The Unquiet Grave

by Sophie Parkes

You were already there, off-white trainers bunched up beneath you like a child in front of early morning television. As usual, you were motionless, your knees pointed painfully towards the smooth marble, your shins unforgiving against the stubbled gravel. They would be pockmarked when you would finally get up to go – an hour or so was your custom – even beneath the thick jogging bottoms you tended to wear. Small, blank craters along your legs, contrary to the topography of your red and yellow inflamed cheeks, oozing with pus or flecked with sooty black specks like some Martian horizon.

You didn’t seem to notice the harshness of the terrain or the obscene angles of your bones. If you did, you took it unflinching, a living martyr for your recently dead. She had it easy, that Linda James, 52, succumbing to the earth and giving in. It’s easy to lie back, close your eyes and allow the soil to cover your gnawed limbs or the flames to lick lasciviously at the brittle remains of your emaciated frame. How did she let it get that far? You, you would be the real sufferer, the real patient to be cared for. So where was your nurse, where was your occupational therapist to make risk assessments in your home and look out for domestic hazards?

After all, it was only a year ago you made the tentative transition from tea maker and pizza warmer to full on home chef. True, your repertoire never strayed far from the shop-bought, the tinned and crackly-packeted, but she had received each with a tired, grateful smile. And though you had been shown twice how to use the washing machine – once when you were nine and had purposefully jumped in every puddle on the way home from school, despite a hissed warning through healthy clenched teeth; and once more recently when she came to realise that you would need a crash course in life skills – you still couldn’t remember which funnel took the detergent and which the conditioner. That was only a minor problem, you reasoned, both routes would surely get to the right place eventually.

And you use it regularly, even if it doesn’t always look like you do. You remember the bills, though only one has arrived so far, and you worked out you could pay it at the Post Office. The woman sitting at the counter smiled encouragingly when you slid the folded notes under the punched glass partition. And so far, the correct bin has been pushed to the kerb on the correct day. You’ve marvelled that the Council has an app for that.

The daily visits have become part of your new life order, too. Perhaps the visits are even the epicentre, around which all the other chores neatly, obligingly fall. Whatever the weather, the day of the week, the programme on television, you arrive, silent, sling your drawstring bag down beside you and sit. Silent. Motionless, your off-white trainers bunched up beneath you like a child in front of early morning television.

Sophie Parkes is a biographer and ghostwriter, based in the hills just outside Manchester.

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