The advert seemed innocuous enough... care assistant for a trip to a European clinic. After filling out application forms and the usual checks, I was set for an interview with the patient himself, Mr. Hall.
The doctors don't even have a name for his affliction, a nervous hypersensitivity that makes movement difficult with discomfort. It's now in a chronic stage, and increasing painkillers and analgesics only dull his senses so I'm told he comes off them for this first meeting.
What I didn't expect was a man no older than myself. The amount of care suggested someone almost incapable of looking after himself, so had imagined someone advanced in years. But illness is no respecter of age, striking indiscriminately.
He rises slowly from his chair, measured movements, trying not to look in pain. For whom each gesture chafes. Every breath cuts. But when our eyes meet it's as if we've known each other all our lives. New acquaintance, yet old friends. Or lovers missing their soulmate and reunited.
It's obvious the attraction is mutual but he doesn't want me in an awkward position, professionally or personally. I should not become attached. Can not.
His voice is controlled too, pauses when the pangs overwhelm, eyes closing for a moment before continuing. It's as painful for me to watch as it is for him in reality.
His explanation is brief, having learned to make every word count, a passion only pain can bring, constantly on adrenalin because he fights it always.
Then I see it reversed, the pain only passion has. When emotion takes you to the edge and further, when your soul learns to fly... or plunges into the abyss. I can tell he has experienced both.
He has some doubts, not about my experience, but time is short - the appointment is days away. I get the position. His secretary will brief me on the flight details and accommodation on the way out.
As I leave, he wears a bittersweet expression. A smile with a tear. He's glad it's me accompanying him... but somehow he's not.
I have an inkling of that too...
Mr Hall... "Please," he urges, "Call me Lester." ...needs drugs to endure the flight so for the most part he dozes. I watch over, unable to take my eyes off him, wondering if his dreams are filled with pain and anguish also.
The journey, thankfully, is problem free. At the hotel, we take dinner in our room. Though not wanting to exert him, I make conversation so we don't eat in silence. I know so little about him, wanting to know everything, anything.
"Will the treatment help?" I ask.
There's a long pause. "Yes, it'll help."
His vice is chess. A game not requiring much movement. My father taught me how to play and, as it makes him happy, distracts from the discomfort, I agree to a game.
He lets me be white, make the opening move.
White Pawn to E4.
"Do you have family?" I ask.
Black Pawn to E5.
"Parents died early. Left everything to me. Been in care all my life. One way or another."
White Queen to H5.
"I'm sorry, that's very sad."
Black Queen's Knight to C6.
He pauses. "They were spared my pain."
White Queen's Bishop to C4.
Black King's Knight to F6.
"Don't get out much."
I see an opening.
White Queen checks Black King at F7.
Mate & Endgame.
The game is too short, too easy. I suspect he let me win just so he could see me smile.
I arrange a taxi to take us to the clinic the next morning, giving the address to the driver. It's a short, wordless, drive across the city.
I help Lester out and we climb the steps. A small plaque by the door gives a name which takes a few moments to register. It's been in the media, caused a furore over the world.
It's an assisted suicide clinic.
Lester has come here to die.
Lester doesn't let me in on the meeting. Apparently all the consultations have been done, and this is quite literally the final trip.
Why me? Why not his personal assistant, or nurse, or...
When it's time to go I'm burning with anxiety, anger, fear... assisting suicide is a criminal offence. But he explains someone 'unconnected' will be less liable. His staff will not go without but distanced from the act itself makes it look they do not directly benefit from his death. So does my new, unsuspecting position. He's thought it all through.
After we get back and I've made him comfortable he gives me an allowance to go shopping, enjoy the local scenery while there's time. There will be too much to do for the flight back, even though most of it is already arranged. The only specific item is to buy a nice dress. I'm hardly in a position to argue. But even less inclined for retail therapy.
I thought Lester may want to spend a bit more time together but he has some last calls to make.
"Shoo." Is the end of the matter, as far as he is concerned.
Tonight is Lester's last night on Earth. He's not sad, he's joyous. An eager anticipation that after so many years, he'll be free of pain. I have difficulty believing his choice but if I tell him not to do it, regardless of his own situation, then I'm just being selfish surely.
It's not my decision. Not my pain... at least not his pain. I have a different one.
Over dinner I'm the one who finds it agony to talk. Lester is, for him, more vocal. Still short, tense comments but more of them.
Professional detachment. I should be comforting and joining in his 'joie de vie', for want of a better term, not being a sulky bitch.
"Grant me three wishes." he says, out of the blue.
"Indulge me." He closes his eyes as discomfort threatens again. These final hours he's going without painkillers. It's not to remind him why he's doing this but because he wants the closing acts of his time here to be lived, as felt, as fully as he can. Even if it kills him. It's not going to matter either way. To him, at least.
There's a disco in the hotel, and he leads me down to the floor. There's no further instruction except, "For me..."
Dance like I have never danced before, will ever again. Most there are couples, shaking it with each other. My partner sits and watches. In his eyes, the passion of pain, pain of passion...
Isolated in one corner, silhouetted by whirling coloured lights, I move slowly at first, finding a rhythm for him, imagining him dancing with me, bodies tantalisingly close but never touching because it would hurt. So my hands replace his, smoothing down my sides, discovering the sway of my hips. I make out even these shock, feelings of pleasure so intense they go through ecstasy and into something indescribable. Like the face of God...
...for no one may see me and...
A tear. Droplets of sadness on my cheek. My dance becomes one of extremes... a tragedy in twirling touches but joy for the end of suffering.
As the last slow, soulful track is played, for all too brief moments, Lester stands, moves slowly towards me and dances. It must be the most painful thing he can do. I'm reminded of The Little Mermaid, for whom every step is a walk on sharp swords but does it for love.
I'm not sure whose passion, pain, is greater.
The music stops. The dance is over.
I help Lester back in our room. He's wracked with agony but he laughs as only someone with nothing to lose can, "I enjoyed that."
Less a wish and more a suggestion. But not entirely for his benefit. He knows that if I touch him, kiss him, caress... hold... it will hurt. The more we embrace, the greater the pain.
I've enjoyed the dance, allowing intimacy without contact, a fantasy consummating our souls but not our bodies. I want more. I think he does... how can I go further without crossing that border, threshold, of agony.
I slowly peel my dress off, making it seem the shedding of clothes is a relief. Disrobing each layer, even the gossamer of my slip and stockings, brings blissful release from the featherlight pressure on my damp burning skin.
By the time I am naked, my pain has turned to pleasure, set free with only the still air, his gaze, on me.
I know men's looks, how they can burn right through you, eyes slamming callously into my body. But Lester's admiring consideration is soft, reflection of that knowledge and making sure it is tender and caring, as if a spring breeze.
He reiterates his wish, and I go through my dance again, this time on the cool soothing sheets of my bed. My hands become his again, adopting his mindset.
He continues his lonely vigil, as I tease my skin, each touch agony, every caress pain. The sensitivity of my nipples, swollen with arousal, are daggers through my chest... stroking my stomach a hammer blow... and when my fingers gently slide within, I'm clawed by angry, unleashed pussycats.
I'm more delicate than I've ever been but it pushes my limits. The torture is extreme... excruciating... exquisite.
I cannot bear any more, the relief of my hand's exit from between my thighs triggers release of another kind. Deprived of pain, a new bliss explodes outwards, all over...
In the moments it takes me to recover, tears blurring my sight, Lester has undressed. Instead of joining me, he lays naked on his own bed, beside mine.
The choice is mine. Given the white pieces, the opening move. I'd be betraying professional conduct if I do, and him if I don't.
His last night on this world.
Trembling, filled with trepidation, I slide from my bed and lie softly beside his body, naked together. He puts his arm round me and, still shaking with fear at the harm I may cause, I kiss him gently.
His other hand finds mine and draws it to his erection. Tenderly, I smooth it, knowing his gasps are a mix of severe sensations. With a single gesture, he indicates I should kneel up and take him between my thighs.
"Won't it hurt?" I ask.
"All the torments of hell." Love is endurance.
Tears roll down my face, splash on him like small bombs, as I let him plunge into my abyss. This position allows minimal contact, as I do all the moving. Gentle, delicate rises and falls over him, in time with our shallow, scared, breaths.
Perhaps it is his over sensitivity but he cums very quickly, almost economically. Like his words, he makes every small thrust count. Then, surprising me once again, with tremendous effort, a triumph of will over pained body, he rolls me over, lays on top of me. I want to wrap myself around him but this must be more touch then he can bear. The most I can do is caress his face as he slowly eases himself back and forth inside me.
I look lovingly into his eyes and if they are windows to the soul the view beyond is carved out of his landscape in anguish and torment. Breathtaking vistas, beautiful to behold but created by elemental forces over unimaginable time...
Time which is running out.
It takes longer, his second climax. His face is that of a marathon runner, pressing for the finish. Just one more step... one more push... So soft, so tender. Gentle grinds. So when he lets go his ejaculation is uncharacteristically physical, and for short moments I hold him close, arms on back, thighs round his hips, show what it means to me, as he gives me our unique, one-off, orgasm.
Then, spent in emotional and physical agony, he rolls off me and lies very still. Care-minded professional, I check his weak pulse, listen to his almost inaudible breaths. Even in the dim light I can tell he is too pale, on the very edge of life.
He turns his head to me, and smiles. Reaches up and strokes my hair.
The last wish? Does he mean he wants to and... Or is it for me?
Then he holds my hand, closes his eyes...
Mate & Endgame.
...and is gone.
For what? Although I've only known him a few days, he has permeated every fibre of my being with his dignity and grace.
Some accuse people who commit suicide of cowardice but Lester was bravery itself. Just tired, worn down, eroded. I would answer back the accusers don't understand, that the law shirks responsibility by not protecting those faced with the hardest burden of decision. That politicians and the medical profession run and hide from this bigger question. Who is really afraid here... ?
I hadn't expected him to go like this. That having accepted fate, I thought we would at least wake in each other's arms, share a final breakfast, make that last heroic journey together.
I remember the song of our first, last, only dance.
Killing me softly...
Did he know this would be the way?
On returning, after a funeral attended only by myself and the few staff he had, there are the usual questions and tribunal. I answer them perfunctorily. It hardly matters. While Lester's solicitor sways the arguments in my favour but there may still be a charge. If so, I won't work in care again.
As I wait the long drawn outcome, I miss a period. A test confirms it... I'm pregnant. It can only be Lester's.
With this information, the solicitor has another surprise. Even though he could not have known if it would definitely happen, a last-moment codicil to Lester's will indicates any offspring has a fund. It's not wealth but as the mother of his child, we will be provided for comfortably. Like everything else, including his chess game, Lester needed to make sure of every possible move.
I do now have something to live for...
Victoria Blisse's Sunday Snog
- - - - - - - -
This was written as an attempt to express the sense of loss after a short but unbelievably intense relationship. The main crux was how to have an erotic sexual scene which was, in effect, the last thing someone ever does? To put it plainly, how can you fuck someone who is dying, who you will never see alive again? It was a difficult, and personally emotional, set of decisions... some, once again, drawn from real life.