‘May this be my life, now and always:
The day bright with sunshine or gentle with rain,
Or stormy as if the world were ending’
‘This is my life’ she thought to herself ‘and it’s too much.’ She put down the collection of Portuguese poetry she had been reading; Alberto Caeiro was her favourite and these lines more than any spoke to her soul. ‘If only life could be so simple’ she mused, as the wind brushed slowly through the lime trees surrounding the small back garden in which she sat. It was warm enough to sit outside when the sun wasn’t blocked by the encroaching rain clouds. ‘I wish I could enjoy the rain’ she mused further. ‘We have ruined our beautiful world. What would Caeiro think of this horror’. There seemed little horror to the sun which shone down on her bare skin. She wore a white frilly dress and light blue rimmed sunglasses. The garden was small but well maintained. There was a trellis that used to be crawling with sweet peas and a patch of dirt in front where the tomatoes used to grow. She sat in her chair on the lawn, which surrounded the patio her and her husband had made when they bought the house.
The clouds had bulked together and now blocked the sun out altogether. She pushed a little ‘Bell’ button on her armrest. A few seconds later her husband appeared at the French doors and stepped outside. He looked up immediately and, with a worried look on his face, began striding towards her, glancing up at the sky with every step.
‘Stop being such a worry’ she laughed at him; ‘I’m sure it won’t rain but I suppose we can’t be too safe’
‘Well it was you who pushed the buzzer so I don’t think I’m being the worry’ he replied, walking behind her and pushing the safety break of the chair with his left foot. He began to wheel her back towards the house and she rested her head backwards against his chest. She smiled up at him.
‘Thank you, John. Love you’
‘Love you too Lily’
John lifted the wheelchair up through the French doors and into the kitchen where he was beginning to make dinner for the family. On the worktop lay a white chopping board with onions cut up into cubes and a large kitchen knife pointing in towards the wall. There was a pan on the hob with the flame already lighted; the oil in the pan was sizzling and John cursed at realising he’d left it on.
‘I’ve burnt the oil’
‘Oh don’t worry; you can pour it out and start again can’t you?’
‘Yea; it’s just a waste’
John poured the oil into the sink, gave the pan a quick scrub, dried it with paper towels and put it back on the flame with some new oil. He went back to the kitchen table where Lily had put her sunglasses down and began reading again. They looked out at the little darkened dots appearing on the grey slab of the step outside.
‘I love that smell’ Lily said taking a deep breath. ‘The first rain of the summer evening’
‘Mind if I close the door?’ John asked.
‘Be careful John; you’d be better putting your gloves on at least’ Lily replied in a concerned tone, without lifting her eyes from the poetry.
‘They’re all the way upstairs. I’ll be quick’
He looked down at her but she wasn’t interested anymore and didn’t acknowledge his response. He leant against the wooden frame of the French doors gently, making sure his face wasn’t even slightly outside. He shot his hand out towards the open door, grabbed the handle and pulled it shut. He was wincing and when it was shut he hung his right-hand limp to his chest like a dog to its wounded paw.
‘thhhhhh shit shit shit’ he grimaced. ‘It hit me’
‘Are you ok?!’ Lily said, this time lifting her eyes to her husband who was now waving his hand up and down.
‘Yea yea it’s fine’ he laughed a pained laugh before moving quickly to the sink and running ice cold water over his injured hand. With his free left-hand he stretched and turned the gas off to save the oil being burned for a second time.
Lily had returned to her reading by the time John walked over and showed her the extent of the damage. He had a small red circle on the back of his hand. It had started to scab at the edges.
‘That fucking rain’ she swore.
‘It’s ok, it stopped hurting quickly’
‘I know but it’s not ok.’ Lily was rapidly becoming agitated. ‘It’s not ok. That fucking rain’ she repeated. ‘It’s ruined our lives. Our beautiful house. Your hand….’ She stopped quickly to catch her breath and stop herself crying. John leant down and hugged her, kissing the bare skin on top of her head and embracing her for a minute while she calmed down. He breathed in her smell and stood back up straight.
‘I need to get a plaster’
‘Sorry for getting sappy’ Lily looked up and laughed through tear clouded eyes.
‘I’m glad you still care. Most of us have given up’ said John, before disappearing down the hallway and up the stairs to get a plaster.
Lily turned back to her book but couldn’t pick a poem to read. She sunk back into her own thoughts. ‘Oh to enjoy the rain like Caeiro. There must have been a point in our history where they realised we couldn’t go back; they just didn’t tell us. Pretended we should still care. There must have been a way that wouldn’t have involved running for fear of rain’. She dropped her head onto the table and rested it there. With her right-hand she searchingly felt around in the middle of the table and pushed a little red button without looking. A beam of light shot up a foot high. Lily lifted her eyes, keeping her chin on the table-top; she swiped the air in front of the light with her hand. The light changed colour from white to red. A number 5 appeared in the light and counted down to 1; from within the light appeared images of increasing clarity until they were the clear shapes of a news reporter behind a news desk. The reporter spoke;
‘Today marked the 300th day of their expedition on Alba. A meeting was held with a summit of the planets leading minds. Reports suggest the summit were surprised by the diplomats attempts to trade technologies such as the hologram and state of the art weaponry, for Alban technologies. Sources claim that the summit responded saying; ‘‘we do not use such gadgets for leisure nor do we have war to justify barbaric weaponry’’ further stating that they ‘‘have no need for trade with such a primitive planet’’ in regards to our Earth. Reports further suggest that the summit advised the Earth diplomats to ‘‘try harder’’ to make Earth ‘’more like Alba’’.
As we have seen, Alba is almost identical to Earth and its people likewise. It continues to perplex many back here on Earth, that such a similar planet seems to enjoy a far greater, healthier and equal way of life in comparison with our own. There have been protests in almost every large city in the western world today, in response to the diplomat’s goals from their trip. Protestors say that the diplomats are their ‘‘purely for trade and profit and not for the benefit of Earth’s people’’. It certainly would be interesting to know what secrets they bring back from their time on a planet of seemingly perfect harmony and tranquillity.’
John returned with a large square plaster on his hand. He kissed Lily on the head again.
‘You feeling ok honey?’ he asked.
‘Yea, better thanks. Best that I don’t get too worked up’
‘I know. Ok! third time lucky on the cooking! Here we go.’
‘You mind if I go to the study and write a bit?’
‘No no, on you go. Leave the news on will you’
Lily smiled at John and wheeled herself out of the kitchen, leaving behind the sound of a news obituary to the owner of one of the world’s biggest fast food chains who had died today. She rolled her wheelchair into the hall. The front door opened as she did. Her son, Harry, and daughter, Alicia, came in, dumping their school bags and kicking their shoes off in the general direction of the wrack.
‘Hello lovelies, how was school? You didn’t get caught in that awful rain, did you?!’
Eyes glazed, they ignored her welcome and quickly ascended the stairs, going to their separate bedrooms. They hadn’t seen Lily welcoming them. They may have heard her but were distracted by their virtual eye lenses upon which they were taking a tour of a new planet. A day ago, a team of astronauts had landed safely on an uninhabited planet in the Andromeda Galaxy and had hooked themselves up to one billion eager viewers worldwide via their virtual eye lenses and ear pieces. ‘To show the people of Earth another fascinating piece of rock’ thought Lily cynically as she rolled herself into the study and shut the door behind her.
Directly in front of Lily was her desk where her laptop stood open but asleep. To the left, a window facing out to the back garden. The rain had stopped but it was still dim from the clouds. She looked at the sick yellow grass; it would die soon. Against the right wall, opposite the windows, was a piano which Lily rarely played anymore. She used to sit there a lot and play Simon and Garfunkel songs; ‘Bridge over troubled water’ was her favourite. The piano was still tuned every 3 months by an eccentric little man. He would strut up the street without appointment and go straight to the piano with little invitation. Lily was too fond of him to cut his services off. ‘You never know’ she would say, ‘I might yet start playing again’. The tuner would stomp up jump onto the piano stool, such was his lack of height, then once he was done tuning, he would play the most stunning pieces of music. He had a twitch that meant his head would flick to the right regularly but he managed to play through it. He was an expert at Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto number one; it would fill Lily with great happiness to hear him play it while she sat reading or writing at the kitchen table. He would often stay an hour or two where the tuning only took 25 minutes.
Lily started up the laptop, closed a few internet tabs and opened a document she had been working on entitled ‘Mrs Sunrise’. It was to be the first book of poetry she had completed since becoming ill. She had two books already published. This was her most personal work, an elegy she thought; perhaps rather self-indulgent but it was, emotionally, the closest she had felt to anything she’d written. It was a series of poems recounting the life of Mrs Sunrise; an idealistic, loving and caring woman who lived a short, unglamorous life as a housewife to a husband whom she loved and mother to children she cherished above everything else and yet knew so little about. Lily began writing some lines on the final poem of the book.
She took a deep breath; a strong, wafted smell of frying onions floated into the room and caught in her throat. She tried to clear it but couldn’t and began coughing. The coughing only seemed to aggravate the itch in her throat though and the vicious cycle continued until she was coughing violently. Her lungs started to burn such was the violence of the cough. She was keeled over with her left-hand over her mouth and her right-hand now pressing frantically on the wheelchair buzzer. John came running through with a tea-towel over his shoulder. He saw his wife keeled over, blood spluttering from her mouth and onto the laptops clean white keys. She couldn’t stop coughing. ‘Harry!!’ he screamed. ‘Harry!!!! Alicia!!’ they couldn’t hear him. He kept his hand on Lily’s back whilst fiddling with a remote control he had in his pocket. He pointed the camera on the back of the remote at his face and spoke; ‘Harry! Alicia! Please come down stairs, your mums not well’.
Harry and Alicia’s planetary tour was interrupted by their dad’s huge face appearing on their lenses, calling for them to help. They ran down stairs and were confronted by their mum, bent over, coughing up blood regularly onto the desk and laptop. They stood paralysed by the shock.
‘One of you get some water for your mum; the other phone an ambulance’
They woke from their catatonia and went about fulfilling John’s instructions.
Lily’s eyesight was now glazed with red as she struggled for breath. With every attempted inhalation, the coughing worsened and the blood continued to spurt from her mouth. The hazy red vision was fading. She could feel John’s hand on her back and a glass of water at her lips but the cool liquid didn’t last long in her throat as she coughed it back up onto her lap. Her vision faded; breathing became difficult……a glimpse of the piano……..red……..her laptop………..darker red…….still coughing. Blackness surrounded her.
Lily awoke. She was lying down. It was comfortable. She looked to her right and saw John sitting, biting his nails. She tried to speak.
‘Stop biting your nails’ she said but only air left her mouth, no noise.
He moved to comfort her, kissing her head. At the bottom of the hospital bed were Harry and Alicia. They looked at their mum as if she were a stranger. She tried again to speak.
‘What happened?’ This time it was audible.
‘You had a coughing fit, your lungs are in bad shape’ John spoke, candidly.
Lily felt the breath leave her very suddenly. She felt cold and began to shiver. John held her hand.
‘I feel tired John’ she whispered, closing her eyes, her breaths becoming shallower. John wiped a tear from his eye. Amidst the darkness, Lily found the strength to speak one last line.
‘My hand in yours no more will change,
Though yours change on’
John bowed his head onto her breast and cried. The children looked at the scene of mourning and grief and wondered silently why they had not known their mother better than a few lines of poetry.