Previously on Wanking Title (working title):
I’m limbering up now and it seems to be going quite well. I’ve dealt with a fair series of traumatic events so far in a bright and breezy manner and I hope to keep things in a similar vein.
I also hope to not break the two-thousand word limit on any of these chapters. In the main, they will be between one thousand and fifteen-hundred words so that you can comfortably fit your reading around having a poo or waiting for a bus. This is quite deliberately due to the shortened attention spans we all seem to be suffering from these days.
In fact, I was having a chat about this just yesterday with another writer and he made some interesting observations about connecting with a modern audience. I wasn’t really listening, though, because I’ve got a new phone and was playing around with the wallpaper settings. But I think we both agreed: keep it short; keep it snappy.
So, without meaning to sound callous, hopefully dad will be dead by the end of the chapter, so we can move on to more outlandish things.
I don’t want to milk the death scene, anyway. We all have dads. They all die sooner or later. Deal with it and move on, I say.
I’m being ironic here, of course. As you will see, the entire narrative concerns the near-fatal struggles I had in ‘dealing with it and moving on’. I’m sure I could have left that one for you to work out yourself, but what with all the fluoride, MSG and GMOs floating around these days, you can never be too sure.
The process of his actual dying was only a period of four weeks, although it seemed much longer and was made much worse by driving on a near-daily basis the 50-mile round trip to the Liver Ward of the QEII Hospital in Birmingham on black ice and through sleet and snow in a Peugeot 205 that didn’t even have a stereo.
My stepmother kept a constant bedside vigil, of course, wearily making her way to the nearest coffee machine begrudgingly when a member of the family insisted on some one-to-one time. Apart from that, she was watching the entire situation like a depressed hawk.
Dad had his up days and down days- there was indeed a time, so I was told, when he was being considered for a transplant and was actually on the waiting list for a donor although, this being the NHS, he might as well have been on the waiting list for a skiing holiday in Hell. But Mandy, for one, never gave up hope- nor would she let the rest of us.
It actually got pretty rock’n’roll in the Liver Ward of QEII Hospital at a couple of points: first when 70s legend Gerry Rafferty turned up as a patient (one of his many hospital visits before finally succumbing to total organ failure in 2011) and then some teenage girl was brought in. Sadly, she had suffered a catastrophic reaction to her first and only experience with Ecstasy, turned bright yellow and was now fighting for her life. It happens. Not often, to be fair, but it does happen.
“Look at that,” dad said. “Poor girl. I hope you never get mixed up in anything like that, Earl.”
“Well, I do go clubbing,” I said. “But it’s more about the music.”
Again, that may sound callous- but life goes on. And Mandy was so relentlessly upbeat about dad’s chances of pulling through, so I kind of took it as read that he would be okay after all. That’s what people do with loved ones who are dying. It’s called denial.
On those occasions where Mandy was simply too exhausted to continue her constant vigil, we managed to steal some private moments with him.
My Auntie Vera had always had a close and private relationship with her brother and didn’t want to talk much about their time together. Her son, my Big Gay Cousin, and I unpicked our own audiences with dad, however, in motorway drives in his knackered Mini those times I needed to go somewhere other than the empty family home.
BGC told me that dad had basically apologised for having been such a silly bastard- and how, although it had broken his heart when BGC came out as gay, that was only ever because he was his favourite family member.
“Yes, you were a silly bastard,” BGC had replied. “We missed all those years together.”
They made each other laugh as well as cry in their time together- they had always shared a nasty and cattish humour, as well as an obsession with extremely expensive Italian shoes. After gently holding his hand, BGC kissed him on the brow.
My sister, Jessie- who had flown in from Hong Kong at Mandy’s insistence, without really realising it would be to join us in a deathbed scenario- was quite shocked about what was said to her. It was in one of dad’s delirious moments.
“Don’t you see, Earl- he’s not getting better! He’s dying!” she hissed at me over a car park roll-up.
“Mandy says he’s a candidate for transplant,” I said. “If they can find someone in time.”
“What, they’d give a liver to a fifty-two year old ex-alcoholic rather than an eighteen year old girl? Get real– he’s dying!” she shouted at me, her eyes red with tears. “Mandy’s got you all in this state of false hope. Well, there is no hope!”
* * *
“That little madam,” spat Mandy when I told her. “If that‘s what she thinks of her father, well…”
After that, Mandy spent less and less time getting coffee and more and more time jealously guarding her husband. Her meal ticket.
* * *
As for me, I had two or three private chats with him, in which he seemed genuinely interested in what I was up to (not much, to be honest, beyond necking pills and smoking weed- I kind of skated over that and talked about applying for a postgrad in theatre studies). “My son. The akk–tor,” he said theatrically, and not a little proudly.
Our final talk came a few days later when he was clearly in pain and definitely on the way out. He angrily told Mandy to get away from him and waited for the door to his private room to be closed before saying “It’s no good. I’ve had enough.”
“Of what?” I asked. “The hospital?”
Of course, I knew what he meant. I just needed him to spell it out.
“Of all of it. The treatment. I can’t go on. I don’t want to be here any more.”
“Do you understand what you’re asking me to do?” I asked.
He nodded, wincing at the pain.
And in that moment, all of Mandy’s delusion that had so taken hold in the family- that he was going to get well again, if only we all willed him to- totally evaporated. What my sister had told me was true. He really was dying. I was destroyed.
I breathed deeply and our eyes met for what I knew would be the last time.
“Ok then,” I said. “I’ll talk to the doctors.”
“Thank you,” he managed, before closing his eyes.
* * *
Of course, Mandy was furious when I told her that I had already spoken to the doctors without consulting her. That was my right as his son. She could fuck off, basically. It turned out he hadn’t been a candidate for a transplant at all- not since his Christmas tumble- and all they were doing was keeping him technically alive in the hope of some kind of spontaneous recovery. It was what she had wanted.
It was on that same day that an old Navy friend Mick Cooper (again, his real name) and some Canadian twat called Jake Somebody had come to visit. Jake had taken the red-eye from Los Angeles and Mick had crawled out from under a stone somewhere.
Actually, Mick had come up from Portsmouth- quite unexpectedly. Although him and my father had been pretty tight back in their navy days, the only times they ever got together these days was at Aircraft Handlers Association reunion events.
Jake’s presence was similarly mysterious- here was a man who, though he had known my father for five or so years, still laboured under the misapprehension that dad had been an Admiral in the Royal Navy. In fact, he had left after ten years at exactly the same rank, Ordinary Seaman, that he had joined as, having refused any and all promotions so he could be with his mates.. Admiral Grate never revealed the truth to him, but had enjoyed the perks of a millionaire lifestyle on long Californian holidays instead. Wouldn’t anyone?
* * *
After I had spoken to the doctors, and they had told me that the patient’s wishes were paramount, the entire family- Jessie, BGC, Auntie Vera, her husband Scott, Doris and her own husband Philip- went down to the hospital cafeteria and attempted to somehow come to terms with his imminent death as a unified group, trying to console our matriarch Doris, who kept weeping “My boy! My beautiful, baby boy! It should be me! It should be me, not him!” We had invited Mandy, but she said she thought we should come to terms with things without her.
Actually, she was being very busy in dad’s private room. His final act on this earth, although he had no way of knowing it, was to sign his name to the will that left everything to her, in a rather shaky signature that was frankly unrecognisable from his usual flourish. This will was then witnessed by Mick and Jake, neither of whom were ever seen again.
* * *
Of course, it would be way after the funeral that we would find all this out and, quite frankly, I need a breather from all this death stuff and I’m sure you do too.
The next chapter’s going to be all about the joy of drug abuse in one sort or another and I hope you can join me on my journey into furtherer.
Before we move on, however, I thought it would be fun just to give you a quick test on dad’s last words based upon what you know about the characters I have lightly sketched so far. Taking it is entirely optional and should be considered more an Easter Egg, rather than being necessary for following what passes for a plot in these parts.
* * *
Infamous Last Words
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This thrillingly-interactive quiz presents the last words of Arthur Grate to various family members.
Although the quiz itself has no time limit, obviously Arthur was himself racing against the clock, suffering random mood swings, and slipping in and out of lucidy and consciousness, depending on how much morphine was dripping through his system.
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Congratulations, whatever score you actually achieved.
In terms of family life, the only person who actually scored anything from my father’s death was my stepmother Mandy, which I believe I may have mentioned one or two times already.
Question 1 of 4
“Sorry, I was such a fool. You were always my favourite. I don’t know why I judged you so harshly.”Correct
Correct. Dad confessed on his death bed that he had only really acted so aggressively homophobic as a way of getting back at his own mother for having neglected him as a child- as BGC was her favourite. She was able to pretty much compartmentalise- which is a posh way of saying ‘ignore’- his sexuality as and when it suited her.Incorrect
Incorrect. Dad confessed on his death bed to BGC that he had only really acted so aggressively homophobic as a way of getting back at his own mother for having neglected him as a child- as BGC was her favourite grandchild. Doris was able to pretty much compartmentalise- which is a posh way of saying ‘ignore’- his sexuality as and when it suited her.
Question 2 of 4
“Happy NOW, are we?”Correct
Correct. Although, to be honest we shall never know as both of them are now dead.Incorrect
Incorrect. It was actually to his mother, Doris. Although, to be fair, I made that one up as they are both now dead.
Question 3 of 4
“You are a lost girl in a lost little girl’s world and what are you going to do without me?”Correct
Correct. Pretty obvious, really. What is rather less obvious is why he was so nasty to Jessie at this point- probably because she had fucked off to Hong Kong and thereby escaped from his control, but we shall never really know.Incorrect
Incorrect. I think you need to pay a bit more attention to the text, really. You’ll miss all the clever stuff.
Question 4 of 4
Correct. Not “Be a success” or “Make something of yourself”- just “Be good.” He was really fading at this point and his croaky voice reminded me, rather disturbingly, of E.T.Incorrect
Incorrect. It was his advice to me: not “Be a success” or “Make something of yourself”- just “Be good.” He was really fading at this point and his croaky voice reminded me, rather disturbingly, of E.T.
The story continues in 3: Could Have Been Fluffer for Tinky Winky