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4  Rancorous Vi

A dying woman dreams

  Stately? Plump? Fuck Mulligan. From the men's part. I've heard what he says about me. I am an anti-royalist and just because I sit in a stupid chintz Parker Knoll chair does not make me stately. Mine broke. No not from my weight thank you. So they gave me this. What do they think I'll do next, knitting? Join in the singsongs? I hate them. Carers and inmates - they want us to be 'clients' or 'guests'. We pay for this so I can say what I am: an abandoned, 86 year old, divorced, celebrated, flattered, abused, misused, rarely as yet confused, woman. All except Julia, I don't hate her, she sees things. And tomorrow, the 16th of June, my birthday, I shall spend the whole day visiting every part of this place, and I will try my hardest to infect... everyone. My name is Violet. They call me Rancorous Vi. That was my artist name. Joyce is my real name, don't tell anyone. I can be nasty, but I mean, well...

  Vi in her room overlooking the S-Bahn, in between Charlottenburg and Savigny Platz, lines 5, 7 and 75. The Berlin Home for Retired Performance Artists. She takes the multi-coloured handle of her white stick from beside the autumn leaf patterned arm of the chair, as always staring blind but balefully at the unsubtle reminder of her years which she knows is there, she can even feel it now, and moves slowly but surely towards the light switch. The lights could be programmed to come on automatically just before dusk, but she'll have none of that. And will certainly not sit in the dark. She has her old MacBook, with voice control and it speaks text to her and says the names of buttons and where the cursor is, but she only really uses it for emails and, with GarageBand, for sketching ideas in whose fruition she has no interest at all, except for occasional one-off performances.

  "There is another one in Wedding which is full, but not this one. Here, most are British, Irish, American and Japanese. There, they come from Switzerland mainly, poor things. Why Berlin? Don't be daft", she will tell you. "Know why there are no Germans? No? Neither do I."

  Where is she, Julia? Juli, we call her. Of course she is German, I forgot. Everyone thought she was from Riga, Latvia. I don't know why. She's German. Pretty, they say. Yes, most of the staff are. German I mean. I forgot. Ha! I make fun of her. She likes it. I hope she does. You should call her Yuli, that's how her name is pronounced but she thinks I can't so I say Juli like the start of jubilee. It's my birthday tomorrow. YES I KNOW I SAID THAT BEFORE. Stephen said Mulligan, when he told him I was 87 tomorrow, said "Well, she is plump and stately". Stupid. He mostly made videos of people stuffing animals, taxidermists. I saw some, when I could see. I don't know why. I mean that's not performance, is it. There are too many so-called artists, so-called performance artists, in here. They came to Berlin, moved into apartments in Mitte or Neukölln, paid for by mummy and daddy. Now they're in here, paid for by their kids who don't want to see them, too embarrassing! The kids are teachers, or working in stupid finance or journalists. They have friends, colleagues round, then the aging grandma bangs a small gong, puts underwear on her head and says "ask me anything you like". She cackles. Old people really do cackle sometimes. She is isolated, with signs of the virus. Tested negative but so do about half the people here. She knows she's positive. She ’saw' it in Juli's eyes. Juli sees things and Vi can sense her eyes. They tested her again.

  Gaddeau, the French lover of more than forty years ago, will come tomorrow. He can stand at the door, say "Gaddeau 'as bought you a cadeau" as usual, tell her he bought her a bunch of flowers, blooms he would have had to leave outside so why buy them, really. "I'll be blooming tomorrow", she thinks. It'll be her day. A day in the life. A whole lot of lives in one day, as she visits everyone everywhere and infects them all. Starting with the Eccles Room, St. George's, the Rotunda medical center; she'll see Batchelor, O'Connell, visit the Green Room with the cashpoint in it, the Pharmacy... the last offices, and —Introibo ad altare Dei.

  But Gaddeau didn't come, he never comes and she didn't wait for him. Juli brought food and drink - most drink Hemingways after lunchtime - and left it just inside the door. Vi called her Juli with a hard J and Juli chuckled and pretended not to mind. Someone was out in the corridor with a cake, she said. Vi thought it might be her birthday cake, don't want that nonsense, but it wasn't for her. No one had come yet. She wondered if a short performance might do it. She pulled the small Nanokey Studio controller towards her, and switched it on. The MAC still recognised it and a beep told her they'd linked. She loaded a violin, then a hi tom.

  "Happy birthday Vi". Mulligan.

  "Piss off. No, tell them I'm doing a performance."

   "One says 'please'".

  "Please piss off.”

  They come with her new test results: "We tested everything. The Virus, triglycerides, blood group... even HIV ha ha."

  "Stupid. Put it down on the floor, don't come close. I'll get it."

  Mulligan, with three others.

  "Who is it."

  "It's me..." "And me." "And me." Vi grunted. Not many.

  "So, Rancorous Vi, when does it start."


  The performance over, three of the small audience departed from the doorway, one with a face mask that had slipped off when he laughed, she could hear his voice change. Mulligan stayed, glancing down at her test results.

  "Did you see these?"

  "How the fuck can I?"

  "You have the corona virus. Well you thought that. Then it says HIV with a dash beside it, then it says 'blood' and an O, or a 0, and a plus sign."


  "A zero and a plus. What's that. Positive. Zero positive. I don't know."

  "Seropositive? Wha... seropositive? Is that what it says?"

  "I guess. Yes, zero positive."

  "Go! Get the... get out, she yelled, and could feel herself turning pale, sweaty and scared. It felt as if something else was making her breathe. She couldn't.

  Rationalising it was easier than she'd thought. It couldn't, surely, have been the sex, not with... no. Drugs? She hadn't ever... oh shit. Not putting drugs in, but taking blood out. With friends. Hey we're so pure we can share. Blood art. Squirt it. Bloody hell. But then... it wasn't going to kill her before she died, so to speak. The corona might, but not that.

  I hadn't gone round the Home, as I'd wanted to. It was not my day. I was so tired, anyone would be. Tomorrow. A day late but never mind. I'll be blooming once again. And now... the HIV makes no difference. It'll be with the corona that I infect them, just by breathing. Well, good night.

  In the morning Juli said it was sunny. I called her properly, ‘Yuli’, she should have been happy but I could feel her eyes. Ah, she knows the results of course. Does she realise I'm going to spread the corona everywhere, get the lot of them except her? One would say of course not, but... When I could see, I used to look guilty when I wasn't. Now I don't look guilty, I think, even if I am. But then she suddenly says:

  "Are you going to do it?"

  Do what. I'm stuttering inside. What? She can't know. Then, I think, she must know I am seropositive for HIV. She thinks I'm suicidal. Am I going to kill myself.

  "No, no," I say. "I'm going to spend the whole day walking around, round the town so to speak, visit all the rooms, and infect everyone with the corona thing."

  I can feel her eyes smiling. She knows. It'll be quite a performance. She leaves me some new tablets to take and I say yes; yes, I will, yes, and they kill me. She knows. Yuli sees.

  "Joyce is dead," the doctor said, and closed her eyes.

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