‘Mr Bump’ and I
I think I lost it for a while. I must have, because, for a brief time back there, everything slipped and swayed; images drifted around me in a hazy, jumbled mess that, as far as I could make out, held no real form or order. Sometimes foggy, like a frosty window obscuring the world beyond, sometimes shifting, vibrating; an oasis appearing in a mirage. For a slice of time, not only did I lose track of where I was, but also the knowledge of even who I was eluded me. No sense of time or space, up or down, left or right, lost or found; simply a vague feeling of existing.
It’s all right now though; I’m back, or at least, in an odd sense, I’m aware of the who-what-where and most of the why.
I’ve been here a while; I know this, not because of any real sense of time, not how I’ve always thought of time anyway, but because of how my view of the world has changed, of how things have altered since I first got here, since I first took up guard over the scene before me. I watch, listen, shift around the room to alter my view and feel sorrow and pleasure in an oddly disjointed, disconnected way that was, at first, so disconcerting I almost screamed; and would have, had I been able.
My wife, bless her, the mother of our child, used to say with some degree of regularity, that I was a dreamer. She once, in the middle of one of our rows, threw an apple at me while screaming that I was a ‘lazy bastard that spent too much time thinking and not enough time doing’, and ‘you’ll never amount to anything and never really achieve anything because you’ll never get around to actually doing anything’. The apple, a Cox’s Pippin if I remember correctly, caught me squarely on the shoulder before bouncing upwards and making my ear sting for an hour or two. Her little green projectile continued its flight, into the kitchen and succeeded in smashing her favourite vase. Sort of broke the tension a little, I suppose.
I remember her on all fours, picking up slithers of expensive crystal while I stood at her shoulder holding out a waste paper basket and listening to the tinkle of glass as the shards collected on the grey tin bottom.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she said, “you’re a lovely bloke but … aghhh, sometimes you just drive me bloody barmy.”
With the glass collected, floor swept and tiny fractured remnants of vase resting in the outside bin, she held my head in her hands, brushed my mouth with a kiss and looked deep into my eyes as though searching for my very soul. “Sorry … what I said, earlier … I didn’t mean it, you know?”
I answered her with a kiss of my own and smiled; an ever so slightly sad smile that said it was OK, all forgotten, nothing to worry about.
We drifted our way through our lives for a while back then, blurring our days, one into another, into another, into another and so on, relishing a day here, a day there, fighting occasionally, loving often, all the while our time slipping by. But, overall, it was pretty good; we were happy most of the time, generally comfortable and usually relaxed and at ease with each other and our home life.
We talked about having children; no that’s a lie, my wife talked and I listened in an entirely uninvolved manner, my general silence and lack of interest speaking volumes for my attitude towards ruining our lives with the patter of tiny feet. She talked some more, then some more, then we rowed then fought, she left, I tried to persuade her to come back and, after ten days apart she did.
But, my God it had been a close thing.
Six months later, over breakfast one beautiful Saturday morning in July, she told me she was pregnant. No preamble, no awkward build up, just wallop, straight between the eyes. I finished my toast in silence while studying the pattern on the tablecloth then sipped my coffee while looking into Sue’s eyes. Somehow the minutes seemed to have stretched so that each one took up a whole hour or more. When I placed my empty cup on the table and glanced up at the old clock on the wall, I fully expected it to be the middle of the afternoon, but no, the only stutters in time had been in my head. And so, on that Saturday morning in July, at precisely 8.47, I stood up, stepped around the table, took my wife in my arms and hugged her as though trying to cram a lifetime’s worth of affection into that one, single moment.
All of a sudden, I was delighted.
I was going to be a Daddy.
Sue looked like a small barrel when she was pregnant. Her ‘bump’ seemed to start just below her breasts and continued in a huge, sloping mound, right down to her hips. I remember telling her once that she reminded me of a ‘Mr Man’ and received a slap around the back of the head for my honesty. We laughed about it and, eventually, she agreed that yes, she did look like a ‘Mr Man’, in particular ‘Mr Bump’ as she often wore a blue maternity dress with a white stripe. I bought our new child her first cuddly toy when her mother was still four months away from releasing her to the world. Delivered, in secret to a friend’s house, a ‘Mr Bump’, four feet high and magnificent, complete with bandages and, after I’d finished with him, a huge red ribbon.
He’s there now, as I watch, standing in the corner like a huge blue and white football on legs. Threadbare in places from too many hugs, a red paint stain above his right eye and a slightly lopsided stance from, if it could be possible, too much love and affection. Never far from Anna, my daughter, he watches and waits as I do.
Old Father Time’s gone and done his drifting trick again because now, where the window over the bed was filled with summer sunshine, it’s grey and drab. A murky dusk is filtering over the land, flooding the car park and gardens around the off-white building, before seeping into the room where the lamp in the corner can keep it at bay.
I look at my daughter safe in her quiet, peaceful sleep and feel my chest fill with a contradictory mixture of love, sadness, fear and hope. I watch the constant drip of off- yellow liquid from a bag hanging from a stand at the side of her bed and listen to the tiny beep from the machine behind it keeping track of her progress, watching her breathing, measuring her heart rate; keeping her safe, like me and Mr Bump.
A nurse flows into the room, shoes squeaking on the tiled floor, her movements fluid, purposeful, professional; no time to waste, people to see, children to heal. She doesn’t acknowledge me and I, in return, simply smile and nod my head as she leaves the room. It’s as if I’m not even here.
My wife, Sue will be driving from our house now, pushing her way through slow moving, frustration-raising traffic. She’ll be shaking her head, thumping the steering wheel, cursing under her breath and between stifled sobs borne from an inability to do anything, a fear of the future, sorrow over the past and a general feeling of being right on the edge of a mental breakdown precipice. Impotence, parental impotence; that’s what she’ll be feeling – I know, because I feel it too.
When she arrives or, if I can gauge it, a few minutes before, I’ll slip quietly from the room, wander along the corridor and stand at the window looking out over the car park, the sprawling city and the world beyond. I can’t see her, not now, not yet; maybe tomorrow or the next day, maybe when I feel more up to confronting what I’ve done for them and also what I’ve lost.
I can’t remember the last time she even moved, my daughter, my precious Anna. A week, maybe more, I don’t know. She lies there beneath those awful, starched sheets and prickly green, throw-over blanket, eyes closed, still as marble and just as pale. I watch her and I want to pick her up, tell her it’ll be OK, tell her to wake now and we’ll go and play with her favourite yellow football in the park, tell her that it was all a great big mistake and that her liver’s really all right and that we’re off to have burgers and fries if she’ll only wake up and give me one of her very best, gap-toothed smiles.
I watch her in her strange state that to me, as a layman, seems more coma than sleep and remember the first time she reached forward with fingers so tiny and pink and gripped my huge tree-trunk thumb, its nail as big as her palm. I remember her first smile, the first time she rolled over, her first crawl, her first stand, her first fall, her first step, the first time she ran, rode her bike without stabilizers and now all I want is to see her open her eyes. I want to see that she’s alive, that she’s going to be OK, that it’s not all been in vain.
Sue should be here in a few minutes, so I whisper, “I love you sweetheart” to Anna, slip through the door and along the corridor to my favourite view point, around the corner, out of sight.
Below me the city lies sprawling like a vast, haphazardly thrown grey blanket. A heavy shower, way off in the distance, pours sheets of rain from its dark cloud and I watch it move slowly towards the east leaving slippery surfaces to glint weak sunshine in its wake. The car park is full, crammed, stuffed full to bursting with visitors’ cars and the hospital hums with the chatter of conversation they bring for a couple of hours.
We, my wife and I, can come and go as we please, our situation is different. Our child’s need, though no greater than any of the other unfortunate patients, is somehow more crucial.
What they’re basically saying, is that it’s all a little touch and go at the moment, that they don’t really know how long we’ve got; or rather, how long Anna’s got. They think, in fact they’re pretty confident that everything’s gone well, everything’s worked out splendidly, the operation was a success, the bleeding was minimal and that the organ has been accepted. They talk in huge long words that I can’t pronounce, don’t understand and don’t really want to. They explain things to my wife and I as though we’re educationally sub-normal, slowly, with hand gestures and small diagrams on hastily flipped-out notepads. We nod, go “hmmm … yes … OK” and then, within seconds, forget what’s been said and go back to the weighty job of watching.
They can talk all they want, explain all they want and draw as many diagrams as they want. As long as they’re doing their best, that’s fine. I don’t want to know any technicalities, I simply want my daughter to wake up, smile, eat, drink and say “hello Daddy.”
It’s been months now since it all began. We’ve had a thousand telephone conversations with specialists, consultants, surgeons and anaesthetists, as many meetings with the same people, good news, bad news, no news, tantrums, frustration and tears. I searched for hours for Anna’s condition on the Internet, for anything that may explain the whats, whys and wherefores and give me a level of knowledge that would at least let me understand some of what we were going through. I read it all, digested volumes and, at one point could have written a thesis on her illness.
Now, nearly twelve months down the line, I couldn’t tell you its name or even what letter it starts with because, quite honestly, I don’t give a toss. It was her liver, she needed a new one or she’d die, she had a very rare blood group and finding a match was, reading between lines drawn on white-boards and flip-pads, going to be impossible.
They needed a miracle and I wanted my girl back.
It’s late now.
Half a dozen floors below me the car park is emptying slowly. Tired, distraught after bad news, lifted after good, visitors thread their way in a bumper-to-bumper procession along the one-way system around buildings apparently unplanned and crammed into spaces never designed for them. A mis-matched collection of clinics, wards and admin centres, drab and dripping after the last downpour.
Soon, Sue will also leave for the lonely journey back to a home so recently filled with the happy giggle of an energetic seven year old and the beaming smile of a proud father. The house will be cold, dark and empty of the things she loves, the people she misses. She will cry bitter, desperate tears, eat a solitary meal, sleep in a solitary bed and then, in the morning, she’ll ready herself to do it all again.
And all the time I’ll be here, watching and waiting; just Mr Bump and I.
“What are the chances … without a suitable donor?”
Dr R.S. Singh shook his head and tried to look sorrowful.
“OK … so what are the chances of finding a donor with the right blood type?”
He ran through a list of statistics that made winning the lottery seem a piece of cake and spread his arms wide in a gesture of helplessness.
“But I’m a match, right?” He nodded, his head dipping gently and gracefully to the side. “Look Doctor, you’re the expert so don’t laugh OK?” I cleared my throat. It was the last chance, our last hope and the final question, in fact, the last desperate straw for us to cling to. We’d discussed it in depth the night before and a tiny spark of that most dangerous emotion – hope – had smouldered in our minds.
“Would it be possible to take a portion … I don’t know … a third or half of my liver and use that?” For a brief fleeting moment, when I looked at his face, I honestly thought we’d come up with a solution, but what I mistook for hope in his eyes was simply admiration for a desperate father. Perhaps he had children himself and was wondering whether he would, in the same circumstances, grasp at the same terribly fragile straw.
He shook his head and in that somehow desolate act, great waves of despair washed over us all and we knew, really knew, that all was lost.
That night, after the good doctor had extinguished the last spark of hope, we sat at home, wrapped in each other’s arms and, between bouts of anguished sobbing and tortured silence, came to terms with the truth of the matter; our daughter was going to die. She was going to wither in a gradually increasing spiral of ill health and then, at some point in the future, maybe weeks maybe months, the machine removing the poisons from her body and keeping her alive, would be turned off.
She would be no more.
For me, there was no choice; I had no choice. My daughter’s life or mine; the life of a loving father, a loving husband, the joint giver of life or his daughter’s.
There was no question whatsoever.
And so I hang around the hospital, waiting, Mr Bump and I, for a sign, for some improvement while Anna, the most beautiful, priceless gift I have ever received lies and waits also. Her father’s liver, my liver, the last remnant of a life that I tried to live graciously and with compassion, was plucked from my corpse and now settles uneasily into its new home, getting to work on a lifetime’s toil; beginning again.
I feel for my wife, my Sue, my lover and friend. I want to touch her, to hold her, to tell her “It’s OK, really, it is, I’m fine … don’t worry, I’ve got places undreamed of to see … there was no choice …”, but I can’t. So I drift, lost in this strange place that holds no fear, only new beginnings, waiting for my cue, my prompt to move on.
The worst but also the best timing of all, Sue lay on me, tears falling once more, my body still, lifeless, crumpled; twisted at the base of ladder, half on, half off the concrete patio I built with my own hands. Blood began to pool around her knees while her screams for help echoed in the quiet street. She knew I was dead but kept on praying for a miracle. She also knew it was an accident but, already, a seed of doubt had begun to germinate.
Her prayers for a miracle were answered within hours; one life given for another, a debt repaid.
Down the hall, the same nurse runs on her squeaky shoes, shouts for a doctor to come quickly and spins on her heels, retracing her steps.
I follow, through the open door and into a room where a mother and daughter hold hands, where delicate smiles reach out, tentatively, bridging a gap left by weeks apart.
Mother spins as the nurse pushes through the door, daughter’s eyes follow slowly and for a second they are looking over the blue-cottoned shoulder to a point in the room’s far corner.
I see them both and, in that instant, feel sure they see me too.
(Thank you Richard for allowing us to post your short story)