I’m dying. I’ve known it for a year and a half since the incongruity of the Edinburgh consultant’s multi-coloured bell bottoms poking out under his white coat. He gave us the prognosis only a fortnight after Robert’s 13th birthday. Arthur doesn’t like me being so blunt about it but I don’t see the point in prevaricating.
But Arthur is constantly in search of that next miracle cure, that certain something which means I won’t be taken from him so soon. If ever I doubted my husband’s love for me, I’ll never do so again.
“I was talking to Franklin and he says there’s a new type of cancer care he thinks would be good for you.” This just after cupping my face to kiss me hello. I still manage to be surprised at his new found ability to show me physical affection so openly.
“Arthur, why are we fighting this? You know I’m dying and there’s nothing out there for me now.”
He winces but takes a deep breath and keeps going. “I’m not talking about medication Rowena. A nurse will come to the house to make sure you have everything you need, keep you comfortable.”
“Arthur, a stranger, seeing me like this? I can’t do it.”
But after Robert got in from school two days later and found me cleaning up the couch, I changed my mind. I hated that I’d not been able to make it to the bathroom in time. I hated the shame I felt at my son seeing my body fail me in this way. But most of all I hated the shut down look on Robert’s face, knew it wasn’t because he didn’t love me but because he was coping with the fact his mother was dying right before his eyes.
I couldn’t do it to him anymore. I agreed to meet the nurse from the Macmillan project.
I’ve been going along with most of Arthur’s mad schemes because a part of me is fighting the inevitable and I don’t want to leave my beautiful 14 year old son. Every day he shows me sides of himself which chase the pain filled hours away.
But I fear for him, wonder if he’ll be strong enough to deal with more death. He’s already met the shadow more times than I’d like.
~ # ~
“Mrs Deed, I’m Evelina Bricot. Very pleased to meet you.”
She oozes serenity. The heavy medication and all its side effects have played havoc with my senses. It’s been the longest time since I’ve been able to feel someone’s persona so very clearly.
But Evelina Bricot is a truly good soul. Her hand touches mine and that over twisted rope always pulling at my shoulders releases some of its hold. I rise up, a ghost ship ready to set sail.
Just before her hand leaves mine a burst of images gives me a glimpse of how she will help my son find his way back to himself. It will be a long trek through the heart of darkness, but Evelina’s touch will make it happen.
After she leaves Robert sits next to me on the couch. “She’s like Mexican hot chocolate.” He blurts.
“Why do you say Mexican?”
His eyes grow wary. These days he hides that intuitive side of himself even from me. I know this world forces him to hone the art of circumspection. I wish it wasn’t so.
As though reading my thoughts, something I know he cannot do, he decides to open up for a change. “Her skin’s that rich dark colour and there’s a scent of spice to her, you know, cayenne or something.”
Aaaah, my perceptive son.
I nod. “I know what you mean. I find it soothing.”
Then something occurs to me. “When did you taste Mexican hot chocolate?”
“It was that foreign student exchange thing we did at school. You know, the one with the food tasting luncheon.”
This common place exchange gladdens my heart more than any of the serious talks he always wants to engage in. How I wish gladness was more central to his life.
At least he gets a little of it at that fancy school Arthur insists he attend. I thought they’d want to put him in a box, shape him, crisp his edges. But he’s lucky enough to have a demeanour and ‘smarts’ which make them leave him be.
Perhaps my illness helps as well. Or Arthur has said something to the Dean. They’re pals from when he did his residency at Kings. Whatever it is, I’m glad of it. His future will be hard enough as it is.
But I fear for his present and the canyon of isolation he’s carving around himself. A year and a half at his new school. It’s more than time enough to make friends, even one would do.
I am powerless to influence him now. Those days are gone.
Some nights I cry uncontrollably for the lonely man my son is turning into. Arthur cradles me, thinking my tears are fuelled by my pain. He has enough to worry about without me letting on our son will bear the scars of my illness and our deaths long into adulthood.
My tear filled nights are less now Evelina has come. She talks to me of her family and I see them all. She has quite a brood.
“One fadder in jail and de udder died before me youngest born. Damn fool get heself hit by a bus. I was always telling dat man not to rush aroun so much. You gine get youself kild I said. But no-body listen to me.”
While she whips round the bedroom sorting bedding or divides up medication at the kitchen counter there’s always some new tale to tell about what one of her brood has been up to.
“Frankie, me secon eldest. She need a cuff in de head more times a day dan any a me udder children.”
But when she talks about her 2 year old Madie, her voice is like a Nat King Cole song.
And if Evelina touches me while her thoughts are on little Madie Bricot, I’m suffused with the love inside of her. It’s such a wide open veld love which wraps itself around everything and everyone in its wake.
I so want Robert to be around when this happens, but as yet it hasn’t. There’s still time though. Not much, but some.
I’m tempted to give up on the strong pain medication.
Arthur, usually so reluctant to consider anything alternative, has read about polypeptides discovered by two scientists in Aberdeen. He assures me it’s relevant and might cut down on my morphine consumption. To please him I read the article about how the pituitary gland produces a natural pain reliever. We both know this is an ineffectual flood barrier. And I avoid reminding him what he already knows – the life expectancy of a leukaemia patient like myself is no more than a year after diagnosis depending on which stage the disease is at. But the suggestion doesn’t seem all that crazy.
That I’ve lasted this long is due to my own stubbornness and the latest procedures and medications Arthur finds through his contacts and colleagues.
Now Evelina Bricot, she’s a pain reliever everyone should have doses of. She’s taken to teaching Robert to cook after she discovered he knows about fresh garlic and root ginger.
I can tell when he touches the misshapen clump of ginger his mind has turned to Lorenzo Tomassi and how much he misses his friend. I also know he’s shying away from thoughts of Luisa, pushing aside the bloody images of her knife slashed body from his time spent in the post mortem with his father.
Evelina pulls him from those recent past tragedies back into the kitchen where a chicken stock of amazing proportions is brewing in a pot she brought herself because none of mine were large enough. A Jerk chicken marinade is well under way.
Feet up on a footstool, comfortable in my armchair in the corner of the kitchen, I watch their interaction. My heart rejoices at my son’s lack of prejudice. Somehow, even within the confines of Haddington before we moved to London, I managed to give him a taste of how differences make us more and not less.
Even Arthur’s edges are being sanded down. He’s taken to wearing wide collared shirts he’d not have been seen dead in when we were still in Scotland. It makes me want to laugh, but there’s a shyness in the way he slides them off the hanger and pulls them on, looking across at me to see my reaction.
And ever since we almost lost Robert to that murdering swine, Arthur’s more vocal in his affections towards our son. He never tells him he loves him. It’s the way his eyes soften and his voice warms when he says “my boy” in response to questions from Robert.
Robert senses it. I always thought he was ambivalent about his father’s love for him, especially before his 13th birthday. But now there is no doubt in him. I see all those psychology books he reads and know that on an intellectual level he understands his father’s lack of ability to say those three words. And as Robert grows into himself I see him accepting it on a heartfelt level. After all, in some ways Robert’s much like his father. He hardly tells me he loves me anymore. But he always shows it in countless ways.
While they fry chicken Evelina unashamedly launches into questions about Robert’s romantic life. I giggle inwardly and await his answers eagerly. I’m hardly the person he’s going to confide in on that score.
He blushes at her impertinence but there’s something about Evelina which compels a person to answer her questions no matter how intimate. “No-one mam… um Evelina. Not now anyway.”
“You wait and see now Bobby, the right one she come to you. Keep you eye open.” She leans in tilting her head up so she can look him in the eye with one of her large brown ones.
No one else calls him Bobby, not even I’m allowed to do that.
I wish Evelina could come every day, but the project’s new and funding is precarious. So I talk to Arthur about it and we agree to give the Macmillan Nurses a substantial donation. After all, I’m not going to need money once I’m dead, except maybe a couple of pennies for Charon.
Robert’s 15th birthday is in a month. Arthur and I have discussed what to get him at great length. As ever, I’ve been direct with Robert and asked him outright. But this year he’s decided to be maturity itself and declares he wants nothing at all. I know why he says this, but I still want him to have something special. So we call on Gabriel Haskey, his librarian friend from his old school in Haddington. Gabriel’s been spending more and more time in Greece and has taken to teaching English and tutoring children whose families want to move to England. Then Libby Sharpe comes round for a visit and I take the opportunity to include her in the surprise party I’m planning. We’re hoping Arthur’s best friend, Angus Rennick can make it down from Haddington too. This select handful make up the people we call friends.
Looking at the list of names I feel how inadequate it is. The house should be full of boys, all Robert’s friends from school. No doubt other houses with sons have a proliferation of boys coming and going in droves. But I expect it stands to reason, since he is the boy he is, that things will be so different.
~ # ~
Libby hugs me hard and I wince. She pulls back. “Sorry.”
“I’d rather have the hurtful hug than not Libby Sharpe. It’s great to see you. Come in to the lounge and tell me everything that’s been going on since you joined the Metropolitan Police.”
“Wait a minute Row. Does Robert suspect anything?”
“He probably does, but he’s pretending not. He’s been busy at school. They’re all handing in end of year projects.”
She settles on the couch and digs straight into the prawn cocktail. Hand in front of mouth she chomps, “Sorry. Haven’t had time for lunch. There’s talk of the first female chief super being appointed.”
Arthur comes in looking a bit forlorn. Angus can’t make it down. “Ah, Libby, good to see you. Would you like a drink?”
The doorbell rings. It’s probably Gabriel. Arthur heads off to find out.
But when he gets back Evelina is in tow. Behind her, a corner of Evelina’s skirt bunched in one fist, is a toddler with a mass of curly hair which threatens to over-topple her little body. “Forget me key. Had li’l miss ting to tink on is why.”
When Evelina places the little girl in my lap while she helps Arthur with the rest of the party food in the kitchen, the scent of Gujarat mango fields fills my nostrils. I hug her to me, breathe her in, relive that wild and free time from my youth. The child doesn’t mind, but rather sinks into me.
When the doorbell goes again the onlooker Libby becomes doorman while I revel in the whole of little Madie Bricot.
Then Gabriel’s there and a last minute unexpected gift for Arthur as Angus appears by Gabriel’s side. Robert arrives soon after. And pleasure waves suffuse his aura for this surprise which isn’t really a surprise to him.
Madie has fallen asleep in my arms. Evelina takes her from me, places her in Robert’s arms. “Let de pickney sleep in you bed Bobby.”
And so it comes to pass. Robert holds the child carefully before taking her to his bedroom and forever seals his future.
As he returns from this seemingly simple errand my happiness is a giant sun ball; for this, my son’s 15th birthday celebration, for the exhausting pain I will shortly no longer need to endure, for the hope I now can hold onto for a less lonely future for my son.
Gabriel is let loose on the record player. Libby has doubts he’ll be able to choose anything suitable. While she rummages through our records Gabriel slides Leo Sayer onto the turntable and it scratches a little as it starts part way through the song then settles.
#When I need love
I hold out my hands and I touch love
I never knew there’d be so much love
Keeping me warm night and day#
There’s a little lull in the conversation as we listen to the lyrics.
Every single member of our little company takes a huge in breath, including the little girl asleep on Robert’s bed.