The three of us are sitting at the kitchen table. Charles is leaning forwards, propped up on his right hand, his fingers splayed on the magnificent bald dome of his head.
‘I know what it looks like,’ he says. ‘I know I look like a man in despair. But I’m happy. And honestly? I don’t care. It’s comfortable. That’s it.’
His wife Irene sits opposite, methodically working her way through a fat file of notes.
‘Charles!’ she says, without looking at him, licking a finger, turning a page.
‘Like I said. I don’t care.’
Behind us, two patio doors open out onto a garden saturated with colour: a fierce yellow cloud of forsythia, vivid red splodges of tulip, diminishing dots of daisies, and in the middle of it all, like the richest and most exuberantly white wedding dress, an old apple tree in full bloom.
‘Don’t even look at it,’ says Charles. ‘It’s shameful.’
‘It’s beautiful.’
‘Are you a gardener?’
‘We’ve got a garden. I get out sometimes.’
‘Hmm,’ he says. ‘As soon as I’ve finished this cycle of chemo I’ll be back. You’ll see.’
‘You rest, hun,’ says Irene. ‘That’s your job. Now look – here’s that list you wanted.’ She hands me a list of medications. ‘Good luck with the spelling,’ she says.
There’s a radio up on the counter playing classical music. The second movement of Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.
‘I don’t mind telling you – this is far and away the loveliest consultation I’ve had in a long while,’ I say, listening to the music. ‘The last one, I was in this smoky, super heated flat, all the windows shut, curtains drawn. And the patient was wearing a fluffy red dressing gown, sitting on a sofa surrounded by all these creepy porcelain dolls. And she was puffing away on this fag. And they were all staring at me with the same expression, just waiting for me to faint.’
‘You poor thing!’ laughs Irene. ‘I think you had a touch of fever. But you know what? Some people just like it hot. She must be one of those. A hothouse flower.’
‘I like it hot. But not that hot. When I came back outside it actually felt cold. For a while, anyway.’
‘Do you remember when we had all that snow?’ says Charles, still propped up on his hand.
‘When was that, darling?’ says Irene.
‘Years ago. When we first came here. Or maybe not so long. It was snowing anyway. And I was walking down the street. And I lost my footing or something and I just flipped, straight up in the air, and then straight down again – flat! – on my back. So I was lying there, properly winded, and groaning and so on. And these two old woman came waddling over. They’d been chatting on the street corner, all bundled up, you know? And they came over, and they looked down at me. I can see them now, clear as I can see you. And they said: Careful. Just like that. Careful, they said.’
‘Oh darling!’ says Irene. ‘How funny!’
Careful! they said. Just like that.’
‘And what did you say?’
‘I said: Why – thank you. I’ll be sure to take your advice.’

3 thoughts on “careful

  1. What a wonderful couple. One day when my nieces were around there was Goreckis (sp) playing, that’s radio 3 for you!. The 3 year old asked me who wrote the music. When I told her that it was by Goreckis (sp) she nodded and said oh yes It’s by “come and get me’


    1. I just had to look that up! There’s a rap song I found that doesn’t sound much like it (the bit I heard anyway), and then the ending to a film (that did sound quite like it). But if your niece is 3, maybe it’s a children’s program on TV…?

      They were a lovely couple. Facing a horrible illness together with great love & companionship. Best you could wish for, actually.

      Thanks for the comment, Sally. I hope all’s good with you & your family 😃


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