Friday, 17 October 2014

Last Laugh

The old man was dying. And he had come to accept that. He had lived a long, eventful life, and this was the end, he knew it had to come sometime. Being stuck in this nursing home while it happened was the irritating part. The room that the old, old man was in was filled with wheezing, bleeping and blinking machinery, with their electrical tendrils snaking about the room and sometimes hooked into the body of the old man, often in the most embarrassing locations.
The view from his rooms window, as far as the old man could see consisted of a dual carriageway, its roar muted by double-glazing to a low murmur. The skeletal branches of a dying elm tree tapped occasionally against the window, as though knocking to seek entry.

The knocking sound seemed louder than usual in fact. The old man stretched his neck with what seemed like a great deal of effort, as though trying to ascertain best where the noise was coming from. He managed to get a view of the doorway. An orderly was knocking on the open door. "Mr Chariman? Your family is here to see you?" she said in a honeyed voice. The old man hissed phlegmily, as though trying to speak, but the orderly had already walked off down the corridor.
"Dad you old so and so! Fancy not seeing us in so long, eh?" A man in a cheap polyester business suit and garish tie strode in, bringing a group of four others in behind him. The son had his hair slicked back with brylcreem, and a number of ugly gold cygnet rings littered his fingers. A permanent gormless smile lay on his face like a stain. "Come on kids, come and see your grandpa!" the son brayed. He strode across to a chair by his fathers bedside and jumped down into it. He clapped far too hard a hand on the old man's shoulder. Following him in was a small squat woman with peroxide blonde hair and bulging eyes, two squealing twin children who were fighting over a plastic gun, and a sullen, pale teenager with her face fixated on the white screen of a smartphone. The children immediately took up positions by the far corner of the room, nearest the window. The woman awkwardly stood in the middle of the room, as though awaiting orders.

"So Dad, how are we then? Still knocking about?" Michael had initially gone for the tactic of speaking as loudly and disjointedly as possible, so beloved of those wanting to speak to the elderly, but changed tact somewhat one he noticed the jarring silence of his father.
"Dad, you not speaking? Whats wrong with you, you old bugger?' he looked round to his wife. "Stacey, luv, what do you think the matter is with him?"
"Look at his chart, that might say" the woman suggested. Michael gazed down and flicked through the pages. "Well! It says here that he had a stroke two months back! Fancy that!" Michael exclaimed.
Stacey came closer to the bed. "That must explain all the calls we had whilst we were in Tunisia. Thought it was them bloody tele-marketers!" She began to laugh. Her laughter was uncomfortable and high-pitched, like a burst of machine-gun fire, and made the old mans hearing aid whine.
"Well we might as well try and see if we can get you to do anything while we're here! Come on kids, come and see your granddad!" Michael tried to get the two twin boys to put down their plastic gun, which by this point they were bludgeoning each other over the head with, but to no real avail. Michael softly chuckled to himself and talked half to himself, half to the old man in bed. "Heh! Them two, Kyle & Kane, they're going to be two lads about town when they're older and no mistake! Ah well, boys will be boys eh?" Michaels rambling trailed off into awkward nothingness, so Stacey decided to take some initiative.

"Come on Maisy! Come over and see your old grandfather!" she chirped. Maisy shuffled over from her perch by the corner closest to the window, sat down in one of the chairs by the bed, briefly looked up from her screen, grunted something that might have been construed as a 'hi' and went back down to her urgent business. "Awww, wasn't that nice, see Maisy?" Stacey said, seemingly unaware of anything going on around her.
The afternoon visit drew on, and the shadows of the dying elm tree began to cast a darkness into the room. The attempted conversation lurched to other matters. Michael clapped his hands together, as if in prayer, and gave his best earnest expression."Now Dad, you know we haven't been in the best of straights lately, we could barely afford that second holiday to Tunisia this year, and given the kitchen needs doing..."
"What he means Dad, is that if you really wouldn't mind, you could just will us that ring there..." Stacey lilted.
Her small, piggy eyes flicked to the large, gold wedding ring on the withered hand of the old man. "I mean, Judy died nearly five years ago! It's just wasting away being on you! You could help us so much if you just gave us that old thing!" Stacey tried to plead for it as though it was a worthless trinket, a tactic cheapened somewhat by the the hungry look in her eye when she looked at the ring.
"Anyway, you're not going to need it where you're going anyway!" Michael said.
Perhaps this had overstepped the mark. What looked like cold fury entered the old man's eyes. Michael couldn't tell really, maybe they were cataracts. He and the old man held each other in their gaze for a few seconds too many. Long enough for the twins to put down the now-broken toy gun they were fighting over and look up. Long enough for Maisy to look up from her phone in bewilderment. Long enough for Stacey to think maybe giving another burst of her machine-gun laughter would be a bad idea. Michael broke eye contact and looked down at the ring. The old fart wouldn't be able to do anything, what if he just...?

A knock at the door punctured the silence. An orderly and a short, be-suited old man wearing thick rimmed spectacles stood in the doorway. "We have Mr Chariman's solicitor here, he would like a few signatures for his legal papers" said the orderly. "But we were...." started Michael. He looked back into the eyes of his father. "Fine. Lets go." As the orderly walked back down the corridor, Michael approached the man, "You won't get much out of him mate" Michael bitterly said. "He's gone completely gaga." The solicitor shifted awkwardly in his shoes. "Come on, lets go, there's no point being here anymore." Michael gave the old man one last pat on the shoulder, though to the old man it felt more like a shove. No-one said anything else.

The old man's family filtered out of the room, their raucous burbling once again filled the hallway as they left. The s man waiting outside shuffled in nervously once he was sure they had left for good. "So Stanley, how was your family then?" he asked the dying man, almost in a reverential whisper. Stanley said nothing, but gave a mournful, chesty rattle. The other man drew closer to the bed and sat in the recently occupied chair. "We both know you don't have much time Stan, old man, and as both your friend and your solicitor I just wanted to make sure you were absolutely sure of this will I drew up for you." He looked over to his friend in the bed, a keen awareness seemed to fill his eyes that hadn't seemed to be there in many months. This must have meant something to the solicitor, for he tried to push forward his line of questioning. "Shall I read you the will again, just so you're sure?" Silently, nearly imperceptibly, Stanley nodded. The lawyer began the lengthy recitation of the will, Stanley all the while not saying anything, just keenly concentrating on the words being reedily intoned. After a few minutes, the solicitor had finished. "So are you utterly sure these are your wishes then old chap?" Again, the old man nodded. And as though gathering up his energies for a great physical effort, he shifted up in bed and licked his parched, dry lips. "Read me the part where I disinherit the entire family again, please" he croaked.

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