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National 5 English - Sample Short Story 1

Folding Stars

A bundle of cards left unopened lay on her bedside table, above the basket of fruit sat untouched by the bed. Clothes were piled neatly on a chair and a dressing gown hung from an idle peg on the wall. The smell of chicken soup and chemicals hung in the muggy air.

 The ward was busy, families gathered around the beds of loved ones. An elderly woman rushed in with flowers to the bed by the door. Her husband, unable to talk, greeted her with a toothless smile and open arms. Meanwhile, a tall slender woman sat laughing at the bed by the window and handed over a present to the elderly man in the bed. Upon opening it, a grin spread across his face and he broke into laughter.

And there she lay on the bed in the corner, face as pale as wax. No one sat by her side, the chairs next to her unoccupied in the busy ward. She remained surrounded by people; yet completely alone. Her eyes too weak to open, tried to shut out the rest of the world. In a room full of strangers she lay in wait. The clock on the wall watched her patiently as she lay.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

It was inside her head now, far too aware of the time she had left and with every tick it grew closer, closer than before. 

The open window brought in wafts of the warm July air. Freshly cut grass. Children played outside, their laughing drifting in on the soft summer breeze. And with the sound came memories of childhood, memories which seemed so very distant now. The warm sun on her face as her dad carried her on his shoulders along the dusty cobbles of Lambeth Road. Sunday school trips to seaside towns and swimming in the bitter cold sea, all those faces and voices drowned in the past. Light-hearted and carefree, how times had changed.
With every footstep that passed, the plastic clipboard at the end of her bed rattled, a detail so small, yet too persistent to ignore. A drip stood sentinel over her, supplying her with the little life she had left. And with every bubble which swam to its surface, the clock whispered that her time was near.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

 She wanted it to stop, yet she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to all that she knew, all that she had ever known.  Memories swarmed her head, reminding her of what she could not bear to leave behind. Emptiness awaited. It beckoned her over but she did not follow. She refused to leave just yet. The longing to remain outweighed the pain which she had felt for so long.

 A nurse floated into the ward and leaned over her bed, asking questions which did not expect an answer, questions which had not had an answer for a while now. It is such a peculiar thing, how a person can be so surrounded by death, yet have a smile which radiates such happiness and warmth. Leaving as fast as she came, the nurse moved onto the next bed where she asked the same questions with that very same smile.

 Left to attend to her lingering thoughts once more, the woman thought about her family – a subject as sore as the pain in her chest. She was unsure if it was because of her dying memory that she failed to remember their faces - or if it was the amount of time which had passed since she had last seen them. Hearing this thought, the clock taunted her from high above her bed.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

She could feel herself beginning to give in to it. She ached all over and had done for too long now. It was inevitable what was coming anyway. No matter how fast she ran to escape it, it would catch up in the end. Her frail bony hand shook from where it lay on her chest, the only sign of life to those around. Her senses tingled; the overwhelming smell of chemicals scratched at her throat. White noise conversations filled the room, but it was the smallest of sounds that deafened her. The drip of a tap, the squeak of the wheels on a cart being pushed down the corridor, the tick of the clock.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

She was too tired to stay, it hurt with every breath; rasping for air. It was clear she couldn’t go on. The wind blew in from outside, blowing memories upon her pillow. Using all of her strength she opened her eyes. She was met by sunlight shining in through the window, showering the hospital floor with glittering beams of light. She saw the faces of the strangers she had been with for so long, laughing and smiling. Out past the window, green hills stretched to the horizon, clouds sailing across the blue ocean above. The faint sound of a radio drifted from a further room, the words of a song filtering through the thin air...

“Tomorrow is a promise to no one…”

For those few seconds, the weight of the world had been lifted, she had no fear.

“I hope that you’re folding stars.”

Smiling, she closed her eyes.

Rachel McIlvanney

e-mail : english@kilmarnockacademy.co.uk                                                 tel: 01563 525509

 N. McIlvanney 2013