by James Turvey
“Can we have a moment alone with Nan?” I asked the nurse. She nodded politely and walked out into the bright hospital corridor. She closed the door behind her to give us some privacy.
There was little to differentiate between the colour of the overcast morning outside and the interior of the hospital room. Outside the sun was present as a bright white spot beneath the sheer clouds of an otherwise monotone grey sky. Without the light on in Nan’s room, the fluorescent lights in the corridor were having the same effect through the thin cotton curtains.
“Did you bring it?” I asked. My sister opened her purse and pulled out a sewing pin. She held it out in front of her by the red bauble at its base so that the point faced upwards.
“So who’s going to do it?” She looked at me and then turned to our cousin.
“I think we should all do it – have a go each,” he said. My sister agreed and passed the pin to me.
“Sorry, Nan,” I said, gently pushing the pin into her forearm. The tissue paper consistency of her skin gave little resistance and the pin sunk into her flesh with such ease that the whole length went in before I jerked backwards and pulled it out.
“There’s no blood,” my sister said, taking the pin from my hand and examining the entry point on Nan’s arm.
“Blood pressure and gravity are the only things that make you bleed. With no heartbeat there’s no blood pressure and her arm is lying flat,” our cousin said, coming in over our shoulders for a better look.
My sister’s turn was much more gentle and precise. More of a poke than a straight out stab like mine had been. She took Nan’s rings from her fingers and placed them in the safety of her purse before passing the pin to our cousin. He bent forward and kissed her on the forehead as if he was distracting her while he pricked her arm. My sister and I leant in and kissed her goodbye too.
Nan had always made us promise that we’d prick her with a pin when she died. Somewhere during eighty-four years of reading every book she could get her hands on, whether it was a historical piece or in one of the pulp horror novels she loved so much, she’d read that people in deep comas had, on occasion, been prematurely buried.
“Can you imagine waking up on a conveyor belt into the furnace at the crematorium?” she once asked me when I was still in primary school. The thought haunted me until I saw her next.
“Nan, can you promise to prick me with a pin when I die too?” I asked.
“Darling,” She said, “I guarantee I’ll be long gone before that day comes.”