Die Smiling by Julie Casson: STARTING TO DIE

Die Smiling by Julie Casson: STARTING TO DIE

Tap. Tap. Tap.

You’re back. I’d forgotten about you. Thought we’d left you in Spain. How stupid. What made you show up again? We don’t want you here. We’re settled now. In a routine. Lots of procedures. We’re in control of this new life and know exactly what to do. We’re adapting, managing and learning. We’re happy. All the kit, whatever we need, is at our disposal. We don’t need you interfering now. You’ll spoil everything. Go away. Please. Sod off.

Ah, you’re staying right here aren’t you? Look at you, spewing your scorn, drumming those disgusting, withered fingers. Tap. Tap. Tapping. Watching. Waiting. Are you enjoying this? Must you smirk?

Don’t you dare touch him. Don’t lay that putrid hand on his sleeping face. Haven’t you finished yet? What more do you want? What is it? You out of practice? Is that the problem? Bored maybe? A soupçon more unspeakable suffering do the trick, will it? Fancy finding new ways of inflicting a tad more torture? I mean, bloody 

hell, he hasn’t complained yet. Not once. You’ll need a shitload more creativity to gratify your sadistic desires, mate.

Let’s consider your progress, eh? You’ve destroyed his body. Tick. Devoured the last morsel of his strength. Tick. Shattered the smallest splinter of hope. Job done. So, now what? What’s stuffed up your stinking ragged sleeve? Sucking his spirit out through his eyeballs? That do you? Or maybe you could trample all over his soul until he’s nothing but a hollow, snivelling carcass? Satisfied?

Well, you won’t be doing any of that. I won’t let you. Neither will he. So, fuck off.


The unremarkable façade of the Leeds St James’ hospital, referred to by the locals as ‘Jimmy’s,’ looms unexpectedly from a maze of indistinguishable terraced streets. Pulling into the car park, I defer, grudgingly, to the sat nav. It was right after all. I had envisaged a grander approach and a more imposing exterior for such a famous institution. Ah well, don’t judge a book and all that.

We arrive at the respiratory unit early, prepared for a wait. The letter had said to allow three hours for the appointment. As we approach the waiting area, the unwelcome blare of the television greets us. Not this programme please. Nigel manoeuvres into place at the end of a row of seats, while I take one of the mandatory green hospital chairs beside him and try not to gawp at the TV. Not sure how long I can tolerate the insufferable Jeremy Kyle, sermonising with the pompous exasperation of the intrinsically virtuous, as he belittles those hapless, tracksuit wearing, one brain cell apiece cretins, who would willingly part with a kidney for five minutes of fame.

Yet another hospital. Ignoring the television, I count the hours spent in such surroundings. Pink and green, as usual, a splash of baby blue detracting not at all from the array of impractical, insipid colours. All those trips to Sheffield for the lithium trial. No impact. No progress. Still no sign of a cure. And Nigel never did make it to the end of the trial on his feet.

As a rant regarding somebody’s boyfriend, accused of scoffing her mother’s labradoodle gets underway, Nigel’s name is called and we are led to freedom by a young nurse, with a blonde pixie cut and ruddy cheeks.

‘Hiya, I’m Leanne,’ she says, her West Yorkshire accent evoking memories of my youth. ‘We’ll do a few tests before you see the doctor.’

‘Where’re you from?’ asks Nigel, would you believe? Although I suspect he, like me, has already guessed. The distinction between the twang of neighbouring towns such as Bradford, Halifax and Huddersfield are significant and instantly recognisable.

‘’alifax,’ she chirrups.

‘My hometown,’ I say.

‘Thought so,’ says Nigel. ‘You can guarantee a great night out in Halifax. Always end up battling with the bouncers though. Especially in Clarence’s.’

‘Yeah? That shut down yonks since,’ says Leanne.

‘I’m not surprised. This particular night, me and our kid –’ He stops, chuckling at the memory. ‘Our kid gets belted by, oh, no.’ He stops again, chokes on a giggle. Here we go, full on elephant trumpeting next. A sure sign he’s losing it.

‘Spit it out,’ she says. ‘I’m dying to know what happened.’

Nigel rallies and blurts, ‘By a bloke dressed as –’ before irrepressible cackling overpowers his story-telling capacity.

‘We won’t hear the rest,’ I explain, resisting the temptation to slap him round the head. ‘He’ll be a while yet.’

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