The following is an extract from Kenneth Roy’s final book, In Case of Any News: A Diary of living and Dying (ICS Books). To buy a copy Click here. To purchase a copy from outside the UK, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday 18 October
Steven is back after a few days off, how I’ve missed him, and he offers to give me that sitting-down shower we’ve been talking about for ages. He settles me on the commode and guides me gently through to the bathroom and we’re good to go. The joy of having one’s hair washed and dried for the first time in weeks. A routine that one used to take for granted, think nothing of, now an event to be considered and negotiated. I no longer bemoan this crushing reversal of fortune, the all too swift descent into helplessness. ‘Look at me,’ I say to Steven. ‘I’m standing and not falling.’ This is how I assess my daily life now, marvelling at my ability to stay erect and relatively stable for a few seconds. Dr Gillen thought yesterday that I might yet get out into the hospital grounds. It sounds crazy, but then writing properly again, until he cajoled me into doing it, sounded crazy too.
I have discovered that it is best not to look at diaries or calendars, those reference points to times past and future. Before I left the office for the last time, I shredded my 2018 diary, the one Islay gave me at Christmas, and threw it in the bin along with all my diaries from previous years: I knew I had no further use for them. Time as I understood it ceased at that symbolic moment. I now maintain an alternative diary that I call overtime, which is all in the mind with no need to write anything down and no known closing date. It is a diary for the dying.
I’ve just remembered. I have no shoes. I have no memory of where I left them. And, beyond a few quid someone gave me to buy a paper in the morning, which I resolutely don’t, I have no money either. What else don’t I have? I’m not sure I have trousers, unless pyjama bottoms count. I don’t have a jacket to my name. My wallet – it’s somewhere else too, no doubt in safe hands – its loss would once have had me sweating, all those bank cards and bus passes and train tickets and god-awful VAT receipts. That doesn’t bother me either. Here in overtime, the first thing to go is any interest whatever in possessions.
But small luxuries continue to be valued, although I wouldn’t have regarded them as luxuries when I still kept a proper diary, got on the bus with Islay in the morning, climbed the stairs of Liberator House, watched the planes come and go, wrote editorials, planned trips, snoozed on the sofa in the afternoon, went home in the evening, did the crossword, watched some Welsh noir on the telly, etc. For example, I have developed an irresistible craving for the luxury of strong black builder’s tea, with two sugars. In the middle of the night, when they were changing over the units of blood in the machine, I prevailed on Cheryl to make me a brew. She did so uncomplainingly because that’s how Cheryl is, and at 3.30 in the morning it tasted wonderful. But with all the comings and goings with technology, it was a disturbed night; and I’d slept too much during the day anyway.
I don’t have much appetite for food. I thought it was returning, but even contemplating the all too frequent arrival of the tray turns me off. I’m enjoying the fruit my visitors bring – berries, grapes and Waitrose watermelon (the other supermarkets don’t come close) – but the doc insists I need to build up my cals. I’ve already forgotten what I’ve ordered for lunch, but the scrambled egg at breakfast was odourless and tasteless, and I left most of it. Now, a boiled egg, runny, wouldn’t I just adore that, pity it’s impractical for a hospital kitchen to cater for specific whims.
I don’t miss wine, which was once such a pleasure as well as a near-addiction. Long before I was admitted here, I’d more or less forsaken it. Even then my body was telling me something I didn’t want to know. I remember when and where I had my last tipple: it was in the living room of our house, cracking open a bottle of Prosecco from the village shop on my return from the Young Programme at North Queensferry, anaesthetising myself all too briefly from the knowledge that I was very, very ill and that I’d soon be in hospital or the mortuary. Three days later, the crisis broke. So my last drink was a girly Prosecco. Now I rely on Lucozade, the occasional smoothie, the richer the better, and that builder’s tea, all the nicer when most builders are fast asleep in the arms of their girlfriends.
M texts. The schools are on holiday. What, again? ‘But they’re only just back…’ – the repertoire of disbelief never changes. She’s on her way here.
It looks like a beautiful day out there. My little patch of sky, of which I’m inordinately fond, keeps me posted. Dr Gillen arrives with the news that my haemoglobin level has doubled in the last 24 hours and I am able to inform him in response that I’ve written 3,000 words in the same 24-hour period, and so for the moment… for the moment… in overtime what one does is savour the moment… because it’s all there is… for the moment, we’re both pleased with me.
To buy a copy of In Case of Any News: A Diary of Living and Dying, Kenneth Roy’s final book, Click here