It was a bluish day in sky and mood. There were no appointments, no stress. There were only the pure green blades of grass, the shadows of the billowing trees and the calls of the distant birds. Pure easiness, pure clearness of mind. Sharp rays of sunshine illuminated the garden so that John had to squint and blink, and shade his eyes with his hand just to watch the sprinkler putter-putter-putter at the other end of the lawn. He was alone with his thoughts, but he had found that he had had to discard most of them upon moving; thought here was encouraged – there was little to do but think. But thoughts of rush, hurry and bustle were taboo and frowned upon by the staff. So he sat deep in his chair, the one with the thick arms and wicker back, like a convalescent.
“Don’t move,” he thought to himself in a whisper, “don’t move or the peace and quiet might dissipate. And when there’s no peace, there’s stress.” Stress, the killer stalking John and his jumpy heart, and the reason for his enforced move to the country and for his convalescent position. So, to avoid the trap, he gripped the thick arms tight so as to become immovable, and his thoughts turned to his recovery.
“The heart, the heart comes first,” he thought. “Just sit tight and for god’s sake relax and bloody hell that wasp is doing a lot of circling but RELAX.” And with the assertion of the relax, he sighed. The word itself was a claming tone; the x was so easy, such a deeply satisfying finish to a word.
“But I like assonance,” thought John. “I like the hissing.” Then it struck him: “like stress…I like the assonance in the word stress…maybe I should be an s, coiled and sprung, like a sssnake,” he mused. “No! Grip tighter. Be calm. Reach for help.” And with that, his right hand reached out blindly to the table where he kept tablets and soft (smooth, pure and easy) orange juice. No bits for him, no sir. Coarseness would not be tolerated. One tablet two, gulp gulp, and the simmering in his veins receded. He relaxed.
His nurse was in the garden, pottering. Her name was Daisy, very calm. But daisies spread across the garden, he thought, like she is now. They make a mess, like she is now. Stop! The yell entered his throat but didn’t pass his lips; he hushed it, flattened it at the last moment and choked on his half-swallowed words. Relaxed men don’t yell, said the tablets as they cruised (smooth transit) to his brain to numb the fire. But the choking had been rather unpleasant; he was spluttering, coughing and hacking like a smoker (stressed individuals), and Daisy was running towards him, yelling (yelling! After all he’d been through!) for help from her colleagues (she was, after all, part of a chain). She grabbed John and repeated his name until the coughing passed and he fell back in his chair, exhausted but also delighted with the panic. His heart had soared to new beating heights – thump, thump, thump, and he yelled, triumphantly, “I’m fine!”
“Just relax,” she said, and went back to pottering.
“This relaxing isn’t easy,” thought John. Daisy had put an enormous parasol over his chair to keep the sun, wasps and stress away. “Assonance again, banish the hissing s sounds, forget them.” He whispered to himself. The enormous parasol drooped at the edges and made him look even sillier in his chair – the thought had crossed his mind before, but Daisy had told him that it wasn’t important; nothing was, apart from the heart. His heart. He sighed, and tried to make his peace with the situation. Lunchtime had come and gone, and as usual he had calmly pushed his green salad to one side without touching it. And, as usual, Daisy had protested, but she also remained calm. Sometimes he wished she would get angry, turn over the tray and yell; then his heart might start thumping again, which would surely be better than it weakly ticking. But people like Daisy are a mystery; no one knows where they sleep, eat and perform all their bodily functions. They exist to be called names like Daisy, and to revel in their own supposed sweetness – they don’t get ill, as normal people do, they’re steady, steady and relaxed individuals. Nothing bad for Daisy, got to look after the heart. Her heart. She was simple, but that was allowed, preferred even. Any complex sharp edges would be prone to tear at stressed, assonated individuals like John, men who burnet blue fire for years, then sunk, in a funk, into a decade (perhaps two?) of malaise and parasols. John too had lost his edges, Daisy had made sure of that. Her words and the soft, swelling x of relax had filed them down, blunted them. Now they were two rounded pebbles, slowly, softly, grating against each other on the beach. But Daisy, being a lovely young lady, had no view on the matter: “got to look after you heart,” she would say incessantly; “heart heart heart, for god’s sake woman have a heart!” Again the words were close to passing his lips, but the drive wasn’t there anymore; nothing existed to John now but his chair, the parasol, Daisy, and the knowledge that, as though trapped in quick sand, he would sink into death with a gurgle and a whimper, the doctor (being sharper than Daisy) having given him a year. And, like quicksand, the harder he struggled against it the sooner it would come. This certainly seemed to be Daisy’s philosophy. But he was tired of her condescension, and yearned to be at the helm again. “Don’t be daft,” he told himself, “just sit tight and wait for dinner.” Dinner. Daisy called it tea; she would come out with a little tray and genially say “teatime”, and then “enjoy.” And the way she walked! No scuff, no drag, quick, brisk perfection, heels raised high in raised high heels; maybe today she’d be humming again. Well, not on my watch she’s not, yelled John in his head – but it had crossed his lips! “Not on my watch! Not on my watch! Not on my watch!” He repeated joyously, upturning the little tray and dashing onto the lawn. He could hear yells from the house and see figures to his right, stressed (stressed!) little nurses in their aprons and sensible hair. “John, John!” They cried helplessly. “Piss off!” He cried, deliriously happy, and then: “I’m assonating, and you can’t stop me!” Giggling like a baby he ran between them, dodging and diving, laughing and poking fun; he knocked over the chair and parasol with an out flung right arm and then, sensing an opportunity for more fun, threw out his left, took off in his mind and strafed Daisy with a rat-a-tat-tat! And down she went, swirling and twirling towards the hard concrete of the patio and then kaboom! Another kill for John! Another mark beneath the cockpit! But then, out of the sun, came another, and he sensed fire in his left wing and tumbled, tumbled, tumbled…
Daisy hurried to where John lay on the grass, still wondering what the rat-a-tat-tat had been for. A quick feel of his pulse showed him to be dead. A year, she thought. He had a year but he’d thrown it away.
By Chris Rogers