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I’m just on my way to the dump. Got some stuff I don’t want hanging around.....

It was a joke. A family joke. Only I was the one who didn’t get too much of a laugh out of it.

The sharp pain had stabbed at my chest, and in a completely involuntary reaction I had slapped my right hand onto my chest. Now, would you have thought that an extreme or unnatural reaction? No, of course not. You probably would have done the same, wouldn’t you? Yeah, of course you would.

Then Beryl… clever, clever Beryl… asked, ‘Who was it who had “I told you there was something wrong with me” engraved on their tombstone?’

Around the table – with the obvious exception of myself – the entire family had suddenly displayed remarkably bad table-manners as they guffawed and snorted their way through the envelope of laughter that followed.

The pain disappeared almost as quickly as it had arrived, and being one of those people – some may say lucky people – who always has useless information instantly at their disposal, I retorted, ‘It is reputed to be the epitaph on a New England gravestone, actually… and it is supposed to say “See, I told you there was something wrong with me” .’

In a sense it was a futile retaliation on my part, as straight away Beryl’s father, Frank – who always manages to get a dig in at his son-in-law at some stage of a family get-together – then added fuel to the subsiding merriment by sniggering that there was, ‘Nothing wrong with Henry that a good dose of reincarnation wouldn’t cure!’

‘How’re we goin’ to cure him then, Dad? Poison?’

More laughter. More discomfort for me. But, as the saying goes, I took it all in my stride; It wasn’t a new experience having the family make fun of me. The sad part is, that until three years ago I’d never had a days illness apart from the odd cold. Oh... and once... some kind of tummy-bug that had progressively caused everyone in the family to take up sentry duty outside the bathroom door. It certainly isn’t my fault that over this last few years I’ve had a succession of illnesses one after the other. It has been driving me mad!

Of course I’ve always known that she loved me, but anyone would think from Beryl’s attitude, that I actually wanted to be ill. Which patently isn’t true.

This latest problem started when a palpitation attack woke me in the night a couple of months ago. Like everyone, I’ve had the odd palpitation before, of course. But this time was different. Very different. For a start, for the first time ever, I had bad heart-pain with it. It was a very frightening experience, and although the pain went away after about a quarter-hour, the palpitations didn’t stop for more than an hour or two over the whole of the next two days.

Despite the fact that the tests carried out at the hospital failed to diagnose any particular cause, even Beryl knew for a fact that these attacks were not just inside my head: On one occasion, at around two-thirty in the morning, I became so angry about the affliction that I screamed out, ‘Why me, God? … Why this?’ … and then had grabbed Beryl’s hand and thrust it onto my chest, saying, ‘OK… now tell me if I’m, uh, imagining that?’ Even my speech was affected when the butterfly heart-beats kicked at my lungs mid sentence. Beryl had felt the …bomp…tick..tick..tick…BOMP... pattern, she couldn’t have failed to, and on that occasion grudgingly took my hand in an attempt at showing me some kind of compassion.

Compassion has never come easily to Beryl - not with Frank as a father! Frank is one of these automaton characters, who emerged from his youthful stint in the Army indoctrinated with the regime of the barracks, and has never let it go. He is hard of heart, hard of tongue, and quick to plunge the knife into the enemy’s chest. The problem is that Frank long ago lost track of who were his enemies and who were his friends. And although he had never actually risen above the rank of private, his sergeant-major bellowing around the house was a creditable impersonation that had forced his family into absolute compliance to his selfishness for the ensuing thirty-odd years. So Beryl, never having experienced compassion, simply had no model from which to learn how to have any of it herself.

On the other hand, if Frank is unwell – or Beryl – then it is expected that the entire household, however many, should be in total 24 hour attendance - forming a constant chain of people ferrying bits and pieces to and from their sick-beds. And somehow, if the chain should break for even a moment or two, in Frank’s case he can always start it back up again by the use of that one-twenty-decibel mouth! Would they call the doctor? No way! Not unless they were at death’s door... Frank would bellow - as he had a half-hour ago, ‘What do you think I need a doctor for? … I’ll get over it… All it needs is a bit of mind over matter… I've got guts, me!’

They’re at it right now… vomiting away: There’s Beryl’s mum making the umpteenth trip up the staircase at the beck and call of them both - the poor hard-done-by woman. And when she’s too exhausted - if it goes on that long - I suppose it’ll be my old dad who’ll have to stagger up and down.

Me? I wont be here. Got to go to work. Someone has to earn some money… Life has to go on…

I wouldn’t be surprised if Beryl hasn’t somehow found the energy to ‘phone the kids. Reinforcements for the tiring support chain… Will she have remembered, though? Does she remember anything that other people tell her these days? … She’ll be wasting her breath there anyway; they’re on holiday... Both of ‘em... So when she and her Dad have finally worn out the assembled company, they’ll be on their own.

Just like you can love people but not like them, so you can understand people but not forgive them. I don’t like or love Frank, that’s for sure! I loved Beryl, but more and more nowadays I find myself not liking her, and I’ve really found it hard to forgive her. So I just went about dealing with some castor beans in the shed. My shed. The one place that I’m allowed some solitude. It probably isn’t too pure, but it's obviously effective, they’re the only ones who gorged themselves on the apple crumble. Crumble… hehehe… Some crumble! New recipe: Ricin crumble… hehehe…

‘I’m just off to work, Ma..... Yeah, yeah...... They’ll be alright, don't worry..... You’ll see..... Everything'll work out OK. See you later.’

All I have to do now is dump this bin liner of bean mash in a rubbish skip, buy a bottle of whiskey at the supermarket {for my lone celebration, later} and go to work.

Its funny that she should have joked about poisoning me, though... Don’t you think? You couldn't make it up, could you?

© Allen Ansell 2005, 2023