Warning: This attempt at fiction might cause unpleasant friction to your eyes... and brain...

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Before I subject you to it, a bit of background info: I wrote this late one night in the span of two hours in order to meet a competition deadline. Its hasty formation is going to be sadly evident when you read the story. (If you dare.)

The name of the story is The Vigil, and yes, it's every bit as cheerful as the title suggests. During that time, I was attending a bedside vigil for a loved one who has since passed away, so my thoughts were inevitably about mortality.

But apart from the fact that my unfortunate protagonist bears an uncanny physical resemblance to me, the rest of it is all fiction.

Here goes:

The Vigil


It is shortly before midnight on a Saturday.

 

But instead of being out on the prowl as any young, single woman ought to be, I am at a bedside vigil. I know it sounds callous and terribly selfish, but I can’t help but be angry about being here, in this semi-dark room, when every loud tick-tock emitted by the grandfather clock in the corridor is a taunting reminder that my youth and my life are slowly fading away.

 

Oh, all right. Thirty-three is not that young, I suppose. This becomes evident whenever my age is brought up, because that’s when people – especially other women – openly look at my hands. The action of their eyes darting down to my hands is so involuntarily, it’s like a reflex. And when their eyes fall on my fingers, so naked and devoid of any type of ring, their faces assume an expression of embarrassed sympathy. Almost as if they had caught me doing something illicit. Some of them even look a bit gleeful and superior when they establish that no, I have never even been married yet. Others even have the audacity to quickly, nervously reach for their husbands. Almost as if they think that a taken man around a single woman in my age bracket should be treated like protected game.

 

My standard one-liner: “I am so commitment phobic, I can’t even live with myself,” does nothing to diffuse the awkwardness of the situation. Oh, make no mistake, the husbands laugh! But the women? Humourless cows.

 

I pretend that it doesn’t bother me, but deep down, it does chafe, because I know full well that I am no oil painting in the looks department. I have genuinely begun to wonder if I don’t perhaps give off an air of quiet desperation? If I do, I’ll blame it on the Sarah Jessica Parker perfume I’ve been wearing. (Don’t judge. I bought the stuff on an ill-conceived whim, mistakenly believing that her Manolo-strutting Sex and the City persona would somehow rub off on me every time I envelop my body in a cloud of its seductive scent.)

 

But the only thing I’m desperate about at this moment is about getting out of this depressing room in my mother’s house, where death is already palpable and lurking in the shadows.

 

I won’t dare to complain though. This is a family affair and we are all present. Even my dad is here, which is an enormous milestone. He has not been able to tolerate being in the same 100 kilometre vicinity as my mother since their bitter divorce a decade ago, but hell, if even he was man enough to show up for her sake, then I suppose I have no right to moan.

 

It is just so damn quiet. Too quiet, especially for our family. I wish someone would turn on the radio. Isn’t death supposed to be a celebration of life, after all? And if it is, shouldn’t it be a reflection of our lives together as a family?

 

Then this moment is entirely wrong, because we were never this quiet. Even if no one was chattering or arguing, there was always at least music playing in the background. Now, not even the television is on. I fear that this oppressive, sombre silence is enough to kill us all…

 

At least someone had the foresight to open a window earlier, alleviating some of the stuffiness. The fresh air from outside whispers into the room, stirring the lace curtains and carrying the lingering fragrance of the lavender growing in Mom’s garden.

 

The night is surprisingly cool for the time of year. If I had known that global warming wasn’t going to mean eternal summers, I might have made a better effort to recycle. I quietly wonder for the umpteenth time if we have buggered up the climate so much that the seasons will become mixed up.

 

Will we here in the Southern Hemisphere get white Christmases, while people in New York and Paris barbecue their Christmas dinners on balmy summer nights? I wish I could ask my big brother, the underachieving genius. This is exactly the kind of useless information that he seems to absorb through sheer osmosis (and compulsive reading) while he slogs through mind-numbing, minimum-wage type jobs, which he alternates with long bouts of unemployment. Needless to say, he kicks arse at Trivial Pursuit.

 

He is slumped forward in a chair (carried in from the dining room), resting his head in his hands. He has never been one to share his emotions, and I am so shocked to see the grief openly wracking his body, violently shaking his shoulders, that I completely forget to be embarrassed by it.

 

Much to my relief, everyone else seems too wrapped up in their own misery to have noticed his.

 

Our younger sister still looks infuriatingly graceful, even while grieving. Her elegance and grace are occupational hazards. She is a professional ballerina with a troupe that has already achieved minor international fame. We don’t know who to blame for her extraordinary good looks, because sadly, Mom and I and the rest of the female cousins and aunts do not possess her flawless complexion, silky hair and delicate features. We are more squat and stocky. And in my case, hopelessly clumsy. Yes, I told you I am no oil painting!

 

I used to relentlessly poke fun at my sister’s duck-footed walk, but I was really jealous of her shapely legs and of the fact that she has always been everyone’s undisputed darling: from teacher’s pet right across to being both Mom and Dad’s hands-down favourite child. (Not that they ever admitted it, of course.) I have never blamed her though, because despite all of the attention she has been lavished with all of her life, she has never been a brat, which makes it impossible to resent her. It wasn’t her fault that I was born into the attention-starved position of middle child.

 

Dad is sitting on the other side of the bed. For the second time tonight, I am shocked at an emotional display by a male member of my family. This time it is because he is holding Mom’s hand in the most intimate of ways: with their fingers intertwined. This after he had angrily vowed during the divorce to never in his life touch her again with a ten-foot pole! That particular outburst had happened in court, when mom’s lawyer had threatened to get a restraining order against him – after he had continuously broken into the house, always under the pretence of picking up a forgotten item or two. I’ve always suspected that he had done it simply because he was unable to let Mom go. Even though she had been the culprit who had so carelessly shattered almost 26 years of marriage by having a rather blatant and indiscreet affair.  

 

And just look at them now. If I had known that grief would be the glue that would reattach our broken family unit, I would have made my half-hearted attempt at committing suicide much sooner.

 

Ironically, it was while I was in hospital following my rather melodramatic cry for help (what, surely you don’t think that I had really wanted to die a spinster, did you?), that the cancer was diagnosed.

 

Which is why my family is gathered at this vigil on what is quite possibly the very last Saturday night of my life.

 

At least I can show you something. Look, there on my hand. Can you see the sparkle, or is it too dark in here? Yes, of course it is a real diamond, but unfortunately, it isn’t what you might think… I wish I could tell you that my oncologist was handsome and single and fell madly in love with me while successfully saving my life. Instead, the sad truth is that my oncologist was much older than my father and my life was beyond saving.

 

The ring then? It was a deathbed gift from the only adoring men in my life, my father and my brother.  

 

It is really strange, this dying business. There is certainly nothing like it to give one perspective, because now that the final credits are rolling on what I had always considered to be my very bleak existence, I can finally see all the love that has been illuminating my life all along.


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3 Comments

pylorns said:

Well glad its fiction, but very convincing.

SilverSabre said:

stunning, I've always loved your fiction.

Have you thought of writing a book?

Redsaid Author Profile Page said:

Pylorns: So you are basically calling me a good liar then? THANK YOU!! *grins*

Oh, as I said in the beginning of the piece: although almost all of it is fiction? The part where the protagonist describes herself? Unfortunately she bears a most uncanny resemblance to me...

Silver: !!?!? (See? I'm so alarmed and floored and shocked by your lovely comment that I am displaying my usual amount of eloquence: if punctuation was a sound? That would have been a grunt.)

As for writing a book. Would that actually involve, like, writing?

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is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
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The Wish List (Because yes, she really does need more how-to books. Honestly!)

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comments
  • Redsaid Author Profile Page: Pylorns: So you are basically calling me a good liar then? THANK YOU!! *grins* Oh, as I said in the... [go]
  • SilverSabre : stunning, I've always loved your fiction. Have you thought of writing a book?... [go]
  • pylorns : Well glad its fiction, but very convincing.... [go]
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