A Revelation

 

by Timothy Marriott

 

Edited by Vivian Head

Prologue & Chapter 1

PROLOGUE

A man stands naked in the moonlight, his feet sinking gently into the sand beneath his feet.

The sound of cicadas in the brush at the head of a long, curved beach echo off the rocks as a gentle surf rolls in and out. The spray throws up phosphorous in the water, which glows and fades with each wave. The sound grows in his head. The lapping of the sea is deeply rhythmical and coupled with the crickets the sound builds into a rhythm that becomes a drumming in the distance.

The man turns.  

 

Splashes in the waves, phosphorescence flying, a luminescent sea of stars in the surf. Something huge, something violent is coming out of the waves. Hooves are breaking in the foaming water. 

First one, then two, then three, and finally a fourth – four horses are charging along the beach at full gallop. 

A pale grey is in the lead. Its head, wet from the spray, shimmers as if wearing an ethereal crown. 

The next is to the left, scattering spray as it gallops through the shallows – a chestnut, almost a deep red in this light, its hooves glistening like shining swords slicing the water. 

Behind comes a thin, bedraggled stray, black and bony but with deep set eyes that bore into the man as he waits. 

Finally, a huge dappled grey that in the moonlight radiates a green hue as it gallops with long, majestic, purposeful strides across the sand.

Frozen to the spot the man cannot escape. The first two beasts gallop past him on either side and he manages to dodge the third but the last rears before him and descends, hooves flailing at him as he covers his face with his hands . . .

High above, standing on a sandbank at the head of the beach, a figure watches, silhouetted against the moon, a thin smile on her handsome face, a mane of long dark hair catching the breeze as she turns and walks away.

CHAPTER ONE

‘I, John, your companion in tribulation . . .
was on the island of Patmos . . .’

Revelation 1:9

In a time when one can travel freely, the skies are clear and the black cloud of global mourning is yet to envelop the earth, a ferry approaches the historic port of Skala on the Greek island of Patmos. It is early morning, late September and there is a golden hue to the sunlight as it filters through the ship’s window casting a warm glow in the passenger lounge. On a windless day, the calm Aegean Sea stretches out towards the headland, which is now visible in the distance. The view of azure sky over crystal sea is serene. It is a distant memory for some, still a quiet reality for a lucky few, and, perhaps, for the optimists among us, an idyll we look forward to.

Jon leans on the ship’s rail and looks out across the water, his face breaking into deep, leathered lines as he brushes his unkempt greying hair from his eyes. His rucksack is still lying on the worn deck bench where he spent the night, using it as a pillow to rest his head. Subconsciously he picks away at a hole under the arm of his old, light cotton checked shirt. It has always been a favourite and one that he refuses to discard; rather threadbare, but what is the point of a new shirt now?

He is wiry, deeply and grubbily tanned, enhanced as much by his mongrel mixed heritage as the fact that he hasn’t bothered to have a proper wash for a few days. There are frown lines carved into his face around his blue eyes as he peers out from under a heavy brow. He never considered himself to be tall and yet he holds himself in an apologetic stoop, his head held low, eyes glancing from side to side beneath an untidy fringe that falls over his face.

Whatever happened to a summer of enlightenment and discovery?

Not a chance. Rather, this summer has become a reinforcement of failure, regret and a creeping despair. Jon has meandered from mainland to one idyllic island after another idyllic island; some a vision of pristine white washed walls, blue shutters, windmills and beaches crammed with sun loungers and umbrellas; some little more than a barren rock bursting to life around a small harbour of colourful fishing boats.

Then there were the others, where the classical caiques, ancient under umpteen coats of cracking paint, can be found surrounded and dwarfed by fabulous yachts screaming wealth and privilege, most of them lying empty, locked and sealed as summer draws to a close, their secrets hidden behind dropped blinds, unconscious of the contrast, quietly waiting the return of bloated corporate corpulence and spoiled teenagers who swarm all over them for three weeks in August.

Little port towns, all classical charm, stone squares and marble steps polished by a thousand years or more of passing feet, but here, in late summer, the streets and alleys are found rammed full of regurgitated passengers spewing forth from an enormous cruise liner to gawp at a church or a statue. Jon is sick of seeing these passengers clicking a ‘selfie’ or two on a cell phone, or sporting telephoto lenses hanging off lizard necks. They snap carefully constructed images of resident life but seem to rarely offer more to a suffering local economy than the price of a coffee, postcard or an ice cream before they return to their bloated, floating five star prison cells, back to their recycled air laced with the fragrance of distant diesel fumes and shared infection.  

This last check-list of destinations travelling north up from Rhodes has at least provided some sense of a genuine experience of discovery as he has explored the smaller scattering of islands that run up alongside the coast of Turkey from Rhodes to Lesvos. First came little Symi, where an eager scooter hire shop will sell you a day’s freedom on the one road that peters out two hundred yards beyond the edge of town. The confused looking tourists in their ill-fitting helmets buzzing up and down the one street in town, trying to find somewhere to go and explore, really should have been a clue. 

Chalki next, with its gorgeous little harbour and a short walk over the hill to a perfect bay under the ruin of an old Turkish fort. That was a good four hour hike to take under the afternoon sun. Thank goodness for the young tourist doctor sipping a beer at the first taverna on the way down; the supply of rehydration tablets she carried in her knapsack was a life saver as much as her friend’s bottle of chamomile aftersun cream. They were good company for a while, until Jon realised that he was twice their age and cultural references got lost in translation as the conversation ran dry. He had more in common with the scrawny old stray dog that followed him around for a while. That was, until his master, the village postman, claimed him back with a scowl and bag of biscuit treats. What fickle emotions, these Greek hounds have…

Tilos was serene, the little port of Livadia offering visual perfection. The ‘ghost village’ of Mikro Chorio offering spiritual reflection and the unmade, natural beach at Eristos, without a single sun-bed or umbrella, offering hot stones and warm shallow water to cool off in. All this before the madness of Kos, where overcrowded refugee camps sit side by side with all inclusive encampments of package holiday tourists who pay thousands to share the same soulless experience, albeit with the comfort of three meals a day and a swimming pool. Kos town was fun, though, with its mixture of tourist frippery, night clubs and fine open air dining under olive trees, narrow back streets laced with less well visited culinary discoveries and characterful corner bars, and a harbour offering multiple options for sight-seeing trips on yet another ferry, or perhaps a crowded catamaran or even in glorious comfort on a converted fishing caique to take one across the narrow straight to Bodrun, where thousands wait to make the opposite trip in dangerously overcrowded inflatables. The contrast was hard to ignore and it was good to get away from the all too visible tragedy and cultural divide between the have plenty and the have nothing, whilst feeling helpless and powerless to do anything about it.  

Then it was back onto the high speed hydrofoil ferry to the crystal clear waters of Kalimnos, famous for its sponges, and Leros, where Artemis, the ancient goddess, once hunted for deer, though diving for a sponge or trying to find a deer nowadays seems a rather impossible dream. So Jon bought a dangerously phallic looking loofa from a street vendor on one island before spending a couple of days walking from village to village on the other, failing to find any goddesses or deer, but instead watching the old ferry make its way back past him from the ruin of a medieval castle on top of the cliff face at Pandeli. He spent a night and a day strolling around the village of Alinda before heading on to the smaller island of Lipsi, staying in a beach room at idyllic Kambos where his Kalimnos souvenir of a Made-in-China loofa fell apart under a cold open air shower. 

Finally Patmos. But as welcoming as the locals are, as friendly as his fellow passengers have been throughout this experience, the shiftless, restless idleness of such an aimless expedition has done nothing to change Jon’s disposition. With a dry throat, licking at parched, sun chapped lips, and a dull pain deep in his belly, the days do not move on to the next as they should, each moment stuck in the echoing present, inarticulate questions pounding in his head, a dehydration headache infecting his entire being, the sour bile of bitterness, loss and injustice coursing through his veins.

What a stupid idea. Backpacking is for students – teenagers. You can’t revisit. You can’t reinvent. What's done is done, you carry it with you for life and you can’t wipe the slate clean by simply buying a cut-price airline ticket. The past stays with you, in waking dreams, heavy in that rucksack on your back. Change is an illusion, we are what we have become. So better to try and live for this present, this moment, for what we can’t see is that there is a dark shadow brooding on the horizon of the future.

As the perspective of the island grows, so the shape of Patmos begins to impress on Jon’s dulled brain. The view is unusual. This one is not the typical island package of white walls, pink flowers and blue balconies.

Dominating Jon’s view is what appears to be a fortress sitting on top of the island, like a tarnished crown on a thick necked and flat-headed ancient god. The dark, fortified bastille is intimidating and overwhelming, but this is not a castle, it is the medieval monastery of St John, towering above the town. The dark grey walls are austere, foreboding, in stark contrast to the dazzling whitewashed walls that surround it, bright in the morning sun, and the flower-filled balconies and blue shutters of the town below.

Jon is spellbound as he stares at the empyrean sky, perfect and cloudless, the glittering sea, whispering waves and the seemingly endless beach that curves away to the east, lined with tamarisk trees that runs into the distance west of the dock. Even this early in the day the heat from the sun leaves a shimmering haze rising up from the quayside. He takes a long breath. The view is perfect, a picture postcard image of a Greek island in late summer, though the foreboding fortified giant above suggests deeper resonance. The island is a place of contrasts that captivates those that feel it, those who like their coffee bitter, their wine strong and who like a bit of edge to their chosen paradise.

 

Lacking sleep, a wooden bench on the open deck of a ferry is not a recipe for a peaceful night, Jon is a little disorientated and unsettled. He fiddles with the clasp of his watch  – a Rolex; Perpetual – a timepiece that never ages. Glancing at it now he is reminded that he used to treasure that watch. It cost him a fortune, a symbol not just of the world of male privilege that he was born into but the wealth he once acquired. Now it feels like a ridiculous indulgence, out of step, out of time in this ancient world. He should sell it, get some cash and spend a few nights in a nice hotel, clean himself up and perhaps get a new suit. As if that would do any good. A crooked smile breaks the tired face for a moment as he clicks the clasp shut on his wrist.

Below him he hears the bustle on the car deck as impatient passengers start their engines and petrol fumes fill the air. There is a small pickup loaded with vegetables, a few travellers queuing to exit carrying bags and rucksacks and behind them a few national service soldiers returning on leave.

The men in their camouflage and khaki, tired from their journey, are surly and resentful of the foreigner in his tattered jeans wearing an expensive watch. He can sense their unease, feel their resentment – who does he think he is, late season tourist, slumming it with the locals? Perhaps he think’s he’s cool, revisiting his backpacking youth? What a wanker. 

Jon drops his head to avoid eye contact, a strand of his tangled mop of hair drawing a think veil across his face.

The shouts from the crewmen are drowned out by the rattling starter motor of the pickup as its driver fires up the ancient engine, clouding the enclosed car deck in black diesel smoke. The young soldiers look on in disdain, dispersing, waving away the offensive fumes with grubby hands emerging from the rolled up sleeves of their uniforms, absurdly over sized on their barely adult physiques.

On the dockside, Jon can see some locals waiting to welcome relatives, or perhaps to offer rooms, studios and apartments, or just simply to observe the main event of the day. This is the final stop on the ferry’s route up through the Dodecanese islands before it turns and heads back towards Rhodes, so everyone is disembarking.

Still on the top deck Jon stands in the shadows by the gangway, a dark, brooding, solitary figure. A group of children run excitedly towards the ramp, brushing past him as they go, eager to get onto dry land and into the arms of their grandparents waiting on the dockside. Jostled by their youthful energy, he steps aside…

v

Not so long ago a similar group of enthusiastic ‘children’ brushed past him. He remembers a clinical, clean open plan office in the heart of the city, high up on the nineteenth floor, where several young traders ran past him engrossed in excitable chatter having managed to secure a deal.

A clean-shaven Jon emerges through the mist of his selective memory – paler, heavier and wearing a grey suit – invisible to his colleagues, he knows he is ignored, overlooked and out-dated. He sees the traders moving at a feverishly high speed and yet he seems to be stuck in slow motion, as though he is swimming through treacle. Dragging his hands across his desktop as he stares at two screens filled with graphs and data. Once they made sense to him, but now all the graphs seem to spiral downwards in a tangled web of sorrowful loss.

He doesn’t have the stomach to do this any more. He could pull it back from the brink of disaster; of course he could. But it’s all just too much effort...

A door opens to a private side office and a younger manager in a sharp suit calls over in his direction. Her doorplate reads ‘Pippa Bruce-Harris, Executive Director, Wealth Management’.

“Jon, could you pop in for a minute please?”

Jon sighs and gets to his feet with little enthusiasm. As he steps towards the open door in his mind he knows what lies beyond; the inevitable execution of an ageing and outmoded underachiever.

v

The ferry jolts as it hits the dock, forcing Jon to take hold of the handrail to steady himself, bringing him back from his sorrowful memory to the present moment. A rusty speaker not far from his head suddenly crackles into life making him duck involuntarily.

A voice in Greek patters away in loud staccato before being followed by an English translation:

“Patmos, this is Patmos. This is the last port of call. The final destination. All passengers are to disembark here.”

This is followed by a beeping, loud and insistent, that cracks the air; it is the warning that the ferry doors are descending. As the bright light floods the deck, the approaching dockside comes into full view. The ramp hits the concrete dock with a resounding slam. Do they have to do that? Does it have to be so violent? And does that alarm have to be so bloody loud?

Jon is in no hurry; he leans against a metal beam, closes his eyes and waits as the incessant beeping continues... in his head it gets louder, reverberating in his brain, bouncing off the walls of his cranium.

v

The incessant sound triggers another memory; one of a kitchen where an oven timer is beeping to signify that the cakes are ready.

Jon is leaning against the doorframe. A boy approaches from behind, hesitates, then pushes past him on his way out to the garden with a football tucked under one arm. Belatedly, Jon steps aside, aware that he was in the way.

There is a loud sigh and the clink of a glass. The sigh emanates from a woman sitting at the table. She turns to watch the young boy leave, frowning at her dad. In front of her a laptop is open and the table is strewn with papers leaving little space for her glass of iced tea. As she gets to her feet she places the glass to stand on an old, stained coaster on the faded pine table and runs a hand through her hair with a sigh. She is a busy young mother who is used to multi-tasking. Jon, on the other hand, is not tasking anything very much.

This is Gina’s kitchen. Her dad is uncomfortable, perhaps he could explain that he was simply lost in thought at the door, oblivious to his grandson running past him, that he didn’t mean to block the boy’s path, but Gina is incredulous, placing her hands on her hips, which makes him feel misplaced and defensive.

“Dad! For heaven’s sake, Dad, you’re always in the way! Are you even going to...?”

“What?”

“Well…”

“Just tell me, Gina, what have I done wrong now?”

She tries to soften her tone;

“You know Joey would love it if you could, just once…” 

Jon looks back, confused and simply not getting the point, not through any obduracy, just not up to speed with where this is going. There's nothing new there. Lost in his own thoughts, he’s often missing the point. For God’s sake, get a grip, Jon…

“No. Well, no, you’re not are you?”

She stoops down to pick up the oven gloves that have fallen on the floor. Jon, feeling thoroughly told off by his daughter and annoyed by the beeping, turns and goes out into the garden to follow Joey. But, as usual, the moment has gone, his timing is off and Joey has left. The back gate is open, the boy has gone to the park to play with his friend, his friend’s dog and, no doubt, the friend’s quicker off the mark and gainfully employed or fully pensioned up grandpa.

v

Back in Pippa’s office the beeping continues. A lorry is reversing in the street below. The beeping is accompanied by the flat tones of a recorded message, another warning, as Pippa idly watches on.

“Attention, this vehicle is reversing. Attention, this vehicle is reversing...”

So it’s goodbye and fuck off, is it?”

Jon’s painfully accurate summary brings Pippa’s attention back to the room.

“Don’t be like that, Jon, look on the bright side. It’s a decent package, you could take time out, Lord knows, you’ll hardly be alone...”

Jon is unmoved and his expression remains inscrutable as Pippa flounders on. She hates to have to do this but she has had her instructions from above; worse still it seems to be happening every week now, breaking bad news to staff who have been loyal to the company, some who have been here years. What happened to 'last in, first out'? Damn it, Jon’s been here since the day she joined and she always thought of him as part of the furniture. But there’s a problem... he’s quiet and moody nowadays, and his clients aren’t sure of him. His performance is less than spectacular and it appears no one wants to work with him anymore. He was a crashing bore at last week’s golf day. God, if you can play like that and win that easily, at least show some grace, he can’t even be bothered to pretend, he can’t even manage to lose a game to a client when he knows he should.

She brings her mind back into focus and back to the room.

“Look, I don’t know. Since Alex... Well... You’ve not been yourself. Take some time out – do a PhD, go fishing, play golf...” 

Pippa does not get the reaction she hopes for as Jon’s face descends into a scowl. This is not going well. It rarely does. 

“Maybe take your daughter shopping, take your grandson to a theme park...”

“There are easier ways to kill myself”

Pippa laughs uneasily, “Look, I don’t know, you could travel? Yes, why not? Take the gap year you never had. I’ve seen your file. You didn’t even do the university thing. How old were you when you came into this business?”

“I didn’t want to waste any time.”

"Thirty years of this? More? God, isn't it enough?”

“Yes...”

“So get out! Pack up your troubles in your old kitbag and all that. I know I would if I could. Look, I’ll give you some time to think it through, get used to it, you know...”

Jon’s stare is unnerving. Shit, let’s just get this over with.

“Thanks.”

“No worries... Just...”

“What?” he says impatiently.

“Well, if you could clear your desk first,” she says, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. “Yes, and if you could be out of the building, shall we say, no later than twelve?”

Jon glances sideways at the clock. It is just coming up to ten thirty.

“And, really, please believe me, I am sorry... I think... Well, I genuinely wish you all the very best for the future…”

Her clumsy, awkward delivery makes the line seem insincere to Jon and does nothing to ease the mood as Pippa comes around from behind the desk and Jon stands and moves to the door. She puts a hand on the crook of Jon’s elbow in a last vain attempt to soften the blow. Jon turns sharply, the look is a glower, cynical more than raging, but all the same, she can tell that there is something dark, bleak and destructive simmering under the surface. It’s not threatening, the anger is focused inwards, but she is deeply uncomfortable and can’t wait for him to leave.

The noise continues outside the window as the refuse lorry reverses further down the road...

v

Back on the ferry, back in the present and back in his faded, ripped and holed check shirt and torn jeans, Jon steps forward towards the exit. He momentarily loses balance and the hand on his elbow is no longer that of Pippa, now it is a crewman in fluorescent waistcoat over grubby denim reaching out and steadying him. Jon instinctively turns and shakes the man off. The crewman steps back, smiles and holds his palms up to indicate he meant no harm and Jon is immediately embarrassed. He mutters a thin, “Sorry, sorry . . .”

The crewman remains charming and polite; “Pada Calo.”

Jon puts his hands to his head as the beeping continues. The ringing in his ears is reverberating in his cranium, like a bad case of tinnitus on speed, becoming too much to bear; please stop, just stop.

v

“Please let it stop…”

It is nearly three years ago and Alex holds her head in her hands. A packet of pills lie in front of her, her scarf on the table next to them, as her cell phone lights up with another message. She pulls her hands away from her face and a few small strands of grey hair fall between her fingers. Picking up the phone she turns it over to try and find the power button to turn the damn thing off, to put an end to the buzzing as well meaning friends add desperate, philosophical, inspiring, kindly meant, but ultimately useless, platitudinous messages.

The kettle on the side burbles madly away and then clicks to indicate it has boiled. She looks up and hums to herself, trying to remember a tune, then breaking into the words as the cogs turn in her brain, the image of an ancient commercial floats into her mind and she gets there…

“I like a nice cup of tea in the morning, I like a nice cup of tea with my tea -”

Jon comes through from behind her and takes a mug from the rack as he joins in with the tune:

“- and when it’s time for bed, there’s a lot to be said for a nice cup of tea.”

A moment of laughter is shared between them.

Yes, a cup of tea solves everything. Time to breathe, relish the hours left, make the most of those comforting words and put on a brave face. That’s what we do, isn’t it? Grin and bear it as best we can and leave the world, or at least our small part of it, just a little the better for our presence here.

The teaspoon in the mug rattles loudly as Jon gives it a good stir. Two thirds tea, one third milk. Oat milk. Just the way she likes it. Devotion is presented in a hand painted ceramic mug of clowns in bright pink and blue tumbling over themselves on a bright yellow background. Whittard of Chelsea printed on the bottom, it is a happy memento from too many years ago to remember, as comforting and familiar as the warm brew it contains.

 

Yes, answer some of those kind texts, reassure them, ease their pain even if you can’t ease your own. That’s what mother would have done, isn’t it? Isn’t that what she did? Too long ago to remember. She was always good at fixing things, fixing people, ‘make do and mend’ applied to personal relationships as much as a woolly jumper. That’s where the compulsion to save the world comes from, the need to look after everyone.

“Biscuit?” A break in the voice as the word catches in his throat.

 

“No thanks, just the tea is lovely. Thank you, Jon” 

And, anyway, what’s the alternative? Take a long jump of a short pier? Fly off Beachy Head in the final grand gesture that ruins the lives of countless others who are forced to pick the pieces off the rocks below?

No. But if only that damn phone would stop buzzing. How the hell do you change the tone? Even vibrate makes an unholy, invasive din as it bounces around the table. Dear God, there it goes again.

v

In London the lorry is still beeping in the street below, waiting for a car to move out of the way. The blast of a horn floats up towards the open window on an upper floor of the office block where Jon watches impassively. Two men in reflective jackets close in on a blue Chelsea tractor, a large four wheel drive sport utility vehicle that is neither very sporty or useful.

 

The scene below is all hot air and no action, just lots of testosterone fuelled posturing. Jon can imagine the angry man with a small personality sitting behind the steering wheel of the four by four and, sure enough, the driver's window slides down and a shaved head leans out to have his say, a belligerent attitude and a bald pate shining pink in the weak sunlight. The finger pointing starts and incoherent shouts follow, peppered with a few colourful and articulate curses. But the impatient man’s stand is short lived and the reflective jackets stand impassive, hands on hips, as the car reverses back up the narrow street.

Jon closes the window and the banter from below is muffled. He turns away, taking a cardboard box off the windowsill as he leaves the room. A last glance back at an empty desk and thin bare partition walls before he drops his head and makes his way out into the corridor.

The sound outside and inside Jon’s head ceases with one last ‘ping’.

v

Back in time, Jon stands in front of a microwave oven in his kitchen. He opens the door and reaches in to take out a steaming baked potato. It is red hot and burns his fingers. He whips his hand away dropping the potato, which rolls out onto the worktop. He wrings his hand and sucks his scalded fingers. Pulling a drying-up cloth from the drawer under the counter, he tries again, picking up the potato and gingerly placing it on a small floral plate.

Taking a sharp knife from a knife-block he holds the potato in his left hand, protected by the cloth, and pierces the skin with the point of the knife, clinically and cleanly slicing it down the middle and letting it fall open. Pleased with himself, he takes a plastic bottle of mayonnaise, flips the lid and squeezes some onto the steaming innards of the potato. Grabbing a tray from the side he places the plate and its appetising contents on the tray with a small knife and fork and pours cold water from the tap into a glass. 

Balancing the glass and plate on the tray, Jon steps out of the kitchen and begins to climb the stairs. An urgent call echoes down the stairwell.

“Jon! Jon! Where the hell are you?”

“Coming, darling, just coming…”

Jon comes off the top step and crosses to the bedroom door. As the door swings open...

“There was no need to be all day about it!” 

He proudly places the tray on a large bedside table beside the bed where Alex lies propped up on pillows with a brightly coloured headscarf tied around her head, an open book at her side as she pulls off her reading glasses and pinches her nose between thumb and forefinger.

Smiling, Jon plays the part of the room service waiter…

“Lunch! Just as you requested, madam, Pommes de Terre a la Mayonnaise!”

“What…?”

“Baked potato, with lashings of your favourite Heinz Mayo…”

Alex is confounded,

“What the hell are you talking about?  I hate mayonnaise!”

Jon drops the act…

“It’s what you asked for…”

“No, I didn’t, why would I do such a thing?”

“But you did... Perhaps you forgot.”

“Forgot? Of course I didn’t forget. I’ve never liked mayonnaise. You know that. Surely you know that? In all the time that we’ve been married have you ever seen me put mayonnaise on anything? Just answer me that? Have I ever? Have I?”

Jon looks down at his feet, like a scolded schoolboy.

“I don’t know… It’s just what you asked for…”

”Are you calling me a liar? You are, aren’t you, you’re calling me a liar.”

“No. No, of course not…”

Alex’s voice rises to a thin screech,

“Take it away, will you? Take it away!!”

In a fit of temper, Alex sweeps out her arm, sending the tray flying onto the floor. The glass of water sprays Jon as the potato and mayonnaise splash out in bits onto the carpet.  Shocked at her own outburst, Alex turns her head away and buries her face in the bedding as Jon goes down onto his hands and knees to clear up the mess.

Jon becomes aware that Alex is now sobbing, short little gasps of breath, or at least, as much as she can manage as she gives little, wheezy wails of anguish into the soft pillow. He looks up, getting up on one knee and places a hand on the bed next to her trailing left arm…

“I’m sorry, darling… I’ll get you something else…”

She is almost inaudible, into the pillow…

“No… No, don’t bother…”

Jon takes his wife’s left hand in his and although she doesn’t turn over, keeping her back to him as she gasps for snatches of breath through the tears, he is, at least, a little comforted by the gentle squeeze she gives him in return.

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