I slowly stretch in the early morning light streaming in the window. A perfect day for sailing and I look forward to it. Dark, chestnut, a long and lanky craft that I love the feel of. The power and magnificence, sending shivers down my spine as I lean back over the surf and soar ......The frame beneath my hands is like my second skin, we become one when we’re together, able to handle any obstacle in ourpath. The world and troubles seem far away, far, far below us.Now get out of bed and come sailing with me.
“Ok. It’s ok. I’ll get some pillows and we’ll make you comfortable, just keep still and breathe.”
“I don’t bend at all.” Jonah said tonelessly.
It took a moment of blinking before Jonah focused, fighting his way through the blur of medication, and turned his head to look at the window. He often went more by the quality of the light outside than he did by a clock, he’d always had a near supernatural sense of time.
“It’s five am, don’t you want something to eat first?” Dare protested, not trying very hard. “You must have been up half the night.”
Jonah’s total lack of response said it all. The weather had always been the first thing he was interested in on waking. Dare peeled the bed covers away, slid his arms under Jonah and lifted him as smoothly as he could.
Jonah looked at the bowl and towel without expression. Dare went past him as if he hadn’t seen and for the several minutes it took to find underwear, sweat pants, a clean sweatshirt and t shirt and thick socks, hoped. When he came back into the kitchen it was apparent that Jonah hadn’t moved at all, not even to put the washcloth in the water. This lack of activity was so alarmingly unlike him.
“I doubt any of them have ever bust a pelvis.”
“Just in case you yell and I don’t hear you. Got everything you need?”
For the first time Dare found himself hesitating to leave Jonah beside the water. There was a kind of stupid, primitive dread when he looked at Jonah’s face and the crutches, which he swallowed down and didn’t let reach his face. Instead, he went back to the cottage, not looking to see if Jonah ate. Trust, to Jonah, was important. Space, to Jonah, was hugely important. He always, always needed time alone, wherever they were, whatever they did. This was what mattered to him, and he hadn’t had it for so long that Dare was starting to be afraid of the effect it had had on him.
“Hey, I meant to leave a message, I didn’t think you’d have this turned on.” His brother’s voice was deep and compassionate. “I just wanted to see how you two were doing and if there was anything you needed. How’s Jonah?”
Ian had seen them in the hospital, he’d spent several nights with them when things were at their worst and he loved Jonah. He understood. It was tempting to give in to the small, quiet voice that wanted to pour out all the doubts, and the fact he’d had to lie up, down and sideways to the health team about where he intended to take Jonah. If the medics had realised it was a small cottage without electricity in the middle of nowhere with stairs, they probably would have refused to discharge him at all, they never would have understood. Rationally they were quite right. What kind of a man brought their barely mobile partner to a place like this?
“You mean without one single modern convenience, in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by water.” Ian said dryly. “Yeah, I know all about Jonah’s ‘kind of places’, I’ve camped with you two. Is there anything you need, like a roof or the discovery of fire? Anything I can do?”
“Give him my love?” Ian said gently. “And try not to worry. Take care of yourself, you know where I am if you need me.”
Jonah looked up at him and Dare put a hand out to touch his face.
Apparently Odham Hall was known to the local GP practice who appeared to be more used to travelling to see their patients than most town GPs. Dare pocketed the phone.
“I don't need a doctor.”
I know you’re in there. I feel your pain – every bump, every bruise, every break, as keenly as if it were my own. I’m here, if only you’d talk to me. You lived! You could have given up so many times, yet you struggled for consciousness, for every breath. I’m here. We’ve got each other. You’re my partner, my love, my soul mate. I still have you. I still have you. Damnit, come back to me.I answer yes, sir, as he’d expect. He looks a moment longer, assuring himself the message is delivered, then in the blink of an eye, he’s gone. My thoughts turn inward again, a deep, dark pit I circle endlessly. The pain is constant, never ending. I lie where you put me, unable to move myself, or even turn over. I yearn for you but don’t want to burden you. Tears come, not the words. We repeat this idiot dance and will do it all again forever.
“Adare Brody. No, that would be my partner.” Dare led the way up the path past the cottage. “He was released from the Bristol Royal Infirmary yesterday, we were in there almost five weeks following a sailing accident. He broke his pelvis in two places and fractured his femur near to the head, all three breaks were pinned. He’s still in a cast but the pain meds we were given on discharge aren’t touching him.”
“Just the two broken bones?” the man said shortly. They were approaching Jonah, who didn’t look towards them but Dare saw him stiffen.
“That was the word they used? Strained?”
“I’m sorry.” Dunkley said with real feeling, and he was the first person Dare had heard truly commiserate with Jonah about the loss of his yacht rather than the injuries, understanding as another sailor the significance of how that must feel to him. “She was a beautiful thing, looked like you could turn her on a sixpence. I’d love to see the design. Tim Dunkley, it’s a great pleasure to meet you. I sail whenever I can myself - nothing like the Swallow and it’s different here on the Broads to open oceans, but this is a bit of a special place. Have you sailed much around here?”
“Believe me, there’s nowhere like it.” Dunkley stood his bag on top of the bucket and opened it, taking out a blood pressure cuff. “Once you’ve sailed here the bug bites. Try the Wroxham broad, that’s the best one for speed, but I like the backwaters around here just as much. I’ll want to see the packets of everything he’s taking please.”
“Well I’d like to talk to the man myself.” Dunkley said bluntly, “But I’d say you’ve got three choices here. One, carry on as you are and I’ll try adjusting the meds. Two, I’ll get you admitted to Norwich hospital where they can manage your pain and you won’t need to move around. Or three, we see whether the cast can come off. I’d say at this stage the priority is for you to get moving again and you can’t do that weighted down.”
“If you mean ‘do I realise this won’t get a lot better no matter what we do’, it’s ok. I do.” Jonah said flatly. “My heart’s buggered. They told me.”
Dare watched him get back in his car before he crouched down beside Jonah, leaning on the arm of his chair.
Jonah looked down, watching Dare open his shirt and put the patch on his stomach. Dare tucked his shirt back in and stooped to lift him, taking a moment to let Jonah prepare.
“I know.” Dare kissed him over and over again, holding him close. “I know. Now, today, you hurt and you’re mad and you hate it. So let's deal with now. You're taking the meds. You're moving around. You're resting. You're doing all the right things and we will get through this.”
It felt like several years that Jonah was panting, but it was probably nearer to thirty seconds before he began to breathe more normally and Dare relaxed his grip, aware that they were both trembling.
Jonah clung to him when he tried to move and Dare hugged him, sliding out from underneath him.
At least the cast was a solvable problem. Jonah had been scared enough last night to actually manage a few sentences in conversation about it, and his surgeon responded to their request for a call back around mid evening. While he wasn’t enthusiastic, when pressed the surgeon agreed that the cast was now precautionary rather than necessary. Dunkley came at lunchtime the next day with a soft eyed, spectacularly beautiful dark haired boy in his twenties, who triggered Dare’s gaydar on sight, smiled at Dare within seconds of arriving in a way that said yes, he fully appreciated their situation, and who approached Jonah with so much warmth that even Jonah took his eyes off the machinery Dunkley was unpacking.
“Four fifths of the villagers around here own boats.” Dunkley interjected. “This is Jamie, our practice physiotherapist who’s living in sin with the publican at The Swan in the village. I know he looks about twelve but he’s willing to do the rural work out here, and not many people are.”
“Then you mind your back.” Jamie said severely. “Before I need to work on you too for slipped discs. The only other thing I need to look at is the loo and how you’re managing in there. Jonah, come show me?”
“Breathlessness.” Dunkley dusted the last of the powered cast from the couch with a few swipes of his hand. “Chest pain. You might see him go pale, or his lips or fingernails go blue; means there’s not enough oxygen in his system. Heart’s working harder than it can keep up with. That’s the cue to stop and rest.”
“He was upset and shouting when it happened.”
“Can happen with exertion of any kind. You’re going to find he doesn’t have the energy he had before this happened.”
From both exposure in icy water and the sheer physical exertion of hours spent hanging grimly onto the wreckage of the yacht, resisting the battering of the storm. The Air Sea Rescue team had been staggered to pick up a still-living survivor, but Jonah was a born defeater of ridiculous odds. Dare nodded slowly, processing.
“I’ve never been so scared in my life.” Dare confessed. “I’d got a flight booked out to Boston to meet him there – we were hoping I’d only get there a few hours ahead of him. I ended up driving from Plymouth to Bristol hospital to wait for him to be flown in.”
Dare dug the hoe into the earth and walked around the side of the cottage to him and the river bank. From down river, moving slowly and magisterially, her black sail taller and broader than a warehouse, an enormous and elderly wooden boat was sailing. The height and the size of her was breathtaking. There were a few people on her decks crewing her, and they nodded and smiled as they passed Jonah and Dare on the bank. Dare picked up his camera from the bucket table top next to Jonah and shot a few frames before he nodded back, aware that Jonah’s eyes had come alive again and were focused with real interest and a little awe.
Jonah would know the history; there wasn’t much about sailing vessels he didn’t want to know.
“Without the casts?”
He was laying flat, which had to mean every muscle was relaxed and supported. Dare couldn’t see any way he was feeling a pull anywhere, but he helped Jonah pull pillows into a line along one side of his body and to put one between his knees, and very cautiously and with a few yelps, Jonah turned over onto them, half on his side, half on his front. It was his most usual sleeping position, very different from being stuck on his back as he had been with the cast, and Dare saw his relief. Coating his hands in talc, he lay back beside Jonah and massaged his neck and shoulders gently and unhurriedly, wanting Jonah to relax as much as possible. It seemed to help. Jonah lay still and Dare saw him shut his eyes with the faint beginnings of his cat-purring expression. It was barely minutes before he fell asleep, all in one go, like a switch being thrown. Dare felt him go limp.
“Hello, may I speak to Jamie please?” Dare said as politely as possible, and heard the voice at the other end of the line change.
It was open and kind, and the relief of getting to speak to him was powerful. Dare pulled out a chair and sat down at the table, feeling guilty at his own success.
“This is just tired?”
“I’ll show you how to do it tomorrow when I drop in, but for now use the soft ones to prop wherever he’s uncomfortable. Under knees, under shoulders and rest his arms on them, wrists supported so nothing’s hanging, support anywhere he feels a pull, and get him to drink a lot and rest. He’s over done things today. It’ll probably take him a few days to re charge.”
“There’s a frost. Come and look, the grass is white right up to the river
“Come on. You can do it, your crutches are right there.”
“Don’t jump anywhere. Get your crutches and try.”
“Now.” Dare clapped his hands and held them out, waiting.
“Use your hands, Jone. Take it slowly, slide over this way, get your legs over the side of the bed.”
Wake up my love, there’s a beautiful frost on the ground. Come look? The look I got from you was equal parts of anger and astonishment that I would ask you to do something you clearly cannot do. At least that is your understanding. Mine is different, and I’m going to ignore you for now. It’s the fear speaking, telling me you can’t, you won’t, and saying as much in tones you would never normally use when speaking to me. This is almost not worth it, but you are going to come to the window and appreciate the damn frost.
“Undress on the couch, that’ll cut down on the standing time.”
“I’m fine here.”
“Undress.” Dare said firmly. Jonah glared at him.
“What the hell is wrong with you? I’ve done more before breakfast today than I did all yesterday put together.”
“Undress please. Now.”
“I’m tired, I hurt. Would you like this in pictures?”
It was mostly anger. He knew it, and it was only a couple of moments that he cried before that was drained out too, and annoyingly once it was gone he felt a good deal better. The water was surprisingly comforting. He soaked a flannel, wrung it out and put it over his face, closing his eyes while he got his breath, and that felt… amazing too. He was tired. So tired that moving was an effort, but whatever medication the doctor had switched him to yesterday it was better. The aching was subsiding and it wasn’t nearly as fierce as it had been yesterday. And there was real pleasure too in being independently able to get himself properly clean. It took him a while but with the cloth and the soap he managed to get himself feeling more human than he’d felt in a while. Dare had put the radio on; jazz was playing quietly in the kitchen and it was something they both liked, both with old fashioned tastes in music. Jonah settled back and it wasn’t until he heard Dare’s voice that he realised he’d dozed off.
“Jone? Five more minutes, you’ll get cold.”
“It’s about nine thirty am?” Jonah pointed out. Dare shrugged.
“What do we care?”
It was a ridiculous time too to be this tired. Jonah lay for a while watching the fire and found himself rather stubbornly fighting off the urge to let go and doze again. It was good to be rid of any lingering smell of disinfectant and hospital on his skin, his drying hair felt properly clean, there was comfort in it. The warmth of the blankets, lounging on a couch in a quiet room with no one but Dare anywhere around, in front of the fire. The smallness of the cottage in a way was oddly secure. He lay watching the jumping flames in the hearth and looking up at the red brick wall beyond. The open window with the few ancient trees starting to turn and show the first traces of yellow and orange in their leaves and the blue sky beyond.
“Who’s your friend?” Dare said softly. Jonah glanced back. Dare crouched down not to scare the dog, tossing a few more chunks of the ham to it. When the ham was done, Jonah picked up the plate with the last two sandwiches, holding it out. The dog crawled all the way up to him on her belly, the whites of her eyes showing, but this time it stood by him to eat and for the first time he got a better look at her. It was hard to tell her colour, at the moment she looked dark all over, thick with mud, but her ears were long – a spaniel, a cocker spaniel of some description, although she was small for a cocker.
“She’s starving isn’t she?” Dare said softly. “Poor thing, she’s so skinny.”
“Sit down. Pass me those towels.”
He had to rinse her no less than five times to get all the mud out. She was so passive in his hands it was as if she was plain grateful for the warmth. When he finally had her coat running clean he lifted her onto the wooden draining board and rubbed her down several times, drying her off as much as he could before he put her down on the floor. She was black. Shiny black with a single white patch on her chest, and a delicate little thing as well as skinny. She had the feet of a dancer. Dare filled a bowl with warm water and put it down for her and she drank for a long time before she shook herself, hard. Dare nodded to Jonah.
“I won’t be long.”
Jonah gulped the pills back and washed them down with tea. Once he had never been keen to take painkillers for anything much. A broken pelvis knocked all that out of you in a hurry; you took everything, on time, gladly, if it would just make even a fraction of a difference.
“It’s not like we have either, is it?” Jonah said rather bleakly.
You are playing in the far reaches of my consciousness, but I can’t see you. There. A dark shape, almost like a shadow, ducking in behind trees and bushes, among the reeds at the water’s edge. Whatever you are, the birds fly away in alarm whenever you’re around. I watch in silence as an hour goes by and you make your way closer. Closer you move, silent, stalking me. When you’re finally close enough, I hold out a hand and you’re gone. But a moment later comes a handshake. It’s nice to meet you Poppet.