The electric blue dragonfly lands on the gardenia leaf. It skits across the leaves and departs into the summer night. You say it’s a creature rising from the faerie kingdom of Loch Greinne, here at the lake near Feakle in County Clare. Your face lights up in the darkness as you say the name of this place: this magical site in which we are to spend the night. Although we have never been here together before, it feels as though we have come home. Home. Standing here in this joy, in this summer midnight, it feels like we are swimming together in spirit and in place. Only the faintest tracery of lines cross your wide forehead. Your dark hair has been blown back from our late marsh walk. The hallway light of the house catches the blueness of your eyes, dancing on the night air, as I reach out and touch the stubble on your bearish face, grazing against the vitality and the energy emanating from you as we slow to a stop after our long walk.
I awaken with a start. As I peer out I am sure it is the ghost of you standing there, barely moving in the dense filtered darkness. It couldn’t be you, could it, because your wasted body has been entirely bed-ridden for the past few weeks, hasn’t it? Is it you leaving your body in this early morning’s sombre gloom? I do not move as a feeling of total awe, something like watching a school of whales passing, engulfs me.
The doctors have said that you would and could never walk again because the muscles are too wasted, but here you are: your wretchedly thin figure wrapped in a nightgown, typically defying gravity and those “medical idiots”. As if in slow motion, you are fighting one of your crutches, struggling to get it out from under the blanket where it too has been caught. You are leaning, slumped sideways and supported by the wall, a shock of ragged darkness. In the silence your tiny grunts and groans punctuate the gloom – like tiny fireflies. I stand and for a moment I am unnoticed, and can see tiny pin-pricks of light around your form.
When I touch your face, then your neck, I automatically recoil – I get the smell full force then and feel that you are covered in what feels like a wet slime, as though somehow during the night you slipped out and bathed in a pool of bilious muck. Your head turns violently and I see your eyes blaze in the horror that is gripping you. It is the betrayal of the body you are feeling as it shit all over you.
Everything on our path to the bathroom gets covered or splattered. The clothes I had been sleeping on the sofa get covered: we stumble the twenty feet or so to the shower, leaving the tracks of our journey on the carpet and the two doors we pass through.
In the sudden sodium brightness of the bathroom your eyes bulge horribly, nightgown stuck to you at various places, fallen and forgotten at others. I am frantic for a few moments. I am running hot water and hating you, hating all this crap at four in the morning. A small fly buzzes on the mirror and as I raise my hand to extinguish it, I see you there, transfixed by the drying mess on your bare arm, as if you are silently saying or praying, “This is what I am, this, just this, is the material I am made of”. I turn off the tap, registering that I am about to wash this stuff, this you, away. You become quieter and I help you to the floor and we sit here on the green linoleum.
This is the moment you allow yourself to go deeper and further into your journey out of this life. I know that from here on you will only be expending yourself , reducing, losing. No feeding or nutrition will sustain you, no pills, no hope, nothing. We hold each other in speechless wonder. In the brightness of the bathroom the degeneracy of the physical, this mess, becomes a form of gold.
After a while, I move you over to the shower and turn on the water and get the soap and start to clean us both down.
I remember back to only six months earlier from that night, the day I had called to the house because I had heard from a friend you were not well, not at all well. We had not seen each other in over six years, not since that awful final exit that finished our five year love. As the door opened a gaunt, petrified face greeted me; you were afriad that I would simply run on seeing you. You had made tea in the lovely rare old cups your mother had left you, you slopped the milk and when you slumped into the chair you were simply too exhausted to move, so I got the cloth and mopped it up. When you did get up after a few minutes, you simply fell forwards – your balance went from underneath you. Your blue eyes were filled with tears, as were my own, and when I helped you up you said how we had been so happy together and how you understood I had to “skit off to live life” as you put it. I answered by saying “you are not dead until you’re fucking dead – mind you I could have killed you then”. We roared at the truth of it. I said there is still some life to live, and that “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds”, a line from Shalespeare’s sonnet 116 that we used to read.
I remember carrying you to the bath a few nights after that, carrying skin and bone and lesions across the floor, feeling like one of the soldiers who partook in liberating the Nazi concentration camps. Your body was a strange fascination to me, repulsively thin and jagged and somehow disconnected in its adjoining parts. The muscles were almost non-existent, small bags of fatty flesh where once your very fine calves had been, splattered with Kaposi lesions. I washed you. You felt that the hospital was a farce – that your illness was only an opportunity for careerist doctors to clock up experience and test various drugs on you. You hadn’t gone near them in over a year. You hated the submission required of you – the multitude of little indignities that made up the hospital regime. “I know,” I said, “then we can drown here any night, love, in the bath, or we can fight this and see what happens. You tell me.”
Now I am sitting on this cliff edge near Feakle, overlooking the lake. Its sixteen months after you died and I am ready to let you go. I have a tin urn into which I peer as one of my hands lighty turns the ashes which were you - dancing with you gently, holding you. I watch the air pick up some elements of you, while the heavier particles spin you down at alarming speed. In a bright bathroom we are dried and cleaned, we drink tea out of cups from your mother, a dragonfly leaves his electric nature on the air of a summer night.