short stories

The Last Breath.

The man lay in the semi darkness. Wires attached to his chest and neck spooled upward to various machines that beeped and glowed. The hiss of oxygen was very loud to him, the mask tight and uncomfortable on his cheeks. They moved him into a room after he deteriorated. All he could remember was a vague feeling of crushing on his chest and everything turning black. Christ he was scared, terrified. C.O.P.D and heart failure the doctors say, last stage apparently. What a great, shitty double act they are. The pain was terrible. His lungs were struggling, they felt sludgy, full. Maybe a cig would clear the pipes? It used to work. Waking up and reaching for a roll up. Lighting up with skill and breathing in deeply, then cough the lungs up. Not now though. A cig a day keeps the hospitals busy, that’s for sure. Why couldn’t he have been like his  granny? God rest her soul. She was a chainsmoker who lived to be ninety, dying peacefully sat on her favourite chair, a look of bliss on her ancient features. Whereas he was stuck here in this frigging room alone, scared shitless with no concept of time, drifting in and out of consciousness. Dying. I’m dying. This is what it feels like…How long have I been in here? He drifted away until a nurse appeared next to his bed. “Hello Stephen.” she said quietly, sticking a cold plastic device in his ear. “Just taking your temperature love.” He tried to talk but nothing came out, just a strained gurgle. She looked at him carefully, busying around. A pretty girl with the world in front of her, a lifetime of delights ahead. His felt like it was coming to a very abrupt end. “The doctor will be around soon.” she told him softly. “He can give you something more for the pain, and we can take this thing off.” She gestured to the mask. He tried to nod and smile but he didn’t feel his face move, nor his body. A deep ache in his whole chest engulfing him. Nurse Rachel glanced at the screen then downward. “Are you ok?” For someone as intelligent as you, that’s a stupid question, he thought. I’m dying, how do you think I feel? “Stephen?” she said louder, frowning a touch and searching his eyes. He nodded slightly, as best he could anyway, which did the trick for her. He was tired, so tired. This mask felt like it was actually sucking out the inside of his throat, then blasting cold air into his failing lungs. Give me something…please..anything to stop this for God’s sake, he pleaded inwardly. Instead she turned away and disappeared, closing the heavy wooden door behind her with the same quietness as she came in. Make a good burglar, he observed. Feet like a mouse in ballet shoes. The monitor made a noise like something out of Star Wars, beep bleeding beep. He stared upward, the ceiling had a stain directly above him. Brown, patchy, about the size of a hand, finger’s splayed. What the hell is it? And just how many people have took a last few seconds on earth looking at that? The heavy weight in his chest seemed to increase, a wave of pain rushing through him. He moaned loudly, oh shit, oh shit. The machine helping him breathe sucked his upper body inward, then inflating his crippled lungs. He spun, tilted and passed out.

Silence….he opened his eyes slowly. Something has woken him. A noise? Movement? The same room in the same semi darkness. The pain, oh Christ the pain….. someone just kill me…put me out of my misery..please. The noise again… Eating? He tried to turn his head to the sound. The crunch came once more. Unmistakable. He strained his neck as far to the right as he could, struggling. A visitor sat on a thin plastic chair. A boy, about eleven? Twelve? He reached into the crisp packet, pulled a small one out and lovingly put it between his teeth with a satisfactory crunch. Stephen closed his eyes, then opened them wide. The boy was still there and smiled, lighting up his eyes. He held the bag out, bright green and crinkling slightly. “Want one?”

Stephen’s chest rose and fell to the machine. He couldn’t keep his eyes off the boy. More than familiar, his hair long, light. The bell bottom blue trousers fitting on his thin frame. The green tee – shirt showing off his scrawny arms. Stephen stretched his neck as far as he could to see the boys feet. Baseball boots. Dirty black and white, and the dying man knew the left one had a hole just under the big toe. He’d worn those beauties out till they practically fell off. But it was the boys hand his eyes fell on. The bandage was gray, dirty. Stevie had tried his best to keep it clean but to no avail. His mother kept telling him but how do you stop a kid playing with his friends? “You deaf as well as daft?” the boy asked, his voice light, giving the bag a little shake upward. Tudor crisps, a long gone relic and spring onion flavour, Stephen noted, his old favourite. He muffled a reply and the boy said, “Hang on.” He got up and deftly, one handed, undid the mask. Oxygen spewed outward and Stephen breathed in slowly, pain subsiding. The air wonderful on his sweaty face, he felt alive. The boy pressed a couple of buttons on the  monitor, the machine falling silent. “Ere av one!” Before Stephen could react a crisp was rammed without grace into his mouth. Surprise was quickly replaced by delight as the flavour hit. A zingy, sharp nostalgic taste engulfed his taste buds. I’m going insane. Off my bleeding trolley. “No you’re not,” young Stevie said with ease. He scrunched the packet up. “Ey! Remember this?” He asked and raised the bag, tilted it above his open mouth then sprinkled the remains in. Bits of crisps falling off his chin onto the tiled floor. Stephen couldn’t help but laugh. His first real good feeling in months. “Course!” he said excitedly. “Spike could get a full bag in!” It was the boys turn to laugh. “He was a greedy pig! Arse like a bleedin rhino!” They both smiled the same smile. Spike was ‘big boned’ as his mother would have said. His parents owned the local grocery shop and he always seemed to have various sweets stuffed in his pockets, bubbly, black jack’s and the occasional pack of spangles. The boy gestured with his head. “You getting up or what?”

Stephen noticed all the wires had been taken off him. He didn’t remember the nurse doing that. He must have been out of it. “Hurry up!” young Stevie said, flicking a long lock of hair off his eye. “We’re having a game of footy on school field,” he told his older self. “Let’s see how many we can score!” Bloody hell he loved football when he was a kid, and he was the quickest. Even Harry couldn’t keep up and he was like quick silver. Football finished as soon as he left school and got a job. Work took over. Marriage. Divorce. Then you look around and the years have buggered off, the good ones anyway. Adulthood was very overated. The boy held out his hand, bandage and all. Stephen had cut the palm open when he fell off his bike, hitting a piece of loose paving. One minute speeding, legs pumping, the next he was airborne and over the handle bars. He remembered it like it was yesterday. Flying like Superman, putting his arms out to cushion the blow and suddenly grit and dry earth hit him. His hand landing on a piece of broken bottle, cutting it from middle finger to palm. He didn’t feel any pain, he recalled, just a loud whistling in his head as the ground swayed under him. A trip to the hospital and twelve stitches later he was home. Dad chuckling, calling him, “A silly sod.” Stephen grinned at the nostalgic memory. “Come on then,” the younger Stevie said impatiently, grabbed his thin scarred hand and suddenly a flowing peace ran through him. fear seemed to lose its tight grip and he knew for certain, if he could just move his legs and get out of bed, he’d be alright.

Rachel took the last of the wires off him. All was quiet. The poor man had gone peacefully in the end. Once the mask had been taken off his body started to shut down and he relaxed slowly. His breathing had quickly become laboured. It was always difficult to nurse a Do Not Resuscitate. At times the patient can be hard to handle but Stephen now had a relaxed, open look on his face. In fact the corner’s of his mouth curled upward, as if to smile. When she took the mask off him he tried to speak, laugh almost, saying something that sounded like, “Pike”. At the very end his hand reached up and she held it firmly, he squeezed back a couple of times then he was gone. She stood at the bottom of the bed silently scanning his notes. D.N.R clearly written across the top. The doctor had rang his daughter and told her the news. She was on her way now. Rachel unplugged the silent monitor when she felt something under her feet. A slight crunching sound followed as she looked down. Tiny pieces of something. Plastic? She bent down and picked a small piece up. Crisps? Who the hell had crisps in here? They littered the floor around the chair. She was certain the room was clean when her shift began and had walked that way a dozen times or so during the night to check on him as he deteriorated. Maybe they had fallen off the bed? But why would he have them in the first place? He couldn’t eat and he definitely had no visitors. Without thinking she took out a wipe and bending down, collected the mess up in one fluid motion. Finally satisfied all was in place but feeling slightly puzzled, Rachel turned off the harsh lights, leaving the body in a dim, yellow glow. But it was his smile that stayed with her, as she told her partner later as they ate a takeaway. It was so warm, loving almost. The kind of smile you gave to a long lost friend.

©2022 lifeisarustyrollercoaster.


By Vinny

Middle aged geriatric from Hull, England.Slighty mad but aren't we all?

20 replies on “The Last Breath.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s