Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Spot of Bother

One night after finishing the last 20 pages of Sharpe's Enemy, George Hall, who has recently found a spot of eczema on his thigh and concluded that it is cancer, opts to watch a medical documentary about a man dying of cancer:

"Obviously it would be nice to go quietly in one's sleep. But going quietly in one's sleep was an idea cooked up by parents to make the deaths of grandparents and hamsters less traumatic. And doubtless some people did go quietly in their sleep but most did so only after many wounding rounds with the Grim Reaper.

"His own preferred exits were rapid and decisive. Others might want time to bury the hatchet with estranged children and tell their wives where the stopcock was. Personally, he wanted the lights to go out with no warning and the minimum attendant mess. Dying was bad enough without having to make it easier for everyone else.

"He popped to the kitchen during the ad break and returned with a cup of coffee to find the chap entering his last couple of weeks, marooned almost permanently on his sofa and weeping a little in the small hours. And if George had turned the television off at this point the evening might have continued in a pleasantly uneventful manner.

"But he did not turn the television off, and when the man's cat climbed onto the tartan rug in his lap to be stroked someone unscrewed a panel in the side of George's head, reached in and tore out a handful of very important wiring.

"He felt violently ill. Sweat was pouring from beneath his hair and from the back of his hands.

"He was going to die.

"Maybe not this month. Maybe not this year. But somehow, at some time, in a manner and at a speed very much not of his choosing.

"The floor seemed to have vanished to reveal a vast open shaft beneath the living room.

"With blinding clarity he realized that everyone was frolicking in a summer meadow surrounded by a dark and impenetrable forest, waiting for that grim day on which they were dragged into the dark beyond the trees and individually butchered.

"How in God's name had he not noticed this before? And how did others not notice? Why did one not find them curled on the pavement howling? How did they saunter through their days unaware of this indigestible fact? And how, once the truth dawned, was it possible to forget?

"Unaccountably he was now on all fours between the armchair and the television, rocking back and forth, attempting to comfort himself by making the sound of a cow."

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