Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Hank Shank VIII by John Walker

I’m dying.
I know it.
I can feel it.
But I’m not laying here being maudlin and feeling sorry for myself … I’m just resigned to the inevitable.
My life will soon end, my soul will leave this body and the power I have enjoyed and wielded over so many others will pass to my son, Edward. I’m at the end, past the point of no return. It’s a hell of a feeling to be at the end of your life and be fully aware of it! It’s a situation where there’s nothing you can do but wait. I have never felt helpless before but laying here waiting for death to take me … that’s exactly how I feel now.
It’s almost ironic that as my life ebbs away from me, I am aware of every sensation in my body. The nagging pain in my right leg. Pain that has now spread to the other limbs. An odd stirring inside me, like a gnawing hunger, building like a fever, a pins-and-needles sensation that comes and goes in my fingers and toes.
I’m tired and yet I can’t sleep. I don’t want to sleep because I’m afraid I won’t awake from it. Thoughts of what may be waiting in that dark other dimension to claim my soul terrifies me.
I hate this.
I hate being forced to wait for the inevitable. I wonder if this was how those I had executed must have felt shortly before they died. My feeling of helplessness brings with it a cold dread of the unknown. For the first time in my life – at the end of my life – I have to surrender to something more powerful than myself … more powerful than all of us. Now I wonder if it would have been better to die suddenly, unexpectedly ... in an accident or by a bullet ... dead instantly.
My one consolation is that I am not facing death alone.
Catherine closed the door after Edward left the room. I know that this is the last time I will see my son and I want his lasting memory of me to be a living one – not the frozen, blind stare of a corpse. I don’t want him to remember seeing me die. I was just seventeen-years-old when I stood at my father’s deathbed.
It was 1969, the year of the Woodstock Music Festival and the first man stepped on the moon. I inherited my father’s empire, but at the moment I watched him die, it brought me no joy. I was barely a man and I just wanted my father back.
Catherine wiped my forehead with a cool towel and asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I shook my head and pointed to the TV set on the stand at the foot of my bed. She picked up the remote from the bedside table and clicked the standby button. The screen flickered alive, filling the room with sound.
Catherine pressed a button on the other remote panel behind my head. The bed behind my shoulders rose gently, bringing me up into a sitting position so that I could see the screen easier.
I’m not in hospital. I don’t trust those places and they’re too hard to secure. Too many strangers walking in and out and too open to the public. Instead I have one room of my home equipped so that it now looks just like any you’d see in a private hospital. The medical team on my payroll are the best I could find.
I watch as Catherine goes to the wash basin at the far right corner of the room, rinses her hands and towels them dry. She turns and smiles to me as she returns to her seat at my right side. I reach over to her with my hand and she holds it in both of hers. She’s small, petite and, although not as beautiful as others I have known, her smile warms me like no one else’s has. Her auburn hair is combed and tied neatly back, framing her gentle face. Her hazel eyes glitter as our gazes meet and she keeps busy with the task of maintaining my comfortable departure from this world. She is strong and assertive and yet so kind. Of all the relationships, all the failures and disappointments, I finally found the woman I should have married in the beginning. Another regret to add to the pile: I wish I could spend a lifetime with her. We could have enjoyed each other in our youth and then grown old together. I have missed out on her best years and she of mine.
Look at you ... as elegant and composed as ever. I wish I had met you first, before all the others. My history may have been written differently. To have been able to stroke your skin and love you as a young man ... I have missed out on being able to love you the way you deserve to be loved.
What is worse is that I am making her a widow for the third time. How will she cope with burying a third husband? Will she have the strength to love again?
It’s Saturday, 28 January, 2007, and I won’t see my fifty-fifth birthday.
This is considered an early death in this day and age.
Some of you, as you listen to me sing my own requiem, may envy what I have been in life, with the wealth, power and privilege I have enjoyed. Others may hate and fear me – many rightly so. But those who envy me don’t actually wish they were me, not with the benefit of seeing my saga play out in hindsight; they will just want what I possessed: all the power, freedom, money, status, privileges …
I had it all.
Was it right and fair that it should end this way?
I will leave it to you to debate that question ... and others.
So I now lay here on my back … propped up against several pillows as I gaze at the TV screen.
I think … and I remember … and I wish for the moment to hurry and arrive when it will all just end!


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