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Post- script to Baby Steps in 2020

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Sam ran up the steps of St Martha’s Hospital, he put on his facemask and entered the hospital. He went to the Reception Desk, stood behind the line marked out on the floor and asked where the Covid ward was. He was directed up the stairs and walked up them. He made away along the corridors till he was stopped at a door.

“I'm here to see my father, Lord Maynard of Armiford,” he said to the nurse who nodded.

“You need to put this PPE on,” She said, “If you want to don them in here.” Sam nodded and went into the small room where he dropped his bag and put on the PPE, he emerged and the nurse nodded, “This way, he's not much time left.”

“I gathered that,” said Sam and then stopped in shock. His father looked very small and fragile in the bed, the ventilator helping him to breathe. He hadn't gone bald, but his hair was even whiter than when Sam had seen him, only a couple of months before.

“Dad,” he said walking forward.

“Stay two metres away please,” said the nurse and Sam nodded. “I'll leave you then,” she said and left them.

“Dad,” said Sam, more urgently and Charles opened one eye and looked at his son.

“Dad I'm so sorry to see you like this,” Sam looked at the ventilator, Charles just raised his eyebrows and shrugged. Sam laughed, “Yes, that's you, you always shrug at life. Look, I've got Whatsapp on my phone, I'm going to try and get mum,” Charles shook his head and coughed, Sam said, “She won't see you but you can see her, she's at home with Nicola, they're waiting.” He dialled the number and waited, Lawrie came on the phone, “Chuck? Chuck? Are you there?

“He is, but he can't speak, he's wearing a ventilator.”

“Let me see,” Sam hesitated and looked at his father who gave him a ghost of a smile and shrugged again.

“Don't upset yourself, Mum,” said Sam, and turned on the camera. Lawrie looked at Charles and said, “I've seen you looking better, I see you're back in your second home.” She looked at him and he looked back at her, “Chuck, don't leave me please,” her voice broke and Sam moved the phone away. There were tears in Charles's eyes and he struggled as if to say something and started coughing, struggling to breathe. “He says goodbye, Mum, keep well, I'm staying up here, I'll have to self- isolate, but I'll be fine. Bye Mum,” said Sam and he ended the call, putting away his phone and looked at his father. “Years ago, you told me I had to follow my instincts to get results, so, as there's no-one around,” Sam stepped forward and put his arms around his father, “It's Ok, I've got to self-isolate, I'll shower as soon as I'm out, but I need to say goodbye. Dad, you've been a wonderful father, you've allowed me to live my own life, even if farming isn't what you thought I'd do, and I've really enjoyed being your son and part of your life. I love you so much,” Charles's eyes overflowed and Sam wiped away the tears. “Goodnight Dad, sleep tight,” and he sat beside him, holding his hand, until he felt him relax and knew he was dead. He stood up and kissed his cheek and then moved away. He took one last look before leaving the room. The nurse bustled in, “Have you said goodbye? I'm sorry but I'm going to have to ask you to leave.” Sam nodded and turned, “Bye Dad,” he said and walked away. He went back to the room to disrobe and washing his hands and face, upset that he was washing away the touch of his father.

Leaving the hospital, he phoned Lawrie and they spoke quietly to one another. He then drove to the house in Kensington, his childhood home and now his house. He let himself in. It seemed quiet, Lawrie was staying down at Trennels and he thanked God for that, he could isolate here, without putting her at risk. He went to the kitchen and made himself a cup of tea. There was still milk in the fridge, his father had deteriorated quickly with the bug. he went across to the study and looked in, the room was still full of books and Sam remembered suddenly his childhood and Billy working in here. Then Charles. A game of chess was left, unfinished. Sam shut the door and went into the sitting room. He switched on TV set and settled down. The news was on and he half-watched. The journalist was talking about the latest Coronavirus fatalities.

“We have to report the death of Lord Maynard of Armiford, tonight He was the head of M16 for twenty years, and was instrumental in bringing the Cold war to a peaceful conclusion. He worked in Germany for many years and his contacts in both East and West helped facilitate the downfall of the Berlin wall.” Sam sat forward, he remembered his father moaning that he was always having to go to Germany when he wanted to stay with Sam. Tony Blair appeared on the screen, “I remember Charles, a lively intellect, very shrewd, a football fan, and a true friend. he did his country a great service.” John Major then was interviewed, “I saw Charles quite often at Lords, with his son, he was a cricket fan and he would update me with news and any information he thought I should know.” he smiled, “Some of it was not perhaps exactly what we were looking for, but it complemented the official information.”

“The Prime minister also paid tribute,” and Boris Johnson appeared, “Great shame, nice man, always put his country first, will be sorely missed.”

“Lord Maynard leaves a widow, Dame Lawrence Marlow, who was too upset to speak to any reporter today. A statement was issued by her agent which said that she had lost her best friend and her soulmate.”

“And finally,” Sam switched off the television and sat back and smiled. His father would have been amused by all that and Sam wiped away the tears from his own eyes and got up to see what he could make himself for supper.