Lớp – Trường: Grade 8 – The International School of Vietnam
James vaguely remembers the day his father told his ten-year-old self, “You’ll see when you become a father yourself!”. ‘A father yourself’, well that day is today. James is rubbing his palms in agitation as he waits outside the delivery room, excited yet worried. He can take the pressure no more as he starts pacing back and forth the long corridor, a thousand thoughts racing in his mind: What will I name him/her? Will Grace be okay? Maybe a girl would be better? Maybe a son? Oh no! What about twins!? His muscles ache, his eyelids are near dropping, it is 2 am in the night, he longs for rest after the hectic rush to the hospital.
The door is opened carefully by a timid nurse who is followed by the doctor, there is a gentle glow to her face. James knows everything went well, impulsively and without even acknowledging the staff, he sprints inside with a throbbing heart. Mild melodies and soft rhythms of sleep lullabies surround the room as a tiny creature slumbers in his cot. His first day in this world must have been fatiguing, his cries had echoed throughout the hospital as a fine blend of nitrogen (78%), oxygen (21%), and other gases had entered his brand-new lungs. He is a healthy and plump infant, with rosy cheeks and a resolute expression. Grace lies on a hospital bed a few paces after the cot, in some physical discomfort but warmth in her heart. James stares in disbelief, tears well up in his eyes. Grace opens her eyes languidly and smiles with satisfaction. James reciprocates the same smile, inwardly saying, “Thank you!”.
“Callum! stop, let him go!” Grace shrieks as the one-year-old clings to James’ legs, not letting go and drooling over his formal dry-cleaned pants. Annoyed, at last, she lifts him off and he bursts into a fresh supply of tears. James closes the house’s open door, drops his bag to the floor, and laughs out loud. Grace is patting Callum, their son, shaking him from side to side, he is determined to create havoc this Tuesday morning. James gently invites Callum in his arms, he stops wailing and spreads his little arms around his broad shoulders. With a proud air, James exclaims, “Well somebody can’t stay without their daddy!” with which he leaves to the bedroom, bank work could always be done later. That is how the morning begins, light with a touch of chaos and immense family love.
“Grace!” he calls as his footsteps are heard in the kitchen while Grace marinates the cold chicken that lies on the kitchen island. She nods ignorantly, listening to James say, “I talked to his head of department, he says that I have to report back for duty in a week for another ship.”. She grins cleverly, “Callum has a mother, I’ll be there for him, this is the third time you have reported a sick leave. Don’t forget you’re a ship captain.”. James frowns guiltily, “You are right, I just want to be with him.”. Grace turns towards him, “You are an obsessed father. He will be fine and safe, I am always in our prince’s service.”.
“Huh”, he chuckles at her sarcasm and rests his head on her shoulders. “Callum?” she asks to return to the chicken, mixing it well with the spices, the mushy surface touching her gloves. James picks himself up lazily, “In the living room, playing. Listen, I am going to get the bank work done today.”. “Hit the road before he cries for you again!” comes the sharp reply. He waves her goodbye, leaves the house, the kitchen goes silent, he calls the elevator.
James is driving back home.
His phone rings with its annoying “prrrr…prrrs”. His middle-aged mother’s display picture appears on the thick touchscreen, James accepts the call.
“Listen, James, hurry up, just come back to your apartment, we are here!”
“What’s happened? Is Callum okay?”
“Just come, you’ll know.”
James panics and loses his cool. His central nervous system overfloods with high levels of cortisol and adrenaline. He breathes uneasily, his heart beating, pumping harder for more oxygen. He can’t remember the number of cars honking in his direction but all he recalls is that he drives in a hurry, regarding street lights as advice rather than a rule. With a lost temper and an uneasy growling feeling in his gut, he sprints into the society compound. His eyes fall on the ground to a ghastly outline of a petite creature almost as if he fell from the balcony. People crowd near the scene, a police car is parked near the entrance. A receptionist approaches him, avoiding any eye contact, and dropping down declares, “Sir, your son…”.
James leaves her mid-sentence and barges into the elevator, pressing the number ’24’ on the panel. ‘It can’t be, he tells himself, ‘calm down!’. The door opens and he sprints towards his apartment in a frenzy. He punches the bell-button and there comes a clatter from inside. At last, the door is opened, there is his sister, her eyes lined with tears, her mascara rubbed off. James ignores her and bolts to the most crowded place, the living room. His mother stands at the door, she forcefully embraces him and whispers, “I am sorry James. Be gentle.”. James pays no attention to her or her words, only two words vibrate in his head: Grace and Callum.
He enters the room with confused steps, impatient to confront the situation but scared to deal with it. He sees Grace, she sits on the floor in a dishevelled state, her back towards him, her hair open. Around her stand all his family and friends. James blinks a tear and rushes to hug her. She wails at his touch and he sadly finds out why. A child-like figure lies on the floor beside her, its body covered with a white sheet. James gulps hard and bravely removes the sheet to reveal a dreadful sight. His Callum lying as if frozen, his dead-shot eyes open in surprise, dried blood all around his head, limbs motionless, he no longer looks jolly, he no longer looks alive. James yells in anger and pain and turns to Grace mimicking her from their conversation this morning “He will be fine and safe,James I am always in our prince’s service! He fell off the balcony, didn’t he? How could you?”
James saw his son’s frail body sink into the ground as the coffin was lowered, he was dressed as a gentleman in his coat, a similar coat James dreamed of him to be wearing at his graduation. The funeral ended and the couple returned home. James had read that there are 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, little did he know that I’ll be going through them too. He is unconsciously bargaining, “What if I devote my life to doing good for everyone then can I wake up and realize this was all a bad dream?”. He knows it wouldn’t help but the day seems surreal, life seems unworthy! Grace enters the room, he stares at her. James sees a devil where an angel used to be. Her pitiful face appears ruthless to him. Her grief, a drama. Why, why did she not take care of his Callum? She shakes him, he ignores. She begins to cry softly, “James” she murmurs, “please, don’t do this to me. I’ll die, one loss is enough.”. Anger diffuses through James the moment she finishes her dialogue, he bolts up to his feet, wraps his hands around her neck, she leans against their bedroom wall surprised at his behaviour. James has an impulse to finish her, even looking at her reminds him of Callum, his sweet boy. He loosens his grip, taking charge of himself just in time and leaves the room.
A week has passed and James is officially at the fourth stage of grief, depression. All week he has left home at sunrise and returned only at sunset. He has been toiling around purposelessly but he just wants to be away from Grace, the demon. His memory has been unclear filled with a few glimpses of Callum, to soothe his mourning heart and aslo a few flashes of that fateful day when his child lay in his grave to swell his heart with regret.Today he’ll finally leave her behind, his ship leaves today for 6 months. He is restless to leave and to forget his past, maybe start a new beginning or just get lost at sea. He stares at the mirror, a solemn weak man stands where a charismatic father would be. His parents await him outside. He hugs both of them and they bless him with their best wishes. As for Grace, he simply waves her goodbye, she deserves no more. Grace kneels at this gesture and begins to sob. James proceeds to the door mercilessly where his mother follows. “Don’t do this James. She needs you. Callum was her child too…”. He snaps, “and she ate him… mother…my work can’t stop…let me be!”. James knows what he is doing is wrong, but sometimes you have to choose between what is needed and what you want.
6 months have passed, James has stared at the sea as long as he could, avoided dinner till he felt sick, stayed quiet till silence became deafening. He stands at the main door, his keys turn in the lock. He wonders what Grace would look like, his hatred has cooled down for her but he no longer feels the same affection towards her.
He enters the house, it looks brand-new, the floor gleams, and a lively spirit moves around. It is late at night and he can hear a lullaby. His feet pause as he concentrates hard on the melody. It is the same one Grace used to sing to Callum, every single night. He peers into Callum’s room and there she stands, swaying him in her arms, young at heart. She notices him and makes a gesture for him to stay silent. He runs into the room, maybe it was all a dream, maybe his Callum is still alive! He snatches away the baby to find a doll, a plastic doll. Grace nudges him hard, “James, Callum needs to sleep!”. James is overwhelmed, he throws the doll on the bed and shouts with vexation, “Grace, Callum is dead!”. She lifts the doll back into her arms, her fury is impassible, “Honey! Callum is right here and now dare you to do anything to him!”.
He half-laughs at her foolishness, half-cries at her desperation. She sighs “James, let Callum sleep.”. He jerks her hard, “Grace, are you crazy? Dolls don’t sleep.”. She shakes her head disapprovingly, “James, stop misbehaving,I can’t tolerate this. You are simply tired.”.
They both lie awake in bed, motionless, silence prevails. Grace whispers, “Yes James, we missed you. But what was that behaviour?”. He ignores and simply responds, “Ship lag” with a crooked smile. She clearly remembers nothing of the past. James is perplexed but adamant that Grace has a serious trauma, if she wants to play doll-doll then he’ll play along till the time he has enough evidence to convince her against these fantasies.
Grace eyes him with uncertainty, the doll rests in her arms. A week has passed since his arrival. They stand hand-in-hand at a hospital reception waiting for their appointment. “James, are you ok? Any injuries?”, she asks. James shakes his head acting completely innocent, “No love,I told you I have been feeling nauseous.”.
A nurse directs them to a small clinic, James nods at her. A while later, she appears with an injection.James takes the doll and swing it in his arms. Grace asks doubtfully, “Who’s this injection for?”. The nurse with caution but urgency presses the syringe deep down in her skin. Grace leans on the chair unconscious. James stops pretending to play with the doll as a middle-aged woman wearing a white coat walks in. James greets her. She moves straight on to business not being impolite but at the same time expecting such situations. James begins, “Well ma’am, I talked to you a few days ago. This is my wife.”. She nods expectantly, “Mr James, experienced as I am, this is something new. Like we decided earlier, we will need to take an MRI brain scan.”.James bobs his head in a determined fashion. The MRI scan is completed. The psychiatrist tells me that James to revisit in a week. Grace awakens shortly after, dizzy and light-headed have no recollection of the scan.
James walks into the same hospital building once again, this time without Grace or the doll. It has been a week, a strange week indeed. His dreams have been haunted by negative brain scan results yet there is hope, the hope of getting his old Grace back, the one he would like to learn to love again despite all that has happened. The psychiatrist waves gently as James takes his seat. She looks stern, “Mr James, how has your wife been?”.James shakes his head, “Unreal anyway doctor what are the results?”. She clears her throat, “Mr James, please listen very carefully to what I am now about to tell you.”.James rubs his eyes using his sweaty hands and sits upright eager to hear what the psychiatrist has to say. She resumes reluctantly, “Your wife has a brain tumour. Glioblastoma.”
His jaw hangs open but he maintain my manly conduct, wiping a few tears and asking strongly, “Really…oh, how long?”. The doctor looks down and smiles empathetically, “Less than a year.”. His heart races, his voice quivers, “Is…is…the…there a cure?”. The doctor stays speechless until she finally confesses, “No Mr James, I am sorry.”.James hides his face in the crook of his shoulder as he weeps in silence. The psychiatrist continues, “We’ll provide her with medical support. The question is do you want to bring her for therapy sessions anymore?”. James rises and in an injured tone, replies, “I’ll tell you later doctor. Can I see the report for myself?”
James is seated in the study, staring at the picture of his son on his iPhone screen. The doll sits on his table, perched on top of his books, it stares at him just like his Callum would, ogling his as James does his work. He opens a fresh page of his journal and begins writing,
This is your James. I know you’ll never be able to read this letter, I wouldn’t let you but still, it gives me solace to know that I am sharing my decision with you, at least figuratively. You have been diagnosed with Brain tumour, Glioblastoma. I wanted you to recover from your mental illness, to be mine again. But now, I don’t anymore.I don’t know how long you will stay by my side however I know for sure it is not very long. Thus, I’ll let you live in your fantasies and mother your make-believe child. I’ll play along too no matter how painfully it reminds me of our Callum. I promise to live this lie for you and only for you.