By Alan Green
It was far worse than I’d expected. When I’d pictured the scene in my head I’d imagined a peaceful almost serene expression on his face. The sort of expression that undertakers try to give the recently departed in order to make it easier for those left behind. You know the look I’m talking about, the having a restful nap in the entrance hall to Heaven look. Getting a few well-earned moments of rest before the angels show up with your harp and halo, ready to escort you to a nice fluffy cloud. You see I already thought of him as someone who had gone into the Big Sleep and in a sense I suppose he had.
He was lying motionless on the hospital bed. There were so many tubes in his body that it looked like he was being attacked by a swarm of snakes. There was no trace of peace on his face. It was twisted into a lifeless grimace of pain. That wasn’t what I wanted to see. I’d come to find some peace for myself but it was obvious that my old friend had none to spare. I needed an ending. I needed some closure on the story of our friendship.
I’d known him for a long time. So long that it makes me feel old just thinking about it. We’d gone to school together. We’d played together. That was the golden age of our friendship. Riding our bikes around the quiet little streets of our old neighborhood. Climbing trees in the park, daring each other to climb ever higher. Playing football in the park, jumpers for goal posts, three goals and you’re in. Challenging the other kids to a match. We always had to be on the same side because we knew all of each other’s little tricks. Playing tag and British bulldog and all the rest of those old games. Stealing sweets from old Mrs Jones cornershop, the poor old bat. Knocking on doors and running until we collapsed panting on the green grass of the park, our home turf. Fishing in the canal. We never did catch anything. Conkers in the autumn, catching frogs in the spring and water fights in the summer.
The summer was my favorite time of year. The sun was always shining. There was never a cloud in the sky and not a thing to worry about. Those happy days seemed to stretch on into eternity. If I do ever get through the pearly gates that is what I hope will be waiting for me on the other side, the long summer months of childhood. Having said that I guess he won’t want to play with me any more. It wouldn’t be the same without him. It’s pretty academic really as they probably wouldn’t let me in. You can’t have any old riffraff singing in the celestial choir, playing their harps in that great gig in the sky.
They’ll let him in though. Not because he led a particularly saintly life. No sir, not by any means but he could always charm his way into anywhere. He’ll have the angels eating out of his hand in no time. He didn’t look like a slick charmer lying there on that bed and of course he couldn’t use any of his old lines but all the nurses fussed over him all the same. He always had a way with the ladies. As a teenager all the girls I had any luck with were all crumbs from his table. Girls went out with me to be close to him or because he’d lost interest in them and I happened to be around. I shouldn’t really complain I got hold of some damn good-looking women that way. Far better looking than my natural place in the teenage food-chain would have earned me but I think that was where the rot set in. I wasn’t jealous it wasn’t anything like that but he couldn’t resist the temptation to rub my nose in his success.
Our prom night was the best example. Kelly Thompson had been mooning over him since before anyone could remember. I’d been obsessing over her for almost as long but she was way out of my league and she had eyes only for him. A couple of weeks before prom night he asked her if she’d like to go with him. Naturally she said yes. I can still remember her telling me all about it. She was all happy smiles, and wild plans for her big night. I had to stand there with a fake grin on my face, pretending to be happy for her.
A couple of nights before the prom Anne Rowley broke up with her boyfriend and went running into the arms of my good friend. In all fairness she was gorgeous. She’s a lingerie model now. That is the level of hotness we are talking about here but it was still hard on poor Kelly to be left without a date that close to the final party of our school careers. As always he didn’t see a problem. He never saw problems. He set me up with Kelly. I was her consolation prize. It was a great deal for me and to her credit Kelly put a brave face on the situation. The four of us arrived together in a rented Limo. I was on a date with the girl of my dreams and she was looking great, all done up and wearing a sexy little cocktail dress. It should have been the happiest night of my life but it didn’t really work out. One of the problems was that I couldn’t take my eyes off of Anne. I’d been fantasizing about Kelly for ages but Anne was something else. I drank a bit too much of the vodka we’d smuggled in so towards the end of the party I had to take a quick vomit break. It might have taken a bit longer than I would have hoped but I had to clean myself up, it was a posh bash. By the time I’d come out of the toilets the other three had disappeared. I asked around and eventually the fat kid from my maths class told me that the three of them had left together giggling amongst themselves. According to the big tub of lard they all seemed very friendly. He had some interesting theories about what they’d be up to next. Dirty-minded blob. He wasn’t all that far off but he was still a dirty-minded blob.
I shouldn’t think about the bad times like that. Especially not now. He was a good friend to me. We had some great times together and they weren’t all during our childhood years. We used to go into town and go out clubbing. We’d dance the night away and go home with a couple of stunners each. Well maybe I’m exaggerating there but they were still good times. If we’d had too many drinks to have any chance of picking up women we’d end up round his place talking about life until the early hours. As the dawn rose we’d promise to always be friends and to always be there for each other. We were close, practically inseparable. We always had been and I guess we both assumed we always would be.
It wasn’t just women who came between us money was an issue as well. The experts say that nine out of ten arguments in relationships are about money. Not that we were in a relationship. We weren’t gay or anything although some people might have thought we were. The point is that money always causes problems. It’s the root of all evil. He was doing well for himself you see. He had a tedious sounding but very well paid job in a prestigious marketing firm. A huge salary, great prospects and a nice company car. I was happy for him. It’s always nice to see a friend succeed. Makes you think that there’s hope for the rest of us. I wasn’t doing quite so well but I was keeping my head above water. I did a few odd jobs, a bit of ducking and diving. I am a man of many skills. A bit of an entrepreneur you might say.
Above and beyond my varied business interests I had my system. My system was flawless. I knew everything there was to know about horses and I’d worked out how to tell exactly how each horse was going to perform in any particular set of circumstances. I took every single little detail into account. It was all very scientific and it could have made me a very wealthy man. There were a few teething problems at first. One or two minor factors I hadn’t taken into account. Once I had realized where I was going wrong I managed to iron out the bugs but unfortunately by that time I’d lost quite a bit. I wasn’t worried. You have to speculate to accumulate and I knew that I was about to start the longest winning streak of my life. I couldn’t fail.
I have my flaws but one of my good points is that I have never been tight with my money. I always buy my round in the pub. If someone needs to borrow a few quid for some reason or other I am always prepared to reach into my pocket. If it was a mate I definitely wouldn’t need to be asked twice and I wouldn’t even ask them what it was for or when they thought they would be able to pay me back. What after all are friends for? Why have friends if you don’t trust them enough to lend them a few measly pounds?
He was my oldest and closest friend. Naturally I decided to give him the opportunity to invest in my nice little earner. I just needed a couple of hundred. He really wouldn’t have missed it. In some of the fancy restaurants he goes to they probably expects you to tip that much even if the waitress has spat in your soup. Actually you probably have to pay extra for that in those places. The rich eat some weird things. It’s not like I was asking for charity. I was going to pay him back that very day with a very healthy amount of interest. It would have been the perfect investment for him. Minimal risk, so minimal in fact that it was virtually nonexistent and the returns would have been huge. One day. Put two hundred pounds in a bank and see how much interest they give you in a day. Give it to a stockbroker and see how much they’ve made you in one day. He was supposed to be an executive. He should have recognized a brilliant business opportunity when it was slapping him in the face and yelling ‘look at me, I’m a brilliant business opportunity’. Lets not forget that I was his oldest friend. It really should have been a nobrainer but what did he do? What did he do? He said no and then to add insult to injury he launched into some holier than thou lecture about me having a gambling problem. Going on at me about responsibility and hard graft and getting my life sorted out. That stuff might have worked on his underlings at work but I knew him too well to take it seriously.
It was a terrible thing to do to a friend. To do it to someone who had been through so much with him was almost beyond comprehension. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t prepared to lend me the money. I couldn’t believe the hateful lies I was hearing coming from the mouth of my oldest and closest friend. Until my trip to the hospital that was the last time I saw him. I was so hurt but I forgave him.
I had to forgive him, didn’t I? I had no choice because I found myself in that hospital room standing over his mangled body listening to the life support machine beep away the moments. I lent down to him and whispered into his ear. “I forgive you. Goodbye”. Then I pulled out his oxygen pipe, picked up a pillow and held it over his face until he stopped breathing. It’s what he would have wanted. What if he’d woken up confused? He never would have been able to live with himself if he’d let slip that it was his oldest and closest friend who pushed him down those stairs.