CHAPTER FOUR: THE AFTERMATH
It was 5:20am when the sun began to reluctantly rise on the rain-soaked city. Despite the suns presence, the miserable water-filled clouds refused to relent from their position, leaving the sky a mass of confused streaks of purple and grey. The thunder and lightning had ceased but the rain still came down.
Sylvia parked her car outside of the 'Sister Sugden Hospital'. She pulled the key out of the ignition and let out a deep, mournful sigh. The gentle purr of the blue hatchback's engine had allowed her to drown out the screaming sound of her own thoughts as she drove up what should have been dawn-lit streets, but now it was gone and the banshee-like cacophony had become more pronounced in her mind. The painkillers she had taken before she left the house had barely had any effect on her migraine: her head was still pounding rhythmically like a drum.
She toyed with the car keys in her hand and, for far longer than a single moment, considered putting them back into the ignition and driving home. I could pack my bags and be gone before he came back, she thought. I could leave a note with the divorce papers explaining everything. No... he needs me.
She put the keys in her jeans pockets and allowed a trembling hand to open the car door. As she stood on the soaking wet pavement beside her car, her whole body felt light. She weakly walked towards the glass automatic doors of the hospital and, just before they opened, caught a glimpse of her own reflection. Her face was pallid and her cheekbones seemed somehow more prominent than she last remembered. She shut her eyes for a few seconds and held a white hand on her forehead - feeling its freezing cold but simultaneously boiling hot surface - then straightened up and carefully walked through the automatic doors and into the reception area.
The reception area felt oddly warm and welcoming to Sylvia. Its glass ceiling had been lucky enough to be situated underneath a gap in the clouds, which allowed radiant rays of light to flourish on the brown reception desk, the fake foliage, and the blue plastic chairs that populated the area. It almost made it seem like the weather outside wasn't dreary at all. Sylvia sat down on one of the hard chairs and let herself be bathed in the light that beamed down on her. She closed her eyes again and almost fell asleep – the sound of the world slowly tuning out – until she heard the words, "Sylvia, thank god you're here."
Sylvia's eyes snapped open and in front of her stood Jeremy, with his usually tatty appearance becoming bedraggled by the heavy storm. "Thank god you're here." he said, "I swear I haven't stopped thinking about you since getting in that ambulance. I've just been wanting to see you so badly. I love you so much..."
At these words, Jeremy flung his arms around Sylvia in an overwhelmingly loving way, whilst Sylvia shuffled awkwardly in her chair. When he loosened his grip of her he looked straight into her eyes and said, "I'm really sorry for the way I've been treating you recently..."
"No it's okay..."
"No it really isn't. I've been a dick about everything. Trying to have a family, hide them from a manic depressant, go to work, barely sleep. It just... sometimes it feels like I'm trying to keep spinning plates that fell down and smashed ages ago, y'know? For some reason, seeing Ben lying there half-dead just made me realise how much I miss lying in your arms sometimes. It made me miss the times I used to have with you and the kids. It made me realise that the arguments we've been having aren't just little problems that I can forget away..."
"I'm right though....they are big arguments, aren't they?
I just..." Jeremy's eyes began to water profusely as he tried to say what he felt he had to, "I want to stop spinning plates and just be with you... the way it was before things got out of hand with Ben. I just... I just wanted to tell you that."
Jeremy took a deep breath and composed himself as he stood in front of Sylvia, awaiting her reaction and looking deeply, pleadingly into her eyes. She looked up at him and her hand subconsciously felt her back pocket as she said, "OK."
"OK? What do you mean OK?"
"I mean OK. Things can go back to the way they were. But only if you tell Ben about us."
With that, Jeremy's eyes stopped looking at her and instead looked down at the floor, "Sylvia... I'm not sure if I can do that. I'm not sure if Ben would be able to take it."
Sylvia shut her eyes for a second then opened them again, but the sight in front of her was still exactly the same, "Oh grow up Jeremy. You know fine well that this isn't about Ben. It's about you and me. I mean, Christ, you don't even bother to wear your own wedding ring any more in case he sees. Do you think that things like that don't hurt me?"
"I'm sorry about that, but..."
"No no no no, if you want things to just go back to the way they were then you have to change what you're doing now. You have to go and tell Ben about your wife and your children that you've been hiding from him. If he can't handle that then that's his problem. It's on him, not you. You just... you can't keep living a lie Jeremy... And neither can I."
Jeremy kept looking down at the floor, as if his feet would somehow give him the courage to reply, before saying, "...I've really fucked up haven't I?"
"I don't know what else to say Jeremy. If you want what you want then things have to change. You have to tell him. Not right now. Not whilst he's in hospital, but straight after..."
"No... I'll do it now."
Sylvia's eyes widened with surprise and hope, "Really?"
"Yea... you're right. I have to tell him and I want it to be as soon as possible. It's like tearing off a plaster; the quicker you do it the less it hurts."
Sylvia smiled sweetly at Jeremy with a long-lost respect for him returning to her mind and said, "If that's what you think you should do."
Jeremy lifted his gaze up from the floor and let his eyes shed a few tears, before turning and exiting the reception area through a door marked 'Wards A-G' without saying another word to his wife; He had said all that he wanted to.
The corridors leading to each ward weren't as filled with warmth as the reception area that lay just a door away from them; the dim fluorescent lighting made everything and everyone seem a little greener, as though their real colour had been blotted out somehow. Jeremy travelled up and down their labyrinthine stairways and tried to decipher their confusing door signs to locate Ben's ward, feeling knots growing tighter in his stomach with each step he got closer to his friends location. He could feel the world become smaller, closing in on him. He could feel an intense headache kicking in, making him unable to decide what to say, how to say it. Most of all, he felt tired.
He eventually found himself standing outside the door of Ben's room. I have to do this, he thought, I have to do this. I have to do this. I have to do this.
He stood at the door for a long time, occasionally reaching for its handle then pulling back in a fit of childlike fear, his breathing heavy and erratic. I have to do this. I have to do this.
Slowly he pulled his entire arm up as though it were dead weight and grabbed the handle with such panicked strength that it flung open swiftly and hit the wall with a hollow thud. Jeremy forced his way into the room, walking like he was on a tightrope with each precarious step, and made his way towards Ben's bed. "You alright pal?", he said, his voice trembling.
Ben had been lying on his back almost completely motionlessly, staring starry-eyed up at the polystyrene ceiling tiles like they had some kind of hypnotic hold over him. At the jittery sound of Jeremy's voice he slowly turned his head around and, with a grimace, replied, "Been better."
With a forced laugh, Jeremy said, "Yea I'd imagine so. Have they given you anything? Pills or that?"
"They offered me some painkillers... I refused. I don't feel anything that won't go away in a little while..."
"Um... Okay...", Jeremy started staring down at his feet again before saying in a louder tone than he had intended, "Look Ben, I've got something that I have to tell..."
"I saw it you know."
"What? Saw what?"
"What's waiting for us. What happens after you die."
"What are you on about? You mean you had some kind of dream thing when you were out of it?"
"No! It wasn't some kind of dream thing. It was real and I was there and I saw what there is and it's beautiful... it's... it's better than this."
"...Better than what? You mean better than life?"
Ben sat up in his bed in an almost somnambulant state and muttered, "Yes... I mean better than life."
"Ben, you don't mean that. Please stop talking like that, I don't like it. You had some sort of delusion. You can't mean that..."
"No, I mean every word of it and it was no illusion. When I got resuscitated or revived or however you want to put it, I actually felt disappointed..."
"I felt like this whole world was just some kind of construct to keep us trapped, to stop us knowing how happy we could all be if we just died. It isn't right the way you and me live. We never sleep, we desperately try to live normal lives with the little amount that we're given. We're always alone Jeremy. Always alone..."
"I'm not always alone Ben."
"You don't have to lie. You've told me everything. You're just like me and I can fix the way we are. I can fix how we feel."
"Ben I'm not always alone."
"I said you don't have to lie..."
"I've got a wife and two kids Ben!"
Ben's face fell farther than it ever could as he looked into Jeremy's eyes and tried to figure out what he was saying. " Why are you lying Jeremy? Are you scared of what I've said to you?"
"Yes, of course I'm scared of what you said. You just said you wanted to die, I mean fuck. But... I'm not lying to you. I mean... I have been... for the past two years I have been, but I'm not now. I've got a family and friends and a job that pays pretty well and I'm not lying Ben...I'm just not."
"You are. You don't have any of those things. Why... why would anyone lie like that?"
"I wanted to make sure you were okay. That you hadn't done yourself in..."
"No!", Ben stood up from his hospital bed, his face scarlet from anger and confusion. He stepped towards Jeremy in violent strides and shouted, "You're lying! You're lying because you're scared of the truth Jeremy! Stop fucking lying! I can fix this for us! I can fix the way we feel!"
Jeremy kept stepping back and stepping back until he could feel the plasterboard behind him, but Ben still marched towards him threateningly until they were so close that they could feel each others breath on their faces. Ben had tears seeping unstoppably from his eyes, betraying his anger with hurt and confusion. "I-I understand that you're angry..." stuttered Jeremy.
"No! No! NO, NO, NO, NO, NO! YOU'RE LYING! YOU'RE FUCKING LYING! I CAN FIX US!"
Ben started battering his own head with his fist – just battering and battering – before stopping and punching Jeremy in the mouth. Jeremy's head flew back and pounded against the plasterboard, leaving a dent in it and knocking him to the floor. "I can fix it.", muttered Ben, his tears leaving trail marks across his face like it had been lacerated with cuts.
In the reception area, Sylvia sat on her chair and reached for the divorce papers in her back pocket. She sat and stared at them with intense thought over-ruling her migraine. Is this your Golden Ticket?, she thought, Is this your future?
Jeremy groaned in a dazed state, blood leaking out of the back of his head. Ben loomed over him with his fists still clenched, tears still running . "We're just so tired.", he muttered, "I can fix us."
Jeremy, in too much pain to get up shouted, "Ben you don't have to do this... I'm sorry Ben... I was trying to help you."
Ben didn't say a word to Jeremy; He had said all that he wanted to. Instead, he turned and walked towards the hospital bed and grabbed the pillow that sat neatly at its top.
Sylvia stared at her divorce papers. He needs me, she thought, He needs me and I love him. With one quick schnict sound, she tore the papers in half. I love him. I still love him.
Ben walked, now seemingly calmly, towards Jeremy, a dull look in his previously tearful eyes - the pillow held steadily in two hands. When Jeremy realised what was about to happen to him he let out a deafening cry for help, but the cacophony of yelling and screaming erupted into silence as Ben thrust the pillow over Jeremy's powerless face. Jeremy's hands and feet desperately attempted to break free of Ben's hold by flailing wildly around and around, hitting Ben hard on his ankles and torso. Then Jeremy's hands and feet moved slower and slower, weaker and weaker. Then they were limp, his breathing stopped.
Ben relaxed his grip of the pillow and threw it over to the other side of the room. He looked into Jeremy's cold empty eyes and said, "You're better now. You'll be better now." Ben never knew of the happiness that Jeremy held. He stood up from the body and looked through the open window that let cool air flow through the room. The rain had stopped and the sun seeped through the myriad gaps of the now white clouds. "We're all so tired..." muttered Ben. He sprinted from the body of Jeremy and leapt without thought through the open window of the third floor of 'Sister Sugden Hospital". He wasn't going to let Jeremy keep the happiness for himself.
Sylvia tore the papers up again and again with relish, until they looked like miniscule puzzle pieces in her hand. As the sun beamed down on her, she let go of the torn pieces and watched them slowly drift downwards towards the floor like falling snowflakes. A team of nurses and doctor ran by her discussing something about a jumper but she didn't notice. Everything is going to be fine, she thought, I love him and things will go back to the way they were.