Last year I self published a novel, SEMIANIMUS. This is a stand-alone short story based around the same events.
Maureen opened the curtains in the bedroom she had shared with Seamus for fifty-two years. Morning light spilled in, and the scene outside took her breath away, as it had 19,000 times before.
She looked upon the beautiful Galway coastline and the vast Atlantic Ocean stretching out towards places she couldn’t even imagine as a naïve young girl. She wondered now, as she had countless times down the years, what life would be like off in some distant, strange, bustling city. As a child, she had dreamed about living in some distant, exotic place or at the very least leaving the Island of Ireland, if only for a holiday. It wasn’t to be.
Seamus was a home bird, content with his lot and the village life. Over the years her wanderlust had abated and they’d settled to a happy, idyllic life together.
She turned and faced the room, forgetting her hopes and regrets, for now at least. Seamus was lying in bed, as he had been for the past week. He had begun feeling unwell a month ago but, stubborn as always, had refused to seek medical attention. It wasn’t until he collapsed one night on his way to bed and had no say in the matter, that he was seen by a doctor.
He spent the next ten nights in hospital, undergoing a litany of tests and procedures, none of which could shed any light on his illness. On the eleventh day, he made a sudden and full recovery and discharged himself against his doctor’s orders. Medical minds were baffled, but Maureen was just happy to have him home and feeling well.
Life mostly returned to normal. Every morning they went for a walk together. Seamus would spend most afternoons pottering around in the garden while Maureen did things around the house. Sometimes when the mood took her, she would play the piano, the notes mixing with birdsong and nearby rolling waves. In the evenings after dinner, they would sit together and read and talk, then go to bed. Their hard earned retirement routine down to a tee.
Then a week ago, he had started complaining of headaches and developed a fever. He refused to go back to hospital and, unless he passed out again, Maureen knew it was futile to even try to make him.
So the doctor was called in.
Doctor Sinnot, their doctor for more than three decades, didn’t seem overly concerned. He told of how there was a lot of flu going around at the minute and prescribed antibiotics and plenty of rest.
For the next few days Seamus got no better or worse. He slept a lot, and while he slept Maureen would tend to the garden, his pride and joy. She didn’t quite have his green fingers, but she wanted to keep it tidy for when he was well enough to get back to it himself. In the evenings she sat by his bedside and read, and if he was awake she would read to him, or they would talk.
Some people might think that after a lifetime together there would be nothing left to talk about, but it was their lifetime together that opened endless avenues of conversation. They talked about old friends, reminisced about all the things they had done together through the years, the sad times and the many, many happy times. Every night, as they had done every night of their marriage, they said to each other, ‘I love you’.
Then last night, out of the blue, Seamus said something he had never said before. He apologised for holding her back.
“What do you mean, you silly old sod?” said Maureen, with a laugh.
“You always wanted to see the world. To travel and have adventures. I held you back. If it wasn’t for me you could have gone anywhere, seen different things. I’m sorry.”
There was something in his voice that worried her. He seemed weaker than he had at any time since he fell ill.
“I wouldn’t change a thing Shay. Being with you meant staying here and if I had to do it all again a thousand times I’d make the same choice. There’s not a minute with you I regret.”
“I’m glad you chose me pet.” His voice was getting weaker by the second. “I’ve always felt like the luckiest man in the world”, and with that his eyes closed and he fell into a deep sleep.
Maureen leaned over and kissed him on the forehead “I’m the lucky one.”
It was the last conversation they would ever have.
Maureen woke the next morning, opened the curtains and after taking in the view and the first cloud free blue sky for weeks, she decided to wake Seamus up. He thrived in the outdoors and despite Dr Sinnot’s orders, bed rest was making him no better. He needed fresh air.
“Alright mister, rise and shine”, she said cheerily as she went to his side of the bed ‘No sleeping all day today. It’s time you were back on your feet’.
She shook his shoulder gently. “Shay love, wake up”, she said with the joy of the first proper day of summer in her voice. “Shay?” Her smile began to falter as an uneasy feeling set in. “Shay? Seamus?” She shook him a little more vigorously.
Since he became ill the second time round, there had been mornings when his breathing had been so shallow that she had been convinced he had passed in the night. This had caused her horrible panic followed by sweet relief when she noticed his chest move to his breathing.
She had also felt slightly abashed in these moments. Of course he was alive. Despite being five years older than her, he was a strong man who had worked the fields all his life, never complained, never got sick. As a young man, standing at six foot five, he appeared to have been hewn from the Cliffs of Moher and, at seventy five, still cut an impressive figure. He wasn’t going to succumb to the flu.
But this time was different. He didn’t stir and didn’t flinch. She placed her hand on his forehead and where he had been feverish and sweaty before, he was now as cold as ice.
“Oh no. Oh no Shay.”
She sat down on the edge of the bed and placed her hand on his chest. Nothing. She checked for a pulse. None.
‘No, no….you can’t be…. Stop it now Shay….stop messin’.
Tears streaming down her face, she laid her head on her husband’s chest as she had done countless times through the years. But this time the comforting beat of his heart could not be heard or felt.
She felt faint. She closed her eyes tight. Snippets of memories came and went but nothing stuck. Scenes from their wedding day to their golden wedding anniversary party and numerous times between flashed fleetingly in her mind but were immediately clouded in a mist. The only image that presented itself clearly was the one thing she didn’t want to see — her husband lying lifeless in their bed.
Maureen lay with Seamus for what seemed like a lifetime, but the clock on the bedside table showed just three minutes had passed.
Then she felt something.
A faint movement in his left arm. Slight, but enough to make her reel back in shock. She stared at Seamus, no longer distraught, now watching intently for another sign of life.
Minutes passed and she didn’t move a muscle. She barely breathed. She dared not blink, lest she miss something.
Eventually her shock and hope waned. There was no more movement. There had been no movement at all. He was dead.
Maureen sat for some time holding her husband’s hand. Outside she could hear the sounds of children playing, traffic passing, waves crashing. Life going on without Seamus.
Eventually, she gathered herself together. There were things that needed to be done. She would have to call Dr Sinnot. Arrangements would have to be made.
She was about to stand up from where she was perched on the bed when Seamus’s leg jerked violently, knocking her sideways. Daggers of pain stabbed through her as her hip and elbow met the hardwood floor. On another day the pain may have left her immobilised but now it only registered for a second because, on the bed Seamus was convulsing as if a current of electricity was passing through him. A guttural noise was coming from his throat. Maureen was on her feet within seconds, back at the bedside, joyous, scared and confused.
‘Seamus, oh my god, Seamus!’
His eyes were wide open, staring at the ceiling. His mouth hung slack, an unnatural choking noise emanating from his throat. She held his shoulders, using all her strength to try and hold him steady as his body jerked ever more violently. Then in an instant he was completely still. The sound from his throat ceased. His eyes were fixed intently on her. Just two minutes ago she would have given anything to look into his eyes once more and have them look back at her. But these weren’t the eyes she knew. They were almost completely white, with just the very faintest hint of blue remaining.
‘Seamus? Seamus, can you hear me love?’ she said
He stared back, not moving a muscle. “I’m going to go call Dr Sinnot. I’ll just be a minute, ok?”
Maureen backed away, not taking her eyes off him. She felt overwhelmed which, given everything that had happened this morning, was understandable.
But there was something else she didn’t want to admit to herself. She felt afraid of Seamus. She was going to call the doctor, but she also felt she needed to get away from him.
She turned away from the bed and when she put her weight on her right hip the pain she had ignored before flared up again. She reached out to the bedside table to stop herself from falling but before she could touch it, Seamus grabbed her arm and pulled her violently onto the bed.
She didn’t have time to scream and just caught a glimpse of a snarling, hate filled face she didn’t recognise, before her head was caught between two huge hands as if in a vice, and forced back.
The last thing she saw was the ceiling of the room she shared with her husband for fifty two years, being splattered with her blood as he sank his teeth into her throat and ripped off a large chunk.
The last cognitive thought she had was: “He’s got his strength back.”
©2015 C.R.J. Smith