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Drips in Canon

by Val Whitlock

 The Costa café is crowded when you order cappuccino and a packet of three custard creams. You sit at the only empty table, and stare at snowflakes and bright red letters on the coffee’s lidded cup, which happily declare: ‘Feel Christmassy inside’.

...So here it is, merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun...is playing in the background. Automatically you start mentally working out the chord sequence of the chorus. It takes seconds: G Bm Bb D. It’s the Bb chord that helps the hook, you think. You move on to the verse, while sipping your scalding coffee and unwrapping the biscuits. You watch the other café customers. Everyone seems busy, involved, chatty.

The music changes to Wham’s Last Christmas. You listen with your singer’s ears to George Michael’s vocal and the detail of the arrangement. You scrape chocolatey foam from the bottom of the cup. The coffee machine growls and the girls behind the counter joke and laugh.

You scrunch the biscuit paper into the empty coffee cup and chuck it in the bin on your way out. You walk the customary route along the corridor to the lift. You press 1.

You walk past the nurse’s station to her bay. You sit by the side of her bed. No change since your visit earlier that morning. She is only vaguely aware you are there. She looks as small as a ten year old child lying there, her white hair fanned across the pillow. Her shrunken face looks like a spaceship alien.

The staff nurse comes to check on her. They’ll transfer her to a side room later, she says. Visiting time is over and the ward is quiet, apart from the sound of the drip alarms. Sometimes the lines get dislodged when the patient moves. The alarm beeps the notes D, A, Eb. Was it a deliberate choice to use that interval for a drip alarm, you wonder? A to Eb – a tritone. Diabolus in Musica – the devil in music, you recall. Now two alarms are beeping perfectly out of sync. A synthetic counterpoint. Drips in canon.

When it’s time to leave you kiss her cheek and hold her hand. She mumbles. It’s late evening when you drive home. The sparkling pavements dance and sing between the lampposts. Your car tyres snivel on the wet road. The windscreen weeps rivulets between the wipers’ heartbeat. As you turn into your street you are greeted by Christmas Toytown, with flashing Santas and reindeers marching across the roofs and windows, the houses’ eaves daubed with multi-coloured winking lights, and, in your next-door neighbour’s front garden, a giant blow-up snowman with a gaping smile.

You park the car on the drive and put your key in the lock. Your house is dark and silent. You remember your childhood Christmases. How you loved the lights. The tree. The fairy at the top.

You switch off the bedside light. The phone rings at 12.53 am.

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