Inspired by Mikill Pane’s No-One Gets Left Behind:
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
The cab arrives on time, its bright yellow sides reflecting on the snow piled high opposite the Swiss hotel we’re staying in for one night only, our lightly packed suitcases still standing by the door, casting shadows from the early morning light seeping through the large window. My own shadow stands beside them, watching the light snow fall like a thousand diamonds drifting downwards, and yours joins it, rippling across the blue sky walls and resting a silhouetted hand on my shoulder just as I call your name, which bounces off the walls of our small room. Your rich, rose perfume stings my nose, but I don’t comment on it, happy to have you here and smiling.
“We should leave, best not to run up the fare.” You whisper into my ear, and I take both suitcases as the door shuts behind us.
The bar’s closed as we walk by it; we spent the majority of last night in there, sipping on cocktails despite the doctor’s advice and listening to the radio. Your favourite melancholic Beatles song had played through twice in that time, and on each occasion you listened with a smile dancing around lips reddened by your drink. You’d always taken some joy from the sad songs, and when we returned to our room I’d gone into the bathroom and come out to find you perched by the windowsill, staring out into the night, watching the snow fall and listening to Bon Iver on the iPod that our grandson had bought you for your seventy-fifth. We’d all surprised you back in London, on a warm Sunday afternoon, with a rushed party and a half-hearted, clumsily painted banner reading ‘Happy birthday Grandma’, with a large blue handprint obscuring the final word. You’d laughed, and we’d danced, like we’d danced clumsily last night, except that back home we’d been surrounded by family and the few friends we’d kept loyal over the years. I’d remembered that day as I lay on the bed, still feeling the effects of a few hours drinking. I remembered long winter drives in our prime and Revolver, glasses of wine and A Hard Days Night, and I remembered how you’d listened to nothing but the saddest songs in the week at the start of July, all that time ago. More memories of long summers and longer winters, the seven week long cruise in the Caribbean, and the colder weekends in Blackpool with the kids, before they’d left home for University, and then moved further away for jobs – or so they told us. Last night, in the hotel, I’d heard the song change to Yesterday, and watched your pale face, illuminated in the moonlight shift lovingly in recognition.
We walk out of the hotel and towards our waiting taxi, passing a young couple striding hand in hand towards breakfast, bright with a youthful glow. We used to look like that, life stretching before us like the red carpet spread across the hotel foyer, and I nod at the man as he pulls his companion closer. We used to walk like them too, forty years ago, when we weren’t slowly dying but were quickly living instead. As we step into the snow and I see your breath leave you in misty plumes, dancing past your lips and pirouetting forwards in a white cloud, it seems like a lifetime ago, and I realise that it was. You don’t count the days or years anymore, but I’ve been watching them tick down one by one; I never could quite help it, and it had made the last few months longer than they needed to be.
The cab stands waiting, and we slip in, before it pulls out slowly and begins to make its way out of the town, passing the houses lining the streets at a steady pace. It’s a cloudy morning but the sun shines through, and everything seems to glow under skies peppered with snow. I know by your silence that you’re savouring every second, cherishing each golden glimpse and inhaling cool air, which dances down to your lungs and lights up your body. Children on bicycles glide down the icy pavements without needing to peddle; as adults carrying bags walk slowly in order to keep their footing. It’s just gone nine, and shopkeepers open up, turning ‘closed’ signs to ‘open’ as the day begins. I catch glimpses of our old suburban life seen through a window, but it’s seen as if through a filter now. Men carry baskets from faded trucks, and as I watch them it becomes harder and harder to see myself at twenty working the till in a local market and serving you and your brother on an almost daily basis before I even knew your name was Lucy. A few minutes into our journey the houses begin to thin, and eventually disappear all together, the last one receding in the driver’s mirror, and we start to cross the countryside, a tapestry of white fields with patches of optimistic grass poking through every dozen metres or so. Tall trees stand strident at the borders, like guards, and the morning sun cuts through them, bouncing up off the shielded ground and into your wide, watching eyes.
“I wish it had snowed like this at home more often” you say, “it’s beautiful”, and I repeat the last word as I watch you brush your thin grey hair behind your ear, lips curling upwards slightly.
I don’t feel the need to say more, and as you watch the world pass by I watch you watching it. The fields flicker as we drive alongside them, an expanse of crisp white, laid out like all of the paperwork we’d had to sign was scattered across our desk at home a few months earlier. We’d made our way through it slowly, ploughing on through line after line, wading through the fine print like we’d wade through the thick snow spread over the countryside like a blanket cast over a sleeping child, or pulled over a corpse. Houses begin to reappear, marking the fields like freckles, and I soon see the city rearing up on the horizon, blocking us off from the country all together once we enter it half an hour later. We cruise past brick walls and windows with curtains drawn, and your hand squeezes mine on the seat between us. The city is ominously large, and the buildings cast dark waves on the streets, causing the light inside the taxi to constantly shift between light and dark, night and day, and when we enter one of the many tunnels I lose sight of you entirely aside from the rim of your glasses, which flash under phosphorous red light. Even though we’re in the heart of Zurich when we emerge the traffic remains light, rush hour has sped by already, and we glide deeper on well-travelled roads, stopping at intersections, waiting for the signal to turn red to green, and then continuing onwards toward our final destination. I feel tiny sandwiched between the skyscrapers, and as we drive down a long, corridor-like street the buildings on either side seem to close in, and I begin to grow nauseous inside the cabs warm interior, the heater turned high to combat the cold, whirring over the sound of wheels on tarmac. The faint smell of cigarettes wafting from the driver doesn’t help, and I close my eyes, leaning towards the window to take a deep breath.
A second later it’s punched out of me as the world suddenly swings violently, and as I’m thrown sideways in my seat my lashes flash open and I catch a glimpse of a brown Ford ploughing into the taxi’s left hand side, grating along the yellow paint and leaving a black, jagged scar as it slices towards the headlights. The shocked face of the balding man driving it slams forward into the steering wheel, and a bright ribbon of blood splatters across the windscreen just before I lose sight of the car as the taxi spins away, and instead I see myself reflected in the windows of the surrounding buildings as we spiral in the middle of the icy intersection, coming to rest facing the road we’ve just drove down. I can’t help but yell out in surprised fear, but you’re silent throughout, the ruffled hair hanging over your left eye the only disturbance. You’re still staring out of the window, and you’re smiling like you’ve just remembered some long forgotten joke.
“Are you alright Luce?” I ask.
“Yes” you reply with a warm nod, the unshaken wife.
We climb out into crisp, clean city air, unharmed, and my knees tremble for reasons other than the cold. Our flushed driver is cursing in German, a series of long, harsh words as he inspects the damage, also unharmed. His taxi is crumpled at the front, blistered steel ruptured inwards a foot from where I’d been sat a few moments ago. Broken glass from the passenger side window litters the road, sparkling like the fields had, and a group of people have rushed to help the Ford’s driver, who sits slumped forwards against the steering wheel, not moving. I’m just about to join them when I see you start to walk away, brisk in the direction of the pavement, and amidst the shouts of worried spectators I have to follow, my hair flying backwards as I rush to catch up. A middle aged man in a grey blazer steps in front of you, a worried look on his face but you brush past, indifferent. He doesn’t know where we’re going, and neither do I, a confused and flustered foreigner, but you’re walking with conviction. I reach your side quickly, and then we walk together, slower now, our boots leaving footprints in the snow, which is quickly turning into murky sludge.
“Let’s find a place to sit for a while,” you tell me with a glance. You lead us slowly in the general direction of the clinic, the sound of an ambulance wailing in the distance somewhere behind us as snow settles on our coats and leaves them glistening. We find a park amidst the buildings and walk through it, hands locking. You are one of two-hundred and fifty this year, dying on your own terms here, and as crisp leaves crunch beneath our feet the ticket for a lonely return flight in my breast pocket weighs heavy as lead against my aching heart.