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Nothing seemed to change
11-09-11

 

Nothing seemed to change much in the week or so after that trip ugg . I didn't expect it to stay that way though, and sure enough, by the start of October, I started noticing little differences. For one thing, though Tommy carried on with his animal pictures, he became cagey about doing them in my presence. We weren't quite back to how it was when I'd first become his carer and all the Cottages stuff was still hanging over us. But it was like he'd thought about it and come to a decision: that he'd continue with the animals as the mood took him, but if I came in, he'd stop and put them away. I wasn't that hurt by this. In fact, in many ways, it was a relief: those animals staring us in the face when we were together would have only made things more awkward.

But there were other changes I found less easy. I don't mean we weren't still having some good times up in his room. We were even having sex every now and then. But what I couldn't help noticing was how, more and more, Tommy tended to identify himself with the other donors at the centre. If, for instance, the two of us were reminiscing about old Hailsham people, he'd sooner or later move the conversation round to one of his current donor friends who'd maybe said or done something similar to what we were recalling. There was one time in particular, when I drove into the Kingsfield after a long journey and stepped out of the car. The Square was looking a bit like that time I'd come to the centre with Ruth the day we'd gone to see the boat. It was an overcast autumn afternoon, and there was no one about except for a group of donors clustered under the overhanging roof of the recreation building. I saw Tommy was with them--he was standing with a shoulder against a post--and was listening to a donor who was sitting crouched on the entrance steps. I came towards them a little way, then stopped and waited, there in the open, under the grey sky. But Tommy, though he'd seen me, went on listening to his friend, and eventually he and all the others burst out laughing. Even then, he carried on listening and smiling. He claimed afterwards he'd signalled to me to come over, but if he had, it hadn't been at all obvious. All I registered was him smiling vaguely in my direction, then going back to what his friend was saying. Okay, he was in the middle of something, and after a minute or so, he did come away, and the two of us went up to his room. But it was quite different to the way things would have happened before. And it wasn't just that he'd kept me waiting out in the Square. I wouldn't have minded that so much. It was more that I sensed for the first time that day something close to resentment on his part at having to come away with me, and once we were up in his room, the atmosphere between us wasn't so great.

To be fair ugg boots , a lot of it might have been down to me as much as him. Because as I'd stood there watching them all talking and laughing, I'd felt an unexpected little tug; because there was something about the way these donors had arranged themselves in a rough semi-circle, something about their poses, almost studiedly relaxed, whether standing or sitting, as though to announce to the world how much each one of them was savouring the company, that reminded me of the way our little gang used to sit around our pavilion together. That comparison, as I say, tugged something inside me, and so maybe, once we were up in his room, it was as much me feeling resentful as the other way round.

I'd feel a similar little prickle of resentment each time he told me I didn't understand something or other because I wasn't yet a donor. But apart from one particular time, which I'll come to in a moment, a little prickle was all it was. Usually he'd say these things to me half-jokingly, almost affectionately. And even when there was something more to it, like the time he told me to stop taking his dirty washing to the laundry because he could do it himself, it hardly amounted to a row. That time, I'd asked him: "What difference does it make, which one of us takes the towels down? I'm going out that way anyway."

To which he'd shaken his head and said: "Look, Kath, I'll sort out my own things. If you were a donor, you'd see."

Okay, it did niggle, but it was something I could forget easily enough. But as I say, there was this one time he brought it up, about my not being a donor, that really riled me.

It happened about a week after the notice came for his fourth donation. We'd been expecting it and had already talked it through a lot. In fact, we'd had some of our most intimate conversations since the Littlehampton trip discussing the fourth donation. I've known donors to react in all sorts of ways to their fourth donation. Some want to talk about it all the time, endlessly and pointlessly.

Others will only joke about it, while others refuse to discuss it at all. And then there's this odd tendency among donors to treat a fourth donation as something worthy of congratulations. A donor "on a fourth," even one who's been pretty unpopular up till then, is treated with special respect ugg boots ireland . Even the doctors and nurses play up to this: a donor on a fourth will go in for a check and be greeted by whitecoats smiling and shaking their hand. Well, Tommy and I, we talked about all of this, sometimes jokingly, other times seriously and carefully. We discussed all the different ways people tried to handle it, and which ways made the best sense. Once, lying side by side on the bed with the dark coming on, he said: "You know why it is, Kath, why everyone worries so much about the fourth? It's because they're not sure they'll really complete. If you knew for certain you'd complete, it would be easier. But they never tell us for sure."

I'd been wondering for a while if this would come up, and I'd been thinking about how I'd respond. But when it did, I couldn't find much to say. So I just said: "It's just a lot of rubbish, Tommy. Just talk, wild talk. It's not even worth thinking about."

But Tommy would have known I had nothing to back up my words. He'd have known, too, he was raising questions to which even the doctors had no certain answers. You'll have heard the same talk. How maybe, after the fourth donation, even if you've technically completed, you're still conscious in some sort of way; how then you find there are more donations, plenty of them, on the other side of that line; how there are no more recovery centres, no carers, no friends; how there's nothing to do except watch your remaining donations until they switch you off. It's horror movie stuff, and most of the time people don't want to think about it. Not the whitecoats, not the carers--and usually not the donors. But now and again, a donor will bring it up, as Tommy did that evening, and I wish now we'd talked about it. As it was, after I dismissed it as rubbish, we both shrank back from the whole territory. At least, though, I knew it was on Tommy's mind after that, and I was glad he'd at least confided in me that far. What I'm saying is that all in all I was under the impression we were dealing with the fourth donation pretty well together, and that's why I was so knocked off balance by what he came out with that day we walked around the field.

THE KINGSFIELD DOESN'T HAVE MUCH in the way of grounds. The Square's the obvious congregating point and the few bits behind the buildings look more like wasteland. The largest chunk, which the donors call "the field," is a rectangle of overgrown weeds and thistles held in by wire-mesh fences. There's always been talk of turning it into a proper lawn for the donors, but they haven't done it yet, even now. It might not be so peaceful even if they did get round to it, because of the big road nearby. All the same, when donors get restless and need to walk it off, that's where they tend to go, scraping through all the nettles and brambles. The particular morning I'm talking about, it was really foggy, and I knew the field would be soaking, but Tommy had been insistent we go there for a walk. Not surprisingly, we were the only ones there--which probably suited Tommy fine. After crashing about the thickets for a few minutes, he stopped next to the fence and stared at the blank fog on the other side. Then he said: "Kath, I don't want you to take this the wrong way ugg ireland . But I've been thinking it over a lot. Kath, I think I ought to get a different carer."

In the few seconds after he said this, I realised I wasn't surprised by it at all; that in some funny way I'd been waiting for it. But I was angry all the same and didn't say anything.

"It's not just because the fourth donation's coming up," he went on. "It's not just about that. It's because of stuff like what happened last week. When I had all that kidney trouble. There's going to be much more stuff like that coming."

"That's why I came and found you," I said. "That's exactly why I came to help you. For what's starting now. And it's what Ruth wanted too."

"Ruth wanted that other thing for us," Tommy said. "She wouldn't necessarily have wanted you to be my carer through this last bit."

"Tommy," I said, and I suppose by now I was furious, but I kept my voice quiet and under control, "I'm the one to help you. That's why I came and found you again."

"Ruth wanted the other thing for us," Tommy repeated. "All this is something else. Kath, I don't want to be that way in front of you."

He was looking down at the ground, a palm pressed against the wire-mesh fence, and for a moment he looked like he was listening intently to the sound of the traffic somewhere beyond the fog. And that was when he said it, shaking his head slightly: "Ruth would have understood. She was a donor, so she would have understood. I'm not saying she'd necessarily have wanted the same thing for herself. If she'd been able to, maybe she'd have wanted you as her carer right to the end. But she'd have understood, about me wanting to do it differently. Kath, sometimes you just don't see it. You don't see it because you're not a donor."

It was when he came out with this that I turned and walked off. As I said, I'd been almost prepared for the bit about not wanting me any more as his carer. But what had really stung, coming after all those other little things, like when he'd kept me standing in the Square, was what he'd said then, the way he'd divided me off yet again, not just from all the other donors, but from him and Ruth ugg bailey button .

This never turned into a huge fight though. When I stalked off, there wasn't much else I could do other than go back up to his room, and then he came up himself several minutes later. I'd cooled down by then and so had he, and we were able to have a better conversation about it. It was a bit stiff, but we made peace, and even got into some of the practicalities of changing carers. Then, as we were sitting in the dull light, side by side on the edge of his bed, he said to me: "I don't want us to fight again, Kath. But I've been wanting to ask you this a lot. I mean, don't you get tired of being a carer? All the rest of us, we became donors ages ago. You've been doing it for years. Don't you sometimes wish, Kath, they'd hurry up and send you your notice?"

I shrugged. "I don't mind. Anyway, it's important there are good carers. And I'm a good carer."

"But is it really that important? Okay, it's really nice to have a good carer. But in the end, is it really so important? The donors will all donate, just the same, and then they'll complete."

"Of course it's important. A good carer makes a big difference to what a donor's life's actually like."

"But all this rushing about you do. All this getting exhausted and being by yourself. I've been watching you. It's wearing you out. You must do, Kath, you must sometimes wish they'd tell you you can stop. I don't know why you don't have a word with them, ask them why it's been so long." Then when I kept quiet, he said: "I'm just saying, that's all. Let's not fight again."

I put my head on his shoulder and said: "Yeah, well. Maybe it won't be for much longer anyway. But for now, I have to keep going. Even if you don't want me around, there are others who do."

"I suppose you're right, Kath. You are a really good carer. You'd be the perfect one for me too if you weren't you." He did a laugh and put his arm round me, though we kept sitting side by side. Then he said: "I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it's just too much. The current's too strong. They've got to let go, drift apart. That's how I think it is with us. It's a shame, Kath, because we've loved each other all our lives. But in the end, we can't stay together forever ugg classic tall ."

When he said this, I remembered the way I'd held onto him that night in the wind-swept field on the way back from Little-hampton. I don't know if he was thinking about that too, or if he was still thinking about his rivers and strong currents. In any case, we went on sitting like that on the side of the bed for a long time, lost in our thoughts. Then in the end I said to him: "I'm sorry I blew up at you earlier. I'll talk to them. I'll try and see to it you get someone really good."

"It's a shame, Kath," he said again. And I don't think we talked any more about it that morning.

I REMEMBER THE FEW WEEKS that came after that--the last few weeks before the new carer took over--as being surprisingly tranquil. Maybe Tommy and I were making a special effort to be nice to each other, but the time seemed to slip by in an almost carefree way. You might think there would have been an air of unreality about us being like that, but it didn't seem strange at the time. I was quite busy with a couple of my other donors in North Wales and that kept me from the Kingsfield more than I'd have wanted, but I still managed to come in three or four times a week. The weather grew colder, but stayed dry and often sunny, and we whiled away the hours in his room, sometimes having sex, more often just talking, or with Tommy listening to me read. Once or twice, Tommy even brought out his notebook and doodled away for new animal ideas while I read from the bed.

Then I came in one day and it was the last time. I arrived just after one o'clock on a crisp December afternoon. I went up to his room, half expecting some change--I don't know what. Maybe I thought he'd have put up decorations in his room or something. But of course, everything was as normal, and all in all, that was a relief. Tommy didn't look any different either, but when we started talking, it was hard to pretend this was just another visit. Then again, we'd talked over so much in the previous weeks, it wasn't as though we had anything in particular we had to get through. And I think we were reluctant to start any new conversation we'd regret not being able to finish properly. That's why there was a kind of emptiness to our talk that day.

Just once, though, after I'd been wandering aimlessly around his room for a while, I did ask him: "Tommy, are you glad Ruth completed before finding out everything we did in the end?"

He was lying on the bed, and went on staring at the ceiling for a while before saying: "Funny, because I was thinking about the same thing the other day. What you've got to remember about Ruth, when it came to things like that, she was always different to us. You and me, right from the start, even when we were little, we were always trying to find things out. Remember, Kath, all those secret talks we used to have? But Ruth wasn't like that. She always wanted to believe in things. That was Ruth. So yeah, in a way, I think it's best the way it happened." Then he added: "Of course, what we found out, Miss Emily, all of that, it doesn't change anything about Ruth. She wanted the best for us at the end. She really wanted the best for us ugg classic short ."

I didn't want to get into a big discussion about Ruth at that stage, so I just agreed with him. But now I've had more time to think about it, I'm not so sure how I feel. A part of me keeps wishing we'd somehow been able to share everything we discovered with Ruth. Okay, maybe it would have made her feel bad; made her see whatever damage she'd once done to us couldn't be repaired as easily as she'd hoped. And maybe, if I'm honest, that's a small part of my wishing she knew it all before she completed. But in the end, I think it's about something else, something much more than my feeling vengeful and mean-spirited. Because as Tommy said, she wanted the best for us at the end, and though she said that day in the car I'd never forgive her, she was wrong about that. I've got no anger left for her now. When I say I wish she'd found out the whole score, it's more because I feel sad at the idea of her finishing up different from me and Tommy. The way it is, it's like there's a line with us on one side and Ruth on the other, and when all's said and done, I feel sad about that, and I think she would too if she could see it.

Tommy and I, we didn't do any big farewell number that day. When it was time, he came down the stairs with me, which he didn't usually do, and we walked across the Square together to the car. Because of the time of year, the sun was already setting behind the buildings. There were a few shadowy figures, as usual, under the overhanging roof, but the Square itself was empty. Tommy was silent all the way to the car. Then he did a little laugh and said: "You know, Kath, when I used to play football back at Hailsham. I had this secret thing I did. When I scored a goal, I'd turn round like this"--he raised both arms up in triumph--"and I'd run back to my mates. I never went mad or anything, just ran back with my arms up, like this." He paused for a moment, his arms still in the air. Then he lowered them and smiled. "In my head, Kath, when I was running back, I always imagined I was splashing through water. Nothing deep, just up to the ankles at the most. That's what I used to imagine, every time. Splash, splash, splash." He put his arms up again. "It felt really good. You've just scored, you turn, and then, splash, splash, splash." He looked at me and did another little laugh. "All this time, I never told a single soul."

I laughed too and said: "You crazy kid, Tommy."

After that, we kissed--just a small kiss--then I got into the car. Tommy kept standing there while I turned the thing round. Then as I pulled away, he smiled and waved. I watched him in my rear-view, and he was standing there almost till the last moment. Right at the end, I saw him raise his hand again vaguely and turn away towards the overhanging roof. Then the Square had gone from the mirror. f I WAS TALKING TO ONE OF MY DONORS a few days ago who was complaining about how memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don't go along with that. The memories I value most, I don't see them ever fading. I lost Ruth, then I lost Tommy, but I won't lose my memories of them ugg classic cardy .

I suppose I lost Hailsham too. You still hear stories about some ex-Hailsham student trying to find it, or rather the place where it used to be. And the odd rumour will go round sometimes about what Hailsham's become these days--a hotel, a school, a ruin. Myself, for all the driving I do, I've never tried to find it. I'm not really interested in seeing it, whatever way it is now.

Mind you, though I say I never go looking for Hailsham, what I find is that sometimes, when I'm driving around, I suddenly think I've spotted some bit of it. I see a sports pavilion in the distance and I'm sure it's ours. Or a row of poplars on the horizon next to a big woolly oak, and I'm convinced for a second I'm coming up to the South Playing Field from the other side. Once, on a grey morning, on a long stretch of road in Gloucestershire, I passed a broken-down car in a lay-by, and I was sure the girl standing in front of it, gazing emptily out towards the on-coming vehicles, was Susanna C., who'd been a couple of years above us and one of the Sales monitors. These moments hit me when I'm least expecting it, when I'm driving with something else entirely in my mind. So maybe at some level, I am on the lookout for Hailsham.

But as I say, I don't go searching for it, and anyway, by the end of the year, I won't be driving around like this any more. So the chances are I won't ever come across it now, and on reflection, I'm glad that's the way it'll be. It's like with my memories of Tommy and of Ruth. Once I'm able to have a quieter life, in whichever centre they send me to, I'll have Hailsham with me, safely in my head, and that'll be something no one can take away.

The only indulgent thing I did, just once, was a couple of weeks after I heard Tommy had completed, when I drove up to Norfolk, even though I had no real need to. I wasn't after anything in particular and I didn't go up as far as the coast. Maybe I just felt like looking at all those flat fields of nothing and the huge grey skies. At one stage I found myself on a road I'd never been on, and for about half an hour I didn't know where I was and didn't care. I went past field after flat, featureless field, with virtually no change except when occasionally a flock of birds, hearing my engine, flew up out of the furrows. Then at last I spotted a few trees in the distance, not far from the roadside, so I drove up to them, stopped and got out.

I found I was standing before acres of ploughed earth. There was a fence keeping me from stepping into the field, with two lines of barbed wire, and I could see how this fence and the cluster of three or four trees above me were the only things breaking the wind for miles. All along the fence, especially along the lower line of wire, all sorts of rubbish had caught and tangled. It was like the debris you get on a sea-shore: the wind must have carried some of it for miles and miles before finally coming up against these trees and these two lines of wire ugg boots sale . Up in the branches of the trees, too, I could see, flapping about, torn plastic sheeting and bits of old carrier bags. That was the only time, as I stood there, looking at that strange rubbish, feeling the wind coming across those empty fields, that I started to imagine just a little fantasy thing, because this was Norfolk after all, and it was only a couple of weeks since I'd lost him. I was thinking about the rubbish, the flapping plastic in the branches, the shore-line of odd stuff caught along the fencing, and I half-closed my eyes and imagined this was the spot where everything I'd ever lost since my childhood had washed up, and I was now standing here in front of it, and if I waited long enough, a tiny figure would appear on the horizon across the field, and gradually get larger until I'd see it was Tommy, and he'd wave, maybe even call. The fantasy never got beyond that--I didn't let it--and though the tears rolled down my face, I wasn't sobbing or out of control. I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.

The End

 


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