Yesterday in the bright morning sunlight, while sipping on a cup of English breakfast tea and eating a crumpet, Malcolm collapsed in his kitchen.
Days before, a small fragment of blood had detached from his heart to embark on a long journey. Its destination was somewhere at the end of a blood vessel in a difficult part of his brain where it had lodged, sometime in the early hours of the morning. His wife found out what happens when you starve brain cells of oxygen when she came back in from the garden to find the crumpet upside down with Malcolm on the floor.
The paramedics that arrived to the sound of Arthur’s full-throated barks ten minutes later were perfunctory but kind. Despite the bustle in the back of the ambulance Malcolm remained quiet and, when greeted at the Queen Elizabeth by the sound of a thousand lorikeets colonising the trees outside the South ward, Malcolm didn’t hear them.
Later, in the small room with the thin blue curtain shrouding the bed, Malcom’s wife tried to stroke his hand without catching her own on the bracelet around his wrist. This was the same hand that had bathed their baby children, had signed contracts on behalf of the State Transport Authority and which had held hers for the first time outside the Hoyts Theatre on Rundle Street sometime in 1962. Against, Malcom’s white skin, blue veins showed blood doing the job blood was supposed to do but the hand felt lighter and she wondered whether these memories were still theirs.
The wards were not made for conferences. During the afternoon, family members ducked heads around the door and whispered clichés as comfort. Awkward huddles formed around the bed as jokes were made about hospital food until feet grew tired and eyes caught each other across the sheets. Goodbyes involved stories of others who had made it through and declarations: Malcolm was strong as an ox, a fighter and in the best place. His wife wondered when would be the time for grief.
By 9pm the children and grandchildren and brother had gone home. Malcolm’s wife reluctantly allowed herself to be driven back to emptiness in which she would not sleep; hoping for something in the darkness other than the thud of her own heart.
At the hospital, the ward softened into a dull beat of blue and white and rubber soled shoes. The lorikeets finally quietened and went to sleep against a navy sky. Rasped breath fell in line with the rhythmic beep of Malcolm’s monitors until, at 3:32 am, only one note remained.
Now it’s mid-morning and we’re tucked in our corner, watching my dad eat chocolate mousse in his gown and listing off podcasts we think he’d like listening to. We’re thankful that a lot can happen in twenty-four hours (for us at least). But behind me, the bed next door is empty, its thin blue curtain hanging limp.