” I persevered.
“Um. I suppose you could say I’m a Cee Kay.”
“A Cee Kay?”
“It’s an acronym. Just think about it. Here’s a clue – as you’re already aware, I know a lot about firearms.”
“You don’t mean—”
“Yes, I do mean. Let me tell you, if a fellow is prepared to pay big money to terminate someone, this jerk is going to be either a complete waste of space, or downright evil. You know, John, some people really do deserve to die, so in fact I often feel as if I’m, doing a public service. But I only ever kill bad guys – I would never take on a job where the target is someone who’s a decent person.”
“Arnold, I am absolutely horrified. I wish you’d never told me now.”
I couldn’t believe it. How could such an essentially decent fellow have a profession like that? But a friend is a friend, whatever their faults.
Then, coming back to the present, came one of the most terrifying moments I’ve ever had in my seventy years.
My wife and my business partner were beside the bed in my hospital room, chatting away, totally oblivious to the fact that I could hear what they were saying.
“Do you think John ever knew about our affair?” Charles said. “Or that I embezzled all that money from the company and stashed it away for our future together? Or that it was really my fault that the company has gone bust, and I managed to successfully pin the blame on Anthony?”
“No, he’s too thick for that,” Marian assured him. “But what worries me is what’s going to happen now. The doctor says things could go either way. It’s true, there’s a good chance that he’ll die, but there’s also the danger that he might recover enough to be in a bloody wheelchair for the rest of his days. Well, I’m not putting up with that, I just won’t do it! And the other rather lovely thing is, well, he’s very well insured, we’ve got a policy that if either of us dies the other gets a fortune. So getting a lump sum like that would mean the creditors wouldn’t take our house, and I’d still have some security. Oh God, why can’t the sod just die?”
“Hmm,” agreed Charles. “It would certainly solve a problem, I had no idea he was so well insured. How about pulling out some of these wires and tubes he’s connected to?”
I heard a cracking rattling sound, and I pictured the wires being lifted and tampered with.
“But which ones are important?” Marian said, clearly perplexed. “And supposing someone sees us doing it?”
“Yes, it’s risky.” Silence for a few moments. “John was always an awkward bugger. Never could do the right thing.”
I heard his voice louder, as if he was leaning closer. “Come on John, for once in your life do the right thing, just get on and die! You don’t want to recover and be a cripple in a wheelchair, do you? Being a nuisance to everyone…”
Then, thank goodness, a nurse arrived, and soon they had gone.
This ghastly nightmare period of hell went on for longer than I care to remember, but I’m told it was only a fortnight.
And then the seemingly impossible happened.
I woke up!
What’s more, I was told by a beaming doctor that I was responding much better than expected to the treatment, and there was every possibility that I would make a full and complete recovery.
And do you know the first thing I did when I was sitting up in bed, able to get some business done?
I phoned my friend Arnold.
“Hello old boy, delighted to hear you’re on the mend,” good old Arnold said.
“Yes, things are looking good. Listen, Arnold, I’d like you to do a job for me. Two jobs actually. . .”
(Image by Angelo Esslinger from Pixabay)