'Nests' by Rachael Dunlop
He lies on his hospital bed, beached and bloated. His skin stretched taut with the fluid that pools rather than flows around his body, he is pinned on his back by tubes and needles and nozzles.
His heart is failing and he is alone.
He is in his hospital bed and he is in the attic of his house. He inhales cool oxygen though a nose-piece, soft but intrusive, and tastes the warm-timber scent of the attic. The last time he was up here, he found row-upon-row of wasps’ nests, each abandoned for the next, only the last occupied. They had chewed the wood from his garden fences, mashed it in their tiny maws, made it into paper, and laid it down, leaf-upon-leaf, to build their nests.
He lies on his hospital bed and turns towards the window, unseeing eyes seeing the dormer window in the attic that admits only a slim slot of sunlight. He has put the box in the darkest corner he could find. His wife doesn’t like to come all the way into the attic, scared by its otherness, a space above the house, but not part of it. She lobs things in from the top of the ladder, less afraid of a fall than the heat-packed space under the resin-rich rafters. He had to clear a path from the hatch to get in properly, shoving backwards and outwards the stacks of stuff. A timeline of one family’s life, the boxes furthest from the hatch containing baby clothes and cot sheets. The ones closer, discarded schoolbooks and defunct games consoles.
He is in his hospital bed, his heart failing, and he is alone.
He tries to get comfortable, wishing there was someone to smooth the sheets that have ridden and rucked up under his shoulder blades. A man with two wives, dying alone.
One wife is not here because she doesn’t know. She thinks he is on a business trip, because that is what he tells her, when he is with his other wife. Neither knows about the other. Concurrent not consecutive. He has spread himself thin, spread his heart thin, to be husband twice-over, his two lives weighing one on top of the other, his heart expanding, stretching, until it is more than his chest can contain.
He lies on his hospital bed and he is in his attic, wedging the box tightly under the eaves. The box with the marriage certificate for his second wife (in his heart, if not in law) and the birth certificates for their children (his in all ways), the mortgage deeds and the bank account details and everything that wife will need when he is dead. He hopes the wasps have not raided it for their building materials.
He is in his hospital bed, sweaty against the plastic sheets, bloated and burdened and dying and he hears the door open.
‘I need you to go into the attic,’ he tells his wife.