Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Day 23

The next three days were amongst the worst in my life. Marlene’s condtion actually worsened over the few hours we were at the hospital on the Saturday night. Shuggsy and I went by taxi because he had too much to drink to drive. Astrid volunteered to stay with mum which was brilliant of her, considering this was only the third time she’d been with me properly. We were allowed to see Marlene when we got there but had only been in the room for about fifteen minutes when the monitor started beeping erratically. I panicked and called for a nurse and we were ushered out into the corridor where we basically stayed for the next three hours. I alternated between drinking crap coffee out of the machine, ringing Astrid and talking morosely with Shuggsy. At about two am, a doctor finally came out to see us and said she was stable and comfortable, and basically there was nothing else they could do at that time but wait. He stopped short of suggesting that we carry on waiting as well, basically subliminally saying that we should go home. Before we did, I sneaked a look at Marlene lying in her intensive care bed, wires attaching her to machines, her chestnut hair billowing on the pillow and sallow skin giving her the appearance of a pre-Raphaelite corpse. I suddenly had a vision of something I’d witnessed unconsciously and shuddered as if someone had walked over my grave.

The next day I rang PC Douglas and tried to piece together with her how Marlene came to be lying where she was. She asked me how well I knew Maartin Van Elst, the registered owner of the car she’d been found in. I told her what I knew, which wasn’t much, that he had worked at Marlene’s company for about a year as far as I knew but I didn’t know where he lived. When she asked me what their relationship was, I told her that they had recently started going out together but had known each other through work as long as he had been there as far as I knew. She said that she’d check with the personnel department of the company for an address as the vehicle was registered via the company. I vaguely registered that he was an even bigger twat than I took him for having a company car. She then asked for some of Marlene’s personal details and intimated that the reason she was asking me was because Marlene’s father was resident in America and I was down as her emergency contact in her purse which had been recovered at the scene of the crash. That gave me a start for some reason, that I was basically her next of kin in this country. She thanked me and said she’d be in touch if they needed anything else from me. I added a phone call to Marlene’s father to my mental list of tasks. I didn’t know whether it would be a good idea coming so soon after his heart attack but I knew I’d have to do it before long as she would want him to know.
“Are you OK?” I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Astrid. Yes she had stayed the night, but not in the circumstances I would have chosen, obviously. Anyway, I’d slept on the settee and given Astrid my bed. She’d still been awake when we’d got back from the hospital, mum finally admitted defeat around midnight after I’d rung to give a progress report. She’d made us all a hot chocolate and we’d talked for a while then Shuggsy tactfully (for him) retreated to his bedroom. To be honest, I hadn’t given any thought to the sleeping arrangements after what had happened but I decided that the time was hardly right, so suggested the settee for me. She looked like she was about to demur, but I insisted that I would be OK, so she gave me a kiss and hugged me and told me everything would be fine. And the funny thing was, I believed her.

We went to the hospital again that afternoon, dropping Astrid off on the way at her house. Once again the doctor told us there wasn’t much change in her condition but that she was reacting to stimulus and a brain scan had shown no sign of damage, but the internal injuries were causing some concern, but they couldn’t assess the full damage yet. I decided myself that there was not much point hanging around this time but collared one of the friendlier nurses and asked her to ring me on my mobile if there was any change in Marlene’s condition, good or bad. Then we drove home where I made two phone calls, first to Grant to tell him I wouldn’t be in work all next week, he wasn’t overly impressed but relented when I gave him the circumstances, and even told me to call him if I needed anything, which was surprisingly altruistic for him. The next call was more difficult, to Marlene’s father. I spoke to the effervescent Cindy first who didn’t seem to register who I was but passed the phone on to her ‘honey’. It had been probably fifteen years since I last spoke to Mr Bradley but he sounded almost exactly the same, albeit with a slight West Coast twang to his accent. He was definitely surprised to hear it was me, but no doubt expected that it wasn’t good news or else I wouldn’t have been ringing. To be fair to him, he was quite calm about it, but then again I didn’t tell him that the driver of the car was a bloke who his only daughter had been seeing for less than a month and had decided to leave her in the wreckage. I gave him as many details as I could and wasn’t surprised when he said that he would get a flight over to England as soon as he could. It was hardly my place to put him off and I’m sure in his position I would have done the same. I just hoped he came alone, I’m not sure I could cope with Cindy as well. I breathed a sigh of relief when I put the phone down and went to my room, stuck a Jellyfish CD on and crashed out.

On Monday mum went back to the home in a subdued mood, looking more weary than when she arrived. I wasn’t amazed, all that she was used to at the house that was a constant for her was going wrong and I’m sure she was wondering whether to bother coming home at weekends. She became a bit tearful as we were saying goodbye and made me promise to ring her every day with news of Marlene’s progress. I went back in the house feeling a little fractious and was glad in a way that Shuggsy had gone back to South Wales for the week to complete the job they’d started. I decided to spend the day with a few DVD’s making my choice for the Viewer’s Commentary audition and then go to the hospital later on.

I was only halfway through Goodfellas (Joe Pesci as Tommy Devito had just shot Spider the bar-boy – played by Michael Impereoli, Christopher Moltesante in The Sopranos, trivia fans) when an insistent banging on the front door roused me from my seat. I opened the door to be greeted by a wild haired man who I recognised, but wasn’t sure why.
“Yeah?” I asked, none too graciously.
“Are you the guy from the book shop, the one who bought my books?” Shit he’d come to rob me for a refund because I’d ripped him off was my first thought. “The one I gave the book called Be Lucky to?” Now the penny drops.
“Yeah, that’s right, how did you get my address?”
“The bloke at the shop gave it me, tall guy, long hair.” Sean. I’d have to have words. “I have to speak to you.”
“You’d better come in, I guess,” I said. I opened the door for him, he came in then loitered in the hall way before I showed him into the living room.
“Have you still got the book?” he asked. He looked as though he hadn’t slept for days and there was four days growth of beard round his saggy jowls.
“Yeah, somewhere.” I said.
“Then you’ve got to get rid of it!” he said urgently.
“Because it’ll be bringing you bad luck.” Had I entered a Hammer House of Horror film? He then went on to tell me a tale of how he’d been given the book in similar circumstances. At first, he’d had good luck like me, winning big at the bookies and even on the lottery. But then he’d noticed things going wrong for friends and family; his brother had been hit on the head by falling masonry and suffered a fractured skull, his daughter was going to meet her boyfriend when she was hit by a car and broke both legs, his mother’s brand new car was hit by two vehicles as she drove it off the garage forecourt, his father had a stroke, a friend’s business went bust and his boss was beaten up outside a pub. Then to top it all, not long after he’d won a holiday to Tahiti for two in a competition, his wife was killed in a train accident. He was on the verge of crying as he recounted how she was preparing to get off at her station when the train derailed and her carriage turned over and rolled down an embankment.
“And that’s why I got rid of the book.” I was almost too flabbergasted to speak.
“But why the fuck did you have to give it to me, why didn’t you just leave it in the box and I could’ve put it on the shelf and then you would have never known who bought it?” I asked, not unreasonably.
“Because I wanted to see if it was just me or whether it would happen to someone else. I’m so sorry, I never thought it would happen again, I didn’t mean it to, I just wanted to keep track of it I guess. You’ve got to understand I wasn’t thinking straight, I’d buried my wife only three days before. I know it’s no excuse but….” He spread his palms. “What’s happened to you since?” I filled him in on my run of good luck, it was only as I catalogued the bad luck that had happened to Marlene and Shuggsy that I realised fully that he maybe wasn’t coming out with some bullshit scare story.
“It’s like karma I suppose,” he offered, “for all the good luck that happens there has to be an equal amount of bad luck in the world to balance it out.” I looked unconvinced. “Or that’s what Guy Mattinson said before he died.”
“He’s dead?”
“Yes, about two years ago. Look, have you got the internet here, I’ll show you.” I logged on and let the guy, who had introduced himself as Gareth by now, take over and navigate to a site called which was Mattinson’s own website, or at least had been. It hadn’t been updated since October 2002, and the home page showed a photo of Mattinson surrounded by a black border.
“OK, so I believe you, what happened to him?”
“He killed himself, but not before he’d shot his two sons as well.”

Word Count: 1,935


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