Whatís it like to be trapped
inside an unresponsive body? Gordonís take on the weeks
following his hydrofoil accident.
Authorís Notes: Hi all! This was
an idea inspired by Michael Morpurgoís ĎCool.í Itís based
around a child in a coma who can hear everything that goes on
around him, so I was thinking about how that might apply to
Gordonís hydrofoil accident. I donít know how technically
correct it is and I donít have any medical training , so Iím
happy to be corrected on any of the treatment details.
Secondly, I'm English, so I tried as best as I could to use
American vocab/spellings etc., but apologies if I make any
mistakes! Thirdly, huge, huge thanks go to quiller for all the
tips and beta-ing! Spinky :D
Chapter Two: Memories
Chapter Three: Doubts
Chapter Four: Edging Closer
Chapter Five: Awakening
on the floor of his room, struggling with his Math homework.
Adding, he could do. Along with a bit of subtraction and very
minimal multiplication. As for long division - that was a
whole new story altogether.
he'd just give up and tell the teacher it was too hard the
next day. But he'd done that three times in the last month,
and he wasn't sure how much longer his teacher could hold out.
interrupted by a short, single knock on the door.
he called absent-mindedly, and didn't look up when the door
opened. He could tell it was Alan, "What's up?"
sighed and sat down on Gordon's bed, smoothing down the covers
either side. Something about the way he entered made Gordon
look up, and to his surprise Gordon saw tears welling up in
Alan's eyes. Immediately he stood and sat down next to him.
OK. It's all right." Alan shook his head and opened his eyes
wide, looking up at his older brother. "You want to talk about
a deep shaky breath and tried to relax. "These two boys keep
being horrible to me at school, and I don't know what to do."
shocked. "Horrible? In what way?"
laugh at me and keep asking why I don't have a mom in front of
everyone. And they think I'm sucking up to the teachers
because I got full marks on my Math test. And - "
because you're better than them," Gordon burst out, but
stopped immediately. Dad always said it was good to let things
out uninterrupted. "Sorry, Al, carry on."
find it weird that sometimes Dad can't come and pick me up
because he's too busy, so apparently I don't really have a Dad
just stupid!" Gordon couldn't help himself. He put an arm
around Alan's shoulders, and then remembered again not to butt
in. He motioned to Alan to carry on, but Alan shook his head.
He was finished. "First of all, Alan, you don't need to worry
about them making fun of you because of Mom. That's
ridiculous. For so many reasons. Second, you know you're
better than them. They're jealous because you can do Math and
they can't. Third..." Gordon hesitated, run out of things to
say. "Third, why did you come to me and not the others?"
shrugged. "I thought you'd understand better."
tried to hide the feeling of pride inside him as an older
brother. He smiled. "How's that?"
smiled back. "I dunno. You just would. So what are you saying
I should do if they do it again?" Gordon thought for a moment
that you've got a bigger - make that four bigger brothers who
will back you up in any case, whatever happens. And then you
can tell them to stuff their fingers up their - "
Alan! Dinner's ready!"
Dad said it was fries." Alan jumped up off the bed, wiping his
OK now?" Alan turned to face Gordon and grinned. He stepped
forwards and hugged him briefly before turning back towards
Gordo. Much better. Now, c'mon! I'm hungry."
hesitated for a second. He wasn't sure if it was a good idea,
but he decided to go ahead with it anyway. "Uh... Alan?"
help with my Math homework? After dinner?" Alan laughed out
loud, but nodded.
grinned and leapt off the bed to follow Alan downstairs. Sure
enough, the smell of salty fries began to drift up towards
them as soon as they reached the landing. All troubles
forgotten, they settled down to eat with the rest of the
sound I've grown to accept as part of the usual background
noise in this place. It's funny, isn't it; something so small
and regular is my lifeline - the one thing that's keeping me
other beep - more or less - is accompanied by the pump of the
air machine. That's doing my breathing for me.
before that sometimes people are 'awake' during comas, but I'd
never really believed it. Until now. And I especially thought
it would never happen to me.
me once. He told me about a friend of someone he knew, who,
apparently, could hear everything while comatose. He woke up a
couple weeks later, able to recall nearly every word his
family, friends and doctors spoke around his bedside.
thinking, 'that must have been torture, hearing everything but
not being able to react.' But I dismissed it, like one of
those newspaper articles you read about floods and disasters
in distant corners of the world and say, 'that's terrible',
and then go to lunch.
that disaster was in my world.
try it, you have no idea how horrible it is not to be able to
move. I can feel, hear and even smell, but I can't move, or
respond to what's happening. I can hear doctors discussing my
condition, wondering aloud if I'm ever going to wake, and all
I want to do is ensure them that I am, and beg them not to
give up on me.
on life-support. I know this because of the heart monitor,
with it's constant beeps, and the air machine pumping away
next to my bed. It's one thing to know your life is in the
balance; it's another to know that nothing more than a manmade
machine is keeping it there.
getting an image in my head of a light bulb blowing. A simple
electrical fault causes a room to be plunged into darkness in
that situation. Whereas in my situation...
As for the
accident, I can't remember much. I remember beginning to panic
as the speedometer hit 400 knots, and discovering that I
couldn't slow the damned thing down. I remember a sudden
close-up of the water in the windscreen, then confusion, pain,
up' a couple weeks ago, I think. Alan sometimes tells me the
date and time, to keep me updated. Apart from that, time's
hard to keep track of when you can't see a clock, can't see
whether it's day or night. Since then, I've been drifting in
and out of 'consciousness,' if you can call it that.
Grandma and my brothers talk to me when they're here. I'm so
grateful for that. I always will be, I think, if - sorry, when
- I wake up. Alan's always telling me I have to believe in
now. Just arrived. I can tell it's him by the way he opens the
door. All the others open it quietly and carefully, for fear
they might scare me or something by opening it quickly. Like
Gordy!" He says, coming over to the bed, like he always does.
He probably doesn't know that I can hear him. Of course, the
doctors have told them dozens of times there's a possibility
that I could, but they're not certain. If only I could tell
them I can hear pretty much every word - it must be hard
talking to something that doesn't appear to be listening.
Damn. If only I could tell them to keep talking: it keeps me
hanging on in here.
I want to say, Long time no see! Like everything's fine. He
sits down on the chair on my right, and puts a plastic bag
down on the floor. I want to know what's in it.
Tuesday, by the way. Nearly three weeks after your accident.
And it's six thirty in the evening. The others are all fine,
before you ask. Scott's out with the others, but I think he'll
be in to see you later. He, Virgil and John have taken Dad out
for dinner. They say he's overdoing it, not giving enough time
for himself. Do you know how much time he spends by your
bedside?" Yes, I do. I can feel his presence, sometimes. Other
times I'll lie awake for hours, thinking I'm alone in my room,
when I'll hear a cough or shuffle from the side of my bed. Dad
had been there all along. "Grandma's asleep. She's been
spending a lot of time here, too. She cries, sometimes. I know
she wouldn't want us to know, but I've seen her."
that, too. I've heard her sobbing by my bedside, stroking my
hand because it's too broken to pick up and all I want to do
is reach out and comfort her, to tell her it'll all be OK.
opens, and someone walks in.
there," a low male voice greets Alan. It's a doctor. Alan
probably nods in reply, because he doesn't say anything for a
while. The doctor breathes heavily and starts flipping through
some pieces of paper - probably a clipboard. "Let's see," he
murmurs to himself.
Alan says, "How do you know that - well, that Gordon can hear
what we're saying?"
Alan, I swear! Why don't they know that? What's happening?
tricky question." The bed sinks slightly by my feet as the
doctor perches on the end, "Nobody knows for sure. There have
been reports of coma patients waking up, able to recall
experiences from during their coma that they wouldn't have
experiments have shown that brain patterns of coma patients
often respond to what's going on around them. For example,
doctors told a comatose woman to imagine speaking another
language in her head, and looked at where the activity was
going on in her brain. As it was, the brain scans showed the
relevant area lit up."
Alan says, "D'you think he can understand everything that
I don't know. It's highly unlikely at this level, but you
never know." No - you don't, I can't help thinking. "Why don't
you ask him later?" I don't know why I can hear things if it's
so unlikely - maybe this is all one big dream and I'll wake up
in my cabin at WASP the morning of testing the hydrofoil.
shifts again as the doctor stands up and leaves the room. Alan
taps his finger on the side of the chair for a moment, and
then begins speaking again.
started writing a new tune on the piano. He says it just
happened, like he sat down to play and it came out of his
fingers. Says it's how he's feeling right now. I like it - I
think you will too. It's kinda sad, but - I dunno, hopeful, if
you get me."
glad Alan keeps talking. Some people, like old friends, come
in and sit in silence. It's funny, I feel awkward then, even
though there's nothing I can do to break the tension. Usually
I'd crack a joke, but things are different now.
keeps saying how the house is so quiet without you. It's true.
I keep expecting to hear your laughter, or one of the others
chasing you around the house for some ridiculous prank. I
guess you don't know what you've got, 'til it's gone, do you?
Believe it or not, I'd give anything for you to open your eyes
right now and shout 'April fools!', even though it's not
April." I wish I could do that. Oh, how I wish I could do
talking until my nurse comes in and says Scott's just arrived,
and will be in any minute. Alan says he's got coursework to
do, so he leaves now he knows I won't be on my own.
before he goes, Alan tells me what's in the carrier bag. It's
the swimming trunks I've been wanting for ages, and he says I
can't have them unless I wake up and learn to swim again. I
if they're the green ones or the red ones? He didn't say.
gone, my nurse fusses around the room a bit, chatting away and
murmuring to herself. I like her. She's called Lucy, like Mom.
She's got a high, cheerful voice, and I imagine her as short
and brunette, with rosy cheeks and bright eyes. I bet she
looks great in her nurse outfit. She talks to me all the time,
like Alan. Sometimes they talk to each other, and try
to include me in the conversation.
rainy all day today," she says, as she fluffs up my pillows,
"You're lucky you didn't have to go outside at all."
me a bit of one of my favorite childhood stories while he was
here. Mom used to read it to me every night, patiently going
over the same few pages every single time. I don't know how
she did it! Hearing it again helps. I don't know if Scott
knows that, but it reminds me of things I'm missing, like the
sea, pictures of mom, my brothers...
while, Lucy comes in and says it's time for Scott to go. If I
could move, I would object, and insist I was awake as ever.
But his three hours are up. Apparently, I need my 'sleep'.
soon after Scott's left, I finally drift off. It's like normal
sleep, but even more confusing. More like bursts of
unconsciousness. I might wake up in the middle of the night
wondering when breakfast is, or in the morning, thinking it's
the middle of the night. Not being able to see completely
messes up your sleeping plan.
I'm out like a log, except tonight. I have a weird dream that
I'm diving in a new and exciting cave, one that I haven't seen
before. There are the most spectacular coral reefs, made up of
blues, greens, purples and yellows - and fish I've never even
heard of. I'm probably about 30 feet underwater, because I can
still see the light trickling down. I'm not wearing any diving
gear. I can breathe underwater. An electric eel swims past,
startling me, brushing against my arm. It doesn't electrocute
me though. Up ahead, towards the light, a whole school of fish
dance about in formation, interrupted occasionally by a
slightly larger fish. I'm having a lazy, relaxing time,
hanging out with the new species, when I suddenly spot a dark
hole that intrigues me. Intrigues me as much as such things
can in dreams.
approach the hole, which seems to grow in size as I get
nearer. Looming open, threatening to swallow me whole like a
giant, hungry mouth if I come too close. I can't see anything
down there, not even when I shine my torch into the depths.
Looking down at my hand, I can see it's my Octopus torch that
John got me for my fifth birthday. Funny, that! I haven't seen
it in years...
against my vision and I wake up. Damn! I really wanted to see
what was down there! Only to be distracted by a stupid torch,
one which I hadn't seen since I was seven or eight. Already
the images of the weird fish are fading from my mind. I wanted
to ask Virgil to paint them as soon as I could talk.
is it, I wonder? Is it morning yet? I listen for any giveaway
signs - the faint singing of birds, clattering of cutlery as
the restaurant downstairs prepared for breakfast - but there's
nothing. The pump of the air machine and the beep of the heart
monitor drone on endlessly, merging with the background
sounds. The clock ticking suddenly sounds really loud. Mocking
me, laughing at me, enjoying the fact I can hear it, yet can't
see it. Is it late night or early morning?
I can hear
shuffling outside my room, and people speaking in low voices.
I strain to hear. That's the advantage of not having sight for
so long - your ears become acute and sharper.
shift is over. See you in a couple days!" Female voices.
I'm here until ten." This one is Lucy. Say the time, I urge.
What time is it?
"I have a
nice cozy bed waiting for me at home. I'm going to sleep until
midday, at least. Anyway, Danny's waiting for me outside -
gotta run. Bye!"
Lucy calls, and the quick pattering of feet disappear down the
corridor. There's silence for a while, and then Lucy sighs,
reminding me that she was still by my door. She sounds
exhausted. Is she only staying on for me? After another
moment's silence, the door opens slowly and she enters.
give you a wash, shall we? There's no point, and you're
probably asleep right now, but I've got a bit of spare time."
Lucy goes over to the sink in the corner and I can hear the
tap running. She's wetting a flannel to clean my face. She
does it a lot when I haven't got any visitors.
you gave the doctors a bit of a scare earlier!" Lucy says. I
haven't got a clue what she's talking about and try to cast my
mind back - but I can't remember anything.
flannel feels cool and refreshing against my skin. The room
gets hot at night, and I can't turn myself over. I don't know
why I feel so hot, like a clam in its shell.
what it's like, being trapped in a body like this." Lucy says,
as she wanders over to my bedside and sits down. "The doctors
say you can't hear me, but I don't think they know
Lucy leans closer, and I can feel her breath on my cheek,
making the water evaporate and leaving my skin cold. "Can you
few moments of painful silence, she gives up. I can hear her,
but she doesn't know that. Nevertheless, she keeps talking.
"Silly me. Even if you can hear me, you can't respond." She
brings the cloth under my chin and down to my neck, humming a
light tune. Like Virgil does.
quickly wipes that area, and yawns. "I'd better go now. I'll
just dry you off, and then get to my other patients. Only
another couple hours 'til morning."
up and fetches a towel from the sink. These towels are thick
and warm, and I'm guessing they're white. Like the ones you
get in hotels. She rubs it over my face and neck, and heads
for the door.
back later!" she says, then leaves. I wonder how many other
patients like me she's had to deal with. Still, now I know the
time! A couple hours until morning; that would make it around
five o'clock. I could try and get some 'sleep.'
not." Virgil looked up from the canvas, holding his paintbrush
away from the painting, irritation playing with his brow, "You
are you going to be?" Gordon shifted again, trying to get
comfortable on the wooden chair. He glanced quickly yet
longingly out of the window.
I'm nearly done."
the sooner you sit still, the sooner I will be."
Gordon sat stock still, straight-backed and plain-faced.
Virgil nodded, satisfied, and turned back to the canvas. He
was just over halfway through when Gordon started moving,
disrupting his concentration and changing position.
few minutes, Virgil paused again. "You've changed your mouth.
Can't you smile a bit?" Gordon raised the corners of his mouth
slightly and tried to speak without moving his lips.
sighed. It was nothing like the bright smile he'd had when
he'd first sat down, excited at the prospect of being drawn.
He shook his head. "Try to look happy."
not to show that in your facial expressions."
heaved a sigh and smiled a bit more. Virgil studied him for a
moment and compared it to his half-completed picture.
Thankfully, he'd already done the eyes, so he didn't need to
worry too much about that. He considered trying to make Gordon
laugh, but he wasn't in the mood. It would ruin both their
half an hour passed, with Gordon changing his position three
times and Virgil refilling the red on his palette twice.
Gordon had been still for nearly ten minutes when he shifted
again and sighed.
grinned at his younger brother, seeing the impatience on his
face. "Actually, yes. Just after I do this one little bit..."
finalized the portrait by filling in the bottom right hand
corner, and stood back to admire his handiwork. He compared it
to Gordon, whose gaze had drifted into the opposite corner
where a small spider was making its way up the wall. "There we
snapped out of his trance and looked up at Virgil, his eyes
shining again. "Can I see it?"
Virgil turned the easel around so Gordon could see the image.
For a moment, he stared at it with his mouth slightly open,
before his eyes turned to Virgil once more.
didn't! I'm sure it's a photo..." Gordon stood up to look at
the image closely. Sure enough, he could see the rough marks
Virgil's brush had imprinted in the picture. Virgil smiled
proudly at the effect his picture was having on his younger
great! No way should you be doing an engineering course. You
could get millions if you became an artist."
made a face and shrugged. "Nah. Being an artist's never really
appealed to me. It's great for a thing to do in my spare time,
but not as a career."
smiled and took one last look at the picture. "What're you
going to do with it?"
have it, if you like."
My room's full of stuff, and I've got nowhere to put it. I've
already given Scott his, and John his..."
I'm not the first?" Gordon pulled a comical face, "Gee, and I
thought I was special."
laughed and took the painting from the easel, passing it to
Gordon. "Be careful, it's still wet."
gingerly adjusted his grip and headed out the door, turning to
smile at Virgil as he went. "Cheers, Virg! It's going on my
chuckled at patted him lightly on the back. "No problem. It's
a pleasure, anyway. Now dump that picture on your bed, so we
can go challenge the others to a game of table tennis."
looked at the picture and sighed happily. What a great family
he had. "Will do," he said.
eventually do drift off, but the dream doesn't come back. It's
one of those periods of blankness that confuses me when I wake
fact, I am awoken by soft voices talking over my bed. Two very
familiar voices, talking to me, to each other. I strain to
hear the conversation.
coming in later. Say, what's this?" It's Virgil. He reaches
down and picks up the plastic bag Alan left. It rustles as he
looks inside. "Whoa, Gordy! Its - "
He's probably not meant to know. Sorry, Gordo, you'll have to
wake up first. What is it?" Scott says to Virgil, and his
voice gets a bit louder as he leans over me. "Aw, Gordon!
You'll love it!" They're teasing me. Little do they know that
I already know what's in the bag. Bless them. I'll tell them
when I wake up. Or maybe I should play along for a bit
reminds me: I still don't know which color they are.
on chatting for a while, but you can tell they're not as at
ease as Alan and Lucy are when they're here. I know Scott
feels guilty about it. He thinks he should have been there,
and then maybe he would have been able to stop it happening.
And Virgil - I think it just creeps him out a bit, seeing me
like this. I can understand. I think it would scare me, too,
seeing him, or any of the others, in the state I am in now.
glad they're here. I've looked up to them my entire life, and
it feels good to have them both right next to me right now,
whether they know it or not.
stands up and stretches. "Man, I'm tired as hell. Can't get
much sleep at night with you like this, Gordy!"
it's much better when you're awake, either..." Virgil says,
and I can tell he's grinning. I want to laugh and tell them
they'd better watch out.
is it?" Scott says, and then answers himself after looking at
the clock, "Ten o'clock. I'd better catch some sleep, and I'll
probably be back later."
o'clock... why does that ring a bell?
opens, but it can't be Scott leaving, because it's too soon
after he spoke right next to my bedside. Instead, it's Lucy,
"I'm - oh,
hey, guys!" she says, on seeing Scott and Virgil, "I was just
coming to let Gordon know that I'm leaving now. I'll be back
in tomorrow." She sounds even more tired than she did
yesterday. I don't know how she and all the other night-shift
nurses go on like this. They must get home and go straight to
I'm leaving too, to get some sleep." Scott replies.
convenient!" Lucy laughs, a light sound that fills the room.
She turns to Virgil. "I guess you're staying here for a
good. It's great for coma patients to get enough time with
family members and close friends as possible. It also helps
the visitors themselves, to get some 'alone' time with them."
short silence before Virgil says, "Cool. I'll see you later
Bye Gordon." Scott leaves with Lucy, and Virgil's left on his
own. He doesn't know what to say for a while.
Gordy - " he begins, and clears his throat, "You really need
to wake up, you know? I don't know how we'd all cope if you -
if you didn't."
strange. Virgil's normally the one I go to when I'm in
trouble, and to hear him like this is disconcerting. He's
normally so calm and sure of himself, though quiet and
serious. I suddenly remember the piano piece Alan had told me
about. Would it come up?
remember all those swim meets you did, all through junior and
senior school, and every single time you'd be so excited for
days beforehand. You irritated the hell out of us, with every
word that came out of your mouth being related to swimming.
And then after the event, you'd be talking about it for days
still, because you got placed every single time." God, please
don't remind me, Virgil. It's hard enough as it is, not being
able to swim even once a week.
difficult, Gordy. To start with, Dad just thought it was a
phase, didn't he? We all did. But you insisted it wasn't, and
you were right. You carried on, and look at where you were
before you - before the accident." Virgil pauses. "We hardly
ever visit the pool now, you know that? Because every time we
do, we look up, expecting to see you splashing about in there
with us, or about to perform one of your amazing dives into
it. And we're disappointed - because you're not.
if you stay immobile for too long, your joints will seize up
and you'll be all stiff! Your body's used to the training. You
can't just stop like this!" It's an attempt at humor. Virgil
knows, I know - we all know that it's not as simple as that.
If only. From the way doctors are talking and people are
acting around me, it's like every bone in my body is
fractured, broken or shattered.
man." Virgil puts his hand on mine, and I can tell he's run
out of things to say. Right now, there's nothing I want more
than to wake up, and maybe find that all my injuries are
somehow miraculously healed, so I can get straight back into
luck. No matter how hard I concentrate or put my mind to it,
my body just won't respond to my orders. If I can't tell my
own eyes to open, how will I ever wake up? It's not as if it's
too hard, or too painful - I physically can't get the message
to other parts of my body.
few days pass in a bit of a blur. People come in and out,
chatting, sitting in silence, and I drift in and out of sleep.
It's been about three weeks, I think. I wonder what's changed,
if any of them have had haircuts? John always looks weird when
he has his hair cut. We used to tease him about it, which is
probably why he tries to keep it long. John's been here twice
in the last few days, and both times he's read to me from one
of his space encyclopedias. We argue about which is the best,
space or water.
Gordy - I've got proof. Space is better than the ocean, and
I'm going to give it to you while you can't respond." He's
such a sadist. He knows; I can nearly hear the grin tickling
his ears. "Listen to this." He follows by reading a quote so
fast that I can only pick up a few words, including 'space'
and 'human race.' Then he shuts the book with a satisfied
snap. "There. And don't try and come up with something
nearly twenty-four seven. He goes out to use the bathroom and
catch some lunch. I don't know if he's still there when I'm
asleep. But every time I wake up he's here, either sitting in
silence, talking to me or one of the others.
pops in sometimes too, to check on Dad just as much to check
on me. Alan's right - he is overdoing it. If I could, I'd tell
him to go and sleep for a couple days, have a shave and sort
himself out. I don't know how long it's been since he's
shaved, but I'm guessing a while.
a lot more considerate than John for my feelings! She's not a
sadist in the least. If she wanted to, she could bring in her
freshly-baked cookies and hold them under my nose, knowing
full well I can't eat anything. She's a funny old woman, is
Grandma. She's so solid - you wouldn't think it, looking at
her - but she's always been a rock in our family. I don't know
where Dad, or the rest of us, would be now if it wasn't for
and Grandma, Alan's probably my most frequent visitor. He
doesn't have as much to do as Scott, Virg and John, and
usually he'd spend his spare time with me anyway, messing
about and playing pranks on the others. He's probably bored
most of the time. He bounds in, cheerful as ever. I don't know
where he gets his energy from!
- hey, Dad. How's it going?"
a morning it is, Gordon! The sun's shining, the sky's blue.
Don't forget about those trunks - you can have them once
you're swimming again. By the way, Dad - Virgil says to make
sure you're home for dinner, because he wants to show you
something, a new picture he did or something."
doesn't stop. I bet he lights up the room when he comes in. He
chats away, about everything - except for the color of the
swimming trunks - and anything. I'm glad. Scott talks too,
sometimes about the news and sport and what's going on in the
world. Apparently there are floods in India at the moment, and
the world's biggest aquarium has opened in France. He says
he'll take me there when I wake up.
breaking up. If nothing else, I will hang on to everything
just for him. I don't think he could take another family
death. I don't want to think about that.
it's afternoon. People have been dropping in for quite a few
hours now, so it has to be nearing evening. Usually when your
eyes are closed, you can tell if it's light or dark, but this
is different. Either hospital lighting stays the same all the
time, or I've lost the ability to do this due to inactivity in
that part of the brain.
the chair, but he's not asleep. I can tell by the way he's
breathing - it's not slow or irregular. I've always wondered
about that chair. It's light enough to lift to different
places around the bed, but comfortable enough to sleep in.
tense. I think he's staring at me. I want to crack a joke or
something, to lighten the mood. I don't know how long he sits
there for - a few minutes? Few hours?
moves. He sighs and puts a hand on my forehead, as if he's
feeling for a fever. He's shaking: ever so slightly, but still
speaks, he's using his low, authoritative voice, although
there's a slight tremor. I try not to notice it.
Cooper Tracy," he says, "What will we ever do if we lose you?"
Gordon? Are you awake?" Gordon woke with a start to the sound
of John's voice calling his name and a light tapping on the
door. He sighed and turned over.
outline was silhouetted against the bright landing lights, and
Gordon squinted to make out his form. John held a finger to
Gordon repeated, and looked at the luminous clock on the wall,
"It's half three in the morning."
We've got to be quick. Come on!" John crept away from the door
and Gordon couldn't help but follow. He was intrigued to find
out what John wanted. They tip-toed down the hallway and into
John's room, where he shut the door behind them. "Come and
have a look."
walked over to the window, which was swung wide open with his
Christmas telescope pointing outwards towards the sky. Gordon
let out a tiny cry of delight - it wasn't often John let
others touch his telescope.
sec, I'll just check it's in the right place." John glanced
through and nodded to himself, satisfied. He stood back and
invited Gordon to the telescope with a flourish. They shared a
smile and Gordon approached the eye piece, wondering what John
wanted him to see.
the center of the circle was a bright dot, with a hint of red.
Gordon frowned. It looked just like any other star.
Mars." Gordon's eyes widened. He'd been learning about the
solar system at school for the last two weeks.
Maybe on another day I could show you Venus and perhaps
Jupiter. Jupiter's got two moons that you can see."
Gordon turned back to the telescope and stood in awe of the
red planet. "Does Mars have any moons?"
two, but they're too small to see from here. I'll need a
better telescope. Jupiter's actually got over sixty-three
only got one?" John sat down on his bed and smoothed out the
covers. He enjoyed talking to people about space and sharing
his interests, and Gordon was a particular favorite for his
know. Maybe it's because we're quite a small planet. Jupiter's
got lots because it's the biggest."
silence for another few minutes as Gordon watched Mars, taking
in its simple appearance and watching for any change.
Eventually he stood back and smiled at John.
for showing me this, John. It's way cool!"
cool," John absent-mindedly corrected his little brother,
standing up and taking a look at the planet himself, "Thanks
for taking an interest!"
threw his arms around his brother's waist. "That's okay. I'm
tired now; I'm going to go to bed. Night, Johnny!"
Gordo," John replied, and Gordon shut the door as quietly as
possible, so as not to disturb John. He pattered lightly down
the hall back to his own room and snuggled under the blankets.
He couldn't wait to see Venus and - hopefully - Jupiter.
I have the
dream again. The fish are all back, with their many shades,
shapes and sizes. They dance around for a while, sometimes in
formation, sometimes in their own little worlds. The different
colors seem more intense than last time; they sparkle and
flash and wink at me in the light from the sun. The rays come
down in straight lines and light up the coral reef.
remember the hole that had been there last time. I turn, and
like a shock I see it - sitting there, open and beckoning,
unmoving. It seems larger somehow.
Something's different. Last time, the hole was exciting, but
there's something that's changed - this time it's scary,
intimidating. But I'm still curious.
something's holding me back, giving me second thoughts. How do
I know what's there? What if there's a shark lurking in the
depths, waiting to eat whatever came its way? What if I got
lost - couldn't find my way out?
other hand, it's a new hole, and new places can't go
unexplored. I can't help myself. I swim closer, with caution
this time. I flash my torch around, remembering this time not
to look and get distracted. Still nothing. The darkness looms
closer, and the colorful fish are soon forgotten as this new
and exciting wonder fills my vision.
hesitate. I'm right on the border between the hole and the
reef. On one side of me, there's darkness; nothing, and on the
other there's a whole world of bright colors and new fish I
might never see again if I get lost.
and my doubts decide for me. I wake up, back to the cold smell
and warm temperature of my square hospital room. I spend so
long trying to make a decision that I'm awoken by voices
again. Scott's, again. He has a thing with waking me up at
important points in my dreams.
" - don,
for God's sake, snap out of it."
no, it's okay, Scott, he's back with us." Dad says, but his
voice is shaking slightly.
happened?" I'd like to know that too.
signals went low again, but they've come back up," says the
you mean, again?" Dad demands. Does the doctor - Dr Moore -
mean I slipped dangerously close to death for a second time? I
don't even remember the first. What if it happens a third, and
this time I'm not so lucky?
happened a few days ago in the middle of the night, but sorted
itself the same way it did now."
happens if it doesn't sort itself out?" Scott asks. He's moved
around to the same side as Dad, probably so they can both face
I hear a
slight movement as the doctor shrugs. "Maybe we should discuss
this elsewhere, Mr Tracy." Dad settles back in the chair.
would be nice. Another time though, doctor. I want to spend a
bit of time here."
leaves and Scott and Dad don't say anything for a while. I'm
trying to work out what they're doing, thinking or looking at,
but they're not making any sound at all. Soon Scott moves back
round to the other side of the bed and sits back down.
sure you're OK?" He's not talking to me but to Dad - he's
using that voice. The grown up one, the
'I'm-really-more-mature-than-my-brothers' one. "You look like
you haven't slept in years."
really. A bit tired. Then again, aren't we all?" It is Dad.
tired as you are. When was the last time you got home for a
good meal?" I'm not hungry, but I'd give anything to eat
something, to feel the sensation of nutrition going down my
throat, rather than through an IV tube.
One of my
doctors enters before Dad can reply - Dr Grey. He has a brisk
walk, authoritative and business-like. He never shows any
Tracy," he says, and approaches the bed, "How's he doing
today?" Unlike most people, Dr Grey never talks to me. I don't
know why - maybe he's had some past experience that puts him
off. Or it's just not in the job description.
scared us with some low brain signals, but he's okay now,"
Scott says icily, "Isn't it your job to tell us?" Not many
people like Dr Grey. I wonder if he's got a wife or children.
reply, but busies himself around the room, checking various
things. Dad and Scott start talking to me for the first time
since I woke up.
what, Gordo?" Scott says, and hesitates. "Ah... Dad, am I
allowed to tell him?"
for it. I don't see why not." Dad definitely sounds tired.
He's got this resigned tone to his voice that I didn't notice
before. But I want to know what the surprise is...
we're getting a swimming pool. In the garden, where the old
shed is. You can practice whenever you want!"
pool? That's great! I want to jump up, hug them and scream for
joy - anything. The closest one's about three kilometers away
from the house, and now I'll have one on my doorstep!
silence, and it doesn't match up to the excitement I'm feeling
inside. I can tell they're staring at my face, willing me to
wake up and shout 'Yes!' The doctors say that sometimes coma
patients have woken up with great shocks and surprises.
Sometimes even anger.
I hope my
situation doesn't resort to that.
tension is broken by Dr Grey. Until now, I hadn't realized
that he's stopped as well, listening to Scott.
He says, moving closer, "Why are you telling him this?"
understand," Scott says, "Gordon loves the water. He'll be
Grey contradicts, and sighs, "You don't understand. He won't
be able to use it. He's got permanent back damage. I doubt
he'll be able to walk again, let alone swim."
He has to
be lying. It's the anger thing - it has to be. He's saying
something shocking to try and get me to wake up. I'll thank
him for it later.
stands up, pushing his chair back in the process.
Dad begins, but trails off. He's probably got that look on his
face that says he's angry - very angry.
'Scott' me!" He's furious, to talk to Dad like this, "He has
absolutely no faith in Gordon, none at all. Gordo's one of the
most strong-willed people I know, and if he wants to walk
again, he'll walk again! And run, and swim. I don't think you
understand that your patients have personalities too. It's not
just - 'they'll walk,' 'they won't - ' it's about
appreciate it if you didn't talk to me about my job, young
man. I find it's better not to let patients get their hopes
up; it's too much trouble later on. Now, if you'd - " The
doctor's trying to keep cool, calm and professional, but I can
tell he's irritated.
appreciate it if you didn't put my kid brother down like that
- especially right in front of him like that! And you told us
yourself that you couldn't tell the full extent of the damage
until he woke up, so how can you make judgments like that?"
Tracy - " Dad tries again, but Scott's in full-rant mode. He
can't stop until he's got it out of his system.
making an effort to walk again is too much trouble? How the
hell did you come up with that one? Do you do your job by
putting patients down while they're defenseless, so you won't
have to deal with their disappointment when they wake up?
Well, let me tell you this - "
stop. Now." It's Dad's voice again, this time with authority.
It's the voice that makes us all stop mid-sentence and
comes to a halt, breathing hard. Counting to ten, I imagine.
I've rarely known him to be this stressed, but it makes me
again, lower and slower. "I'm sorry, sir, but if you're going
to say things like that, please say them outside of this room.
And if you feel the need to discourage Gordon ever again,
you'll have me to deal with."
shuffles out of the room after a mumbled apology. Scott sighs.
to grab some fresh air. See you in a bit."
I feel a
surge of affection for him, and I'm deeply grateful for what
he said. But there's one thing that's still nagging me, and
I've only realized it now - Dr Grey wasn't just saying that to
try and wake me up.
talking to me. He doesn't do it very often, but I like it when
he does. He has so many more memories, so much more experience
than the others. And his voice is comforting, too. It reminds
me of when we were younger and we'd wake up in the night after
a nightmare, and he'd come rushing in, talking in soothing
tones and just being there.
know what your first word was? I don't know if I ever told you
he mentioned it once. Water-related, I think.
taking you to an aquarium to see the fish. Me, you, John and
Lucy. Alan wasn't born yet, and Scott and Virgil were - " He
pauses, trying to remember, "Yes, that's it. A birthday party.
Anyway, we took you along the tanks, showing you the various
fish. The look on your face..." He chuckles as he relieves the
awestruck. We'd been trying for weeks to get you to say
something. Momma, Dada, anything. You never did. Nothing ever
appealed to you. At the aquarium, we got to the end of the
row, and there was a tank full of crabs, I think. Yes, most
likely. And then - "
to continue, but he starts laughing and he can't stop.
Usually, his laughter is rare but it's infectious, and I can't
help thinking I should be laughing along. I want to hear the
end of the story.
your face lit up and you pointed at the tank, at a
particularly big crab at the front." Dad stops and tries to
compose himself, "And you said - "
again. He can't stop. What did I say?
" - you
said - 'crab.'" Oh. Disappointing. Dad's laughing again. He
can't contain himself. What's so funny? Sure, 'crab' is a bit
of a weird first word, but he's nearly in hysterics.
Oh no -
there's more. "Only you couldn't quite pronounce the 'B'. The
nearest sound you could make was a 'P,' and you went around
the whole day, saying - " Dad can't finish, but I get the
idea. My first word was 'crap.'
Now it all makes sense - why Virgil smirked at John last time
I said 'crap.' Funny. Real mature.
this? Gordon's first word?" It's Scott. I didn't realize he'd
come back in - he must have done so while Dad was laughing. I
didn't hear Dad reply, but he probably nods through his
giggles, and Scott laughs too.
like a right weird family, carrying a baby round that said
'Crap' every five seconds. I don't know where you picked the
word up from, though."
got a clue where he got it from," Dad says, finally getting a
hold of himself, "But I'm sure glad you did. It had us amused
kind of funny, I guess. But I still can't shake off what Dr
Grey said earlier.
hey!" Lucy's here, her cheerful voice filling the room. "How's
humming as she wanders over to the sink to wet the cloth. It's
not really a tune, just something she's making up on the spot.
Virgil does that a lot.
doctor had a bit of a moan with me today. Dr Grey. Didn't say
exactly what was bothering him, just something about
disrespectful patient relatives. Then again, he's always
moaning. I feel sorry for you, having him as a doctor!"
smile. Good for Scott. Lucy carries on chatting away.
boyfriend proposed to me today! I couldn't believe it - it was
the best proposal ever. And my ring - oh my gosh, to die for!
I'll show it to you when you wake up." No wonder she's in such
a good mood. She talks more while she washes my face, about
her new fiancť, about her best friend's new shoes. I want to
share her joy with her, but I'm just not in the mood.
back into what Lucy's saying.
brother was in a car accident, poor guy. Lost the sight in one
eye, which is vital to him because he does archery. He was so
good at it!"
he can walk, I think to myself. It sounds horrible, but I
can't help it.
top-standard, apparently. But it's his aiming eye that was
affected, and he's really struggling with judging distances,
that sort of thing. I don't know much about archery, but from
what Annie's told me, the future doesn't look too good. I
don't know what he's going to do." And what am I going to do?
At least he can bloody walk.
know how many days have passed since Dr Grey's scrape with
Scott. I haven't seen him since - it's been my other doctor,
Dr Moore. He's a lot nicer.
one to drown myself in sorrow, but then again, I've never been
in this situation before. It's like all the faint hopes I had
have faded, and if I do wake up, I can't be bothered to try
and walk again. It would be useless.
come, people go, but even Alan can't lift my mood. He doesn't
know what Dr Grey said; I'm guessing the others haven't told
him. It's probably not very significant for them.
the whole point in them keeping me alive if I won't be able to
walk? Dad knows - they all know - that a life without swimming
for me wouldn't be worth living. Drastic, I know. But it's
true. Why don't they just turn the bloody life-support machine
Scott enters, slowly and cautiously. Oh God - I didn't mean
that. Don't tell me they're going to turn it off!
clears his throat. "He didn't want to tell you himself. He was
a bit nervous."
why did I think that? An image of a light bulb being switched
off suddenly appears in my head.
hope you don't mind." Mind? Mind!?
please! I didn't mean to think that! God, Mom - anyone -
please don't let them turn it off! I promise I'll learn to
"...recorded it for you. You want to hear it?"
A death song? A sending-me-to-heaven song?
his throat again and moves nearer to the pillow end. Then he
puts something heavy on the floor and stands up.
here it is. Alan's heard it - he says it's good."
down again and presses something. Somehow I don't think it's a
plug switch, or an on/off switch - I'm sure if he was going to
turn me off he would have come up with some better last words.
click, and then soft piano notes drift up from the floor.
It's not a
death song! I was so caught in the moment I was thinking
irrationally. It's the piece Alan told me about - the one
Virgil came up with.
about paranoid, Gordon! The music's good. One of Virgil's
best, I think. It starts off intense, deep, moving chords and
low harmonies over the top. It's in a minor key - I mentally
thanked my ninth-grade music teacher - and it's passionate. I
can just imagine Virgil sitting at the keyboard, playing his
heart out. The pain and horror of watching a brother go to his
death come out in the occasional clashing chords, and it makes
me want to cry.
changes. The chords move up, playing higher notes lightly and
slowly. Images of a still body flash into my mind, carried
away on a stretcher, paramedics rushing around with painfully
dubious expressions, time slowing down.
of a corpse-like figure attached to countless machines and fed
through a tube. Me. What had my family been through?
changes again. The melody becomes light and happy, in a sad
kind of way. It breaks my heart, and I find myself thinking of
my brothers: the good times; the arguments; the fondest
memories. Scott, trying to get me up in the mornings in time
for school.Virgil, trying to make me keep still while he
painted my portrait. John, sneaking outside together in the
dead of night to show me a constellation in the sky. And Alan
- turning to me for help and guidance when he was struggling
God, I so
wish I could see their faces again.
I want so
much to be with them, racing each other to the end of the
garden, wrestling and dunking each other on occasional pool
I ever live without these things?
rises still, and there's another surge of hope. Stuff you, Dr
Grey. I'll walk - just you watch me. There's a satisfied
feeling as the piece continues for a bit, then gradually comes
to a close. I'll thank Virgil for that when I wake up.
stands up when it stops.
there you go! I hadn't heard it before now, but Al's right -
it is good. I just dropped in to give it to you. I'll be back
in tomorrow. For now - goodnight, little brother!"
I wonder if it affected him as much as it did me.
memories have reminded me that I have a whole life ahead of
me. I can't just give up, over something my doctor said. As
soon as I wake up, I'll work harder than I've ever done before
to walk again.
would be a good start.
hasn't been in much lately, unless I've been asleep when he's
called. That would make me feel guilty if he has... pouring
his heart out to someone who won't listen! I think I had the
accident at the worst time for him. He's so busy with his
been in a lot more instead. Maybe it's his over-protective
big-brother thing kicking in, just in case Dr Grey says
something again. Dad's been home and had a nice break, and I'm
glad. It wasn't a nice feeling, knowing he was putting himself
through all that trauma just for me.
for proper food gets more and more intense every day. I find
myself dreaming about eating a donut or sitting down at the
table just before dinner. Asking for seconds, dessert...
End." The book snaps shut and Scott sighs. To be honest, it's
not my favorite read. I can't even remember what it's called.
I tuned out towards the middle, when things started to get
extra boring. It's not a long book. John read it to me once,
but it never appealed to me.
Gordo..." Scott leans forward, "About what your doctor said
the other day - "
we go. I get it. Don't listen to him.
listen to him. Get it? He doesn't know what he's talking
right. That's why he's a doctor. That's why he's fully
qualified to take care of patients like me and give accurate
know he's a doctor, he's qualified etcetera." Sometimes I
swear Scott can read my mind. I experience one of those
moments when he shocks me by replying to my thoughts. "Well
guess what? I've known you for longer than he has - way
longer. And I know you'll give up at nothing to get yourself
on your feet again. Right?"
laughs. "I just got this mental image of you rolling your eyes
and saying 'Right, Scott,' just like you always do. Ah, man...
why don't you wake up and do that for me?"
always had this weird ability to read us like books. I guess
he's the most experienced out of all of us, having four
younger brothers. Sometimes it's a good thing.
seriously, bro, I have 100 faith that you'll wake up and prove
him wrong. He had no right to say that, especially right in
front of you. I don't know if you even heard it or not, or
registered it, and if not... then I'm glad. I'm not going to
repeat it. He made me so angry... I probably would have hit
him if Dad hadn't been there. I was probably overreacting. He
only said it once. But I'm not used to you like this, Gordy..."
cracks, and I feel my heart break. Hearing someone is upset is
one thing; being the cause of the upset and not being able to
do anything about it takes it to a whole new level. Scott's
like Grandma - he's strong. He rarely cries, or shows
weakness. I guess since Mom died, he
kind of parental responsibility. I don't make a show of it,
but I have an awful lot of respect for big brother.
openly sobbing, his head resting near my stomach. He's
wrong with me? Even one of my brothers, crying, won't wake me
up. Am I that self- centered? Not even the burning desire to
reach out and comfort Scott, for once in my life, will wake me
swears a lot in the next sentence, but I won't repeat it. He
hardly ever swears, and I can tell he's really distressed.
sake, Gordo, wake up, will you? You don't know what you're
doing to us. Dad can't take another death - I don't think any
of us could. Why don't you snap out of it - right now - and
monitor on my left.
machine that's breathing for me.
clock that won't leave me alone.
nothing's changed. Not my heart rate, not time - not anything.
Scott's crying, and I won't wake up for him. He's been staring
at me for the last few seconds, and he lets go and collapses
back into his original position, still trembling. He touches
my hand, like Virgil did.
man. I didn't mean to shout. It's just..." His voice is all
shaky. He doesn't need to finish; I understand. I feel exactly
the same way. "It's just we... well, you're one of us, and we
couldn't bear to lose you. Hell, I'll even let you get away
with as many pranks as you like when you're awake."
That's a new one. I noticed the 'when,' instead of the 'if.'
He didn't even hesitate before he said it. Maybe he really
does have 100 faith in me.
idea for a joke just occurs to me. Shame I can't carry it out,
though... I was thinking of opening my eyes and saying
'Really? In that case, I might just reconsider..."
beginning to miss John. I haven't heard from him properly in
ages. Dad and the others pass on messages, like 'John says
he's sorry he hasn't been in a while. He's really behind on
days on end?
me being self- centered again. John's allowed to spend some
time away, get some fresh air. I should stop thinking about
myself all the time - that's what Dad always used to say when
I was a kid. He hardly says it any more.
finally did, or he just gave up, I don't know.
how many things you notice when you've got so much spare time.
Little things. Like the food trolley that passes by the door
six times a day, taking various items to and from the
twenty-four hours, the clock goes a little bit more out of
sync with Dad's watch. In the silence that stretches out while
he's here, I can make out the tiny ticks from his wristwatch.
two annoying birds near my window. They do this
call-and-answer thing every now and again. It's OK, but after
a while it really gets on my nerves. I can hear them, even
though the window's shut.
the devil! He sounds puffed out, as if he was in a hurry to
get here. He hasn't called me 'little buddy' in ages, not
since I was ten or so. It's probably because now Alan's grown
taller than me, I'm the shortest in the family.
he just wanted to remind himself and me of what life was like
when I was awake.
down and makes himself at home. I hear him pouring himself a
glass of water from the jug that Lucy sometimes leaves.
all: I'm so sorry I haven't been to visit in ages. I've been
so busy with everything, and most of my work involves using my
telescope. You've got a useless view out of this window, so I
couldn't use it here!
weeks today since your accident."
and leans closer, "I think that's enough sleep for now, don't
silence for a few seconds, but again, nothing happens. John
continues as if nothing's happened. "I have another quote for
you, just in case you've been thinking up comebacks while
away." He doesn't have a book this time, and he starts quoting
from the top of his head. This one's even longer than the last
one, and I've never even heard most of the words in my life
before. I don't understand a word of what he just said, but
then again, who does? At least he's acting normal.
told me what the doctor said the other day."
here we go again.
going to go on about it, I'll just say that I completely agree
with Scott. Whatever Scott said to you, he's right."
John has a
habit of often contradicting our expectations. He never quite
goes with the flow, and constantly surprises us with the way
he reacts and thinks about different situations.
a man of few words.
I can tell
he's tired today. Apparently he's been really busy with
workload recently. Coming to see me must be a big break. In
fact, I'm grateful that he chose to spend it with me.
opens quickly and someone enters. They stop abruptly at the
sight before them. "John! Hey, son, it's good to see you."
It's Dad. He walks over to the bedside and they share a brief
hug before Dad sits at the bottom of the bed, next to my right
Thought I could take some time out to see Gordo here. Has
there been any change?"
really. The doctors say that he's stable, the fractures are
recovering - slowly - and right now it's just a case of
waiting until his body decides it's ready to wake up."
sighs. "It sounds crazy, but I was kind of hoping I'd get here
to find him awake already."
crazy. All of us think that whenever we come here. You'll open
your eyes in your own time, won't you, Gordon?"
Scott and the others?"
fine. A little tired and underfed, but other than that,
they're doing OK. Alan's coping especially well. I'm surprised
at him. He's grown up a lot." Now Dad's said that - I realize
it's true. Alan's been so mature about the whole thing, and
coping incredibly well. I'm suddenly so proud of my younger
good. Virgil and Scott?"
fine. Virgil wrote a piece of music and got Scott to play it
to Gordon. That's helped him a lot, I think. Scott - well, to
begin with..." Dad trails off. I know what he was going to
begin with he was a bit...scared, but he's OK now." He was
going to say that Scott felt guilty, but stopped because of
me. He didn't want me to feel responsible for Scott's guilt.
how much you learn about human nature when people sit by your
bedside and pour their heart out to you.
must have sent John a warning look, because John accepts this
explanation and the conversation moves on.
it's really good you're here, John, because we were all
planning on coming in this evening. All of us, including
Grandma. You think that'll make you feel more at home, Gordy?"
probably would, yes. I'd like that, actually. I can't remember
the last time we were all together. And it'll be nice for them
to get some real company too.
are bigger and brighter than ever. The light's a bit dimmer
down here - maybe I'm a bit deeper than I was last time. Even
so, the fish are more spectacular here. A group of blue- and
green-striped clownfish swim past, and I start laughing.
enters my mouth as I open it, but it's not a problem. It's not
amazing. I've seen many incredible coral reefs in my lifetime
of scuba-diving and exploring, but none come close to this.
The hole's there too, but I don't want to go down there yet. I
will do, but first I want to make the most of this.
water's warm, not even a hint chilly. It's like bathing. Like
the first time, I can breathe underwater without apparatus,
and it feels great. When I was a kid I wanted to be a fish. I
used to design these weird and wonderful creations on the
inside covers of my textbooks at school.
aresharks here, too. Friendly sharks that I hadn't noticed the
first time round. They're swimming alongside the smaller fish,
showing off their spectacular mouths and their teeth-covered
around for a while, just watching. I wonder if the fish can
see me, or register me. Either way, I'm not making much
difference. I'm right in the middle of it; there's no gap
stretch and notice the hole again. It's bigger than how I
remember. Taking a last glance at the fish, I head off towards
the inky blackness, not turning around. There's a strange
attraction pulling me to it: something that I've only just
noticed but has been there throughout.
looks dark and intimidating, but I push the thoughts away. I
don't want to be put off again. It swells in size and seems
about to engulf me, when a sudden flash of movement happens
and there's someone blocking my path, shaking her head. A
mermaid. She looks vaguely familiar, but I can't quite place
it. She looks panicked, desperate to tell me something ≠
- and I
notice that she's gesturing wildly upwards, as if she wants me
to get away from the hole -
I open my
mouth, but start to choke. Suddenly I've lost my ability to
breathe underwater - what's happening?
something stuck in my throat, and I'm beginning to panic.
Everything seems to fade and move further away as the thing in
my throat swells and takes over my mind. I try to swim upwards
towards the surface but I can't move, my legs and arms are
locked to my side as if I'm in a straightjacket.
grabs my shoulder and squeezes it, but I still can't see
anything but darkness. The hole has filled my vision and I
can't see anything - not the mermaid, nor the fish - not even
the ocean. I squeeze my eyes shut, hoping it will all just go
As if from
very far away, there's a voice. I strain to make out the
" - it's
OK, calm down. Is he on his way?"
seems to grow stronger and louder as I make sense of the
words. I open my eyes a crack, and there's a blurry figure
in there, OK? Just try to breathe - Dr Grey's on his way."
Since when has he been in this dream...?
thought's left hanging as realization hits me. I'm awake! I
must be - that blurry figure was Dad, I'm sure of it! The next
few moments are an unclear mess of loud voices and blurry
vision, for me, as people rush in from every corner of the
hospital it seems to sort me out. The thing's moving in my
throat, pulling - it must be a breathing tube, or something
like that. I hadn't been aware of it before, but when my body
started acting independently it made itself known.
darkness at the corner of my vision again. I'm suddenly so -
" - back
with us - "
" - heart
rate's quite fast - "
" - be
over in a few minutes - "
removing it now - "
" - losing
consciousness again - "
begin to fade once more as I slip into the blackness and give
in to the overwhelming sense of exhaustion. I've never been so
drained in my life.
You've got school in an hour."
Scott sighed, sounding frustrated, "I'll have to call Dad."
want to get up. It's cold. Can't I have five more minutes?"
Gordon pushed down further under his quilt, curling up as
small as possible.
Remember what happened last time? You ended up being half an
hour late for school, and we don't want that to happen again."
I promise I'll get up in five."
Gordo." I said five minutes...
remember where I am. I've heard those words often enough in
the last few weeks, but this time there's a gentle
shoulder-shake to accompany it. I'm confused. Distant memories
are flooding in my mind: an indistinct figure of Dad; lots of
voices; a strange sensation in my throat. It's gone now, and
for the first time in ages I'm getting a rush of cool, fresh
air down the back of my mouth. I didn't know what I was
man. Open your eyes." This voice is higher. Alan.
I do; just
a crack. But the sight of it sends them into loud whoops of
joy. Damn; my head hurts. Dad's leaning over me again, and I
can see Alan's blond head over his shoulder. Or it could be
John... I can't tell - my eyes won't focus properly.
I try to
speak, but my throat's dry and sore from misuse.
awake! He's awake!" It's definitely Alan. He moves aside and
two more faces are shoved in mine. I think its Scott and John.
I open my eyes a bit wider - yep, that's John.
ever do that to us again!"
guys... give him some space! He's probably confused as hell
right now." Virgil. The whole family's here! John and Scott
move back, and Virgil comes into sight. "You overslept - just
a little bit!"
laughs, a deep rumbling sound that we don't hear that often.
It's infectious, and as the others join in, I can't help but
smile, painful as it is.
you feeling, son?" he asks, once he's calmed down. I try to
shrug, but I can't. Why not? I thought the only reason I
couldn't move was because I was in a coma...
can't... I can't move." I manage to croak out, and Dad's face
is suddenly serious. My vision is pretty much restored now -
almost. He plants a comforting hand on the side of my face.
you can't. You're in a full-body cast. You won't be able to
for quite a while, but don't worry." His eyes flicker with
defiance as he says this next bit, "You definitely will be
able to." He's probably remembering Dr Grey.
meantime, we can take advantage of you not - " Alan begins,
but to my immense surprise, Scott cuts him off.
will be no taking advantages. If anyone does try anything,
they will get their ass kicked - by me. And I will know about
it, because Gordon's going to tell me, aren't you?"
moment I can't hide my shock, and he must notice because he
laughs. I've suddenly realized he's had a haircut, but he's
the only one. John's got the same old mop as he's ever had.
Virgil's got a bit of stubble. I'm not sure whether he likes
it, or if he just can't be bothered to shave.
asked the questions yet," Virgil says, his eyes glinting.
questions?" This time it's John, a flash of confusion passing
over his face.
the ones." Virgil puts on a pathetic voice, "Where am I? What
snickers and adopts a similar tone of voice. "Who am I?"
I frown in
confusion. They don't realize that I know exactly what's
happened in the last few weeks, and that I've been awake
through half of it. Suddenly I feel guilty. How am I supposed
to tell them that I know what they've been saying to me, if
they weren't intending for me to hear it?
crashed the hydrofoil, Gordon." Scott says, watching my face
closely for any signs of realization or shock. None come. I
try to hide the fact I already know, and try to move the
conversation on. They think I don't understand. I'll tell them
they opened the window just a couple minutes before I woke up.
What's the significance behind that?"
let the smell of salt water get in, and that was probably
enough to wake you from miles away," John interrupts, and I
frown at him.
sea, dumbass," Alan says. The sea? Just the thought of open
water is relishing to dwell in right now.
ever said I was near the sea. You could have told me earlier!"
mean like, the first thing we say to you after you wake up?
Oh, look, Gordon's awake! By the way, we're right by the sea!
Now we'll just go find some doctors to remove you're breathing
tube that's preventing you from breathing..." We all laugh. At
least Alan's normal.
yeah..." I trail off as a petite woman enters the room and
beams at us all.
awake at last!" My eyes widen as I recognize the voice and
realize who it is. Lucy's nearly exactly as I imagined, but
blonde instead of brunette. Short, round, a jolly face to
match her jolly voice, and she's got an air of joyfulness
about her that's as infectious as Dad's laugh.
me! Nice to see you awake, at last!"
you were a brunette."
bursts out laughing. "I think I just detected a hint of
disappointment there!" I scowl at him. He knows it's not true.
I'm just surprised, that's all! It's weird to imagine someone
one way for a month, only to realize that they're the
Thankfully, Lucy sees the funny side as well. "Aw, Gordon -
I'm sorry! Anyway, I'll leave you six to yourselves and go
check on my other patients. Give a shout if you need me!" She
picks up her bag and bounds out of the room. She reminds me of
of which... "Al, what color are the trunks?"
short and stares at me, giving me a spectacular view of the
inside of his mouth. "Wha - how did you know?"
given it away. Curse me and my big mouth! I was planning on
asking him later. "Uh... figure of speech," I faltered, but
Alan's frown just deepens.
really - were you actually awake?"
this?" Virgil steps in, looking between me and Alan. Scott,
John and Dad fall silent too.
at me for a few more seconds, and then sits back in his chair.
"Whoa - that must have been hell."
I try to
shrug, but stop when there's a sharp pain in my shoulders and
I remember I can't. I attempt to create the same impression
with my eyes, but I'm not sure it has the same effect.
color are they? It's been bugging me for ages."
grins. "Sorry, I thought I told you. They're green. You want
to see them?"
I shake my
head. Suddenly I'm really tired again, and my eyelids begin to
droop. Scott shakes my shoulder, and I quickly try to hide the
grimace. It's too late - Scott saw. "Crap, sorry. Are you
okay? I didn't mean - "
fine." I open my eyes again, and he's staring at me in
concern. Then his face relaxes into a smile.
not tired already, are you? You've been asleep for nearly a
from a coma takes a lot of energy, you know. He's done well to
last even this long!" Virgil grins and ruffles my hair.
Gordon's always had an endless supply - "
Tracy!" Scott's interrupted by a voice from the door. We all
turn to the source of the voice, to see a short woman with her
hands on her hips, a scowl on her usually friendly face.
mother," Dad stutters. I try to disguise my grin. It's not
often Dad's lost for words!
I not been notified that my grandson is awake? You know full
well I should have been alerted straight away - "
sorry, mother, it completely escaped my mind!" Alan can't help
but giggle. Scott glowers at him for Dad.
it's not good enough. How long's he been awake?"
hours!? Surely a couple minutes is enough time to pick up your
phone and dial my number? I'm ashamed, Jeff - I really am!"
She hasn't even looked at me yet, I don't think. But now she
turns to me, her harsh expression quickly swapped for a joyful
one of delight.
dear!" I admire the way Grandma can change in the space of a
few milliseconds. "It's so good to see you looking so
healthy." She comes over to the bed, dropping her bag in Dad's
lap on the way, and plants a kiss on my forehead. Normally it
would have made me squirm, but things are different now.
week since I woke up, and things are getting back to 'normal'
around here. When someone helps me lift my head I can see the
sea out the window. Occasionally I'll see a boat sailing past
on the horizon, and that gives me more determination to prove
Dr Grey wrong.
hasn't given up with the negative attitude. Then again, Scott
hasn't given up the positive one. I'm so grateful for that.
Everything Grey says, Scott contradicts behind his back. He'll
never give up on me, and knowing that is enough to keep me
going any day.
reminds me of Alan, in a way. She's bouncy, blonde and doesn't
stop talking. She showed me her engagement ring earlier, and
the excitement was clear in her sparkling eyes. I don't think
I could've asked for a better nurse.
a lot about the technical side of things that people discussed
only outside of my room or while I was still unconscious.
Thankfully no-one else was injured in the crash - I capsized
the hydrofoil at least a hundred meters from the shoreline,
and the debris was carried away further out to sea by the
given a run-through of my injuries, but there's so many I keep
forgetting. I'm also on a lot of painkillers and in a full
body-cast, so I can't really feel what's working and what's
not. Apparently I did something to my spine, on top of all the
broken bones, so even after they're healed it'll be a while
before I'm moving again.
has other opinions, however, which I prefer not to think
arms and legs have nearly healed, I'll be out of the body-cast
and able to start physiotherapy. Dad's paid for one of the
best to come in.
crash I took a knock to the head which explains the original
reason for my being unconscious. Then I slipped into a
coma on the way to hospital - in a helicopter, I learned from
my brothers - and remained in one for just over a month.
When I got
to the hospital, I was suffering from a lot of internal
bleeding and was in surgery for a long time. No-one tells me
exactly how long, because - understandably - they can't
remember because they weren't counting the hours, but from
their expressions I can tell it was a pretty harrowing ordeal
thinking it'll be a long time before I'm out of here.
other hand, I can't believe how lucky I am. The wreckage has
been investigated and re-investigated by experts, who decided
that my life had been saved by the large piece of debris that
knocked me out, because it protected me from the smaller,
sharper debris that flew about like knives.
was all over the place that day. And, as Grandma insists, only
God could have made sure it was blowing the opposite direction
from the shoreline at that minute.
though, the whole family's here again. Virgil's by the window,
finishing off a picture, John's talking with Dad and Alan's
watching Virgil draw. Scott's next to me, talking to me.
arrived a few minutes ago. She's a funny old woman, our
Grandma. She's spent the last month crying to herself,
pleading with me to wake up, and now she's acting as if she
knew it would happen along.
you he'd wake up, didn't I, Jeff?"
sitting next to Dad on my other side, one hand in Dad's and
the other on my forehead. I learnt so much about them all
while I was in my coma.
felt this much at home in what seems like such a long time.
It's not often we're all together. Throughout my coma they
came in their small groups and on their own, but never all at
the same time. Maybe that's why I woke up when they did. Maybe
it was the smell of the sea when Alan opened the window.
my body had just healed enough and was ready for me to wake.
know - I don't think I'll ever know. It's not a bad thing.
being his own serious self, painting and playing the piano a
lot - so I've heard - at home. Every time he looks at me
there's this unspoken happiness in his eyes that he always got
when I used to win my swim meets and Alan got his A's and A
stars in his reports.
quietly sits there. He's got an air about him - he just trusts
that everything will turn out okay. Alan's keeping us all
upbeat with his endless talking and bottomless energy. It
makes me wonder where he gets it all from. I hope he's looking
out for himself!
moments like these that I treasure my entire life. I'll get
Virgil to draw it later. This reminds me of those fish...and
wasn't there a mermaid, too?
that was important, but the image is fading quickly from my
mind, and when I try and remember all I can see is a shadow of
a face, flowing blonde hair and a hand, waving me away from
the hole and pointing upwards. Guiding me upwards.
hardly remember them at all now. It doesn't really matter.
There's a whole ocean out there for me to explore anyway, as
soon as I'm able to. There's a whole world out there.
thanks to all my reviewers along the way, and quiller for
being beta :)
you all enjoyed it - please review!