Sunday, August 18th, 20:45
The pain came, slowly at first, like an orchestra warming up. Then it built until it was a roaring crescendo. Cramps tore his stomach apart as he lay writhing on the floor. He pulled himself up on the coffee table, sweating with the exertion. Nausea gripped his throat and he vomited over the deep brown carpet. He yanked at the phone's curled cord, pulling it crashing down onto the floor next to his foot. His belly was on fire; it spread upwards to envelop his chest. His breathing quickened and slowed irregularly. Internally, the toxins were flowing in his veins already; his heartbeat was beating as fast as a hummingbird's wings trying to keep him alive, his lungs straining desperately for oxygen.
Beads of perspiration appeared on his forehead. He wrapped his arms around his stomach as he groaned. Sight and sound had been distorted. The overhead lights were almost blinding, yet the room was strangely dark and clouded at the edge of his vision. The television in the corner faded away until all that was left was a dull buzzing in his ears, but he could hear the noise of cars outside as if they were speeding past only a foot away.
Pain contorting his face, he tried to sit up once more. He pushed himself up until he was leaning sideways on the low coffee table and then manoeuvred himself until it was at his back. The sudden vertigo made his head swim and his vision blur. For a moment, he thought he saw a person standing to his left by the heavy oak door that led to the garden. He snapped his head round to catch the identity of the stranger and appeal for help, but they had gone.
His body was on the verge of giving up. The foreign substance was coursing through him. The few white blood cells he had left were no use against such a poison. He clawed at his sweatshirt as fever took him over then shivered violently as it deserted him just as swiftly.
His grey eyes clouded over. His breath rattled in his lungs. His heart gave on last feeble protest and stopped.
His last thoughts were of his wife.
Sunday, August 18th, 11:30
The warm room had never seemed so cold. He sank onto the white leather sofa. It creaked under his weight and settled. The pictures on the wall stared at him accusingly. A huge sigh escaped his lips and he rested his face in his hands. Everything he had previously found familiar and comforting was now alien and detached. The china tea-set sat in the display cabinet, bought on impulse for his wife in the January sales and yet to be used. The vase on the mantelpiece used to be the most beautiful thing in the world to him, besides his wife. Now that he saw clearly, it looked tacky and cheap. He cast a long, sweeping look around the room, searching for something to find solace in. His eyes found the framed picture on the wall. He stood up, his heavy shoes making imprints in the thick-pile carpet. He glanced at the floor, but looked away; the carpet had always repulsed him. The colour reminded him of mud. His wife called it 'chocolate brown' but to him, the floor just looked like dirt.
He made his way over to the portrait on the wall. Large and colourful, it showed him and his wife last June, but at that moment, he felt no connection to the couple in the picture. Inside the frame, a man and a woman were lying on a chequered blanket. The scene looked like a park; there was a pond in the background and trees to the couple's right. The sky was light blue and cloudless and the scene was bathed in sunlight. The woman's auburn hair shone and her green eyes sparkled. The man had his head propped on the woman's shoulder as she sat, comfortably leaning her back on his chest. Her head was turned and she was gazing upwards, into her partner's eyes. He was looking back adoringly and it was obvious from a glance that they were in love. Just inside the frame, the woman's hand rested on her stomach, as did the man's. There was a slight swell to her belly and the way the man seemed to be caressing it showed clearly that she was pregnant.
Sharply, he tore his eyes away form his former self. Looking so closely at that picture had brought back many memories. He suddenly wanted to clear his head. Striding through to the hall, he grabbed his coat from its peg, opened the front door and stepped outside into the brisk autumn day.
He walked swiftly with his head down. Hedges, fence and walls passed at the edge of his peripheral vision. The tarmac felt solid beneath his feet. Glancing upwards, he saw a neighbour acknowledge him with a wave of the hand and he smile in response. The expression felt fake, as if a cut-out picture of a grin had been stuck onto his face. He carried on walking, staring at the grey pavement, lost in his thoughts.
He suddenly registered the fact that he had stepped sharply downwards. Looking up in shock and confusion, the first thing — the only thing — he saw was the van bearing down on him. For a second, he froze. Rooted to the spot, a million things flashed through his mind. His wife, his home, his family; could he stand to lose them? His brain was screaming at him to move. His knees bent, ready to jump out of the vehicle's path while, at the same time, his slim frame was bracing itself for the seemingly imminent collision. His body decided — he jumped backwards onto the kerb. Panting heavily and shaking like a leaf, he didn't hear the van driver's abuse; he didn't feel the hands of nearby do-gooders ascertaining his condition. He shrugged them all off, ignoring their protestations, and strode on.
He kept on until, with a start, he realised that he was back in familiar surroundings. There was a pond in front of him and trees to his left. The cold sunlight filtered through the leaves; he shivered. After looking at that picture, was it any wonder that he'd ended up here? This was the place he had first met his future wife, taken her on many a date and finally proposed to her — just there, by the side of the pond. He sighed heavily. Was that photo really taken only a year ago? So much had gone wrong since then.
First his business, a small furniture shop, had had to close due to lack of business. He was devastated, but Amanda always said it would work out. Then they found out she was pregnant. They had always wanted to have kids, so they were overjoyed by the news; they had been trying for a baby for years and years. However, it had happened at the worst possible time. He was still unemployed; they were scraping by on Amanda's small part-time salary as a teaching assistant. It was apparent that the stress was taking its toll. The house had always been full of laughter, but his wife never sang as the washed the dishes any more; he no longer danced with her in the garden in summer, when the nights were cool and balmy. He missed these occurrences, these small gestures that made his day. Most of all, though, he missed her smile. His bright, beautiful, bubbly wife had stopped smiling.
And then his world fell apart. Amanda went to the hospital for her final ultrasound scan. Of course, he went with her. Everything had been fine at the last scan; they were told they were going to have a baby girl. That night had been a rare exception from the usual stony silences. They talked all through dinner and well into the night. He caught a glimpse of her smile once — her emerald eyes shone and she seemed to glow from within with a radiance so lovely it almost made him weep. Eventually, they decided on a name for their baby: Harriet. That night, instead of lying as far away from each other as possible, they slept as a couple. She lay on her side and he curled round her, their hands set lovingly, protectively, on her stomach.
Amanda lay on the padded turquoise reclining chair, staring intently, almost desperately, at the grainy image being projected onto the television-like screen. The nurse had been smiling until a minute ago. She had joked about little Harriet being asleep. Now, her face was ashen. The picture hadn't changed since the scan started and there was no tiny heartbeat coming from the speaker. She reached over and switched the machine off. He knew before she said it. Harriet was dead. Not yet alive, and she was dead. Still inside her mother, she was dead. His innocent, tiny, helpless little girl ... his heart lurched as he realised he was never going to be able to see his daughter. Tears sprang to his eyes, spilled over his cheeks and ran down to his jaw. For the few months she was in his life, Harriet had been the Sun to his Earth, Moon and stars. She had been the centre of his universe. Now the centre of his universe had been ripped out and he felt like his heart had been taken with it.
Amanda went back to the hospital the next day to deliver their perfect child, too perfect for this world, on her own.
Monday, August 19th, 9:00
She grumbled to herself as her key slid into the lock and turned. She stepped into the dim hallway, frowning. He never let the house get dark. She wandered into the living room. The first thing she noticed was the drawn curtains and overhead lights. The second thing she noticed was the body.
Her husband lay curled into a ball on the floor by the low oak coffee table. His face was distorted into an expression of pure pain. She staggered backwards, reaching out a hand towards the white leather sofa for support. It creaked under her weight and settled. Shaking like a leaf, she lowered herself to the floor. From here, she could see her husband's expression. The skin was pale, with red blotches and his eyes were half-shut. His arms were tight around his stomach and his knees were drawn up to his chest. He seemed to have been in incredible pain. She wondered if this had anything to do with what happened the previous day, and a wave of guilt washed over her.
.... There is more of this story ...