The bedside ritual continues into the night. The slow, almost unperceivable heart rate, seen only on the monitor high above the bed, continues to flat line before beeping defiantly once again. The visitors sigh, the patient has lasted another minute, another day. Nobody expects him to last the night and yet there is joy within the small group of half shadowed figures that cling like bats to the bed sheets.
It has been a bumpy ride for the tired old creature. The fall from grace tempered only by the good will foisted upon it by friends in government. There are no flowers by the bedside, only small packets of money, a token of defiance maybe or a gesture in vague hope of restoring the patient to its former self? It is more likely a comfort to sustain it in the next world in much the same way as the ancient Egyptians did for the Pharaohs.
Thirty years ago, the youthful creature was not sick, not even a lame duck, at least in the eyes of followers. Competitive and able to run with the pack, the past life had been good. Thirty years is a long time and the game has changed a lot over that period. It is the quick and the dead today and the creature is barely alive as living proof of its immanent demise. The only questions remaining are: How much are the assets worth and when can they be sold? The grim-faced bunch, hanging on every breath, as though it is the last, are not sympathisers but merely well wishers. Wishing the creature dead and themselves well heeled.
A year ago this thing had friends and like all those before, who have taken the plunge into the crevice of insolvency, is surrounded by people and none of them loyal. Even the doctor has decided not to revive the patient, should it expire. A drain on the health of the nation and the ecology as well as the economy has been suffered greatly by this protracted lifespan. Protracted, not in the normal sense of longevity but rather, as one analyst put it, any day it lives is a day too long. Possibly those words will adorn the tombstone, if anybody ever marks the grave.
The passing however, will not go unmarked. There have been calls for a new public holiday to celebrate, not the life but the bereavement. A large group, waving banners, have gathered outside the hospital entrance and the security staff at Launceston General are hard-pushed to deal with the numbers. Ambulances are being diverted to a side door and the police have been called to move the demonstrators on. These people are hardly demonstrators; they are the elderly, children and office staff after work. Their vigil is that of those around the bedside and once the beeping ceases, alcohol, at least for the adults, will be consumed with joy.
The flat line continues and only the faintest of beeps, at ever increasing intervals, give rise to the fact that Gunns and the pulp mill are both still alive.