When I woke, and went to the bathroom,
Uncle was already there, shaving his
scraggy jowls. This seemed an upturn
for the better. He was even whistling
tunelessly to himself. I slid away and let
him get on with his ablutions. After a
while, Uncle stomped downstairs.
Where I was already preparing breakfast.
Uncle suddenly slapped my back. I
winced, shocked. Natalie, Meg is sitting
up in bed. The hospital just called me to
say. The tears came. Happy tears. Taken
off my guard, I hugged Uncle joyously. I
was overpowered by the animal stench
of his dressing gown, but I didn’t care.
I asked Uncle when we could see Aunty.
Let us eat first, he said. Uncle was
fiddling with his fork, but I could tell
that he was brimming with happiness.
I spooned down my scrambled eggs
quickly, simply dying to go.


I’d taken to sleeping late. There seemed
little good in the world to rise for. William
started pounding on my door, however,
demanding to be fed. This was something
I could never ignore, so I staggered up,
ungummed my heavy eyelids, and
prowled downstairs. Uncle was passed
out on the couch. He didn’t often make
it up to bed these days. His leathery jowls
had blackened with fuzz. I searched in the
fridge and found some eggs to scramble
for William’s breakfast. I put the fry pan
on the stove and clattered with my fish
slice. Uncle stretched, mumbled some
incomprehensible words, and groaned
like he’d been stabbed. I added another
two eggs for Uncle. We would eat
together. There would be some
semblance of normality.


Uncle had become a sorry fixture in our
home. Mostly he snoozed, or swigged at
his horrible whiskey bottles. When I told
him about Aunty in the hospital, he
whined pitifully, and drank more. I’d
begun to think Aunty might never recover.
That she’d be put on life support. That
she’d slowly, sadly fade away. That I
would be asked to flick the switch, which
would extinguish her life. This gave me
the most awful shivers, and tears swam
in my eyes. I picked up my phone and
dialled the hospital. After a while the
friendly young ward nurse came on the
line. There’s was no significant change
in Aunty’s condition. She was steady,
but comatose. I thought of praying. But
no words came. Uncle’s appalling snores
shook the room. Everything, our whole
world, was intolerable.


We chugged through the sorry streets,
finding our way back home. I felt sullied
by the stink of petrol fumes and grime.
By the time we alighted from the bus,
I was caked in filth. William and I hurried
the final lap to our house. It had begun
to rain solidly. I turned the key. A pungent
aroma of sweat filled the hallway. Loud
snoring emanated from the living room.
Uncle was clearly soused again. I poked
my head in. Uncle’s heavy head was tilted
back precariously. His mouth had fallen
open, revealing sick yellow gums. I
resisted the urge to scream.
Overwhelmed by sudden pity, I drew
up close and cast a blanket over Uncle’s
legs. He would be out cold for hours.
Then I edged the door shut, and went
up to my room.


William had stayed outside, I thought
the scene would destroy his head. As
I exited Aunty’s room, I pinched William’s
arm roughly. He squealed and followed
hard on my heels. I was desperate to
escape this place, which had the smell
of a morgue. Once we were out in the
street, I drew a deep breath of sooty air.
My heart was still pounding. Whatever
has happened Sis? asked William,
panting, holding onto his knees. I
explained how sick Aunty had looked.
I tried not to be too melodramatic, but
the words just spilled out of me. William
listened intently. He was silent for some
time. Then he clutched my hand firmly,
and dragged me towards the bus stop.


The first thing that struck me was
Aunty’s absolutely pallid face. Her
mouth was sealed by tubes, she
looked like some Frankenstein
experiment. Aunty’s hair had been
pulled fiercely back, causing her sharp
face to appear skull-like. I recoiled from
the sight. Shivers travelled down from
my stomach, into my legs. My eyes
smarted with tears. It didn’t look good.
I wondered for how long Mrs Eames
would be attached to the ventilator.
I wondered whether she could breathe
by herself. Was her mind being starved
of oxygen? I hated all this. I choked
down a wracking sob, and fled for
the door.


I would go to the hospital. Nobody was
going to prevent me. I would rant and
rave at the nurse’s station, until they let
me see Mrs Eames. Uncle was in no fit
state to travel, so William and I caught
the bus. It was a winding journey. We
crawled at a snail’s pace along grubby
inner-city streets. The hospital was an
imposing old world edifice. Its corridors
stank of carbolic. It was difficult to locate
Aunty’s ward. By the time we reached
the nurse’s desk, my heart had shrunk
to a timid mouse inside me. I squeaked
out Aunty’s name, expecting an
immediate rebuttal. However a
kind-hearted junior nurse smiled, and
jauntily waved us towards an offset room.
For a moment I stood outside, trying to
regain my composure. Then I shouldered
the door open, and moved inside.


I didn’t have a clue when we’d be able
to see Aunty. I rang the hospital daily.
Hectored nurses always imparted the
same grim news. Her illness lingered.
She was still hooked up to a ventilator.
Aunty couldn’t be seen. Uncle tried to
regale me with false hopes. But his
words held no conviction and I wasn’t
comforted. Most of the time Uncle was
woozy from his whiskey. He would clutch
his hanging jowls and moan. It was pitiful
to see. I suggested that we all go for a
drive in Uncle’s smelly old car. But he
was too soused to get beyond rattling
his keys. I felt imprisoned, helpless. I
desperately craved the bubbly company
of my Aunty.


Uncle moved himself into our box room.
I found him a huge brown dressing gown,
which he wore all the time. Soon it was
speckled with cigarette burns. It reeked
of stale sweat. When Uncle did venture
out of the house, he’d return with his
usual cache of alcohol. Once I went in
to clean up his room. He’d rolled an
assortment of empty whiskey bottles
under his bed. They stank. The room
was irredeemable, so I went out and
closed the door firmly. I heard a
commotion. Uncle was pulling his
weary body up the staircase. I bolted
for the safety of my own room. This
whole situation was hideous. Uncle
was puffing and wheezing outside like
a bloated invalid. For one revolting
moment I thought he might rap his
knuckles on my door. Mercifully he
shuffled by, and snorting noisily,
slammed his door shut.


I read up about pneumonia. It’s a horribly
insidious illness. It can fell perfectly
healthy souls and bring them to the brink
of death. Sometimes I will chase sufferers
right into eternity. This was sobering. I
called the hospital but they didn’t divulge
much about Aunty’s condition. I could
only glean that she was stable, but her
recovery was far from certain. Uncle was
a mess. Now that I’d made him feel
welcome, he’d ensconced himself firmly
on our couch. He didn’t speak much, but
he drank ruinously. He would pop out and
return with armfuls of clinking bottles. I
said nothing. After slurping down gallons
of cheap whiskey, Uncle would snore
obscenely. I found it profoundly