One day in January…

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 the television and wriggle themselves reluctantly into their coats. I’m 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’ve arranged for them to be picked up later, just in case.

I arrive back home to wait. My husband works overseas so I must ask for favours from friends and today I need a lift. There is 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 – a man – to see if he can help. I tell him we’ll be back by twelve.

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 the adjacent room while I begin to put my clothes back on. Slowly. For I need time to think. What about the kids? My husband? The friend who remains unsuspectingly in the corridor 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, and 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 girlfriend’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 back door. I turn the key in the lock and pause for a second before entering the empty house. The phone is ringing.

My husband? My mum? The door clicks quietly into place behind me as I reach out to pick up the receiver.

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