This is no ordinary day, I think. The morning sun blinks out from a January sky and there are things to do that I have always done, but still, I know that this day will probably change my life.
I get the children ready. They chuckle at a cartoon on TV and wriggle themselves reluctantly into their coats. I am trying to keep everything normal. I take my son to nursery and my daughter to school. They are very young, only three and five. I have arranged for them to be picked up later – in case.
I arrive home to wait. My husband works overseas so I must ask for favours from friends, and today I need a lift as I have an appointment at ten. The phone rings. My friend’s car has broken down. Can I get someone else? Yes, I say and phone another friend to see if he can help. I tell him we’ll be back by 12.
The hospital smells bleached and new; you can almost taste it on your tongue. We are directed to a corridor where women sit and I feel for my companion who has suddenly been thrust among this alien female world. We talk easily together until a nurse appears and hesitantly attempts my name. I smile in recognition and she leads me to a room where I undress. The wound has not yet healed on my left breast but I know the procedure and lie down expectantly on the bed.
He arrives in five minutes, a doctor whom I haven’t seen before. He holds my notes in his hands – my life in his hands – and he says, “you have a malignancy in your breast. If you get dressed, we’ll discuss treatment.” He leaves and waits in an adjacent room while I begin to put my clothes back on, slowly, for I need time to think. What about the kids? My husband? My friend who remains unsuspectingly outside?
My feet take me to the other room. “Right,” I announce. “Tell me what this means.” I sound like an idiot. I know already what it means; I just want him to tell me what I want to hear, not what I already know.
I think of my friend in the corridor, waiting. I feel sorrier for him than I do for myself – this is not what he signed up for this morning after all. When I see him, I say, “Sorry, but we’ll be here rather longer than I thought.” He touches my arm – a gesture that says more than a thousand empty words.
It is dark when we leave. My children have been taken to a school friend’s house but I ask my male companion to take me directly home. To prepare. I don’t need the company of anyone else right now. He drops me at my gate and I walk the final few yards to the backdoor. I turn the key in the lock and pause for a second before entering our empty house. The phone is ringing.
The door clicks quietly into place behind me, as I reach out to pick up the receiver.
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