Kenneth McGraw is dying. He is dying from an incurable, hereditary disease that killed his father and sister. This is bad enough. Worse, his mother is about to send his grandmother to a care home; places he hate with 'Vengeance'. A decision that he must fight with his last breath.
Kenneth McGraw stares at his cell door, a blue and stoic arrangement that stands tall like a sentry; a door so overwhelming, as far as he is concerned, that its presence makes everything in the small space miniature, shrinks and withers. Yet the cell, in the hospital wing of the prison, is a five star hotel, in a place where cells, in every other wing, are hovels, bare, airless and concrete as cold as death.
Kenneth who is 25 but looks 65 turns away, the handful of scraggy hair that he ruffles over his almost completely bald head turning with him like a cast net. He is toothless, his head full of eyes and his skin florescent yellow.
There is shouting outside the door so Kenneth returns his gaze to the door. He listened intently as the shouting passes and recedes into the distance.
“It must be association time, the fucking bastards”, he whimpers as he shifts his gaze to rest on the bold and badly painted writing on the wall above the door:
You Can Lock the Locks
But You Cannot Stop the Clocks
Kenneth smiles; if only this were not true of time, he thought, journeys, like destinies, that are not supposed to veer from course, would run like riotous streaks? Time, that indomitable anomaly, as they say, that ‘stops for no one’. A baby has just been born somewhere; some one has just met a partner of their dreams, won the lottery or overcame cancer; a bomb has just gone off in a mosque somewhere, killing innocent Muslims whose ideals the bombers profess to uphold. Yet time ticks by unperturbed, like a hurricane never spent. He widens his smile. He has no wish to alter his destiny, his imminent death or the speed he races towards it, for he has accepted, as inevitable, the way his father who passed him his diseased genes did. His only regret: that he may have tried too hard to cram all his life into a short time, a decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life.
“But what other choice did I have?”, he murmurs, as he struggles to his feet, padding the wall to steady his frame that is now twig-like, his mind a bedrock of conflicting emotions; a mind that had kept him sane over the years with arguments, hope and self-chastisements about his contempt for anyone with good health. “What type of god”, he continues, “would give life then take it back with an incurable illness? The type that kills the innocent young, that’s fucking what, fuck”.
Kenneth laughs; a feeble chuckle that almost plucked his heart from his chest. I know, I know, he thought. This is an argument I have had with myself many times before, with voices for and against; voices that agree, after protracted arguments, that dying young is a good thing; voices that led me to believe that dying old must, in essence, be bad and that if so, that my Nana McGraw, 87 and still going, must be cursed? A realization I tried hard not to accept, because I know that there is no bad bone in Nana McGraw. Now there are other voices, voices that shamelessly twist my arms, voices that shout and shout that only the bad die old and that the good die young.
Kenneth sits heavily on the bed and sighs. It would seem, he continued, that it does not matter what I think anyway? Even mother thinks Nana McGraw is bad, a bad for which she is being banished to a care home as punishment; a place where old people are taken, as far as I’m concerned, to die in abandonment; places that are bottomless and gluttonous sink holes that gobble your soul, wellbeing and wealth like a queen bee.
Kenneth’s mind races into a flashback: He was distraught, so he arranged to speak with Agnes, his mother, about his worries, alone; to beg her not to put his grandmother in a care home. But to his surprise, Robert, his stepfather, was there too. The Robert he hates with vengeance.
Agnes and Robert had listened to him, halfheartedly, he thought, as they do; seemingly impatient as if they had somewhere else to be. But Kenneth persisted, finishing tearfully. Robert sat forward, cleared his throat and began, tugging at his beard as he spoke, as he does when about to chastise or lecture as if to a child of ten.
“I get you Kenneth’, he said, “One hundred per cent but your Nana is no longer able to take care of herself?
Anger swelled up in Kenneth. “Is she ill, dependent or a burden?”
“No but it’s only a matter of time.”
“Bull. But I’m not talking to you anyway Robert”, Kenneth spat. “I’m talking to my mother?”
Agnes sat forward and regarded Kenneth, as if an irritating teenager. “Let him speak Kenneth”, she said, “He has been a father to you for 19 years”.
“I did not ask him?”
“I did! I would not have been able to cope without him.”
“You don’t want Nana here because he does not want her here, just say it?.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Why not, mother, why not?”
“We work, for starters.”
“The way Nana worked and grandfather worked and still managed to bring up four children and ran this place, you mean?”
Agnes threw her hands in the air in frustration. “I’m disappointed that you don’t get it Kenneth McGraw”, she said in anger.
“As I’m that you don’t get it either mother”.
“Sooner or later Margaret will need care around the clock.”
“Then leave her in the annex, as she wants. Get her round the clock help when the time comes, if it comes. We are rich enough for god’s sake mother?
Agnes sat back and regarded Kenneth with a wry smile, though frustrated, a smile full of happiness; that her son is putting up a fiery battle for his grandmother. And not simply because he had always hated putting families in old people’s homes because of the ill treatment he had seen in the news but because he thinks it unfair to separate families that way. After all, it was Margaret who stepped in, when Joseph died, and provided the home and stability she was too grief-stricken to provide. His dear ‘Nana Crawl’, on whose shoulder he found comfort and solace. Agnes swallows hard and clears her throat.
“We’re not as rich as you think Kenneth. There’s the legacy to think about?
This did not help Kenneth. “Katherine is already dead”, he retorted. “I will not live to be 26. So who exactly are you thinking of a legacy for mother, his children?
Robert, who has been folding and unfolding in anger, throws Kenneth a stern, contemptuous look. Kenneth returned the favour, with several harsh, intermittent looks of his own, as if goading and daring Robert to say something. But Robert resisted, slumping and straightening in his chair while not staring at Agnes and pleading with his eyes for her to come to his rescue.
Agnes spoke her voice tense and, unusually, angry. “There is no need to be spiteful Kenneth”, she said. “I’m here, you are still here and yes Robert is here. The legacy will be for all of us”.
Kenneth struggles to his feet in anger. I’m not talking about you or Robert mother”, he said, “But about me and Katherine, my father’s children, and grandma, the only person still alive and well. The person you want to kill by sending to live with strangers.”
“There is no need to exaggerate”, Robert finds his voice.
But Kenneth interrupted him. “No one asked you usurper. It was bad enough that you stepped into my father’s shoes before he got cold. Now you want to kill his mother?”
Agnes wiggled her finger, threateningly. “Enough of that Kenneth, do I have to remind you again that Robert had been a very good father you?”
“Its okay Agnes, I’m sure he has his reasons?
“That’s not the point”, Agnes spat.
“The point mother is that Nana needs us.”
“We are not abandoning her.”
Robert tries again. “We are not. We’ll visit and makes sure she does not want for anything.”
Kenneth did not bother to reply. He kicked the chair away instead and stood over Agnes and Robert, punching the air and pulling at his receding hair, as if it pacified the turmoil threatening to consume him. “Not abandoning her”, he murmured. “If sticking some one in a care home is not abandoning them, I don’t know what is”?
Kenneth’s mind raced. If only he is not of this culture? If only he was born in a country where families take care of their old, the old that gave birth to them and nurtured them at great sacrifice and expense? If only his mother would now return the warmth and care that Nana had always shown her? If only she has the courage to throw her hands around Nana and says, “Sorry I made a mistake. You are not going anywhere.” Yet he knew that this will never happen.
Robert’s heartlessness he could understand, but his mother? Why would his mother turn her back on the person she knows is the only remaining link to his father? Who else but Robert, yes fucking Robert the devil’s incarnate?
Anger swelled up in Kenneth, with such intensity that he lurched at Robert and hit him between the eyes with his balled fists, laying Robert out cold. Time and everything else stood still: the grandfather Clock somewhere in the house; the clock on the mantelpiece; the playful voices of children at play in the street and the chirping of birds in the garden. Agnes screamed, a long degutting scream that reached into Kenneth and pulled out his inside.
Kenneth knew that he should not have hit Robert, if only for his mother’s sake. More so as she was in a state, crying, cradling and trying to shake Robert back into consciousness. But there was more at risk. The fact that he was out of prison on license, after serving three years of a six-year sentence for almost killing Robert with a baseball bat.
Kenneth was arrested and returned to prison to serve the remaining three years.
Kenneth is now shaking uncontrollably, at the memory; the door now towering over him like the weight that pins him down at nights. He tries to get up. But his hands and legs could not support his weight. So he sighs and gives up; in the realization that like he will die in prison his Nana McGraw will die in a care home.