One Hour to Go

Short story

The hallway echoed with the sound of the still-running tap, liquid regular drops hitting the basin, drip-drip-drip. Damp was creeping across the threshold of the open bathroom door. Fog from the shower obscured the lenses of the discarded glasses that sat on the sink. Water spilled over the bottom of the shower and followed the floor’s incline towards the door, seeping into the carpet, staining its colour a darker red.

Amber lay on the bathroom floor. Her skin was clammy and cold to the touch, sticking to the wet pool that slithered around her. The cat had walked in several times to observe her, then walked out again, yowling in complaint. Its noise did not wake her. Her eyes were closed. Her breathing was slow. There was blood leaking from the back of her head into the pool gathering around her.

When Amber was young, perhaps five or six, she had learned to swim with her father holding her head underwater while she kicked her legs. The exercise was supposed to be good for her because she couldn’t walk very well. It was supposed to strengthen her muscles and help her to support herself better. Amber’s shoulders and arms grew strong from the exercise. She could fly back and forth across the monkey bars faster than any other kid in the playground. Her older brother had taught her how to do that; he had held onto her legs as she held onto each rung, until one day, without warning, he had let go and left her to dangle. At first she had screamed in fright and refused to move, but then she had clenched her jaw and forced her way from the middle out, back towards the climbing frame’s support, where she clambered to safety and howled in victory. After that, she had started to venture onto the monkey bars more and more on her own, and soon she was a master, swinging back and forth and up and down until one day she decided to try dangling upside-down holding on with her legs.

She’d swung each limb over, let go with her hands and immediately fallen, landing with a crack that split her head open, bleeding all over the ground below. She didn’t cry when her brother came running over to her. Instead she turned clammy and cold, closing her eyes and breathing heavily as he held her. Her brother pressed his hands into her hair and tried to stem the blood flow and whispered over and over: “It’s okay, Amber, Dad’s called an ambulance. One hour to go, I promise, just hold on…”

Her legs never grew any stronger after that. Amber’s father soon stopped taking her swimming. As she grew older, she couldn’t wear heels because when she wore them, her ankles wobbled and threatened to snap. She usually had to hold onto someone when she walked: the arm of her father, the arm of her brother, the arm of a carer. When she moved into her flat, they installed bars in the bathroom for her to hold onto, bars in the hall and bars that ran the circumference of her bedroom. Her family was nervous to let her live alone but they couldn’t stop her. Though lacking in strength, Amber had always retained the taste for independence that the monkey bars had instilled in her.

In an hour or so, Amber’s brother would let himself into her flat and find her dead. The steady drip-drip sound of the tap reverberated around the hall, echoing in answer to the tic-tic sound of the clock. The cat seemed less than concerned by Amber’s fate. It wondered gloomily when someone was going to feed it, then stalked back up the hall and hid beneath the sofa, where it was warm and the damp couldn’t reach it.