Every night, in the darkness of her recurring dream, Cadence would seek out the pinpoint of light. As a child, she would search for that lonely star in the sky, that luminous fish in a midnight ocean, or that glowing eye of a nocturnal animal on the horizon. Once found, she would always say “I see you.” Then, the light would race towards her and brush past her ear as though it was carried by a big black bird. She always woke to the whispering of the words “I am unseen.” Over time, an aura of corporeality began to surround the pinpoint of light. The brush of feathers became the touch of fingers, and the sound of footsteps followed soon after. By the time she was thirteen, the light was surrounded by a fully fledged tribute to humanity. Now, it ran past her with a burning stare from a solitary eye, and it would speak its phrase through a crescent mouth. Back then, Cadence liked to think the bright like in the darkness protected her, yet its newfound skin seemed almost predatory. At fifteen, she read desire in the lingering pattern of light on the inside of her eyelids and woke every morning feeling untouchable.
That was before The Unseen came for her in the daylight.
On that day, she was running the year 11 cross country through the parklands by her school. Fitness had always confounded her, and within minutes her competitors were out of sight. She wandered off the track to rest in a clearing where she had seen roses growing on her way to school. There was a stitch in her side and she doubled over to relieve it. As she did so, she picked a dewy white rose.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw a dark figure running towards her. It moved soundlessly, without breath or effort. Alone and defenseless, she stood to face her potential attacker. As he drew nearer, she saw that he only had one eye and wore a coat made from the furs of animals the colour of night. He said “Now you see me.” Cadence’s vision faded to a single point of light, and her legs went from under her like she was a puppet and The Unseen had cut her strings.
From that day on, the light and The Unseen were gone. In their place came nightmares. She heard and felt the finality of stainless steel elevator doors that slammed behind her. She smelled the obliterating scent of disinfectant. She saw blinding lights in her eyes from pen torches and rows of fluorescent tubing in the ceiling. These nightmares bled long into the day, until she no longer felt safe in darkness or light.
Cadence sat in bed 5a with a teen magazine her sister twin Danielle had brought her. There was yet another article about the latest piece of pop royalty, Persephone. In a flippant exchange with an interviewer, Persephone talked about how it was really important to like, cure cancer. To make it seem like she cares about things other than fame, money, clothes and Chai lattes. This was followed by the obligatory story about being bullied at school and eating herself into an oblivion of zits and size 16 clothing. Now I feel like I know you. Oh wait, you forgot the part about always being crap at sport and then finding out you’re terminally ill when you’re 16. Cadence was about to flip the page when the following passage caught her eye:
Interviewer: So, have any bad boys tried to steal you away to the Underworld?
Persephone: (laughs) Not until they build a café in hell.
Interviewer: Lucky huh? If you drank a Chai latte in the land of the dead you would be stuck there for eternity.
Persephone: My mum would march right down there and say “Come back from the Underworld this instant missy.”
There was a long, deep inhalation like a tide receding from the next bed. From time to time, the old lady in bed 5b she knew as Eunice would recede from her coma and speak in a low dreamy voice like she was hypnotised.
“Fish swim round and round in circles,” she said.
“What’s that meant to be, advice for tomorrow?”
Eunice said no more, there was just the ebb of her breath.
Cadence glanced at the clock on the wall. Ten thirty. Only half an hour until they start starving me. She slid down off the edge of her bed and put the portable heart rate monitor in her pyjama pocket. From the direction of the common room, she heard a high pitch squeal that reminded her of dodgy shopping trolleys at the supermarket she had worked at last summer. Oh to push a trolley now.
A patient with haunted eyes shuffled towards her. His arm was draped around a drip stand on which he’d hung a wedding dress that was stained by the passage of time. With every turn of the wheels, the hem of the dress would catch and flick up to reveal a container. It was half filled with a blackcurrant juice coloured fluid that drained from a tube somewhere under his pyjamas. The bitter, chalky aroma of his drugged body and the new wound on his chest reminded her of a hamstrung pig in an abattoir. He also had shades of the bus stop pervert as he shuffled past her, his skin filmy with painkiller sweat and open mouthed wheeze that passed for breathing.
Cadence shivered and hugged the thin green hospital pyjamas around her body. Even though the man hadn’t so much as glanced at her, she felt like he had infected her with a fear of what she might become. Even when he was halfway down the hall, she felt a cold neuralgia wrap around her like a spider’s web, every touch a thought of her own mortality to be brushed away. She went to the visitors waiting area for her last supper.
There was little to comfort her there – much of the conversations went over her head as they spoke in medical acronyms … then, “I saw a ghost tonight.” She slunk behind the corridor to eavesdrop. “It was a young girl, maybe 11 or 12, and she was standing at the end of the hall, right next to the theatre doors. She looked so lost, poor thing, with her head bowed down. So I asked her who she was.” All the nurses neglected their cups of tea and coffee and turned towards the storyteller. Their faces were illuminated by the green light emitted from the wall of screens behind them, which displayed the heart rates of all the patients like a series of mini campfires.
“The girl looked up at me but didn’t say anything. I felt this surge of adrenaline like I had to run, but I couldn’t move. She just came at me like she was in fast forward and passed right though me.”
“How did it feel?” Said one of the listeners.
“Cold. Like a knife.”
At that moment, Cadence reached under her shirt and unclipped her heart rate monitor. One of the monitors began to beep and flat line. She smirked and waited for the trouble to begin.
“Who’s that?” Said the storyteller.
“I think it’s Cadence.” Said another nurse.
“No, it’s not, her leads have come loose though. It’s actually Eunice. You know, after I saw that girl, I had a feeling about tonight.”
Cadence took some biscuits and tea from the nurses’ kitchen and snuck back to her room. Distracted by the task of unhooking the machinery from Eunice’s body, the nurses did not hear Cadence climb into bed. She watched them covered Eunice’s body to the neck with a blanket and wheel her out the door. Maybe she is just really sick. But I think they just don’t want to scare me.
After they left, Cadence flicked on her nightlight and opened her curtains. Her eyes went from the pockets of darkness under empty beds opposite her, to the arc of light that spilled into the space where bed 5b had been. It was as though The Unseen had come for her in the dark, and in her absence it had taken Eunice instead. She didn’t want to think of Simon, yet her comfort starved mind conjured him anyway. Although they had hardly spoken throughout high school, he had found her on the day The Unseen had come for her. He sent roses to her ward in hospital and visited every day. And when she went home, the light of The Unseen was replaced by the candles on the windowsill of his room. Tomorrow, maybe it will be the end of us. Cadence could not have slept any worse if she had a gun pointed to the back of her head
Cadence woke to the sensation of something jabbing into her arm. Damn needles. She rolled over and saw a bunch of red roses in in the bed beside her. Is Simon here already? She tore at the card on the cellophane wrapping and opened it. Today I will see you again. It wasn’t Simon’s handwriting. Her heart stalled.
“Oh, they’re lovely aren’t they?”
She looked up and saw the day’s nurses, led by the nurse who had seen the ghost. “Did you see who bought these?”
“No dear.” Said the nurse. “Maybe you have a secret admirer.”
Cadence turned back to the flowers and listened to the nurse read out the name of her procedure and medications like a prison sentence. A few of the nurses gave strained smiles as though she was a terminally ill puppy and one attempted to hold her hand. Two looked away like she was week-old road kill. Cadence knew it was because she was a black mark against their view of a just world. Most of the patients could be explained away – their illnesses a stab in the back by a troubled or careless past. But not her, and right now she had never felt more certain that today was to be the day of her death. She blinked hard and said, “When are they taking me away?”
“Just after 8. You’ll need a shower before too long.”
She lay there and thought of people starving in third world countries, parched and clad in dirt, who could only lie on their backs and look to the skies as vultures circled, black against the solitary light of the sun. It was nearly six thirty now. Some way or another in 90 minutes this would end. She hid the flowers in the bin, picked up the sponge and surgical scrubs and made her way to the bathroom.
The weeks of crawling to the top of a waiting list left hollows under her eyes and jaundiced her skin. Or was it just the bathroom lighting? More than half of the closure studs of her pajama top were bent and worn and she wondered, had somebody died in this? The heart rate monitor had attachments to her chest in a dozen places, suckling secrets and emotions from her heart like an alien baby. She unclipped the monitor and was as alone as she could possibly be.
There was a voice from the other side of the door. “Cadence?”
Could it be Simon? Beautiful, beautiful Simon? Please let it be. She wrapped a towel around herself and opened the door.
It was! His face was ruddy from the bike ride, his shirt almost translucent and glued to his chest with sweat. For a moment they both stood facing each other equally short of breath.
“You want to bathe me?” She asked.
“I thought you were going to ask me to get your dots off.” He picked at a sticker just below her collarbone. She raised her left arm like a wing, exposing the circle of dots on her ribcage.
Simon offered his shoulder as she stepped out of the rest of her hospital issued clothes and into the shower. As he removed the showerhead and adjusted the temperature against his wrist, he said “You know I already miss you.”
Cadence gave a sad smile and opened the package containing the sponge. She wet it, and the scent of disinfectant overpowered the aroma of overripe fruit and dried flowers. It reminded her of the incense Simon burned in his room when they were alone. He went to work on her, showerhead in one hand and sponge in the other.
Under the water, Cadence thought I might have no choice but to hurt him today. This guilt had niggled away for weeks as her frailty encroached on their dates, which became nonexistent, and any physical affection that passed between them turned to dirges that tested his experience. Yesterday afternoon had been the last time, and she willed the running water and Simon’s purposeful touch to recreate the experience. In her mind, the water ran slow, thick, and dark. It coursed over her skin and ran down her legs. Like slugs. She opened her eyes and saw the reflection of light off the showerhead … the pinpoint of light.
She heard the pipes shudder as Simon turned the taps off.
“Are you alright? You started freaking out on me there. You said, I see you.”
“Oh did I? You know I meant I love you.”
Cadence felt the warm towel on her skin. He patted her dry and twisted the water out of her hair. There was a knock on the door and they both turned.
“Cadence, your family is here.” said a nurse.
Simon hurriedly dressed her in the hospital scrubs and they walked out the door.
Her family waited in plastic chairs around her bed. Mum and dad wore encouraging smiles, but Cadence saw the guarded worry in their eyes. As she hugged her mother, she smelled a perfume of soil and roses. Each nail was caked with dirt.
“Been gardening?” Cadence asked.
“She woke me up at four this morning.” Danielle said, her face a void and her eyes so sunken they looked like they had been pushed to the back of a shelf.
“It was nice weather, so I got a few hours in.” Her mother said. Then she glanced out the window as though she checked the sky for moral support.
Her dad was subdued as a frightened child, and as she held him, she smelled aftershave and soap with an undercurrent of alcohol. “You smell as fresh as I do, dad.”
“It’s a special day.” He said.
Her mother glared at him.
Simon helped Cadence into bed and kissed her long and hard. “Hi Mr and Mrs Ebbingray, hey Danielle” he said with deliberate brightness.
“Simon… it’s nice to see you.” Said Cadence’s mother.
“We’re glad you came to visit Cadence.” Her father added.
“Thanks for shutting them up.” Cadence whispered to him.
Had Eunice been taken this way last night? The motorcade of wards people, doctors and technicians seemed so emotionless they could have been escorting a tea trolley. She looked over the bedcovers at the door at the end of the hall. The windows loomed like bespectacled menacing eyes that seemed to say you did something wrong, and now you will be punished.
Behind the mask of a door, the operating theatre was tiny and white, with all the claustrophobia of an elevator trapped between two floors. Stainless steel instruments were poised around her like cutlery, as though she was something to be devoured. Five, maybe six technicians surrounded her, their masks, goggles, hairnets and gowns blended into the walls, lending a sentience to the room. They had told her yesterday that the protective equipment was to stop the spread of germs. From what? Will my blood spray them when they open me? A technician turned Cadence’s arm outwards and she felt a sting. Before she could even close her eyes, she was out.
Cadence sensed her body floating below the surface of a red watery darkness. It was warm there, and she basked in the absence of thought, emotion and most of all, pain. How long have I been here? She saw a pinpoint of light…A nurse’s torch? Simon? Something took hold around her middle and she felt a stirring. She was being dislodged from her resting place. Then there was a sense of being ripped like a plant from the earth. And with it, a chest pain that went from a whisper to a howl when she vomited up a lungful of mud.
When she awoke, the hospital had changed. There was nobody to greet her. All the beds were empty. Who rescued me? She looked at her chest wound. Underneath the tape, it was straight, black and neat as a compass point. It’s telling me to go back inside my brain, she chuckled to herself. Cadence raised her arms and saw that they were needle free. None of the equipment she had been told about before the operation was to be seen.
Around the wound, her flesh itched and burned with a fierce neuralgia, while underneath, her bones shifted and cracked as though they made way for something. She looked back at the wound and saw blood leeching from it. A series of black segments rose under the tape, as though a worm burrowed its way out of her chest. Cadence heard herself breathe hard as she edged her way up the bed on her elbows. The worm, if that’s what it is, went with her, trapped on the wrong side of her flesh.
She simply had to get this thing off her. The corner of the tape came away and she peeled a little more to see a line of caked blood like dirt. Undammed by the dressing, the blood flowed freely, red ribbons twisting and turning black. The wound widened and deepened like an open grave.
Dark shadows snaked thought the corners of the ceiling and solidified like claws. Around them, the plaster flaked away and fell like snow. The room is falling apart. She climbed out of bed and ran to the doorway with a grace and energy she had never known. Compared to the dead weight that filled her arms and legs and the suffocating breathlessness, to run was how it must be for others to fly. In the empty halls, she let out a whoop from her bottomless lungs. How is all this possible? She felt for her wound but it was gone, like a lost necklace.
She looked up and down the length of the hall. It had become a snow covered path. Cracks lashed the walls as obsidian branches burst through, gnarled by centuries. On either side of the hall, they stretched out like arms or gallows to build an archway. As she passed through them, one low branch glanced off the side of her neck and she couldn’t help but think of Simon. Closing her eyes for a moment, she remembered how he used to catch up to her on the way to school and carry her bag. How she would turn to face him, as though they were trapped in some weird dance orchestrated by the backpack as he slid the straps over her shoulders.
As she walked further, other earlier memories came to her. Planting a rose bush in the garden outside her window with her mother – which Simon once fell on in a hasty escape. Watching Saturday morning cartoons with her father, and teaching Danielle notes on the piano and words in books. What would this do to them? She imagined the dinner table set for three, an empty space in the car on vacations, one less stocking on the Christmas tree. And Simon? Would he spend the rest of his life saying that the light of his life had gone?
Behind her, there was an endless snow covered trail. Ahead was an expanse of desert at night. The sand whipped her ankles to urge her forward.
Simon sat by Cadence’s bed. The tubes and machines that lived for her had become invisible to him. He held her limp hand, and remembered when it used to curl around his own, fingers entwined, palm to palm. Her skin, lips and nails were white and grey. Even her hair had gone into a sort of rigor mortis, stiffened by the chemicals that had leeched out of her skin. She was still stunning to him, like an actress from a black and white movie. The minute hand of the clock fell away and rose again. He raised her feet on a pillow and began to massage them as the doctor had shown him. One hour closer to her coming back to me.
“Where do you suppose she is?” Danielle asked him.
“I wish I knew. Then I could go and get her back.” He was grateful to speak to Danielle instead of one of Cadence’s elderly roommates or their visitors. Several times a day they would say what a good, sweet boy he was, or how much he must love Cadence. Then, he would wonder whether he would grow old as he waited for her to return to his world.
As Simon rotated Cadence’s left ankle, he looked at the vase on the bedside table. Every time Mrs Ebbingray visited, she would bring another flower from her garden.
“Is your mum coming up later?” he asked.
“Her and dad aren’t doing so well. They’re even worse than they were the other morning.” Danielle said. “I got up to make hot chocolate at midnight, and Mum was outside Cadence’s window bawling her eyes out. You know how she is – always hacking up the garden when something is bothering her.”
”I used to think she was just trying to spy on us, but yeah.”
“Well it’s nearly Winter and there’s not many flowers left. She told me she had to start cutting roses off the rosebush she and Cadence planted.”
“She told me about that after I fell into it one night. We ended up spending the rest of the night trying to fix it up.”
Danielle’s eyes widened and she let out a giggle. Simon couldn’t help but laugh with her.
For what felt like at least an hour, Cadence walked through the desert and saw nothing. No stars in the sky to guide her. No moon either. It was so much like a void that she wondered whether she walked through ashes and bones. She scooped up some of the sand and smelled it. It was grainy and smelled of brine, not the burned dust she had feared. She allowed it to blow out of her hands and wished for Simon.
Cadence wondered how much time had passed at home. Without weariness or the need to eat, she had no sense of how long she had been there. Out of nowhere, she heard a low chorus sound. Waves? The sound rushed to a roar and on either side, a wall of water like a line of geysers. An overpowering stench of rust and salt rained down and she stood side on to avoid the spray. Although she suspected these walls never ended, she saw a light in the near distance. Around it, she could just make out a human figure. Please let it be Simon, or Mum, or Dad or Danielle, or anybody. Just not The Unseen.
The wind stood still, and there was the endless cycle of the ocean flowing down and rising into the waves. When she listened, she heard the ocean speak the words “I see you” over and over. Lost, she had no choice but to go to him.
He looked like a shadow of another shadow, dressed in a suit of scavenging or predatory animal skins. Cadence could make out a lion’s mane collar, a vest of crow feathers, trousers made from the pelts of foxes. His hand was a mass of worms that protruded from a wolf’s mouth. He held a small bowl with a glowing white angel fish which was the source of light. Cadence watched the fish swim languidly around Fish swim round and round in circles.
“I needed to see you.” He said in a voice modulated by the waves around him. “I know you miss your people, your dreams – yet you love being free of your sickness.”
“I want to live. I want to go back to Simon.” Cadence said. The fish turned another circuit in the bowl. Its eyes stared at her through the prison bars of worms. We’re both trapped, she thought.
He held the fish bowl up. “This is the light that gives me something like life.”
Cadence saw its whole body spasm into concavity and bow outwards again.
“This fish is the piece of your heart that I have already caught. I long to have the rest of you.” He opened the crow feathered vest. Then he parted the living mass of rotten flesh and worms that passed for his chest and opened his ribcage as though it was a rusty gate. Cadence watched him place the bowl in the empty cavity and the flesh meld back over it. Now, his whole body glowed faintly like a lantern.
“We’re both inside you Cadence. I parted the waters in your lungs to save you from drowning.”
As he spoke the seas retreated. Above her, she saw the sky wasn’t the starless, limitless void she had thought it was. This whole area was enclosed, and yet the wind blew. Of course, lungs. And the hall of snow covered trees where she had been overwhelmed with memories? My brain.
“Where’s my body, then?” She imagined it in a morgue, an urn, the ground.
“It’s in the hospital, slowly betraying you. Like bodies always do.” He looked down at himself.
“What if I fight for it? And Simon fights for it?”
“It won’t matter. The blood will eventually turn to snakes in your veins.” He paused. “And without me, the waters in your lungs would have turned stygian.” He reached out to her and she felt his hand like a tentacle, wound around her fingers, suctioned to her palm like a kiss, weaving into her pores – “…and drowned you.”
“You followed me my whole life. Why me?”
“After you see your heart, you will understand.” He said.
As he dragged her through a vessel waist deep in blood, Cadence repeated the name Simon over and over in her head like a Morse code distress signal. Surely (Simon) The Unseen (Simon) won’t hurt (Simon) me if (Simon) it needs me. The oceanic roar came back, along with a heavy beat. I’m alive. Can you hear me Simon, I’m alive!
Unlike the Valentine’s day cards and trinkets that exploited her most wounded organ, her heart reminded her of two hourglasses, locked side by side in an equilibrium to give her life and ferry away the decay. She looked up towards a valve, an eye that closed and opened to cry blood, a fish’s mouth in the red depths. As the deafening storm soaked her from crown to sole, she closed her eyes and thought a silent prayer in the temple of her heart. I wish I loved you as much as Simon does. After that day, she had been mad enough to want to rip it out and watch it burn, as though it was a lover who had betrayed her. Now she knew it suffered daily to persist and meet her will to live as a dog might please its mistress in between beatings.
A tightening of his hold around her wrist stole Cadence away from her peace. The Unseen dragged her from the waterfall to face the part of her heart that was ruined. What should have been a wall hung open, a screaming mouth through which the dark, spent blood purpled its life giving counterpart. She touched the ragged tissue and felt the loss as though the missing piece had been ripped away, rather than never formed as the doctors had told her. Why did it have to be me? She shivered with the cold and watched the mottled swamp rise from her knees to her hips.
“You don’t need to feel alone.” He whispered. “We were made for each other.” She heard the sickening sound of his chest open again and shut her eyes tight. “For you.”
Cadence turned and saw him proffer a box of chocolates. Just like Simon used to. It had been so long since she had eaten. She took the box and read the side of it. Decadent Strawberry. He opened the lid for her and she drank in the smell. She picked one out, tore the silver wrapper off and bit into it. Blood, rot and ash exploded in her mouth. Even though she gagged, some of the filth made its way down her throat.
A scythe of light opened across where his mouth would have been, if he was a man “A delicacy.” He said. “All the way from my homeland. The Underworld.”
Persephone. She couldn’t go home because she was fooled into eating food from the Underworld. I read about it in drama class. Cadence backed away. The blackened blood eclipsed her shoulders like an almost filled burial plot. Inside her wrist, his essence turned from worms to needles to push a new coldness through her.
“You can never return to your life. You can’t leave me. Ever.”
A deluge of blood carried them away, she the lifeboat, he the anchor. Simon, she said to herself as she held her breath, and with every assault from the waves, Simon, Simon, Simon.
“Are you alright?”
Not Simon, The Unseen. She lay face down in damp earth. The foul smell reminded her of the shallow creek at the back of her house. It had been so polluted that plants died the moment they sprouted from the earth. When she and Danielle were in primary school, they took nets with them to catch little fish but never found anything. She stifled a sob as the grip on her wrist rose to a new level of hurt. Now it was like broken glass and she rolled on her side and coughed. Unlike the other places she had been to, this was a small cave that made her feel as though she was the innermost Russian doll and her larger sisters had become her tomb. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him glowing beside her like the remains of a campfire.
The Unseen reached out and pulled her into his bed of worms. Their touch needled and poisoned at her back and she gasped.
“There will be no pain when you let go of your old life.”
Cadence tried to pull away, and her elbows sunk into the squirming cold mince of his stomach.
“Look,” The Unseen said with wonderment. “See how death can beget a new existence.” He stood and dragged her to her feet. The light of his body splashed the walls through the churning filigree of worms.
Cadence watched as seedlings broke through the earth to meet the light. They were a grayish pink, stippled in fine thorns. Buds formed from the seedlings and turned from pink to mousey brown. Roses. Same as what I planted with mum, same as what Simon fell into. This memory brought a smile to her face, and for a moment, the two looked like a proud couple in adoration of their offspring. One bud began to wriggle and a snout burst through, twitching against the rank air. Cadence watched a rat crawl out like a butterfly from a chrysalis. It scampered along the quivering column of worms that was his outstretched arm.
She heard The Unseen kiss the rat behind her. Then he said “I dare not call it life Cadence, but we created it.”
Now she knew where they were. A white hot repulsion assembled throughout her. In an extremis that her weakened body could never have enabled in life, she turned to face him. Pain lanced through her back where she ripped herself from him, and wailed in her soul at the chain of tragedy he had wrought. She drew back and threw him to the opposite wall, her mind and body weapon alike. You stole a piece of my heart and watched and waited to take the rest of me. And for what? Because you were lonely? The worms scattered and rained back down upon her and the bowl – the fish bowl – she remembered only when it was too late. It shattered against the wall. There was a death rattle as though a drowning man had heard his last joke, then the words, “You have a piece of my heart too.”
The fish. Cadence found it lying in the shallow basin of her womb and she cupped it in her hands. Its body pulsed violently, gills open cuts, fins limp and thin as fly’s wings. In desperation, Cadence cried and brushed her teardrops over its gills. Its mouth flickered open and shut, then open for the last time. Now still, Cadence could see how it resembled the missing piece of her heart. A pinpoint of light pierced its scales like a keyhole into another world. She stared into it and heard familiar voices.
“She opened her eyes.” Said her mother. Or was it Danielle?
“I saw them open too.” That was her father.
Cadence lifted her eyelids and it was like a prison door had been slid open to freedom. She saw a nurse, who drew a tube from her throat and shone a light in her eyes. Behind the nurse, Simon, Danielle and her parents stood in a row. They all smiled and looked towards her, which reminded her of the bad studio family portrait that hung in the living room.
Cadence wanted to say something like “I love you,” or “I missed you” or even “Where am I,” but her voice came out in a rasp and all it said was “Water.”
“Of course, you must be very thirsty” the nurse replied, and lifted a small paper cup to her lips. It tasted like nectar and filled her lips with a plumpness she‘d forgotten. Cadence turned towards her family and saw a vase of flowers on the shelf beside her bed.
“Mum, is that the whole garden there?”
“Most of it.” She said with a laugh.
“It’s alright.” The nurse said to her family. “You can hug her now.”
The next day, Cadence had moved to a new room with three other old ladies, all of whom were surrounded by fussing children and out of control grandchildren. Simon curled in the bed beside her.
One little girl waddled away from the party, a doll tucked upside down under her arm. A maelstrom of blonde pigtails, blue eyes and grimy pink clothes, she began to climb onto Cadence’s bedrail like it was a shopping trolley. Through the bars, Cadence watched the girl’s mouth curl in purposeful effort and saw her eyes flood with panic when the doll slipped onto the floor. In her stint at the local supermarket, Cadence had saved children from cracking their heads open on a daily basis. So it was instinct that made her reach for the girl as she slipped to the floor. Cadence was rewarded with a lick of pain through her breastbone that almost winded her.
“Mummy” the girl shrieked.
A woman flew towards the minor disaster and scooped up both child and doll. “I’m so sorry”, she said in a hurried voice. “You’ll understand when you have kids of your own.”
Cadence remembered the lost piece of her heart and the bloodless earth of her womb. Can I dare call this life? She shuddered, Simon pulled the blanket over her shoulders.