Review: No Easy Way Out

easy-way-outThe Easy Way Out It’s easy to have a view on issues like euthanasia, until they actually affects you. Ewan has been working as a nurse all his life, and now he’s drifted into a position where he is an assistant in assisted suicides. He’s fine about the job, he really is, until it starts affecting him after work. He’s in denial about his father’s death, and can’t face the fact that his mother, Viv, who has Parkinsons, may be facing death soon. The pressure piles up, and Ewan’s thoughts about assisted death start to become more complex. Set in a very imaginable near future, this is a well written book that uses fiction to explore the difficult idea of assisted death. It’s written by a palliative care nurse, and that shows in the insightful analysis. It is, despite the difficult topic, very readable, and I read it in a few nights, gripped to keep on going right until the end to find out what Evan finally decides.

The Easy Way Out is released today

Review: Curtain Call, by Anthony Quinn

Curtain CallI like detective stories, and I’d  say that Curtain Call, set in 1930s London, is a better than average book in the genre. It starts off with four chapters from   the points of view of the four main characters, which perhaps isn’t the easiest lead in, but Quinn creates compelling people who’s stories and links I wanted to unravel.

The book follows actress Nina Land, fading older reviewer Jimmy Erskine, his assistant Tom Tunner and society portrait artist Stephen. They are drawn together with Madeline, good girl turned prostitute who is threatened by a serial killer whose face she has seen.

The book creates a lively setting, taking you deep into London theatre society while avoiding too many stereotypes. Relationships develop and are smashed apart as the plot builds to a climax. Not everyone gets a happy ending, nor perhaps the ending they deserve, but the killer is caught in a dramatic finale.

A satisfying read.

Aneurysm -Short Edit

A scarred branch digs into my belly. Sunlight passes in streaks through gaps in the leaves. Lime green, grass green, stripes and splatters hide me.

Beneath me, you’re writing, and I need to see. Are you writing about me? This need consumes me all summer. I look for the book in your room.  I follow you after you have written, but you elude me.

I’ve been here since I ran from the dinner table, her voice screaming after me.

I’m too high. I know that the moment you open the book, pull out your fountain pen. The blackbird-song from the orchard battles with your scratch. Can’t see him, can’t see me. I can’t see. One move, I’m no bird, a twig will crack, leaves will betray me.

I can be cat, brown dapples in the green, unseen enemy of small fur and feathers, slide, slip along. The scrape on my legs tells me I’m making progress.

How close must I be? The bough dips, I’m lower still. Can I see my name in there, or hers? You’re scribbling, black scrawl indecipherable.

I lean. Twigs claw my face, tug on my shirt buttons. I put my hands out, grasp the leaves, then I’m flying like the blackbird, and the text is getting nearer, and you look up.

Blackbird wings beat in my head. There’s grass between my teeth, ink on my skin. A torrent of anger in your voice pours over me.

I sort my limbs from yours, as the script scores tracks through my mind.

I can hear her screaming as she thuds down the lawn, … I’m too old for this … you come here now … what will your mother think … I’m not letting you out of my sight again!

Nothing matters, now. I’ve read the words.

One step too far

We’re not together anymore. Skin ripped, bones fractured. I never thought I’d hate him. It was beyond his control. I never thought he’d resent me for doing what they told me was right. I didn’t do it for gratitude: he thanked me and everything changed. How do you live with someone who’s seen you in pieces? We’re better off apart, rather than living with the echoes of words we can’t unsay. My studio flat is quiet, nine floors above the city. I watch the headlights stream past, red gold blurs in the evening rain, and I think of him, thousands of miles away in the sun.

.

It’s funny, isn’t it? I work at the hospital, and when I take a day off, where do you find me? It’s ironic, I mean, not humorous. Nothing is humorous right now. I’m twenty six, for fuck’s sake. I’m not meant to be sitting by a hospital bed, cheering up someone who has no reason to be cheerful.

“You’ll be out of here soon,” I say. He can’t answer, and my words mean nothing anyway. “It’ll be okay.” “You’ll be fine.” ‘It’s a little better all the time (It can’t get no worse)’ runs through my head, accompanied by siren echoes. Words spill to fill not just the silence but his fear, and mine, that he won’t be fine, and out of here is not the place we used to live. Untested limbs in uncompromising environments, a world that we’re going to have to force to adapt while wishing we didn’t have to join this fight. We, together, in my mind. Who knows what he’s thinking, because he’s not talking. I look through the glass at the streetlights below and know that I can’t understand.

.

And anyway what happens when he is home?

.

It was easy when they brought him back. I didn’t think so at the time, but the ambulance men knew what they were doing. Now I have to do it myself. There’s a step. I’ve come into the house across that step without a thought. I forgot my keys, I’ll pop back in. Easy. I didn’t even look at it when I found the flat.

Now, we plan every trip. He’s six foot, broad, he used to play rugby. Used to. He’s put on weight: the only exercise he does is physiotherapy. So can we manage it? How much pain is he in? Is it worth the effort?

I’ve just got back from work but he’s inside all day and he’d be climbing the walls if he could. We decide we’ll try, but he’s not up to walking, not today. The NHS wheelchair flexes and twists as I heave it over the step, and he can’t help and I can tell how much it hurts as it bounces. He just jokes about whose turn it is to get the first beer. So we sit in the pub and I buy. We pretend things are like they were and all I can think about is how we’ll get him back over the step.

.

It’s not going to be better, is it? Being home, I mean. At least now I see him every day. But what do I really see? He doesn’t let me in, not far, because if we connect it makes it real and we’re trying to pretend that real is normal, and normal is how we were, and neither of us want now when reality is shaped by ketamine and a morphine pump.

.

His room reeks of disinfectant.

“Go away,” he says.

“But …”

“I said, go away.”

I go. I’ve got forty minutes so I sit in the corridor, and listen to the nurses talk, and wonder what’s so bad that he can’t have me in there.

That night I ask, “What happened this lunchtime?”

He doesn’t explain at first, then, “Fucking humiliating.”

I wait.

“I couldn’t go, all the painkillers they said, so they gave me something. It didn’t work at first.”

A sudden burst of laughter.

“Then there was shit everywhere. Fuck, I’ve never done that much. Two weeks’ worth all at once.”

“That’s why you didn’t want me to stay?”

“It might have happened again. I couldn’t … not in front of you.”

“Shit happens.”

And he winces as we’re both laughing for the first time in two weeks.

.

He’s never on his own in here. A battalion of brothers in injury comes through the rehab unit, bonding over drugs and ops and mutual hate of therapists. I see him at the start of the day, and if I get a break and in the evening too, but all we say is, “How’s it going?” and, “Much the same,” and of course it’s the same, and the physio prescribes the same, and people come and then they go and he’s still here and we wait for a change. I’d say breakthrough, but that’s not the right word now.

“How’s the pain?” the consultant asks.

Which pain? The pain from the accident, the pain from the repairs, the pain of all the things he can’t do, may never do.

“I did the Nevis bungy. Can’t believe you didn’t do it too then. You still could, though. I could watch.”

And we remember the break in the rain, the wide blue sky, and the bumpy dirt road up to the cable car, and the long drive down from Christchurch, and the hours on a plane, and right now he couldn’t even get to the airport. I put my hand on his. He pulls away and says, “Fuck it. I’ll do it again. I will.”

.

His mates come in. The nurse welcomes them at first. They bring beer and pizza, but they’re too many and too big and too noisy and quickly they’re hushed.

“One at a time.”

“Keep it down!”

“Right, that’s it!”

“Other patients have been disturbed, would you move down to the day room, please?” It’s a laugh, a riot, just like old times, like we’re at the pub, the club, like any other night out with your mates. Apart from the fluorescent lights, and the plastic chairs and the piles of tatty magazines and the stink of clean that’s everywhere. We all pretend as hard as we can, and no-one will look me in the eye.

Then Jamie spills a can of lager, piss-blond spreading across the tiles, and there’s pizza on the pale green upholstery (and it never comes out), and they all have to go on for another few pints. They say, “Why don’t you come, we could push you?” but we all know it isn’t really a question. There’s steps to the club, and he needs his meds, and when have the words, “Is there wheelchair access?” ever added anything to a night out?

Afterwards the ward is too quiet. Headlights stream past outside, hazy streaks. Nottingham is a night time city, the hospital runs twenty-four seven, but inside second hands falter.

.

“We should talk about arrangements for discharge …”

I feel sick. I don’t know what Tom feels. The hospital doesn’t seem so bad.

.

I’m alone, at home, and I’m always alone and it’s not like home, and it’s not going to work. I’m crying, and it’s stupid, and I can’t stop. My period’s due, and once I bleed I’ll feel better, that’s all I need and it’s nothing to do with the fact that we can’t go back and if I look forward, my vision blurs.

One time, we were in Dublin. We’d gone with some mates, seen a gig, tried the Guinness, eaten boxty, toured the distillery, and I realised I was late, and he was great, like I didn’t think he would be. We hadn’t been serious, and I wasn’t pregnant, but we talked about setting a date.

And now … my dreams don’t fit, and he won’t dream, and when he does he wakes in a sweat and won’t talk until it all comes tumbling out again and again the same, and there’s no white dress, no three bed semi, just falling and noise and pain.

He’s on his own, filled up with someone else’s blood, and I’m alone, waiting, because when I bleed, even if nothing is better, it won’t seem so bleak.

.

“What are we going to do when I come home?”

“I’ve given notice on the house. I’m looking for somewhere on one level.”

“Don’t. I’ll manage.”

“Okay.”

But I do. He won’t. And when I see him every day I’m lying.

.

“I know you didn’t want me to, but I’ve found a new place.”

He turns his back, and I sit, wait, until I have to go back to work.

“You’re going to like it, it’s still in Beeston, only round the corner from where we …”

“I get it. Just don’t try to make me say I like it.”

.

“What do you think?”

“Fucking day release. It’s like being let out of jail.”

He looks better than he’s done in weeks, though, and we sit on the sofa and watch TV, and later he pokes through his stuff in a drawer and picks his copy of Redemption off the shelves. Then it’s time to go back and he says, “I could stay,” but they’re at the door.

“It won’t be long, another few weeks, I’ll be at work; you’d be on your own. I think you should go back.”  He’s still holding the book and I’m lying again as they take him away. I stand on the doorstep until the thrum of the diesel engine fades. He’s never lived here and I loathe every night. It’s getting dark, though, so I turn back to the TV and tell myself how lucky I am to work at the hospital, that I’ll see him tomorrow, and I pretend that will be enough.

.

I wasn’t surprised when it happened. There were weeks of, “Aren’t you making progress?”, or “Just roll over!” Expose your butt, one more test, wait in the corridor, “It’s not like you’ve got anywhere to be”. They were kind but who wants kindness when seventy-six days ago he could do everything himself.

Thank God the physio was Michael, or maybe that was why, maybe he wouldn’t have lashed out at a woman. And no-one was hurt, even if the therapy room took a battering. Michael laughed afterwards, said it was the longest he’d seen Tom stand unaided. We laughed with him, but laughter isn’t far from tears.

.

“If you just stick with the exercises …”

“Then what? I still won’t be able to run or climb or …”

“If you just keep going to the appointments …”

“Then what? My life will have form and meaning? I won’t waste tax payers’ money? Screw them.”

“If you’d just get up in the mornings …”

“Would I feel better when I’m up? I fucking hate this flat, hate it …”

“If I wasn’t here … would you rather I went away?”

“Fine, you go. I’ll sit and rot.”

I go outside and cry. Then because I can go and he can’t, I go back in.

.

“As soon as I’m better I’ll …”

“What?”

“Things aren’t getting better, are they?”

“What do we do?”

He shrugs, and struggles to make his way back into the lounge. “I could go home,” he says as he leaves the room.

I sit at the kitchen table and shred the menu from the Lucky Cat into tiny pieces. “You hate it at home. When you’re better, I’ll go, if you want.”

“C’m’ere.”

I toy with staying put for a second. He isn’t going to make it through to me, so I go back to him.

“Sorry,” he says.

“Me too.”

“We have to work this out.”

“Not today.”

“Not today.”

.

“You’ve been drinking.”

“Why not?”

If he starts to drink at nine or ten, what will we do at six or seven? If he’s drunk when I came home … I’m scared of seeing him fall apart some more.

I bend down and pick shards off the sticky lino. “It smells like a pub in here. Did you try to clear up?”

He won’t look at me.

“I didn’t want it once I’d opened it. What’s for dinner?”

“When I cook it you won’t want it either.” I throw the glass in a carrier bag, and my blood drips on the floor.

“You cut yourself.”

“Statement of the bleeding obvious.” And we’re both laughing, and I catch his gaze and remember.

 .

It’s another night out. We’ve won the match, we’re on the town, we’ve drunk too much, and we’ve started a fight. We get kicked out so we’re walking to the club, the lads in front as usual, pissing about, and the rain won’t stop us. Someone has a bottle of vodka and we’re passing it round, because drinks in the club are a rip-off. The traffic streams past, a taxi honks its horn, and the headlights make gold lines. Why wait for red? We’re young and fit and fast. We’re invincible.

He takes one step too far, too fast. The van slams into him, with a smack of metal on fabric, on skin, on bone. He rolls up and over, and over, then smashes down, and there’s blood on the road.

Half way

Mid way to seventy six.

I have it all (I did).

On the up, once,

Now down,

Until I’m stripped.

(You were taken from me.)

Pared, unwilling,

Slices, thin and thin, repeat,

Each bloody cut.

I shrink.

 

Half way through, I stop,

Stop, stop.

A moment on the peak,

Should be joyous,

Breathless awe.

(You should be there).

 

My story’s mundane, so many others,

Yet we each stand alone.

 

And the view from here,

I look both ways.

Rear view: a precipice.

Not one step forward,

I stay,

The flame shakes.

 

Still flayed, red raw,

I won’t go on.

(No way back.)

What I see ahead is smoke,

No mirrors for false comfort.

(I can’t look back.)

My head drops.

How long can I stand here,

Alone?

Interlude

This new black skin is still too big.

Tough outer shell.

Spikes say I don’t care,

Stay back,

Beware.

I become black, I become metal,

For a fraction of a …

She thinks it might fit better, (something else’s skin,)

For a moment she hopes …

… maybe hope is what she’s travelling for.

She hopes that …

She hopes that …

No. I don’t.

I can’t.

I won’t.

He’d want her to.

I don’t hope.

I can’t hope.

No new skin will change what’s inside, no dye, no Desire, no tight black jeans nor kohl-lined eyes can stop them seeing that,

Now I’m nothing.

She slips it off.

Ecdysis leaves her vulnerable, but not renewed.

She’s naked, truly naked for the first time since …

Have you ever seen someone burnt? Flayed? Red, raw, naked muscle, glutinous yellow globs of fat, pounding veins, glimpses of heart, brown-red liver, lumpen bowel by the yard? That’s her without a skin. No outer sheath to save her from the world. But leathered skin didn’t save him.

Rivers of water stream, steam.

She raises one arm, watches biceps contract, triceps relax, ribs flex and separate. The bones are still there, she should be glad. Cold comfort from the hard white strength that still bends before it breaks.

Does she have a choice? If she strips her skin can she wield the pathologist’s knife, peel back muscle, spill blood? Because despite it all her heart’s still pumping and there’s that bloody metafor. He’s gone but her heart goes on so she has to wear her skin again.

Suit up,

Zip it up,

Shut up,

Suck it up.

She emerges, pink, from the bathroom, blue jeans, white shirt.

Still me,

Still here,

Still nothing inside.

At least she says goodbye, doesn’t run this time.

j

Mainly, I was angry,

Five weeks I’d known you, yet …

Did you really care so much, or was it for effect?

A try for my attention. And it failed and failed,

Too influenced by Curtis and Cobain,

White circles, scattered in your hand,

Their power just threat.

And so I ran, first time I ran?

And now, rotund and middle aged,

Cricket and slippers, farmers market fruit,

A life in rural France,

What idyll might you have missed?

What more resolve?

One more week?

One more month?

How long would it have taken before you really …

Would you ever?

Never, I know, not like this.

And this was such a suicide,

Such betrayal,

Such failure,

Loss.

He’s gone, like you never,

And must I go on?

Seventeen white pills, count them,

One for each year and one we never,

The choice he made hangs bitter,

In my mouth, like those sweet pills.

And I watch my own seventeen,

In your small French idyll,

Wonder what revenge on who,

And when and why and if …

A note would lay the trail

Of blame, but what’s the point?

A small revenge,

Inadequate,

And you’re not him.

I want to scream,

But in this room,

I would be heard,

And not by you (nor him).

I grip the wooden frame.

Remembering betrayal,

Anger defrays and dissipates until,

I take the traitorous seventeen,

Not to my mouth but to another gaping yaw.

I throw each pill,

Unsatisfying,

No smash.

No splash.

I cannot find the will to run,

As down below the franco-drone.

I don’t matter here.

No-one knows.

Joy divided, fractures.

Watch each pill dissolve,

Molecules swim,

Into new void.