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Gnuhhh


 

by Chas Ryder

January 23, 2003

-- Who was more sinned against that sinning?
The geezer on the box was pissing it, monkey grins, he knew what he was doing.
-- King Lear.
He's smug as a bug in a rug when it all shifts, and it's Dave up there, I can see him aping across the roof clipping the pro, and now he's there, hanging from the lip like a crow. He was always like that Dave, Mr.Cool, smooth as your inner eye, that was Dave. What was it he said the first time I met him?
-- There's nothing I can't do, if I put my mind to it.
A trumpet fanfare, -- For five thousand pounds, yes, answer this question and five thousand smackeroonies are all yours. What is a Pika? He's rucking his brow, he's not so sure now is he, eh cocky? Having to work a bit, a necklace of sweat glints on his face. A flicker of the screen and Dave's in front of me again, fiddling and faffing, starting to puff like Thomas the Tank. His groping, ever more desparate, reaches a hold and fingers it as if he was one-handed undoing the clasp of a bra.
-- A small mammal.
Got it! Applause.

The second thing he said was, -- Been sleepin' in me car for a week.
No doss, weather turning cold. What could I do? What did I do?
-- Eileen won't mind, you can kip on the settee. Big music. Wide eyes. -- Can you answer this one for ten thousand pounds? Carpenter, plasterer,digger, are all types of what?
The geezer's lost it. -- Of what? No idea, -- Of what?
Dave materialises climbing. Can he answer his geological conundrum? Can he? Suddenly it's Mr.Uncool, Mr.Overheated slapping into the unknown and totters, held in place by faith and gravity, two piss-poor and unreliable commodities in climbing.
-- Wasps?
Big Gong! -- Wrong!!
Dave parts company, -- Gnuhhh!
I blink it away.

He made the settee his kip, his home. Eileen liked him, we'd talk climbing long after the tele had gone cold. He was one of us was Dave. One of the climbers (salt of the earth), one of the family (like one of your own). And Laura liked him; little Laura, not too little now, though still sweet and pre-obnoxious. Got on well they did.
-- Dad, can Dave babysit me?
We were stuck, partying to be had and no childminding safety -net.
-- I can't ask him to do that.
-- I already have.
Kids!
-- Sure you don't mind? I later asked Dave.
-- No probs.
And Dave did, Again and again.

-- Mr.Smith?
Looking around from the TV up on the wall I sees a nurse in blue.
-- Any sign yet, Mr.Smith?
Sign? Sign of the cross?Sign of relief? Sign of the times? I look completely ga-ga.
-- Has he moved at all?
-- No.
-- You could go home, we'll let you know if he starts to wake. I shake my head. Leave Dave? Now? Three days sat by his hospital bed, watching him lying there like an exhaled lung , waiting to see him blink. Then go, shove off and miss him come back to life. Death and resurection! And if he does? Who knows? I decline politely .

Dave's got a tube up his nose, wires glued to his chest and drips in his arm. Done up like a parcel he is. All he needs is a bow. Talking about parcels he bought us all good pressies last Christmas, pricey ones. Perfume, electronic games and two Friends! Of course Eileen and Laura cooed in unison. Me? Yeah, thanks mate. Shook hands. Touching stuff. He hit the ground in front of me, after all he'd done.

Mobile rings. It's Eileen.
-- Hi! Yeah, still in a coma. Just lyin' there. Doctor said not to be too hopeful. I'll hang on anyway, least 'til tonight. Sure. How's Laura? Tell her I'll see her soon. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. See you. There's understanding for you. Something about climbing transcending the normal bounds of friendship? Before that day three days ago we'd climbed a lot together. He was as sharp as vinegar, strong with it. I just said I'd hold the rope, I was good at that and that's what I wanted to do, just hold his rope, making sure I was always on the end, gripping the nylon tube like a Thuggee.

-- Gnuhhh.
What sort of noise is that? Tele's off. Nurse is gone.
-- Gnuhhh.
Jeez it's Dave, he's coming to! Said he wouldn't didn't they and here he is, eyelids twitching and fluttering, the yellow whites of his eyes rolling around in their sockets, and hey presto, two confused piss-holes in the snow peer out and about.
-- Steve?
Good thing I hung about.
-- Yeah, it's me.
-- What...What's goin' on?
-- Hospital, you're in intensive care.
-- Why?
-- You decked out, pal, from a great height.
The eyelids flapped shut for a moment. There was thinking going on.
-- Fell off?
He still wasn't with it.
-- Didn't quite make the crux.
-- But...
-- What?
He shook his poorly bandaged head, it must have been like one of those snowstorm souvenir things in there. -- I'd just clipped into a peg. That was a bit more lucid than I'd expected.
-- Ripped.
-- No, no Steve, it was bombproof.
I gave him a verbal shrug, -- There you go then, mate.
-- And all the other runners?
--Manky dross, must have all ripped.
-- Not possible.
-- Anything's possible, mate, comes of trusting too much, eh?
-- To have grounded, seventy foot, you...
-- You trust, I trust...
He made a hoarse, barking noise, jerking around a bit, the wires and tubes tugging at him like Pinnoccio.
-- ...and look where it gets you.
-- You couldn't have...
-- You trusted me with your life, and I trusted you with mine.
-- ...held me
-- My life's my family, Eileen and...
-- You just couldn't have held me.
-- The weight of guilt eh, Dave?
-- What you...?
-- And Laura. Remember my little girl?
He stiffened under the white bed, bit like a cadaver would look, sheets clamping him, all pale and starched.
-- Remember her?
-- Look, Steve...
Now he was squirming, tiny wriggly moves, his gummy eyes darting this way and that, perhaps looking for a nurse, a doctor, a way out, an excuse.
-- Ten years old, Dave.
-- I'm not...
-- She told me, Dave.
-- What?
-- What you did to her?
-- Did! She's lying.
-- Laura doesn't lie, not to me.
-- It's a....
-- Here, let's plump your pillows up. Can't have you looking that uncomfortable.
I snatched a pillow out from behind his head. It felt wonderfully clean, I needed to be in touch with something fresh, unsullied right then. With so many bones broken Dave couldn't struggle, feeble as...as a lamb? A child maybe? He made a few of his muffled Gnuhhh noises from under the mass of pillow before shutting up.

As I walked out across the hospital car-park I saw Derek coming towards me. Derek and I were old climbing mates.
-- Is he still...y'know?
-- Alive? Sort of unconscious but still going when I left him.
-- Doctors don't rate his chances then? I looked up at Derek, his bulk filling the car park sky.
-- How d'you know that? I asked.
-- Eileen told me.
-- When? Where?
-- Your place.
-- You've been to our house?
-- Just now, called in to see you but you weren't in. She said you'd phoned.
-- Who was there?
-- No-one, Steve. Well, 'cept your young un.
-- Laura?
-- Yeah, bright thing isn't she.
-- What d'you mean?
-- You know, sort of chatty.
-- You spoke to her?
-- She was tellin' me about school and her horse riding.
-- Where was Eileen?
-- I'm not with you?
-- Where was my wife when you were talking to Laura?
-- In the kitchen, making a brew.
-- So you were on your own with Laura.
-- Suppose so.
-- Alone!

Derek receded down the wrong end of a telescope, getting titchier and titchier, smaller than a child, a lamb, until he was as small as an insect, slug maybe. It made me happy, it made me smile. So I looked at him knowing he could see that smile but not knowing how much that smile hurt, the nerves of my clenched teeth shrieking, jaw muscles in spasms. But the smile was there, it was the smile that I wanted him to see, the pain I'd keep to myself. Finally,
-- Fancy doin' a route, Derek?



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