‘Tell me how it will be.’
Philippa nods as if she was expecting this question. She has a strange look on her face – professional, distant. She’s begun to retreat, I think. What else can she do? Her job is to administer to the dying, but if she gets too close, she might fall into the abyss.
‘You won’t want to eat much from now on. You’ll probably want to sleep a lot. You might not want to talk, but you may feel energized enough for good ten-minute chats between sleeps. You may even want to go downstairs or outside if it’s warm enough, if your dad is able to carry you. But mostly you’ll sleep. In a few days you’ll begin to drift in and out of consciousness, and at this stage you may not be able to respond, but you’ll know people are with you and you’ll be able to hear them talk to you. Eventually you’ll just drift away, Tess.’
‘Will it hurt?’
‘I think your pain will always be manageable.’
‘In the hospital it wasn’t. Not at first.’
‘No,’ she admits. ‘At first they had trouble getting the drugs right. But I’ve got you morphine sulphate here, which is slow release. I’ve also got Oramorph, so we can top up if necessary. You shouldn’t feel any pain.’
‘You think I’ll be scared?’
‘I think there’s no right or wrong way to be.’ She sees from my face that I think this is rubbish. ‘I think you’ve had the worst luck in the world, Tessa, and if I was in your shoes, I’d be scared. But I also believe that however you handle these last days will be exactly how it should be done.’
‘I hate it when you say days .’
She frowns. ‘I know. I’m sorry.’
She talks to me about pain relief, shows me packets and bottles. She talks softly, her words washing over me, her instructions lost. I feel as if everything is zeroing in, a strange hallucination that all my life has been about this moment. I was born and grew up in order to receive this news and be handed this medicine by this woman.
‘Do you have any questions, Tessa?’
I try to think of all the things I should ask. But I just feel blank and uncomfortable, as if she’s come to see me off at the station and we’re both hoping the train hurries up so we can avoid all the ridiculous small talk.
Out there is a bright April morning. The world will roll on without me. I have no choice. I’m full of cancer. Riddled with it. And there’s nothing to be done.
Philippa says, ‘I’m going downstairs now to talk to your dad. I’ll try and see you again soon.’
‘You don’t have to.’
‘I know, but I will.’
Fat, kind Philippa, helping all the people between London and the south coast to die. She reaches down and hugs me. She’s warm and sweaty and smells of lavender.
After she’s gone I have a dream where I walk into the lounge and everyone’s sitting there. Dad’s making a sound I’ve never heard before.
‘Why are you crying?’ I ask. ‘What’s happened?’
Mum and Cal are next to each other on the sofa. Cal’s dressed in a suit and tie, like a mini snooker player.
And then it hits me – I’m dead.
‘I’m here, right here!’ I yell, but they don’t hear me.
I saw a film once about the dead – how they never really go away, but live silently amongst us. I want to tell them this. I try to knock a pencil off the table but my hand moves right through it. And through the sofa. I walk through the wall and back again. I dabble my fingers in Dad’s head and he shifts in his chair, perhaps wondering at the thrill of the cold.
Then I wake up.
Dad’s sitting on a chair beside the bed. He reaches for my hand. ‘How are you feeling?’
I think about this, scan my body for signs. ‘I’m not in pain.’
‘I’m a bit tired.’
He nods. ‘Are you hungry?’
I want to be. For him. I want to ask for rice and prawns and treacle pudding, but I’d be lying.
‘Is there anything I can get you, anything you want?’
Meet the baby. Finish school. Grow up. Travel the world.
‘A cup of tea?’
Dad looks pleased. ‘Anything else? A biscuit?’
‘A pen and paper.’
He helps me sit up. He plumps pillows behind me, turns on the bedside light and passes me a notepad and pen from the shelf. Then he goes downstairs to put the kettle on.
Number eleven. A cup of tea.
Instructions for Dad
I don’t want to go into a fridge at an undertaker’s. I want you to keep me at home until the funeral. Please can someone sit with me in case I get lonely? I promise not to scare you.
I want to be buried in my butterfly dress, my lilac bra and knicker set and my black zip boots (all still in the suitcase that I packed for Sicily). I also want to wear the bracelet Adam gave me.
Don’t put make-up on me. It looks stupid on dead people.
I do NOT want to be cremated. Cremations pollute the atmosphere with dioxins, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide. They also have those spooky curtains in crematoriums.
I want a bio-degradable willow coffin and a woodland burial. The people at the Natural Death Centre helped me pick a site not far from where we live, and they’ll help you with all the arrangements.
I want a native tree planted on or near my grave. I’d like an oak, but I don’t mind a sweet chestnut or even a willow. I want a wooden plaque with my name on. I want wild plants and flowers growing on my grave.
I want the service to be simple. Tell Zoey to bring Lauren (if she’s born by then). Invite Philippa and her husband Andy (if he wants to come), also James from the hospital (though he might be busy).
I don’t want anyone who doesn’t know me saying anything about me. The Natural Death Centre people will stay with you, but should also stay out of it. I want the people I love to get up and speak about me, and even if you cry it’ll be OK. I want you to say honest things. Say I was a monster if you like, say how I made you all run around after me. If you can think of anything good, say that too! Write it down first, because apparently people often forget what they mean to say at funerals.
Don’t under any circumstances read that poem by Auden. It’s been done to death (ha, ha) and it’s too sad. Get someone to read Sonnet 12 by Shakespeare.
Music – ‘Blackbird’ by the Beatles. ‘Plainsong’ by the Cure. ‘Live Like You Were Dying’ by Tim McGraw. ‘All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands’ by Sufjan Stevens. There may not be time for all of them, but make sure you play the last one. Zoey helped me choose them and she’s got them all on her iPod (it’s got speakers if you need to borrow it).
Afterwards, go to a pub for lunch. I’ve got £260 in my savings account and I really want you to use it for that. Really, I mean it – lunch is on me. Make sure you have pudding – sticky toffee, chocolate fudge cake, ice-cream sundae, something really bad for you. Get drunk too if you like (but don’t scare Cal). Spend all the money.
And after that, when days have gone by, keep an eye out for me. I might write on the steam in the mirror when you’re having a bath, or play with the leaves on the apple tree when you’re out in the garden. I might slip into a dream.
Visit my grave when you can, but don’t kick yourself if you can’t, or if you move house and it’s suddenly too far away. It looks pretty there in the summer (check out the website). You could bring a picnic and sit with me. I’d like that.
OK. That’s it.
I love you.