This story by Jon Palmstrom won the Readers’ Choice Award in our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jon Palmstrom is a Welsh-Norwegian writer returning from a fifteen-year hiatus trapped in the real world. He wants you to escape to a place of dark laughter, grim adventure, and guilty smiles. He’s a Warwick English & Creative Writing graduate with a new sense of purpose . . . more writing is coming. You can find Jon on Facebook.
Jason had been cycling home when the van ploughed into his side. He rag-dolled across the road, his body ricocheting off the bonnet of a moving car, before skidding along the tarmac, legs broken, ribs fractured, lung punctured. His bike a crumpled, metallic mess. He was pretty fucked up.
Jason would have paid hard cash for all of those injuries to avoid the major trauma to his head. The van, the direct hit by the car, then headbutting concrete faster than the local speed limit left Jason with severe bleeding on the brain.
“The doctor’s going to make the final call tomorrow, 30 October at 5pm. They think he’s medically brain dead, been like this for nearly three months with no sign of waking. They will turn off the life support unless there is a change,” Jayne, the experienced nurse, explained to the intern.
She stroked Jason’s smooth face. Every day she had meticulously groomed his body, ignoring the fact that he was now just a shell. She leaned in to examine him fondly, his half-closed eyelids, his sallow skin, the scars on his head where they had operated. All this framed by a breathing mask covering his once attractive lips, the tube wedging his throat open, hissing rhythmically, a metronome of life.
“A slim, innocent, young man like this to care for; made a nice change from the geriatrics. I am going to miss you,” Jayne pondered to herself.
“Jayne, Jayne, Jayne, I can hear you . . . don’t turn it off, don’t turn it off,” Jason screamed into his own consciousness. His mind locked in, his body unable to move.
“Why so long? I thought after forty-eight hours, once the scans show no activity, the family is advised to turn off the life support,” the intern replied.
“Jason had only been married a few days when the crash happened. His new wife, Sarah, well . . . she didn’t want to be seen as rushing to make a decision to . . . end things.”
For days after the crash, Jason lay in constant agony, the painkillers no longer deemed necessary. He couldn’t move, but he could think, and he could hear, and he could feel. And now, almost three months later, he was about to be switched off. Nobody knew he was conscious.
Jason had known he had to do something, despite the limits of being paralysed, on a life support machine; but Jason was not prepared to daydream his way, to spending the next fifty years gathering dust in a forgotten ward with the only physical sensation being Jayne stripping off his hospital gown and excessively manhandling his much-neglected nether regions while cooing in his ear.
He devised an exercise regime, the gym in his mind. Every morning Jason would imagine wriggling his toes, remembering the sensation of curling them. First left foot, then right. He would move up the body, muscle by muscle, limb by limb. He knew his best hope was his eyelids. If he could blink, he could communicate; if he could communicate, he could let people know he was not a vegetable.
The only respite from the least physical gym work out in history was when he had visitors.
His dad came to visit once in the first few weeks. Jason lay motionless, wanting to break down in tears when his father referred to him in the past tense.
“It’s typical, son. You spent your life coding away in your room, no proper job and you somehow make more money than I’ve ever seen! I don’t even know what an app does.
“Then, God knows how, you get the first girl who talks to you to actually marry your nerdy arse. When it all seems so rosy, you throw it away by getting knocked off your bike.”
Jason’s final, most important visitor was Sarah. Dad was right. How had he managed to convince her to marry him? Him a top of the class, “Grade A” geek; her, a confident, attractive former dancer, who normally went out with meatheads.
Given his current situation, Jason had had plenty of time to analyse every second of his relationship with Sarah.
He had been flattered, but confused, when she first approached him at a tech awards ceremony, congratulating him on winning “App of the year”. In school he had been shy, studious, and pretty high on the “ugliest kid in class” league; girls did not normally talk to him.
Sarah had insisted he join her for a glass of champagne and bullied him into doing tequilas. His next memory was waking up naked, with Sarah and her fake DD breasts pounding his face.
Before he knew it, he was standing at the altar with the most attractive girl he had ever seen at his side saying “I will”. It didn’t add up.
His breakthrough finally came on the morning 30 October, after thousands of reps in “mind gym”. Jason had less than eight hours to live.
“I don’t believe it. Jason, Jason, can you hear me? Blink once for ‘yes’ and twice for . . . actually, that won’t work.”
Jayne was leaning over, inches from Jason’s face. With real effort he clearly blinked once, his eyes watering from pure determination and relief but also because of Jayne’s horrendous cheap perfume.
“I’ll get the doctor, I’d better call Sarah. Don’t go anywhere.”
At 4pm, Sarah walked into Jason’s room. One hour till the plug was pulled. It was only the third time she had visited. He squinted at her; she was so out of his league.
At Sarah’s first visit, in the days after the accident, she had cried excessively in front of everybody. During the second visit, two months later, she had taken a call as she sat by Jason. He remembered every word.
“Darren. I’m with him now, he’s still a cabbage. Normal procedure they stop life support after two days. . . . I know that wouldn’t have worked for us; it is why I persuaded them to keep him alive. . . . I know you’ve put the deposit down on the place in Mayfair, but we didn’t know he was going to fall off his bike.
“If he makes it to three months and then something happens, the life insurance will pay out, but not if he dies before. . . . The problem is the doctors are talking about a date to turn off life support. There’s not much we can do, unless he has some sort of recovery. . . . An accident with the machine, after the three months is up? Exactly, we would get paid. We need to keep our fingers crossed we can keep him alive till then.”
4:05pm, Friday 30 October.
“Jason, this is amazing, I heard the news! I cannot believe it. Can you really hear me?” Sarah babbled.
It was the happiest Jason had ever seen her, and that included their wedding day, he realised bitterly.
He clearly blinked once at her, then, with a concerted effort, tweaked the corners of his lips in a tiny, but visible smile.
“The doctor is coming. You do not realise how close you were to dying . . . prematurely. It would have been devastating.”
“Devastating for who?” Jason asked himself. He knew the link to his spinal cord was irreparably damaged. He would never walk, talk or code again; no matter how many hours he put in at the mind gym. Would the highlight of the rest of his life be lying in a pool of drool, manically winking at Jayne to read him a bedside story; all the while waiting for his “loving” wife, armed with a pillow, to come and empty his lungs and bank account at the same time?
4:59pm, Friday 30 October.
“I am sorry, Sarah. I know it is hard to accept. I can find absolutely no evidence of consciousness. He did not respond to any questions. We need to turn the machine off now. Take this moment to say your goodbyes, as we will now remove the oxygen. Jason will slip away, peacefully.”
The doctor took a step back and pressed the master power button on the life support machine. Sarah leaned over Jason, desperate tears in her eyes.
“Jason, Jason, I know you can hear me! This cannot be happening, I need you to stay alive for one more day.”
As Jason’s last breath left his body, he opened both eyes wide and gave Sarah a big wink.