The Cycle of Life

A Short Story by Michael Stewart

Copyright – Michael Stewart ©

The day begThe Cycle of Lifean like any other day, with the cold, soft November sunlight just beginning to break through into the darkness of the bedroom. As I lay there in that half-light, all cosy under the soft, warm duvet, I slowly became aware as my mind pulled itself out of a deep sleep. I let the usual jumble of thoughts tumble around inside my head, just like I’ve always done. I don’t know if it’s the same for you but all of my life I’ve felt that this was the most creative part of the day; the time when I’ve often come up with a solution to a problem or contemplated some deep meaning in life or the workings of the universe. On occasion I’ve even penned a story in my head; I’ve always felt there was a good novel in me somewhere, I just haven’t managed to write it yet. Lying there relaxed, letting the thoughts come, how could I have possibly known that the grim reaper would come visiting today? I don’t suppose anyone does, do they? Maybe once in a while we should all consider it? Would you do anything different if you knew?

Struggling out of bed, bladder bursting, I headed straight for the bathroom. Looking in the mirror I saw the usual haggard old face, unshaven for about a week. I tried to convince myself that even though I was old, I still looked rugged and handsome in an Earnest Hemmingway sort of way. I’ve never really known if I suited a beard or not. I don’t think I do really, I think I just try to convince myself that I do because I’m lazy. I hate shaving, always have. It seems such a waste of time; it’s only going to grow back again tomorrow.

You don’t think of it when you’re young, but showering and drying off is also such a chore when you’re old. It takes so much time and effort just to get your feet dry. Everything aches. I won’t bore you with the details.

After struggling to get my favourite old jeans on, my tee shirt and my faded blue sweatshirt, which has admittedly seen better days, I headed off to the kitchen for breakfast. A treat today, melted cheese on toast with marmite and a big cup of earl grey tea. My favourite. Not very healthy, but quite refined I’ve always thought. If I’d have known then that it was my last day, I might have had another piece of toast.

Whilst eating I tuned into the Today programme with Mr. Humphries on Radio Four, just to catch up with the going’s on in the world. Breakfast is a bit of a lonely time for me now; mind you, so is lunch and dinner. I used to love making breakfast for my darling wife and the kids. Memories. Happier times, but painful now when I dwell on them; I think there’s a song there somewhere?

I miss my lovely wife; she’s been gone ten long years now. I’ll never get over her. It feels like I’m only half a person without her, maybe even less than that.

Still, the kids are all doing very well and are happy with their own growing families. That keeps me going. I’ve had a good life, better than many.

Quickly pulling myself out of my fast approaching melancholy I decided to go out and face the day. A nice walk to the library to lose myself in some scientific reading should do it. I’m no scientist or in any way academic, but I’ve always enjoyed exploring the extraordinary world of science and wondering at the nature of reality. My favourite subject for some light reading is quantum physics. I don’t understand it but I do enjoy it. I have really welcomed the recent fad over the past few years for eminent scientists to write about science in a way that mere mortals can understand. That sort of deep, big thinking certainly takes me away from the reality of daily life and all those darker thoughts that pop into my head far more often than I’d like them to.

The November sky was such a beautiful clear blue with just a few wispy white clouds meandering by. I could see my breath glistening in the sharp cold air as I walked along; it certainly lifted my spirits. In fact it started to feel good to be alive and even the annoying rumble of the passing traffic didn’t aggravate me as much as it often did nowadays. Getting annoyed with the simplest of things is the prerogative of the old and I certainly have my grumpy moments, which usually serve only to make me even grumpier. I always vowed not to, but I still turned out like my dad in the end. But thankfully I wasn’t grumpy on this beautiful day. My dear wife and I had always adored days like these, they were the best. It’s still so dreadfully lonely without her.

Before I knew it I’d been in the library for over four hours. I looked at my watch; mid afternoon now, time for a pie and a pint. I thought I’d take a table outside the old Fox and Hounds so I could enjoy the last of the November sunshine and just watch the world go by for a while.

Mid way through my pint of Guinness it happened. It was a strange pain, deep within my chest. If I’m honest it wasn’t really that painful, uncomfortable more than anything, like a cramp in my chest when I breathed in. It was when the tingling in my arms started that I thought, uh oh! Everything started to go hazy at that point and I remember feeling quite sick and just wanting to lie down. I think I must have slipped off my chair; I certainly had the impression of people rushing over to me. I remember hearing comforting voices and someone putting something soft under my head. In the main, despite all the badness in the world, people are generally very nice aren’t they?

I didn’t want to make a fuss; it was just nice to be lying down. The cramp in my chest had peaked and was now easing off; I started to feel so very sleepy all of a sudden. I knew it was my heart, strangely I remember thinking it was probably that morning’s cheesy marmite on toast that had done it. I could hear the sirens in the distance getting closer when the tiredness enveloped me and I just wanted to drift off. I let it take me. That was it; blackness, oblivion, nothing else. No voices in the distance, no movement, no sense of being, just nothing…

Or was it? I had no sense of how long I had been asleep, I just suddenly heard someone talking, a tinny sort of voice, quite close by. I couldn’t make out the words though. I knew I was lying on something soft, it certainly felt comfortable, warm and very cosy. I wondered for a moment if I was back in my bed again and had just been dreaming, but no, that didn’t feel right. I knew this wasn’t my bed; I was definitely somewhere else.

I was struggling to think clearly; perhaps I was drugged? Yes, that was it; I must be in intensive care? My eyelids still felt very heavy, too heavy to open just yet. I wanted to go back to sleep again and my mind felt like soup, but then I heard a new softer voice talking, very close, talking to me it seemed. It was a lovely comforting voice, I felt sure I recognised it. The other tinny voice carried on in the background, but there were no other sounds. Just then the tinny voice stopped and some music started up. It was an old number, one of those old big band sounds. Radio, that’s what it was, a radio. Must be the hospital radio I thought?

Actually, it was so warm and cosy lying there I was reluctant to break the moment, but I had to know where I was. I dragged my eyes open ever so slowly. Finally managing to focus a little I looked up and saw a beautiful young woman standing close by. She had short dark hair, in a kind of 1960s bob style. She was smiling and humming along to the music and she was concentrating on something in front of her. What was it? Her arm was moving backwards and forwards. I stared a bit harder and then I got it; she was ironing.

I struggled to make any sense of the scene. Why was this woman ironing next to my hospital bed? I tried to look around the room but for some reason my vision wasn’t working great. Probably the drugs I assumed. It was all a bit blurry but I could see some blue cupboards up on the wall, underneath which stood an old-fashioned type cooker with an old-fashioned kettle sitting on top. On the adjoining wall was a large double window, covered with what looked to be net curtains. Who on earth had net curtains these days? Under the window was a sink with a single old-fashioned tap, and on the wall next to the sink was a small white Ascot water heater with a bright blue flame burning inside. I remembered having one of those old things years ago.

If my eyes weren’t deceiving me, I would have to say that I was in some kind of an old retro style kitchen. The music finished and I heard the same tinny voice again for a while before another piece of music came on. I think it might have been Dean Martin. This certainly wasn’t a hospital. Where the hell was I?

I struggled to get up. I couldn’t feel any wires on me – which I took to be a good sign – and I found that I could move easily enough, but for some reason I just couldn’t sit up. I couldn’t even lift my head up off the pillow. Becoming frustrated I tried again, but this time I caught sight of my hands moving around in front of my face. No, they couldn’t possibly be my hands; they were tiny and plump. But I knew they were my hands! I tried to move them in front of my eyes again to get a better look, but I was definitely struggling with my coordination.

My anxiety level was really starting to build now, my breathing was coming in short gasps and I knew I was starting to panic. Nothing seemed right. Just then, quite involuntarily I let out a loud cry. I didn’t mean to, it just came out. It startled the beautiful young lady and she looked down at me, coming closer. I studied her face. I recognised her, vaguely, but yes, I knew her. She smiled the most beautiful smile I had ever seen and she reached out her arms to me. Without thinking I reached out to her too. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to do, and she picked me up! I let out another scream! I knew where I was now, from my earliest memories, my old home, my old kitchen.

And I knew then who the beautiful young lady was.

‘MUMMY!’ I gurgled. I was back, right at the beginning, starting it all again!

The End – or is it the beginning?

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