“I’m glad to catch you, Mr Bluestone. Something – two – remarkable things happened today, so I’d like a word before you go.”
“Sorry? Oh, of course,” replied David, now alert. “I was so long in theatre that I didn’t have a break. A talk would be nice.”
“As you know,” began Mrs Andrews as they entered her office some minutes later, “your mother has become an instant hit at ‘Oak Trees’. She reminds us of an old-fashioned, exquisitely mannered child and my colleagues love her neat habits, which help to make our routine much easier.”
“Good. But you implied something’s gone wrong. When I arrived, she was sitting up, mumbling as usual into her toy. Then I noticed a different nightdress and that her hair had been tied back with a ribbon.”
“That happened first. After breakfast, Ilona suddenly stopped her incessant ‘telephone’ chatter and became silent. About an hour later, she was heard singing “happy birthday dear Daddy” and she asked for her best dress and a hair ribbon. So we gave her something else to wear.
“Everything seemed normal until this afternoon when Nurse Evans found her asleep. But her face appeared tear-stained and the bedding was in a mess.”
“It’s my birthday today. She made the connection. “I’m lost for words!”, said David.
“That was not Ilona’s trouble!” retorted Mrs Andrews. “As she tidied the bedding, Miss Evans found a pencil and some paper on which Ilona had written a poem.
“We’re astounded; first by what she did and even more by the composition. We can but guess that she somehow clambered off the bed through a gap in the frame and, wondering about the room, found the stationery in the cupboard by the window.”
“It’s how my mother used to write,” gasped David as Mrs Andrews passed it over. “Those carefully formed, rounded characters remind me of the style she used when Kitty – my twin sister and I – were young.
“And the poem – I can tell you about it, too It’s the piece that made her well-known; which gave her the respect as a writer for which she’d yearned. Now she’s re-written it here, word for word. It’s like a declaration of faith!”
“Perhaps you’ll give me some background?”, asked Mrs Andrews. “Can you start by reading me the poem as you recall Ilona reciting it?”
“Well, I’ll try.”
‘This Is The Heart’
This is the heart my parents gave Me: One room for wisdom. A second For hope. This is the heart.
This is the heart my parents gave Me: A third room for knowledge. The Fourth for pain. This is the hurt.
Here was the heart her parents gave Her: Defective. Deficient. Abandoned. Apart. This was her hurt.
This was the heart her parents gave Her: This was the heart; the hurt. This was … This.
David paused briefly and then went on: “Ilona had more trouble than many as a young woman. She and her brother, Frederick were born to wealthy parents who were excessively strict. She told us that her father, Graham - a cold, stern man – would punish them for even the tiniest misdemeanour. She hinted there was more – but we dared not think what.
“Her mother, Hazel, a fragile personality who had ailed from birth, died when the children were in their teens. Ilona and our father, Derek met and fell in love at college. They married as soon as they were able and moved far away from her childhood home.
“Family life could have shattered after our father drowned in a swimming accident. Kitty and I were aged only eight, but Ilona coped somehow. Although her background was Modern Languages, she retrained as a legal secretary and earned good money working free-lance for top city law firms.
“But it was not her ‘real’ work, she said. Her true vocation was creative writing and she scribbled from late-evening, into the small hours, several nights a week.
“Nothing happened at first. But when Internet use became popular she gained an audience as a pioneer blogger, writing as ‘Ilona Blue at Ilona’s Island Dreams.’ She also posted stories and verses on her site and the poem won her some belated fame.”
“Please go on, Mr Bluestone. I’m fascinated.”
“Kitty and I wanted to treat Mum to a holiday to show our appreciation for everything she’d ever done for us. So four years ago, our two families took her to Israel. She loved the trip but suffered from complications following heat exhaustion and spent three days at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem where an underlying heart condition was discovered.
“We were all shocked as Ilona had appeared well. Later she confessed to being carried by a huge surge of emotion as she watched the image of her beating heart on screen. The memory inspired her poem, whose rhythm attempts to imitate that of a heart in motion.
“However, the unexpected news about her health somehow altered Mum’s personality. It was as if she’d been hit by a train and her life has been on a speeding, downward spiral ever since. We now see her poem as her way of drawing a line at the end of her sentient life. You know the rest.”
“We’re both in medicine, Mr Bluestone. I fear that today’s events were the embers flaring before the fire dies out. I don’t want to consider how long we have to enjoy Ilona’s company. But I appreciate your sharing everything with me. It’s explained so much.”
“Thanks for giving me the chance,” replied David, his voice breaking. “I’d better leave now.”
“’This the heart …’ ” muttered Mrs Andrews as she stepped to close her door.
“’…. my parents gave me,’ ” whispered David as he strode towards his car.
And somewhere upstairs, Ilona Blue’s fine heart beat for a final time.
(Copyright, Natalie Irene Wood – 20 July 2012)