Gateway to Madeleine D’Arcy
. A version of this story was published in Counterparts - A Synergy of Law and Literature (Stinging Fly, 2018). The anthology was edited by Danielle McLaughlin and all of the contributions were inspired by law reports.
“Madeleine D’Arcy’s début short story collection, Waiting For The Bullet (Doire Press, 2014) was awarded the Edge Hill Reader’s Choice Prize (UK) in 2015.
In 2010 she received the Hennessy Literary Award for First Fiction and the overall Hennessy Literary Award for New Irish Writer.
She holds an MA in Creative Writing (First Class Honours) from University College, Cork.
She is also a qualified solicitor in Ireland and in the UK.
Publishing credits include: The Stinging Fly; Necessary Fiction; Long Story Short; Made in Heaven and other stories; Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts; Irish Times; Irish Independent; The Holly Bough; Short Story Journal (US); The Penny Dreadful; Unbraiding the Short Story (US); Surge: New Writing From Ireland; Quarryman; Headstuff.org; Looking at the Stars; Sunset Drinking the Black Ocean; Head Land–Ten Years of the Edge Hill Short Story Prize (UK), The Elysian–Creative Responses; Counterparts, A Synergy of Law and Literature and Europe revue littéraire mensuelle (France). Forthcoming publications include Cork Words and Purple Heart Anthology.
Madeleine co-hosts Fiction at the Friary, a free monthly fiction event in Cork City, with fellow-writer Danielle McLaughlin.
She has been awarded bursaries by the Arts Council of Ireland, Culture Ireland and Cork City Council, and has completed her first novel.
Her second book, a collection of linked short fiction, is scheduled for publication by Doire Press in 2021.”
I first began to read the work of Madeleine D’Arcy during Irish Short Story Month Year Two, April 2012.
Here are my thoughts on her debut collection:
Waiting for the Bullet, the marvelous debut collection of Madeleine D'Arcy, is a beautifully written highly perceptive set of stories about relationships in times of transition, in periods darked by social and economic stresses and personal crisis. The stories are set mostly in Ireland but they allow us to see the universal in the particular. D'Arcy has a keen eye for small nuances in relationships. She helps us understand the built in paradoxes in relationships that often bring them to an end, the tension between the craving for a partner that excites you, gives you a sense of the edge and one that provided stability and affection. You can see this strongly in the amazing story "The Fox and the Placenta". In writing on Irish fiction over the last few years I have been guided by the ideas of Declan Kiberd in terms of a post-colonial reading of Irish literature and I see repeated manifestations of the theme of they weak or missing father in these profound stories. D'Arcy helps us see the humanity in others, one of the greatest benefits of deep stories. I think another great story teller from Cork, Frank O'Connor, would have been an admiring reader of Waiting for the Bullet.
“Dignity” A Short Story by Madeleine D’Arcy
On the Friday when all the trouble began – though I didn’t know that until some days later – my sister Ellie arrived at my house at 7 a.m. as usual. She took the black plastic folder out of her massive handbag – I call it her Mary Poppins bag because you never know what she’ll take out of it next – and put it on my bedside cabinet.
‘I think it’s best to keep it here,’ she said. ‘And Jake might want to check it out when he comes on Sunday.’
Jake’s my son. He’s working in Dublin now but he often comes down at weekends.
‘Now, let’s get you sorted,’ she said.
‘Absolutely,’ I agreed. ‘Let’s get out of here before Mrs Looney arrives.’
Mrs Looney cleans my house on Friday mornings. I like to be out when she’s in. Bad enough that Mrs Looney has an irritating way of telling me to count my blessings and believe in the power of prayer; but she never stops complaining herself, about her arthritis, her bunions and her old blaggard of a husband. In fact, if you listened to her and you didn’t know better, you’d swear that Mrs Looney was the one in constant agony and that there was nothing much wrong with me. I used to do an impression of the auld bag that made Ellie hoot with laughter, but the joke has worn thin at this stage.
So that’s why Ellie usually takes me shopping on Fridays. We often go to Leevale Shopping City. You can find some decent stuff in the shops there, and the supermarket has nice wide aisles.
There are two disabled parking spaces right near the main entrance of Leevale Shopping City and that’s where we prefer to park, especially since I got the Power Chair. There’s usually only one space free and sometimes none; I’d been ranting about it for ages because every time we went to Leevale, no matter what time we arrived, the same creamy white Fiat 500 with a red interior was parked neatly in one of our disabled spaces.
Rain was pouring from the heavens as we arrived, to see the white Fiat sliding into our parking spot. A young woman in a smart raincoat got out of the Fiat and clicked the car locked before trotting into the shopping centre – not a bother on her despite the high heels – which were gorgeous by the way, possibly Kurt Geiger; I used to have a pair like them.
‘The cheek of her,’ said Ellie, as she opened the back of the Renault and got out the wheelchair ramp.
‘Let’s follow her,’ I said, but by the time I’d manoeuvred my Power Chair down the ramp and motored into the shopping centre she was nowhere to be seen.. We went into Boots the Chemist first, to get my prescriptions, and while we were there Ellie got the notion to ask the pharmacist if she knew the woman who drove the Fiat.
‘That one? She owns the Happy Hair salon.’
‘Is she disabled?’
‘Well, do you know what? She always parks in that disabled space right outside the main door’ Ellie said, and the girl said that would be her alright, and wrinkled up her face and raised her eyebrows in a manner that meant, quite unmistakably, that she couldn’t stand the woman.
I wasn’t much in the mood for shopping, so we didn’t stay long. Outside, the rain had stopped and the white Fiat was still in the same spot.
‘What a lighting bitch,’ Ellie said.
‘We should do something about it,’ I said. ‘You could let the air out of her tyres.’
‘I could. But should I?’
‘Do,’ said I. ‘And we’ll leave her a note.’
‘Brilliant,’ said Ellie. ‘What will we write?’
‘How about “who’s disabled now?” ’ I said.
Ellie nearly exploded with laughter. This is one of the many reasons I love my sister; she’s so steady and reliable most of the time, but when she gets all fired up she turns into a rebel.
‘Hurry,’ I said.
She kept glancing around like a fugitive while she let the air out of both rear tyres. Then she tore the blank bit off our shopping list and scrawled the words on it and added three big exclamation marks and tucked it behind the Fiat’s windscreen wipers before we made our getaway.
As Ellie revved up and drove off she was laughing fit to burst and I started too but in a few seconds I was laughing so hard I started choking. Sometimes this happens when my saliva goes down the wrong way. She had to pull up round the corner and hop out to sort me out. She reached in to pat me on the back and hold my head for a minute until I could breathe again and said ‘Easy now, easy does it,’ and she got a tissue out of her pocket and wiped the dribble off my chin.
‘You gave me a fright there,’ she said.
Then we started laughing again and this time I didn’t choke and for a while I felt almost human again, because there’s nothing like a good laugh, even in the worst of times.
By the time we got back to my house Mrs Looney had been and gone. The floor was still wet, so at least she’d pushed the godddam mop around. It should be easy enough to clean the place. Even now, every time I come home I forget, just for a second or two, that the house is no longer how it used to be. A few years back, Jake insisted on getting the ground floor renovated, thought I told him repeatedly that I didn’t intend to hang round long enough to make all that trouble and expense worthwhile. Jake was always great at organising things, even as a kid. He called in favours, got an architect friend to draw up the plans for free, did some deals and pulled it all together like that DIY SOS programme on the BBC and all I gave him at the time was grief because I had to go to a Respite Care Home while the builders were in and I hated it there. I felt mean about it afterwards and I apologised, because the new downstairs meant that I didn’t always need a carer around, until recently. I’ve almost forgotten what the upstairs rooms look like; they might as well be distant planets now.
It’s frustrating not to be able to take care of things myself. Ellie does a lot. She does more housework than Mrs Looney for sure, and on top of that she’s now my carer as well, but the pay doesn’t cover anything like the time she puts in. Sometimes I get all bitter and twisted thinking about how much she has to do.
That day, though, it seemed as if Mrs Looney had done a half-decent job until we went into the kitchen area, where she’d left the top bits from the hob still soaking in the sink. Ellie sighed, then bent down and opened the oven door. She stared in.
‘She never cleaned the bloody oven. I specifically asked her. She’s hopeless. Absolutely hopeless. We’ll have to get rid of her and get someone else.’
‘It’s hardly worth it, for the sake of a few months,’ I slurred. My speech is getting very bad.
‘Oh God,’ she said. ‘It sounds terrible when you say it like that.’
‘It’s not your fault.’ She came over and hugged me. Then she looked me in the eyes. ‘You’re going to tell Jake on Sunday, aren’t you? You have to. I’m not going to do it.’
‘Yeah, ‘course I will.’
‘He’ll be upset.’
Even now, stuck in my so-called Power Chair, I love to watch the Grand Prix on TV. I’ve always loved cars. Dad was a mechanic, and our mother died young, so Ellie and I spent many hours hanging around his garage in Ballyphehane. Friday nights were best, when we’d sit in the back seat of whatever car Dad was working on, eating battered cod and vinegary chips from Lennox’s, the fried smell melding with the fumes of engine oil. He’d eat much faster than we did so he could get back to tinkering underneath a bonnet, persuading an engine to roar back to life, before wiping his greasy hands on his overalls and declaring that it was time to quit.
I must have seemed a strange little girl. Ellie liked dolls but I far preferred cars. I could drive by the time I was ten and for my seventeenth birthday Dad bought me a bright red Triumph Herald. It was second-hand, of course – 1965 – and it needed a bit of work, but I loved it. Even now, although I like perfume well enough, my favourite scent is petrol.
It was Formula One season again and I was looking forward to watching the Belgian Grand Prix at the weekend. The noise of roaring revving engines and the sight of crazily fast cars zipping around a racing track raises my spirits and comforts me, even on bad days when my bones poke against my flesh like shards of ice and I have to grind my teeth together to stop myself groaning.
Jake arrived on Sunday, at about 3pm. He hugged me gently; he knows by now that big hugs are painful.
‘You’re looking well,’ I told him.
‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘You’re not looking too bad yourself, all things considered.’
That made me laugh, in spite of myself.
While Ellie made stuffing for the chicken and prepared a trifle, Jake replaced a bulb in the bathroom and put a new washer on the kitchen tap. All I could do was sit there like a spare part, watching them work.
When it was almost 5 p.m. Ellie got me sorted, toilet-wise, and settled me back in the Power Chair while Jake went out for a cigarette. Then we sat round the television, glued to Sky Sports. For a while I was engrossed in the bustling activity of the mechanics in the paddock, while commentators tried to catch a final few words with drivers and team bosses and the occasional celebrity before the race began. Finally the cars were in position and the red lights turned to green and I could almost smell the petrol and exhaust fumes and every time they showed the camera angle from Lewis Hamilton’s car it was almost as if I was behind the wheel myself, surging ahead, arcing around the chicanes, slowing into the pit lane when his team manager said ‘box, box, box,’ and zipping relentlessly into the lead again, and I could almost forget the bones that pinned every part of me down in pain.
Rosberg won and Lewis Hamilton only came third, for a change, but considering Lewis started from the back row on the grid he did brilliantly. Daniel Ricciardo came second and I was thrilled because he hasn’t the best car so he doesn’t often get placed. To be honest, I’ve a soft spot for him; I love his toothy smile. All in all, it was a fine race and afterwards I figured it was time for a drink before dinner.
‘Can I do anything?’ Jake asked his aunt Ellie. In fairness, he has lovely manners; I’ve always been determined that he wouldn’t turn out like his father.
‘No, the chicken’s in,’ Ellie told him. ‘And everything else is prepped.’ She took her apron off and hung it over one of the kitchen chairs, then ran her fingers through her hair. She looked at her watch. ‘I have to collect Jim and bring him over. I won’t be long. In the meantime you might as well start on the wine. There’s plenty in the fridge.’
Her face was a little flushed. Ellie has always been as transparent as glass. My brother-in-law Jim is the solid, reliable kind. If he’s supposed to turn up for his dinner at seven he’ll be there at seven. Besides, they only live around the corner. When I looked at Jake I knew he was thinking the same thing.
As the front door banged shut, Jake moved to the fridge and took out a bottle of Albarino. He poured some into my pink plastic mug and clicked the safety top on before he handed it to me.
‘Baby cup. I hate it,’ I said and my hands shook terribly as I held it. I knew Jake was wondering whether or not to offer help, but all he said was ‘I know,’ as he poured a glass of wine for himself.
‘So what’s up with Aunt Ellie?’ he said then.
‘You won’t like it. ’ My speech was very slurred. I hate that. At first it happened when I was tired or stressed but now it’s just another part of the damaged package that is me.
‘No matter. Fire away.’
‘I made a decision, Jake.’
‘Well, the date is set. I’m going to Dignitas at the end of November. After the final Grand Prix.’
‘But, that’s only – is it – ten weeks away? Mam, you can’t.’
‘Look Jake, I’ve held out for thirteen years but it’s too hard. I can’t face another Christmas.’
‘It’s just… I know you’ve talked about it before, but over there in Dignitas… it looks like a factory building. I mean, I’m sure it’s fine inside, but… wouldn’t you prefer to die here at home?’
‘I would, but sure it’s illegal here. What choice do I have?’
Jake chewed the inside of his lip, then slugged back all the wine in his glass.
‘Would you think about leaving it a while longer?’
‘I can’t, Jake. If I wait too long I might be too banjaxed to travel and then I’ll be stuck.’
‘It’s not right Mam. It’s much too soon.’ He shifted in his chair and bit his lip again. Then he raised his head and stared through the kitchen window. I moved my head with difficulty so that I could see what he was looking at. Out in the yard, a robin redbreast perched on a limb of the rotary washing line.
‘That little robin turns up every day,’ I said. ‘Ellie feeds him for me now.’
‘I’m going out for a cigarette,’ he said.
‘You’ll kill yourself with them fags.’
‘Look who’s talking.’ He shook his head and went out into the backyard. If I could have swallowed my stupid words I would have. As I sat powerless in my Power Chair I could see him pacing in the dusk, dragging on his cigarette as if it was a punishment.
When Jake came back in, I could smell the fags off him. I worried that in some small ways he’d taken after his father. When I was young, Lorcan’s edginess and fast talk had fascinated me but he had turned out to be a flawed and faithless man. Still, I’d done the best I could. Ellie and Jim had helped me then too. I could never have done it on my own.
Jake tilted the bottle of wine towards my plastic cup and I shook my head. Then he poured more wine into his glass.
‘It’s beginning to get cloudy,’ he said. ‘There’ll be no stars tonight,’
‘You had a telescope when you were twelve. Do you remember?’
He half-smiled. ‘That was such a good present. I still love all that stuff… reminds me... Did you know that NASA has discovered a new planet? Kepler 452b. They’re calling it Earth 2.0 because it’s the closest match yet to our own planet.’
He got his iPad out and found a YouTube clip. The planet floated pale in an inky black universe, circling a sun-like star. Its pocked surface looked a lot like Earth.
‘Maybe there’s a whole other race up there,’ he said.
‘I hope it’s an improvement on the crowd down here anyway.’
I liked the thought of Earth 2.0. I never tell other people what to believe and I don’t believe in anything much myself, except that if there’s a God I’m quite happy to meet her and explain myself. I like the idea of God being a woman, though of course if there is a God at all, it might be anything, half and half for all I know, or just a cloud that talks or sends telepathic messages. Or there might be nothing. But if there’s nothing, then there’s nothing. I’ll be dead and I won’t even know there’s nothing anyway and there’s no way I can change that.
‘Replay it for me,’ I said. I wanted to see Earth 2 again. Jake pressed the tab and we stared at the screen.
‘So you’re not going to change your mind?”
‘Who’s taking you there?’
‘Ellie. Jim’s coming too. All the details are in a black folder in my bedroom.’
‘I’ll go as well.’
‘Jake, there’s no need. The less people involved, the better.’
‘Ah Mam,’ he said. He slugged back more wine. Then he got up and hugged me very gently.
‘You can’t come with me,’ I said, into his chest. ‘I already decided that. You have your career to think about – your whole life is in front of you.’
‘Look, it’s about time I copped onto myself. I could fly from Dublin and meet you in Zurich. Where’s that folder?’ He found it and slapped it down on the kitchen table. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘I’ll book my flights this minute,’ but he didn’t open the folder. Instead he sat there, and I expected him to protest again, but then I saw tears in his eyes, and all of a sudden he looked about five years old again. I felt my own face getting wet in spite of myself. He found a box of tissues and wiped my eyes, and then his own.
The MS was diagnosed thirteen years ago, when I was forty-five. It’s the worst kind, and the truth is that I’m slowly and painfully dying with no prospect of even a brief remission. After I got the diagnosis I kept on working and driving as long as I could, even when I finally had to use a walking stick. In fairness, even then I managed okay until I had an unfortunate accident on Pouladuff Road – involving a muscle spasm in my right leg and a lot of damage to the back of poor old Mr. Deasy’s car – and realised my driving days were over. I had to quit work in the University soon afterwards but at least I had a good pension plan. It nearly broke my heart to sell my little Audi TT but Jim found me a Renault with disabled access for a wheelchair so that he or Ellie could take me out.
The crunch came in the early hours after a terrible night when I lay awake, crying. My drug regime was causing complications almost as bad as the condition and my stomach was giving me grief. On top of that I had pruritis again and the itching was excruciating; enough to drive a person crazy. My bones ached as if I was being pulled on a rack and my head was so sensitive that it felt as if the roots of my hair were digging into my brain. I’m not one for moaning all the time but I was in agony. Jesus Christ, I moaned. Fucking hell. Christ Almighty. Oh God, oh God, oh God help me. It’s amazing that all my groaning was to a God I didn’t believe in. I’d given up on Him a while ago. No God of any kind of quality could ever have wished this on me. I knew no sleep would come, so at about five in the morning, with much difficulty I managed to pull myself up and across into the Power Chair and I trundled into the main room.
To distract myself until Ellie arrived, I decided to watch a documentary about Senna again. He was an amazing talent, who sadly crashed and died at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. He was only 34, same age as my son Jake is now. Senna prayed to God before the race, but God didn’t save him. That’s the way of it. No wonder I’m not impressed with God. Bad things can happen to anybody.
The DVD was easy to spot, not too high up on the shelves, with ‘SENNA’ written in yellow capital letters on the spine. I raised my hand as best I could and reached for it. Almost there, I leaned out of the flipping Power Chair but my right leg went into spasm and I tipped sideways, slithering right off the wheelchair hard onto the floor. That was that. No way could I get up.
As I lay there, my hips and shoulders felt like razorblades and I couldn’t help scraping at my itching parts, all the while knowing that this would only make the problem worse. Under the TV stand, a spider’s web was flecked with dessicated fly corpses, crumbs and other debris … the white… not maggots, surely not? Why hadn’t that bitch Looney bothered to hoover underneath? The stand was on wheels, for feck sake.
The clock on the mantelpiece ticked a familiar clicking sound. It seemed to get louder and louder and the sound of it annoyed the hell out of me. My panic alarm was miles away on my bedside cabinet (Ellie’s always at me to keep it round my neck). I tried to drag myself back into the bedroom but I was like a slug on salt, pierced with pain and getting colder and colder. By the time Ellie arrived, on the dot of seven, all I could say was ‘Ellie, it’s time.’
On the Monday after our Friday escapade at Leevale Shopping City, Jake left for Dublin at the crack of dawn and Ellie came in as usual at 7 a.m. I was in a lot of pain that day and I didn’t want to go anywhere. I listened to BBC Radio One Extra and asked Ellie to give me extra pain relief. Before Ellie went home for an hour in the afternoon she put a recording of the July Grand Prix for me – the British one, at Silverstone. It was an exciting race and I wanted to watch it again even though I already knew Lewis had won.
When the front door buzzer rang, I wondered who on earth it could be. Jake was back in Dublin as far as I knew. Ellie, Jim and Mrs Looney had keys. Not many other people came round anymore. I can’t really blame them. Most people, when faced with someone who has an incurable disease, don’t know what to say, so they stay away instead.
I fumbled for the remote control to pause the recording but it wasn’t in my ‘Super Storage System’. The Super Storage System, as I call it, is a a pocketed thing made of grey fleece fabric and held firmly by a Velcro fastening onto one side of the Power Chair. Ellie got it for me so that I could bung things in that I’d need when I was alone, like the TV remote, the DVD remote, my reading glasses, water bottle, tissues and phone, but the trouble is I keep so many things in there now I can hardly find anything right off.
It was a few seconds before I realised the remote was on the small table beside me all the while. I pressed the wrong button first and the race zoomed forward instead of pausing. By the time I managed to pause the flipping recording the front door buzzer had stopped, but then it buzzed again and, thankfully, the intercom thingy was in its rightful place in the Super Storage System so I managed to get it out and press the Talk button.
‘Who’s there?’ I asked.
‘It’s the police.’ The man’s voice sounded tinny and officious through the intercom. ‘Sorry to disturb you but we need to ask a few questions.’
It was ludicrous, I realised, afterwards, but the first thing that came to mind was that myself and Ellie were in trouble over what we’d done on Friday to the Fiat belonging to the Happy Hair girl in Leevale Shopping Centre.
I zoomed too fast into the hall, bumping my wheelchair against the doorframe and cursing under my breath. Then I hesitated for a moment. Sometimes this blinking MS makes my head addled, so I tried to force myself to think clearly. I’d admit nothing but I’d point out that if a young woman in the full bloom of her health was mean enough to park in a disabled parking space, she deserved what she got. I spoke through the intercom.
‘Show some ID,’ I said.
I peered through the spyhole, which Jake, bless him, had made sure to place low in the door, and then I pressed the Open button and invited them in.
Two Gardaí stepped into the hall. The man, a tall thin fellow in uniform, had hardly any chin. He was what my Dad used to call ‘a chinless wonder’. The female Garda was fair-haired and looked no more than sixteen, in spite of the fact that she wore an engagement ring and a wedding band. Her perfume smelt of woods and flowers; it was probably Issey Miyake
The Garda looked down at me past his almost non-existent chin. ‘Is your name Mrs Siofra Sullivan?’ he asked, very slowly.
‘Mizz. Is there a problem?’ My words came out a bit blubbery and I felt spit seeping onto my lower lip. It always gets worse when I’m anxious.
‘I’m sorry for the intrusion,’ said the female cop. ‘We just want to ask you a few questions.’
‘You might as well come in,’ I said. Without waiting for them, I reversed backwards and then drove left through the door that led into the living area. I bumped into the table as I turned the wheelchair round to face them.
‘I wish they didn’t call it a Power Chair,’ I said. ‘This damn thing is more like a bumper car.’
The female officer nodded and the chinless wonder didn’t seem to notice that I’d spoken.
‘Can you tell me the nature of your disability?’ he said, slowly, pronouncing each word as if he were speaking to a child.
‘There’s no need to talk like that,’ I slurred. ‘I’m no Stephen Hawkings but I’m not a vegetable either.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said the female cop. ‘Today’s one of his slow days.’
‘Sorry,’ he blushed.
’It’s okay,’ I said. ‘I’m used to it. Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis is what I’ve got.’
‘It must be tough,’ the girl said.
‘It is. There’s no cure and in my case there’s no remission. Would you like to sit down, while you’re here?’
They placed themselves awkwardly on the couch.
‘Is Ellie Sullivan Gould your sister?’ the chinless wonder asked, this time in a normal voice.
‘Yes. And she’s my carer as well.’
‘There’s been a report that she’s taking you to Switzerland. To Dignitas.’
‘What… who told you that?’ I felt stricken. A line from a poem came daftly into my head. The best laid plans of mice and men…
‘Assisting a suicide is a criminal offence under section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Suicide) Act 1993, so we’re obliged to investigate.’
‘No one is assisting me to do anything. I can’t go anywhere on my own. I always need someone to travel with me.’
‘I’m terrible sorry, Mrs Sullivan,’ he said, and he did seem sorry, in fairness. ‘I don’t want to alarm you but there’s a possibility that your sister will be charged if she brings you to Dignitas,’ he said.
‘But it’s in a different country. It’s legal there.’
‘Unfortunately, the law in this country hasn’t changed, Mrs Sullivan …’
‘It’s “Mizz”, I said. ‘And I won’t answer any more questions without a solicitor present.’
‘Sorry. Make a note of that,’ he told the girl cop. She didn’t look at him and she didn’t look at me either. She just stared at whatever she’d written in her notebook.
‘We’re very sorry to bother you,’ he said. ‘I hope we don’t have to follow this up but we’ll have to file a preliminary report before we know any more.’
‘We’ll let ourselves out,’ the girl said and they got up and left.
I could hardly believe it. I was raging. So much planning. The agony of filling out forms and getting up-to-date medical reports and psychological reports. I’d had my will drawn up and witnessed. I’d bought Christmas presents to be unwrapped after I was dead. A special parcel for Jake on his wedding day if he ever got married – I hoped he’d tie the knot with Sarah… The waiting… Four months it took to get Dignitas sorted and I had only six months to take up the place or I’d have to update the blasted reports and start all over again.
On the TV screen, the front of Lewis Hamilton’s silver Mercedes was freeze-framed on the silent racing track. I stared at the back of his white helmet and his white-gloved hands on the steering wheel as he sat there, going nowhere.
Then the doorbell rang again.
It was the girl cop’s voice on the intercom this time.
‘Sorry, I left my notebook behind.’
‘Ah feck off,’ I muttered but all the same I pressed Open. The girl came in. Her face was flushed.
‘Actually, I didn’t leave anything behind,’ she said. ‘I’ve come back to apologise. I’m really, really sorry. Sometimes I hate my job.’
She left before I could think of anything to say, and, mercifully, before I soiled my incontinence pad. I sat in despair for some moments, before driving myself into the bathroom. Exhausted at the thought of the slow unsavoury cleansing that lay ahead, I couldn’t help breaking down in tears. That’s how Ellie found me when she arrived a few minutes later.
‘We’re busted, Ellie,’ I wailed. ‘And I’ve shat myself.’
‘I know,’ said Ellie. ‘Don’t worry about that now. Let’s get you sorted.’
Ellie helped me undress and sit in the shower. She washed and dried me and helped me put my nightclothes on. She poured a glass of the good brandy and folded my hand around it.
‘The police just called me. That’s why I’m late.’
‘How did they find out?’ I slurred. ‘I bet it was that old wagon Mrs Looney. Always banging on about prayer and offering it up...’
‘I brought the folder over here last Friday,’ said Ellie. ‘I shouldn’t have done that.’
Given that my law-abiding brother-in-law Jim has never even been done for speeding, his attempts to keep us all calm and pretend he wasn’t worried were almost convincing.
‘It’ll all work out in the mix,’ he said. Jim used to be a sound engineer, back in the day. ‘Don’t worry about it.’
Ellie wasn’t calm at all. She phoned her solicitor and hounded him for information on possible outcomes and worst-case scenarios. Jake’s name didn’t come up at all, which was the only scrap of comfort for me.
Finally, weeks later, the police heard back from the Director of Public Prosecutions. No charges would be made. There was ‘no realistic prospect of conviction’.
‘Side-stepping the issue,’ grumbled Jim. ‘But at least that’s that, for now.’
‘You’ll just have to plough on a while longer,’ Ellie said to me. ‘We’ll have to leave it for now. I’m glad you’re still here, to be honest.’
‘I’m stuck, Ellie.’
‘No, you’re not. We’ll sort something out. You’ll see.’
I nodded, but I knew in my heart I couldn’t put them through all that again.
The final Grand Prix was on Sunday 29th November. Jake came down from Dublin again, to watch it with me. I tried not to show how grim I felt. I took more pain relief than usual. Nico Rosberg won and Hamilton came in second. Jim arrived afterwards. We ate a very fine beef stew and drank champagne and I talked a lot and told them I loved them, and they thought it was because I was drunk, and I was, but it wasn’t, and it was a great day but that night I hardly slept at all and I woke in the early hours with a horrid sensation of internal shakiness and my whole being in endless pain.
The package didn’t arrive on Monday. It was supposed to arrive for definite that week, so I’d struggled to get up by myself at 7 a.m. It took ages to put my dressing jacket on, and my pad was soggy. It was taking me longer to manoeuvre myself into the Power Chair, but I was not completely incapable yet.
The last thing I wanted was for the postman to rush off without delivering the package and leave one of those notes telling me to collect it at the sorting office. If I missed the delivery the sorting office was way out beyond the Kinsale Roundabout and I’d have to ask Ellie or Jim to collect it but I was determined that no one would know about the package or find out what was inside. I’d pleaded with Ellie to stay home until noon all this week. I claimed I was sleeping better, later, in the mornings, that I needed time alone.
By 7 a.m. on Tuesday I was struggling to ready myself once more. When the doorbell finally rang, just after nine, I was terrified I wouldn’t reach the front door on time, but I made it. Alan the postman was outside, holding a package. The stamps looked foreign. When he asked me to sign for it my hands were so unwieldy that all I could manage was an illegible scrawl. He handed the package to me but I lost my grip and it fell to the ground.
‘I’ll bring it inside for you, will I?’ he asked. He came in and put it down on the kitchen table. ‘You want me to open it for you, love?’
‘No thanks, Alan. I’m fine now,’ I said.
It was difficult, but I managed to slice at the sellotape gently with a serrated knife for ages until the end of the package came loose – scissors were way too difficult. Then I tore slowly at the cardboard until the contents were revealed.
It was a shock to see a shiny purple box with the words Catch Me… Cacharel written in white, below a cluster of circles in pink, white and puce. It seemed to be perfume or body lotion. How could this be? I’m such an ejit, I thought. The one thing I’d not imagined was that I’d be conned.
It hadn’t been easy sending $450 to the company in Mexico; hours of pecking away at my computer, making mistakes, fumbling and foosthering during the increasingly rare times I spent alone.
But maybe, just maybe… I tried to open the perfume box. Feck. Tore it. But... oh joy. Inside, two glorious bottles of Nembutal. 200 ml in clear liquid form. Now to manage pouring a cup of the good brandy – to wash it down. That worked well, according to the blogs. I’d done my research.
But then I was afraid. I didn’t want to die in secrecy. I knew exactly what I wanted. To cease upon the midnight with no pain. A calm, quiet letting go, with my loved ones around me. But here I was, terribly alone.
I tried to think about Earth 2.0 and what it might be like there, but no matter how I tried I couldn’t picture it.
End of story
I offer my great thanks to Madeleine D’Arcy for her willingness to share her art and knowledge with us. I look forward to featuring her many more times.