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Avril Murgatroyd

by  paula daly

Posted: Thursday, September 03, 2009
Word Count: 2275
Summary: Avril Murgatroyd is living a lie...




Hi I'm a new member here on the free trial. If anyone has time to comment on this, the first chapter of some women's commercial fiction, I'd be really grateful. Paula x



Chapter one


I thought back to how this had all started but couldn’t get it clear in my mind. Everything was so messy back then. We’d moved house again and my sister had returned home after the break-up of her marriage. I could remember my over-wrought mother doing a lot of shouting and my aunt being there each day when I woke - I think to get the younger children off to school. The house was too small for all of us and, for a while, I had to share a bed with both my mother and my sister.

I was used to sharing with one of the little ones, in fact I liked it. Their warm bodies curled into my stomach helped me to sleep and I loved to bury my nose in the sweet buttery scent of their hair. In contrast, my sister was cold and angular between the sheets next to me and she slept stiffly, like a rod. At the time I was considered too young to know the details of all the unrest, but often, I'd wake to hear my sister sniffling in the night. And my mother, hushing her quietly, would say she was ‘Well rid of that bastard’.

But I'd always liked my brother-in-law; he was good to me. When he and my sister first went out together he’d take me for rides on the cross bar of his racer. We'd ride around the estate at bedtime - me in my nightdress - and pick up sweets from the off-licence. He'd tell me how he planned to marry my sister and I was just giddy at the thought of it.

After she’d moved back home again I was told never to mention his name.

If one of the little ones should forget themselves and ask where Sean was my sister would pale and take to her bed. These little pieces of drama were lost on them and they’d look to me for guidance. “She can’t help it,” my mother would say if she caught me going cross-eyed behind Catherine’s back. “She’s still hurting.”

“But when will she stop?” I asked once.

“Maybe never,” said my mother. “Some women just can’t get over it.”



An old nurse - Sister Hill - handed me a clipboard with a pen attached by a piece of string. “Do you know of any medication that Catherine might be allergic to?”

“No,” I said.

“Good,” and she turned to go.

“No…wait.” She’d misunderstood me. “I mean, I don't know if she’s allergic to anything,” I explained quickly. “She could be, I've not seen her for her for a while… I moved away.”

She stared at me for a second. “Fill in the form as best you can then.”

I felt as if I’d been told off. She walked to the nurses' station and eyed me over the countertop as she sat down. As far as I knew I'd not seen this woman before but I could tell I'd irritated her. Perhaps Catherine had been bad-mouthing me?

No. Catherine could not speak.

Sister Hill dropped her head to read something in front of her so that only her white frilly hat was visible from where I was sitting. Hadn’t they’d stopped wearing those? Looking around and surveying the other nurses in their navy-blue androgynous uniforms I decided that Sister Hill must have wanted to make a statement.

I ticked all of the 'no' boxes on Catherine's form but really, I had no idea if she was a diabetic, had had surgery or ever been pregnant. Catherine was Catherine. And I, had cut myself off. Why she'd listed me as next of kin I had no idea.

I returned the form to the nurses' station and asked if Catherine had asked to see me.

“She's sedated,” said Sister Hill. “She can’t talk.”

“Well when should I come back?” I said. “I don't live around here - it's not that easy for me to get here you know.”

“She hasn't asked to see you because she's sedated,” she repeated slowly. “But you can see her if you want to. Visiting is flexible in ICU…I’ll take you through now.”

“Okay,” I said meekly and followed her.

From behind, Sister Hill's head was too big for her body – like a lollipop. Her thin ankles moved quickly across the highly polished floor and for a moment I was back at school, half-running, half-skipping to keep up with the teacher.

“I'll tell them you've come,” she said. “Wait here.”

The doors to the Intensive Care Unit were understated. I'd expected some sort of grandeur but they were just unremarkable double fire doors, glossed white, with a small window of toughened glass at head height.

Everyone has rehearsed this moment.

Your relative is in a coma and as you’re about to be shown to their bedside you try to contain your emotions. Be stoical and brave - don’t make a scene.

Actually, this would be quite easy for me as I was not sad Catherine was in here at all – I was cross.

This depression of hers, this self indulgent nonsense had gone on for way too long. I was never egotistical enough to think I was the one who could save her from herself. In fact, if I'm being completely honest, I couldn't be bothered with her anymore. I was sick of it. Living with depression made me depressed and I came to the conclusion seven years ago that Catherine was happiest when she was unhappy. That's when I left her to it, and fled.

Looking through the glass window into the ICU I decided the best way to deal with her would be to use ‘tough love’. I wouldn’t be playing her favourite music or any of that rubbish to wake her up. I would tell it to her like it is and if she woke up fine, and if she didn’t, well, I’d tried.

The doors opened and a tiny slip of a woman dressed head to toe in white gave me a kind smile. “Avril, come on in.” I stepped inside and surveyed the room. I’d visualised a ward full of beds but there were just three. In the first bed on the right was a fat girl with badly-dyed yellow hair. I continued past but my little white nurse stopped. “Avril,” she said carefully, “this is your sister…here.”

This wasn’t my sister. My sister was thin and dark and pretty. This woman was a pig.

I must have had a look of total revulsion on my face as the nurse, registering my horror, touched my shoulder gently and said, “She’s a bit swollen I’m afraid - it’s common.”

“It doesn’t look like Catherine. Are you sure it’s her?”

“The police found her, her wallet’s in the office I think. Shall I get it for you?”

“Please,” I answered.

Jesus Catherine, what have you done?

I could barely stand to look at her. It was as if she’d been kept in a pit and fed on raw meat. I was shaken so deeply by the sight of her that I had trouble breathing. I started to make small panting noises, my shoulders going up and down.

“I’ve never seen a dead body before,” I blurted out, when the nurse handed me the wallet.

“She’s not dead, love,” she said gently. “Why don’t you sit down and I’ll fetch you some tea.”

I opened the wallet and yes, it was definitely Catherine. Driving licence, Blockbuster Video card, National Insurance number and some card entitling her to free prescriptions. God she irritated me. Why should she get free prescriptions?

Tucked behind some stamps and a receipt for sixteen tins of cat food was a picture of us as kids. Just us.

My breathing slowed and I flicked through her cash. Two hundred and seventy quid. Who commits suicide with two hundred and seventy quid in their wallet? And how does someone on Incapacity Benefit even have two hundred and seventy quid? Don’t they get like forty pounds a week in Green Shield stamps or something?

They’d found Catherine in the locked boot of her car, surrounded by empty pill packets. She’d been stockpiling her medication and supplemented it with over the counter drugs from various pharmacies. Looking at how fat she was now, Jesus knew how she managed to get herself into the boot of her Micra. I’d read once that overdosing on paracetamol caused bleeding from every orifice, I’m not sure if that’s true. The article suggested that it was a far from glamorous way to commit suicide (if you didn’t succeed, obviously).

The nurse brought my tea and sat on the side of Catherine’s bed. She seemed unconcerned that she might disturb the drips and tubes going in and out of Catherine and I want to slap her leg and say, ‘Careful’.

“How d’you feel?” she asked.

“Better, thanks.”

“I know it’s a shock, how long is it since you’ve seen her?”

I paused, a little embarrassed. “Seven years,” I replied.

“Long time,” and she nodded her head sagely. “Did you know she was ill?”

“She was always ill. That’s why I’ve not seen her.”

“Well,” she said straightening the sheet and looking faintly uncomfortable by my reply, “I’ll leave you alone for a bit - you sure you’re okay?”

“Can she hear me?”

“Not really, but it can really help to talk.”

“But it’s not going to pull her out of the coma?”

“Catherine’s not in a coma,” she explained. “She’s sedated so we can keep her on the ventilator – so that we can breathe for her.”

“But wouldn’t it be better if she just woke up?”

“Not yet, it’s best that the ventilator breathes for her right now. She’s only lightly sedated though, so you may see her thrash about a bit.”

“Oh,” I said, not entirely sure what I’d do if she did thrash about.

Catherine’s arms were rested on two pillows; I looked closely at her fingers and could see white marks where her rings once were. Her fingers were fat sausages, the nails bitten down to the quick and she’d chewed half the skin away down the inside of her thumbs. I touched the back of her hand and shuddered, she was really cold. Then, I jumped up off the bed. A loud beeping was coming from Catherine’s life support machine. Looking at the monitor I saw the numbers were dropping rapidly: Ninety-two, eighty-nine, eighty-seven, eighty-four, seventy-one.

“Nurse! Nurse!” I shouted. “Help! Please someone, help me here!” I ran to the small office by the door but it was empty. Oh my God. Oh my God. I went back to the bed, “Catherine don’t die,” I said stroking her hair. “Don’t die yet…please don’t die”

A male nurse appeared at the side of the bed and the beeping stopped.

“What’s wrong?” I cried. “What’s wrong with her?”

“You just knocked the pulse ox from her thumb,” he said, leaning over to reset the monitor.

“The what?”

“The pulse ox. It records the oxygen in her blood – it just…fell off.”

“So she’s okay?” I said feeling quite stupid.

“She’s okay,” he said, half-smiling at me. “If the alarm goes again, just put the pulse ox back on – like this, see?”

“Oh,” I said. “I think I need a cigarette. Can I come back in if I leave?”

“Sure.”

I gathered up my bag and coat and nervously searched through my pockets for my mobile phone. Something I always did when I felt silly. As if looking for something would detract from my foolishness. “Do I need to knock or can I just come straight back in?” I asked.

“Well, there’s an intercom – for security.”

Of course there is.


Outside the main entrance I stood smoking with the dregs of Barrow: New mothers in towelling dressing gowns, old men in wheelchairs wearing piss-stained pyjamas, visitors who couldn’t manage an hour without a fag. I watched as a young lad in handcuffs and an NHS gown (open at the back) was escorted back to the ward by a policeman. There was a weird type of camaraderie amongst this group and I felt like the new girl. They were friendly with one other - catching up on the progress of babies and diseases and I felt I was intruding.

Recently, I’d cut down on my cigarette intake and the first few drags knocked me dizzy. I sat down on a low wall and watched as visitors approached the main door with trepidation – as they realised they must walk through the smokers to get inside. This struck me as funny as there could not be a less menacing group.

I smiled at the old guy next to me who was having difficulty breathing. A thin tube was taped to his face. It disappeared up one nostril and was clearly interfering with the enjoyment of his cigarette. He nodded towards the road as an ambulance, sirens blaring, raced passed us. “He won’t sell many ice-creams goin’ at that speed,” and he set himself off coughing.

Just as I was preparing to get up my attention was caught by a car, the same make and model as my own, slowing down in front of the main entrance. The driver was Moroccan or maybe Algerian and I was struck by two thoughts:

One, that’s my car and two, Catherine has a cat.