by Kathy Hoyle
It could have started weeks before, or months, or years.
She’d stored the pills in an empty dry-soup packet, hidden behind those rows and rows of cereals my nephew begged for on every shopping trip. The ones he never ate. Boxes with smiling cartoon tigers or wide-eyed monkeys, all heralding the benefits of calcium and vitamin C and other life-affirming nutritional goodness. A wall of delicious, healthy grain food, hiding thirty-three Xanax, forty-two paracemetol and a dash of fluoxetine, for garnish.
She must have taken each pill from its blister and smiled indulgently as she popped it into the dry-soup packet, a savings account, ready for when life tilted just that little too much to handle. Each prescription renewed just a day or two early, not so as you’d notice, not often enough to pay attention. She was always so organised.
Mostly she was steady – we thought. Worked hard, took good care of her boy, complained about her husband, same as the rest of us.
Sometimes – not often – not often enough for it to be a thing – there were late night calls. She’d be incoherent for a while.
‘What is it?’ we’d ask, ‘how can we help?’ Generic, meaningless questions.
‘It’s okay, I feel better now,’ she’d say, ‘just, you know, things sometimes get on top of me a little. Thanks for listening.’
We’d sigh into the dead of night and say something like ‘it will pass,’ or ‘we’re here for you, anytime,’ and feel smug about how supportive we were, despite the inconvenience. Then we’d hang up, turn out the light and sleep soundly.
And she might have closed her eyes too and got some sleep, or maybe she wandered around the house in the half-light or had another vodka and ice, or watched crappy TV for a while, or stroked her little dog and let him tuck himself into her stomach for warmth. Or maybe she got dressed, or put on make-up, or took out her laptop and distracted herself with work, maybe she gently woke her husband, and they had sex, him behind, not noticing her tears, or maybe she put down the phone and went to the cupboard and shook out the contents of that dry-soup packet and reverently counted her secret stash and whispered to herself, not today, not today, not today.
Afterwards, I asked her husband, and my dad, and her son, and her daughter, and her work colleagues, and her friends, did you know? Did you notice? I questioned them with a ferocity that only guilt can feed. I was a detective, doing good work, fundamental work, finding out the basics, finding out… not finding out.
I never dared to question myself.
It was Halloween. Can you believe it? Fucking Halloween! We’d been to a party. Maybe she knew. Maybe, earlier, she listened to one of those stupid melancholy country songs she loved so much. Maybe she sang along while she painted on dark eyeliner and garish face paint, knowing how dramatic it would look later streaked freakishly across her face – she always did have a flair for the dramatic. Maybe she thought about it all night, vodka-after-vodka-after-vodka at the party, or maybe she didn’t think about it at all. Maybe, when we danced together, and she flung her arms around me and yelled above the pounding music, ‘I love you, sis, my baby sis, my beautiful sister,’ and we swayed on the dance floor, holding each other, laughing and kissing each other’s cheeks, she knew. She knew, those would be the last words she would say to me.
Or maybe she just went home on a high and suddenly thought, this has been a great night, I’m going to end this now while I feel so fucking great, because the pain that’s coming tomorrow, or the next day, or the next, the thought of that pain, it’s just too much to bear.
And then maybe she took off her ridiculous Bride of Dracula dress and threw it across the couch and swayed and hiccupped into the kitchen, to the cereal cupboard, and maybe she slid aside those smiling cartoon tigers and wide-eyed monkeys and found her secret little dry-soup packet and shook out its contents and, maybe this time she didn’t even stop to count her stash.
From the age of five, Kathy Hoyle firmly believed that Dolly Parton was her spirit animal. However, her dreams of becoming a country superstar were crushed, when, after her first school choir rehearsal, the teacher told her she had the voice of a consumptive crow. With a heavy heart, she tore up her one-way ticket to Nashville and became a writer instead. She now spends her time singing country-song medleys to her long suffering labradoodle and dreaming of living in a magical lighthouse on the North East Coast of England.