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Rage, rage against the dying of the night

For Randy Baker's Prompted #4

By Paul StewartPublished about a month ago 13 min read
Rage, rage against the dying of the night
Photo by Muzammil Soorma on Unsplash

It all happened so fast. From the Doctor telling me there was no 'Get out', 'Hail Mary' or even a 'Wild Card' to the realisation I would not see 2025. No, no smart shuffle could cheat the reaper's reap this time. I wouldn't celebrate 25 years of wonderful marriage to my soul mate, Jenny. To say it was a shit card to deal with was putting it lightly.

Everyone reacts to that news differently, and facing impending doom is a hugely personal affair. So, I don't judge anyone who shrivels into a ball and cries. I did my fair share of crying. When the Doctor told me. When we sat in the car and saw the most cheerful and optimistic force of nature looking so hopeless and lost, I gave way to tears that didn't stop throughout that drive home.

I did not recoil in fear. Worried I was about Jenny, dear Jenny, but I began planning and scheming. I couldn't cheat death but didn't have to sit back and accept it. Life is for the living, and while I still had a working ticker and lungs, I intended to make the most of the time I had left.

The destination was set in stone, but the route was still to be decided. I had control over that.

There's a specific relief in accepting death is imminent. Many things...things before I knew I was dying that mattered. Now, they were of no consequence.

Knowing you're definitely going to die within a specific timeframe gives you a sense of purpose. Or it did for me, at least.

I'd spent way too much of my time quiet on this green and blue planet. As I faced the final curtain, I decided not to go quietly into that good night.

Instead...it was time to have a little fun, cause a little mischief, and make sure I put an indelible stamp on this life I'd been given. A life full of ups and downs and more surprises along the way than I care to count.

It was time to rage, rage against the dying of the light.

If bastard Death wanted me so badly, he'd have to take me, kicking, screaming and making a beautiful mess full of chaos.

*

First on the agenda was my boss. That ugly oaf had sat in his office, lording it over my team, like some kind of dick-tator. Today, he would finally get a piece of my mind.

As I stepped into his office, with confidence in my blood and the distinct and pleasant lack of responsibility over what I was about to say powering me forward, I demanded a minute of his time.

His eye roll told me we were 'behind schedule' or not 'meeting company performance quotas" as usual.

I remained undeterred and wasn't going to let him get off the hook by telling him I was dying.

"Sir...Dereck...I just wanted to let you know the last 5 years working for you have been the biggest pain in my left arse cheek. That being pegged by a gorilla would be more life-affirming and pleasurable than sitting and listening to you dick-tate orders like a sad pathetic Putin. Your micro-passive aggressive, micro-management styleless approach to running this ridiculous dead-in-the-water embarrassment of a business is and always has been the butt of an unbelievably bad joke. You couldn't lead a room full of deceased monkeys without falling in shit. Before you start speaking and try to make some kind of petty, ill-formed comeback or putdown, consider this my official resignation, arsehole."

As I stood at the other side of his desk, he dropped his pen and jaw as the colour filtered out his stupid, smug face. He was in a very satisfying, strange state of confusion. I could see the cogs working even slower than usual, and he was trying to figure out if he should shout or cry. I didn't stay long enough to find out.

*

To say that felt good would be underselling it. A burden lifted from my shoulders as I walked to my car. I was dying, but I wasn't him. My next stop was the homeless girl who lived by the town train station and played the whistle. She always seemed so sweet and was nice and friendly to me over the last few months. She was just one of those people life had shit on repeatedly.

She was popular because she was approachable and genuinely seemed to love people. Her spirit impressed me, so I wanted to give something back to her. Selfless? Not quite. She deserved it; if anything, it's a way for me to selfishly counterbalance abhorrent actions from my past.

I crouched beside her at eye level. After we exchanged 'HI's', I reached into my wallet and gave her a sizeable amount of money. As she reached out to take it, I retracted my hand with a smile.

"What's your name?" I asked her with a warm smile. Okay, so I recalled the look on my boss's face but was also caught off guard by her surprised look. It struck me that I had asked her something no one else had bothered to ask her.

"An... Angela...wh-why?" she replied, startled and defensive.

"Angela! That is such a pretty name. One of my favourite aunts, whom I loved dearly, was called Angela. Angela, my name is Thomas, and I want to help you out a little." I continued, smiling and maintaining eye contact.

"There's a caveat to my help, though. I have a flat on the south side of town. It's not much at all, but it's in a relatively nice area and is mortgage-free. I paid it off many years ago and held on to it...because...I don't know, and I am not sure I believe in fate, but I may have held onto it for today. I want to give you the keys to the flat. You can have it, and I will give you money to tide you over until you get things like benefits sorted. The only caveat is, tell me what you would do with your life if you weren't homeless?"

As I continued to smile, she welled up. That same look of disbelief she already had on her face was now mixed with one of joyful tears and happiness.

"I would really just like to do something worthwhile...I know everyone says that, but I really love people- the good and the bad. The good, well, that's easy because they are at that place already. The bad are the ones people turn their heads away from. I want to help them. Does that sound stupid to you, Thomas?" she asked.

"Not stupid at all. You can do that now if you want to. And I can think of nothing better for this local little part of our wider world than Angela crusading to help the thrown away in society. I wish you well."

"Is that it? Just like that? Thank you, Thomas. Thank you for just talking to me—that would have been enough, but thank you for giving me hope." She reached out and held my hand. I could tell from how her arm tightened and loosened a little. It was the first real connection she had made in years.

"My wife will keep in touch with you. She can be a very pushy woman, but she has a kind heart. I have to go on an adventure. Just, be spectacular, please just be spectacular," I said as I stood up and walked away from her.

I could hear Angela crying as I walked away, and she continued to thank me.

*

There were so many other things I would have loved to have done, but as time was not really in my favour, I decided to focus on what was most important.  It involved the stunning Scafell Pike, the tallest mountain in England and where I knew I'd found the true love of my life, Jenny. We had planned a hiking date since our first date. A friend had introduced us to one another. While not as accomplished a hiker as I felt I was, Jenny was excited about the date and even remarked, "The invite to scale a mountain is one of the best proposals I've received in my long and checkered dating past. Beats out of being invited to the backseat of a dodgy old Skoda for a quickie!"

That first time took us around 4 hours. We weren't trying to tackle it quickly and spent much time stopping to gaze at the beautiful Cumbrian countryside and chat. I told Jenny she was the best thing that had happened to me, and she, fortunately, shared similar feelings. After just a few months of dating, we were committed to each other, as idealistic as it may sound. We just knew.

At the top of the Pike, when I looked into her eyes and when we embraced, I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

This time, though, which would actually be the 10th time we've climbed it to see the Broad Crag Tarn at the summit, would be different. We were not going to reach the summit until nightfall. Until then, we had never had the chance to try Scafell at its most challenging, and now, it seemed like a better time than any.

As we faced my imminent death together, as we had all the obstacles thrown our way, I wanted it to remind her death cannot hold us back from enjoying life. I wanted to give her memories. To sweep her off her feet…to make her laugh with my quick wit and bad puns. Moreover, I just wanted to take time out to spend some of the precious time I'd left with her.

So, we set out at 6 p.m., and Jenny was in a very upbeat and positive mood. She tried hiding her crying because she knew some of the plans. I had to go out on a high, and I didn't want to bring myself down.

I never shied away from her crying; we always made time to be open and honest. But we had a mountain to climb, and at night, as long as we were on the side of this rock that didn't care about our feelings, we would put them to one side and make our ascent.

Jenny, as ever-curious as she always had been, whiled away much of the time it took us to reach the top by asking, "What's in the bags?" "Is there Prosecco?" "Please tell me you have Prosecco!" She could be pretty insufferable, but I loved that about her.

I would just smile and reply, "You'll see!" I loved this woman, even if she was slightly obsessed with Prosecco.

It took us a little longer than 4 hours to reach the top this time, but as the mountain gave way to unobstructed views of the sky, we saw the familiar Broad Crag Tarn and took a seat on a rock and sat, hand in hand.

As the sun descended on the horizon, I took the backpack off and opened the bag. Although tired, I got a natural energy boost seeing her face light up as I took out a cosy but sturdy enough two-person tent and some essential accessories, including Prosecco.

I would not recommend anyone attempt this, but I had a friend of a friend in the National Trust who helped and pulled a few strings for us.

I set up our tent, laid out our double sleeping bag, and got out the camping stove and frying pan. We only had two rings, which was okay for my simple but romantic plans. I made fluffy, well-seasoned scrambled eggs and slices of lightly toasted sourdough. Rather than drawing too much attention to our naughty wild camping, I used a mini gas-powered heater to provide us with warmth as the crisp, cool air of late spring enrobed us.

Pouring more Prosecco as we made light work of our food and the first glass, I held her close.

"Jenny, you know I love you and have always had since we first scaled this rock. When I'm gone—and I know you don't want to think about that right now, but please listen—I want you to carry on, take from life what you want, and give back all you can. Please don't let my death become the thing that unravels that beautiful spirit of yours."

She nodded and wept a little with a smile as I pinched her cheeks one by one, and we embraced. She was quieter than usual. Choking on those tears and, if I'm honest, a little sourdough.

"Now, my darling, I have one more thing to ask you on this beautiful night…would you do me the honour of entering the temporary boudoir to congregate on this fine mountain?"

As I spoke, I had a serious and what I perhaps thought would translate as a suave and sexy look on my face. Jenny just giggled and asked, "Are you after a quickie in a tent? It's still a step up from the back of a dodgy old Skoda; I'll give you that! But then you were always a step up from a dodgy old Skoda!"

We laughed and settled in for the night. The quickie was not really quick. It was long and more complicated and awkward than we could ever have imagined it would be, but perfect."

*

The next few weeks of my diminishing life were a blur of bucket list experiences and cherished, precious moments with Jenny. Tipping random waiters with "Whatever change I had in my wallet (usually amounted to hundreds of pounds, apart from the time we had bad service, and I left a handful of oddly sticky, stained brown smash for Adrian at the Greasy Omelette)".

There was the time we tried our hand at pottery, though we were dismayed to discover you can't recreate the scene from Ghost. Mrs Topptybottom (I think that was her name?), who ran the course, was not impressed as I sat behind Jenny and smoothly slithered my hands down her chest to join hers on the pottery wheel. We were quickly ushered out without even the chance to "Craft our own pottery to take home."

Knowing death's imminent encroachment on my mortality lent me the spirit of brutal honesty. We partied like we were 18 again…possibly even harder. We had several parties, but no one really knew what they were for, as we wanted to enjoy time with our loved ones without the shadow of my upcoming death ruining the time we had together. One with her family, another with mine, and the ragtag crew of misfits we had accrued over the years from jobs, holidays, places we had stayed and those who had remained friends with us beyond school and university.

There was a lot of drunkenness, bad karaoke, and even worse dancing. It helped me realise my life was not an entire waste, even if it would be cut short painfully too soon.

*

The last thing on my list I wanted to do before I could not do…well, anything, was to fly. Ever since I was a kid, I'd wanted to soar like the birds. So, I planned to skydive.

After a quick introductory crash course, I felt ready to try. What's the worst that could happen?

Jenny would not be joining me for various reasons. She knew this was important to me, and knowing how well she knew me, she knew I probably had something up my sleeve. We flew to America, and I wanted to skydive into the Pacific Ocean. I found a company that would help make this a reality. What you can get is impressive when you tell the right people you are dying.

We stayed in the fanciest hotel we could afford and had a lovely and romantic evening together. Jenny knew I had an incredibly low opinion of all the traditional trappings of funerals, even the scattering of ashes. Though we didn't express it explicitly, there was a silent understanding this would be our final night together.

The morning of my dive, we spent time together, cuddling and tracing each other's faces and bodies with our fingers. "Thomas…" she interrupted the pleasant but deafening silence. I'll never forget you and always be grateful for every second we spent together." As the words rolled from her mouth, she sobbed uncontrollably into my chest. I just held her tight and kissed her hair.

"I know…and you know how I feel. I love you, but don't even really cut it."

We had the best but most bittersweet breakfast together before my jump, and as I was being prepped for the dive, I kept looking at her beautiful face and smiling with happy tears.

We embraced one last time before I got on the plane and held each other for an eternity.

"I love you, Jenny, sweetheart."

"I love you, Thomas, my everything. Fly high, soar like the birds, darling."

As I climbed onto the plane, I caught one last glimpse of the love of my life and kissed her goodbye.

I could see her waving at the plane as we took off.

I'd thought long and hard about this…I knew it was perhaps a little selfish, but I also knew Jenny knew me and was a strong and resilient woman. As we reached the point over the ocean where we would drop from the sky, I'd already discussed with the person accompanying me on the dive I had no intention of deploying my parachute.

I know he was a little taken aback, but I told him he was free from guilt, and he knew of ways he could make it look like an accident.

I looked out to the ocean's vastness, and jumping from the plane, I called out, "Love you, Jenny," and soared like a bird.

*

Thanks for reading!

Author's Notes: Just made it in the word count. Here you go, Randy! This is for Randy Baker's awesome Prompted #4. Which you can find out more below. It takes inspiration from, as you may have guessed, Dylan Thomas masterful villanelle "Do not go gently into that good night", which you can find an online version of here:

HumorShort StoryLovefamily

About the Creator

Paul Stewart

Scottish-Italian poet/writer from Glasgow.

Overflowing in English language torture and word abuse.

"Every man has a sane spot somewhere" R.L Stevenson

The Accidental Poet - Poetry Collection is now available!

https://paulspoeticprints.etsy.com

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Comments (8)

  • Hannah Mooreabout a month ago

    That Jenny is a strong woman. I dont think I would have had thevnerve not to put up a fight.

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarranabout a month ago

    Omgggg, I wish I could jump like him and kill myself! What a way to go! Also, I wish I could give Angela a hug. What he did for her truly touched my heart. Loved your story Sir Paul! 🍩🥐

  • Heather Zieffle about a month ago

    Great read, Paul. I enjoyed it a lot! You outlined perfectly how impending death puts all the 'little' things into perspective and tells us what's really important. Don't forget to stop and smell the roses, and all that jazz. Well done.

  • John Coxabout a month ago

    You old, romantic fuddy duddy! What a wonderful tale! I loved this, Paul. It reminded me of a very old movie, "If I had a Million," made in 1932. Everybody who was anybody in Hollywood was in it, to include WC Fields. Did you ever see it?

  • Kendall Defoe about a month ago

    This was very well done, Paul, and it makes me think about the choices I would make in my life!

  • Cathy holmesabout a month ago

    I was also thinking of a mistaken diagnosis, but in a more dark sense as in after he killed himself, or after he quit his job, gave all his money away and ended up broke and miserable. I like your ending better, obviously. Well done, buddy.

  • Katarzyna Popielabout a month ago

    I wondered the same thing as Dana and rather hoped for a luckier ending... The guy seemed to be a decent chap. Well, float in peace I guess! Enjoyed the read nevertheless. And the poem is one of my favourite ones!

  • Dana Crandellabout a month ago

    Well, I wasn't sure where this was going to end. I wondered if he'd complete the list and then get a call from the doctor about a mistaken diagnosis, but you went all the way with it. Well done, sir.

Paul StewartWritten by Paul Stewart

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