Jeremy had always abided by the law of the Australian land and lived his life guided by a perception of fairness and common sense. He drank his first beer on his eighteenth birthday, kept his virginity till his wedding night and routinely declared his income to the tax office. His wife of forty years, Kay, was of the same ilk except she had one little secret – a secret she had long forgotten. When she was seventeen, she sipped a glass of champagne at her mother’s fortieth birthday party when no one was looking; seemed so trivial then and even more so as each day passed since. In a rare moment of peaceful abnormality, Jeremy and Kay decided that their turn had come; to let common sense override any law and to set precedence for the creation of a new law.
Jeremy sat on the edge of Kay’s bed where her quadriplegic body lay motionless. Mid morning sunlight was almost a pleasure as it painted thin rectangles of hope in the shadows cast by the dusty venetian blinds. Jeremy had taken half an hour to feed Kay bacon and eggs – the same meal that had welcomed them to their honeymoon in May, 1971. They had both licked their plates back then but today Kay didn’t manage half a ration of bacon let alone the yolk of an egg.
‘Well, my love, we better begin as arranged.’ Bill smiled the best he could.
‘Go right ahead.’ Kay managed to stay focused.
Jeremy opened to the first page of a photo album he’d arranged over the past few weeks. The first photo was of Kay in her youth; taken by her mother. Although the photo was in black and white, Jeremy adored her waist length blonde hair, gleaming green eyes and innocent smile of a future. He wasn’t so sure of his own youthful photos that depicted sideburns longer and bushier than Elvis’s and a smile nowhere to be seen. He remembered how he used to hide from his parents whenever a camera was brought out into the open.
Kay didn’t mind the lack of emotion portrayed in Jeremy’s youth. ‘You know, just before we were married, your mother told me how shy you were as a boy. I found this very attractive.’ Kay spoke openly as gentle tears begged in her eyes. Jeremy had become accustomed to tears.
Smartly pressed suits, wide colourful ties and sheer nylon dresses of a socially accepted wedding day were next.
‘One mouthful of champagne the whole evening; nobody noticed. I wanted to be in total control of my appendages,’ Jeremy admitted to Kay. He remembered how he wanted to escape the crowd and be alone with Kay. Overflowing champagne glasses and a three tiered wedding cake reminded Kay of a honeymoon diet not found in any cheap magazine.
‘I can’t believe we ate that cake on the beach at Byron Bay,’ she smiled.
‘Yes, dear, and what about the next three months; turned me off fruit cake forever.’ Jeremy laughed.
Next came the births of Adam and Claire; less than two years apart.
‘Give me ten hours of labour pain anytime over the pain I have now,’ Kay sighed as she looked at her newborns.
‘I have no doubt you would,’ Jeremy didn’t know what else to say. He was happy to let the photos be his narrator. Adam and Claire, inseparable, with soap bubbles hovering well above the rim of the bathtub – mercilessly playing with the sprinkler on a scorching summer day – and in oversized school uniforms ready for prep. The smile on Adam and Claire’s photos became contagious for a moment, like laughter in a group of children, causing Kay to be happy again for a childish moment.
‘Would you mind taking the blankets off,’ she gently asked.
Jeremy did so and asked, ‘How about some fresh air as well?’
‘Sure, just a tiny bit.’ Kay hinted.
Jeremy opened the window slightly, letting in enough refreshing winter air to rid the room of its staleness. ‘Do you want anything else before I get dinner ready?’ Jeremy asked as he took in large gulp of air.
‘Just, a glass of champagne.’
Jeremy had never attempted to cook until five years ago; now he could prepare a meal to satisfy anyone and received compliments from friends and family who had had the pleasure. He prepared a hearty chicken and vegetable stew on auto pilot. As he set the timer on the stove for fifty minutes, he took in a deep breath and contemplated his last meal with Kay. The champagne bottle chilled Jeremy’s hand to the bone as he carried it to Kay. He popped the cork in front of Kay and poured two glasses. He devised a toast where he held one glass against Kay’s lips and the other glass against his lips. He looked into her accepting smile and said, ‘kiss the glass.’ They did. ‘To our happiness gone and to our happiness now,’ Jeremy proposed and offered more than a tear. With Jeremy’s help, Kay managed to sip down her champagne at a faster pace than she had become accustomed to, a pace that was once normal.
The family holidays to Rye were next. The photo with Kay having a fit when Adam placed a Moon Jellyfish down her bikini top as she sunbaked caught Kay’s attention.
‘Ready with the camera. What a coincidence,’ Kay insinuated.
‘You must admit it was hilarious. Apparently your scream was heard passing through Port Philip Heads,’ Jeremy spoke as he tried to temper his laughter.
‘Just give me another mouthful of champagne – you.’ Kay tried her best not to laugh and consciously changed the subject, ‘Remember when you stepped on a bull ant on the front porch and Clare told you not to cry ‘Daddy’. Now that was a scream.’
‘Yes, sure was, real men do cry, you know. Hard to believe the beach house became our permanent home,’ Jeremy said and gazed at Kay’s fortieth birthday photo. ‘God, you were still a stunner at forty.’
‘You weren’t too bad yourself,’ Kay spoke with fondness and forgot her impending fate in the moment.
Jeremy continued to flick through the photos – Adam’ and Claire’s twenty-firsts, his own fiftieth, Kay’s fiftieth, Adam’s departure to work in California and Claire’s wedding – until he came to an abrupt halt; five years ago when Kay was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctor’s words still haunted him,
‘Ninety-eight percent of women that have breast cancer are still alive, five years after initial diagnosis.’
So the doctor was statistically right but he failed to mention the annihilation of one’s sense of being human after chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The complete loss of womanly self esteem after the removal of a breast, as a final resort, only to find out the cancer had spread to the spinal canal. More chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed by a bone marrow transplant for which her sister ‘Julie’ was the donor and an operation to remove the cancer from the cervical spine all failed, finally leaving Kay a quadriplegic. What could Jeremy do now but attend to every request of Kay’s as if it were her last.
‘I better go and get the dinner, dear. Don’t want to spoil it,’ Jeremy said as he tried to think of something positive.
‘Can you please put on some music, from our honeymoon era?’ Kay asked.
‘Sure, how about the Rolling Stones?’
’Get out, I was thinking something more down to earth, the Carpenters will do.’
Not much was spoken as they ate; Karen Carpenter sang sincerely in the background. Jeremy fed Kay a mouthful at a time. While she chewed, he managed to eat his own meal. This process of slow eating caused them both not to eat as much as they could, especially Kay, who declared herself full before any part of the floral pattern of her dinner plate could reveal itself from beneath the chicken stew.
‘Best put the leftover stew in the fridge,’ Kay instructed. Jeremy broke down as he realised that he would be eating the leftovers alone.
‘It’s so hard to take. I know we’ve been through it all and planned everything but the execution of our plan involves real emotion, emotion that can never be controlled or predicted.’ Jeremy squeezed Kay’s hand as he spoke but she couldn’t feel his touch; just his feelings.
‘It’s going to be hard for you, I know, but I can’t take this excruciating pain anymore, not one more day. If I were a dog, I’d have been put down long ago. What would dogs say if they could talk? Don’t answer that. Let’s have a lie down before the champagne wears off,’ Kay suggested.
Jeremy closed the windows and the venetian blinds, blocking the remaining, albeit vanishing, afternoon light. The room instantly became cooler and he pulled Kay’s blankets back over her.
A few hours later Kay woke in pain as she normally did. She couldn’t turn her head nor motion her eyes enough to see Jeremy lying next to her, she relied on his gentle snores to know he was there. The Carpenters best of CD still played, continuously repeating, distracting Kay enough from waking Jeremy. She didn’t have to wait too long though as Jeremy woke to a stomach rumble of his own.
‘How about a cup of tea and a scotch finger?’ he asked.
‘That would be great. I’ll watch the trailers for Something’s Got to Give while you get it ready, if you don’t mind?’ Kay wanted something light hearted.
‘Sure,’ Jeremy put the DVD on and then got supper ready.
Jeremy always wondered why Kay liked to watch the same movie over and over as he felt the story had become stale but dared not to ask as he knew he would never watch it again. Instead he bathed Kay’s bed sores and offered a pedicure and manicure which Kay readily accepted.
‘Don’t you open a beauty salon when I’m gone,’ Kay tongue in cheek spoke.
‘You needn’t worry about that dear, I’ll be permanently retired tomorrow,’ Jeremy replied, letting his feeling of unfairness he felt life had dealt him; dissipate, with each click of the nail clippers. There was no need to clean Kay’s nails.
Jeremy had set the alarm clock for 4 am but slept restlessly all night and was fully awake when the buzzer sounded.
‘Good morning dear, are you ready for this?’ he asked.
‘Of course not,’ Kay burst into tears as she spoke, ‘but my oath, our, decision is final.’
Although Kay weighed less than she did in her early teens, Jeremy struggled to place her flimsy body in her specially designed power wheelchair. He steered her out into the chilly early morning air. The Lunar eclipse as predicted on the 16th June 2011 was now in full motion. Captured in the surrounding darkness of the Mat Board sky, the moon appeared ripe like a giant luscious peach that had miraculously survived a season’s torment of hungry birds and human hands; only to be ultimately abandoned by the deciduous tree that was once its protector and source of nourishment. This peach was not falling to its earthly end though; instead it floated calmly in another dimension, in another world. The moon emitted a rusty luminance that commanded the attention of the stars around it and others that were fortunate enough to witness its astrological supremacy.
‘Words can’t describe, can they?’ Jeremy spoke.
‘No, they sure can’t. You know, I’m lucky to have made it so far thanks to you. Give my love to Adam and Claire, won’t you. Thank Adam again for getting the Peaceful Pill from Mexico and tell Claire that seeing our new granddaughter was the best day of my life.
‘Sure, you know I will,’ Jeremy stuttered slightly as he began to shiver.
‘The time is perfect now,’ Kay welled with emotion as she spoke and then asked, ‘What will you tell people?’
‘I’ll tell them the truth, that’s all,’ Jeremy knew his answer already.
He took a small bottle labelled ‘Nembutal – 100ml’ from his dressing gown pocket and jerkily twisted the top open. For an instant he thought about tipping the liquid onto the dewy grass that his waterlogged slippers stood upon but knew most of Kay had left him long ago. This realisation stopped his shivering; forcing him to focus on what had to done. Kay drank the liquid guided by his steady hand. He noticed a peach colour return to Kay’s cheeks, reminding him of her beauty lost. The colour passed in a flash and they both turned their focus on the moon. He thought about joining Kay on her journey to the red moon, but it was too late, she was already there, never to fall to her end.
Andrew Mansell, July 2011.
4 of 7 from the ‘Seven Ways’ series.