Chapter Twenty-Four: The Gift
“I don’t think we’ve had a very hot summer this year,” Yvonne commented, surveying the sky with a scowl on her face. “If the sun doesn’t make an appearance, autumn will soon be here.”
Christine looked up. The sky was still overcast. She wriggled as a bead of sweat rolled down her back. It wasn’t sunny but it was most definitely muggy.
The two of them turned off Clapton’s busy high street and continued up a long stretch of road leading to Yvonne’s two bedroom flat. It was the home Christine had grown up in. She had spent so many years walking up and down this quiet, sleepy, lane. There was no corner shop, only a dilapidated second-hand furniture store, which curved around the bend and was situated at the start of the street. But besides that, there was no other retail outlets, just rows and rows of terraced-houses on either side the road.
“How was work last week?” her mother said cheerfully. She was casually looking ahead and not at her daughter, as though she’d just asked a simple question and not one loaded with her many concerns.
“It was okay.”
“Did you manage to do anything else other than work?”
“No. Not really.” If Christine didn’t know her mother any better, she would guess there was a scripture reference brewing.
“Christine. My love,” Yvonne said now turning to face her only child. “We are all stewards, you know. All of us have been charged to take good care of the earth, and everything in it - and that…” she said casting a disapproving look at her daughter, “includes you Missy!”
“Mum!” Christine didn’t mean to cut her mother short. “I’m sorry. I know I always ask you this...but…do I remind you of my dad?”
Yvonne smiled at her pretty daughter, who to her, was an adorable mix of herself and her late husband Gerry.
That knowing smile also held plenty of untold stories Christine gathered. Stories, she would never hear, simply, because they happened before her time.
“You don’t have to be sorry dear,” Yvonne quickly replied. “It’s good you still ask questions about your father. Actually, it’s even better than good - it’s hugely comforting. All those questions,” her smile widened, “are a reminder that you’re most definitely your father’s child - he was always full of questions!”
She laughed and brought out her key to open the front door. “What’s the reason behind this question dear?”
Christine shrugged realising she hadn’t done this since she was a child. “Although dad’s not here…I think…in some way he still lives through me…”
“Well of course he does.”
“No - I don’t mean like that,” Christine said slightly contorting her face as she wrestled with her thoughts. “I mean…although, dad’s gone, because he lived the world is a better place for it...oh! What am I trying to say?” She huffed in annoyance. She dispatched with her shoes with more force than needed. Both pairs slammed against the side of the wall. “I’ve just been thinking about so many irrelevant things lately,”
Who am I? What happens to us when we die?
“Not too long ago, someone I spoke to said all of us are beacons of lights…It is bright - allegedly - because that is the colour of souls. And when a light is snuffed out, another one springs up in its place…or…so…I originally thought…” she said staring solemnly at the recently washed floorboards, “It has only just occurred to me - what if there is no replacement? What if we really are fragile like candles in the wind? Shaky…delicate…finite…Wouldn’t that be haltingly tragic, and even more cause for concern?” She turned to face her mother. “Do you ever stop to wonder why our world turns round and round, as though it’s chasing something? Or running away from something?” She didn’t wait for a reply, she answered her own question. “I think it does so to get away from the darkness. Our world is a beautiful void, surrounded by an encroaching darkness - and it’s everywhere! I think all of us - our lives - is a light for humanity. We are like immutable lighthouses casting our rays across the choppy waters; across the rocky face of this earth. As such, there is something inexplicably precious about that light. For as long as it continues to flicker, it is unable to be one with the darkness; it can only shine in defiance against it...Oh my word!” Christine’s eyes took on a mesmerizing dance of their own, “I think I know what we are,” she said enthusiastically, “It’s starting to make sense to me now…We are gifts...”
Outside the reverberant purr of a powerful engine swept up the high road then it was deathly quiet again.
Yvonne raised her eyebrows. They were now in the kitchen. At the centre there was a small rickety dining table for three. “Have you been talking to the wee-ones again, bonny?” Yvonne shook her head.
“Yes. I have,” Christine half laughed. “But it’s only now that it’s all starting to make sense to me…You see…whatever created us, created us with the intention of making us a gift, somehow. Maybe even a gift to itself, perhaps?”
Christine slowly nodded. She walked over to the sink and turned on the cold tap, she let it run for a while. “Think about it. Deep down, we are all driven by this innate desire and ability to please - albeit - mainly ourselves - but the specific need to please, is ingrained in us all. This is why we find ourselves doing so many interesting things with our time, with our lives - all, with the aim to increase or extend our pleasure…When I say we are gifts, what is the purpose of a gift? If not to please something or someone special.”
“Okay. Okay. So let’s say I agree with you on this” Yvonne eyed her daughter. “We are gifts, and we were made to ‘please’ something special...Is there a point to this?”
Christine paused to gulp down the rest of her water. “If humanity was created as a gift, wouldn’t that mean our innate purpose is to gift everything we come in contact with?” She briefly scanned her mother’s face “Don’t you get it? We have to be that, which we were created to be. We are to be a gift to everything around us; a gift to each other, to nature, to ourselves, to the land, to the sea, to the air, to the creator, to everything we come in contact with. To everything around us - we are gifts!” She exclaimed with a hint of elation at receiving some clarity for a change. “We are gifts! We are to do what we were created to be...”
She poured the remaining water down the plug hole and turned to face her mother. But now she had a querying look on her face. “But what if we are doing something that is working against our natural existence?”
Yvonne frowned “What do you mean?”
“What if there are some decisions, we are making - or some actions, we are taking, that’s effecting our natural ability to function as a gift?” She paused. “What is the opposite of a gift?”
“The opposite of a gift?” her mother contemplated. “I guess it would be a penalty of some sorts, to have something taken away,” she mulled over with interest. “…Or…to put it another way, to receive a gift is to receive a blessing. So, I suppose, the opposite of a blessing…is a curse.” She gasped. “Oh my Lord! A curse.” Yvonne’s face fell into a mild mix of shock and horror. “Is that what some of us are? Is that what some of us are doing?” Her lively eyes were fully gripped in awareness. “I’ve never looked at it that way. So...instead of gifting - we are taking away, and our blessings have become a curse…Sweet Mary Mother of Joseph. How in heaven’s name do you suppose we’ve come to do that?”
Yvonne did not get a reply to her answer as her daughter’s phone started ringing.
“Hold that thought mum, I’ll take it in the living room,” Christine called out as she headed in that direction.
“Hello Christine its Kelly.”
“Hi Kelly,” Christine was glad to hear from her. “How are you and Robert?”
“We’re good, considering the circumstances.” She breathed in deeply, “Were you able to talk with Tobey? I’m so sorry we missed you on Friday. We were in a meeting.”
“Yes. I did speak with Tobey,”
In retrospect, Christine would wish she had given more thought to what she was about to say next. Not that it would have altered events, but still...
She continued. “…And sadly, as usual, Tobey is still feeling quite feeble. He really doesn’t like the taste of the current medication he’s on, he’s having difficulties with his breathing, and he absolutely abhors the suction pro -”
“Yes, we know all that - that’s the thing!” Kelly blurted. “The reason why we missed you on Friday. It was because Robert and I were in a meeting…We were talking with some specialists about Tobey’s case.”
“I heard,” Christine could feel a strange beating in the pit of stomach. That’s not where her heart should be? “And is it true Kelly?”
Kelly sighed. “Robert and I both agreed with the specialists. It’s time to take Tobey off his medication. He suffers too much.”
“Take him off?” Christine stood up from her chair. She knew what this meant. “Is this your decision? Or what the hospital wants you to do? Because if it’s the hospital, you guys - you can fight it! Y-you don’t have to…”
“No. It has nothing to do with the hospital or anyone else. It’s our decision.” Kelly’s voice began to crack. “R-Robert and I have both decided this is what’s best for our baby. You can’t imagine…” She cried and started again. “Y-you can’t imagine how hard this has been for the both of us. Y-you don’t know.”
Her sobs had now morphed into a full-blown wail. “H-he’s lying there. He doesn’t move. But I know he’s in pain Christine, I KNOW! We love him so much. He’s our little boy, but we can no longer bear to see him like this!”
Christine was caught in a new dichotomy. Just like everyone else she too could see baby Tobey, his pale, lifeless body. But she could also hear his lively voice. He was very much alive - he was alive! But how could she get them to see this?
“Kelly. Please. Listen to me. Tobey is helping others. Right now, he’s not just fighting for himself - he’s fighting for others. There’s something terribly wrong going on at the hospital. I can’t explain it now but I will do.”
“He’s helping others?” Kelly slowly repeated.
“I’ll come in tomorrow. I’ll explain it to you then. But in the meantime, if you can, please delay your decision...”
“Christine. I appreciate your care. We both do - really we do. But please, don’t ask this of us...”
An uneasy silence followed.
“Okay. I understand,” Christine eventually said fighting back tears. “I’m so sorry Kelly. I can’t imagine what you and Robert have been going through…I’m so sorry for you both. I will see you tomorrow.” She sighed. “Thank you for letting me know.”
“Thank you for being there,” Kelly whispered before ending the call.
“Is everything alright?” Yvonne asked sensing all was far from well.
“Oh mum,” she cried, “where do I begin?” It felt as though her insides had turned to jelly. She fell into the nearest chair. “Why does he have to die?” She said with eyes full of angry tears “Why was he even born? I don’t get it!” She wiped her face and looked to her mother. “For all its power and purpose, this gift of life is too fragile a thing.” Her pale face was empty of reason, her confusion - apparent. Seeing, she was still nowhere close to understanding the great mystery of life. She shook her head. “Seriously mum…it’s too fragile a thing.” Her blurry eyes took in the grainy, wrinkly hand that was gently rubbing her arm in loving sweeps. Her mother’s impending mortality immediately reduced her to silence. Yvonne let out a long sigh. “A gift is beautiful, therefore a gift is precious. We cannot change what we are darling, we can only be...”