Thirty-four

They swap like porters. Dad comes every morning. Adam comes every afternoon. Dad comes back in the evening with Cal. Mum visits randomly, managing to sit through an entire blood transfusion on her second visit.

‘Haemoglobin and platelets coming right up,’ she said as they hooked me up.

I liked her knowing the words.

But ten days. I even missed Easter. That’s too much time to lose.

Every night I lie in my single hospital bed and I want Adam, his legs entwined with mine, his warmth.

‘I want to go home,’ I tell the nurse.

‘Not yet.’

‘I’m better.’

‘Not better enough.’

‘What’re you hoping for? A cure?’

The sun hoists itself up every morning and all the lights in the town wink off. Clouds rush the sky, frenzied traffic dips in and out of the car park, then the sun plummets back to the horizon and another day is over. Time rush. Blood rush.

I pack my bag and get dressed. I sit on the bed trying to look perky. I’m waiting for James.

‘I’m going home,’ I tell him as he examines my chart.

He nods as if he was expecting this. ‘Are you determined?’

‘Very. I’m missing the weather.’ I point at the window just in case he’s been too busy to notice the mellow light and the blue-sky clouds.

‘There’s a certain rigour needed to maintain this blood count, Tessa.’

‘Can’t I be rigorous at home?’

He looks at me very seriously. ‘There’s a fine line between the quality of the life you have left and the medical intervention necessary to maintain it. You’re the only one who can judge it. Are you telling me you’ve had enough?’

I keep thinking about the rooms in our house, the colours of the carpets and curtains, the exact positioning of furniture. There’s a journey I really like making from my bedroom, down the stairs, through the kitchen and into the garden. I want to make that journey. I want to sit in my deck chair on the lawn.

‘The last transfusion only lasted for three days.’

He nods sympathetically. ‘I know. I’m sorry.’

‘I had another one this morning. How long do you reckon that’s going to last?’

He sighs. ‘I don’t know.’

I stroke the bed sheet with the flat of my hand. ‘I just want to go home.’

‘Why don’t I talk to the community care team? If I can get them to guarantee daily visits, then perhaps we can reassess.’ He clips my chart back onto the end of my bed. ‘I’ll phone them and come back when your dad gets here.’

After he leaves, I count to one hundred. A fly grazes the table. I reach out my finger for a touch of those flimsy wings. It senses me coming, sputters into life and zigzags up to the light fitting, where it circles out of reach.

I put on my coat, drape my scarf round my shoulders and pick up my bag. The nurse doesn’t even notice as I walk past her desk and get into the lift.

When I reach the ground floor, I text Adam: REMEMBER YR PROMISE?

I want to die in my own way. It’s my illness, my death, my choice.

This is what saying yes means.

It’s the pleasure of walking, one foot in front of the other, following the yellow lines painted on the floor of the corridor all the way to reception. It’s the pleasure of revolving doors – going round twice to celebrate the genius of the person who invented them. And the pleasure of the air. The sweet, cool, shocking outside world.

There’s a kiosk at the gate. I buy a Dairy Milk and a packet of Chewits. The woman behind the counter looks at me strangely as I pay her. I think I might glow a bit from all my treatments, and some people are able to see it, like a neon wound that flares as I move.

I walk slowly to the taxi rank, savouring details – the CCTV camera on the lamppost swinging on its axis, the mobile phones chirruping all about me. The hospital seems to retreat as I whisper goodbye, the shade from the plane trees turning all the windows to darkness.

A girl swings past, high heels clicking; there’s a fried-chicken smell about her as she licks her fingers clean. A man holding a wailing child shouts into his phone: ‘No! I can’t bloody carry potatoes as well!’

We make patterns, we share moments. Sometimes I think I’m the only one to see it.

I share my chocolate with the taxi driver as we join the lunchtime traffic. Today he’s on a double shift, he tells me, and there are too many cars on the road for his liking. He waves at them in despair as we crawl through the town centre.

‘Where’s it all going to end?’ he asks.

I offer him a Chewit to cheer him up. Then I text Adam again: U HVE PROMISES 2 KEEP.

The weather’s changed, the sun hidden by cloud. I open the window. Cold April air shocks my lungs.

The driver drums his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. ‘It’s complete gridlock!’

I like it – the stall and shove of traffic, the deep thrum of a bus engine, an urgent siren in the distance. I like creeping so slowly down the High Street that I have time to notice Easter eggs still unbought in the newsagent’s window, the cigarette butts swept into a neat pile outside the Chicken Joint. I see children carrying the strangest things – a polar bear, an octopus. And under the wheels of a buggy outside Mothercare I see my name, faded now, but still weaving the pavement all the way to the bank.

I phone Adam’s mobile. He doesn’t pick up, so I leave another message: I WANT YOU.

Simple.

At the junction, an ambulance stands skewed, its doors open, the blue of its light flashing across the road. The light even flashes onto the clouds, low above us. A woman is lying in the road with a blanket over her.

‘Would you look at that,’ the taxi driver says.

Everyone’s looking – people in other cars, office workers out for their lunchtime sandwich. The woman’s head is covered, but her legs stick out. She’s wearing tights; her shoes are at strange angles. Her blood, dark as rain, pools beside her.

The taxi driver flicks me a glance in his mirror. ‘Makes you realize, doesn’t it?’

Yes. It’s so tangible. Being and not being.

 

I feel as if I have sap in my toes, running up my ankles and into my shins, as I knock on Adam’s door.

Sally opens it a crack and peeps at me. I feel a surge of love for her.

‘Is Adam in?’

‘Aren’t you supposed to be in hospital?’

‘Not any more.’

She looks confused. ‘He didn’t say they were letting you out.’

‘It’s a surprise.’

‘Another one?’ She sighs, opens the door a bit further and looks at her watch. ‘He won’t be back until five.’

‘Five?’

She frowns at me. ‘Are you all right?’

No. Five’s too late. I might be completely anaemic again by then.

‘Where is he?’

‘He’s gone to Nottingham on the train. They’ve agreed to interview him.’

‘For what?’

‘University. He wants to start in September.’

The garden spins.

‘You look as surprised as I was.’

I fell asleep in his arms in that hospital bed. ‘Touch me,’ I said, and he did. ‘I love you,’ he said. ‘Don’t you dare tell me I don’t.’ He made me a promise.

It starts to rain as I walk back down the path to the gate. A fine silver rain, like cobwebs falling.

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