She sat perched on a high work-top when I walked in – feet neatly crossed at the ankles, swinging her legs like a child while she rocked … back and forth … and back … and forth.
“Good morning!” I said, as cheerily as I could muster. Her head was bowed low as she stared fixedly at the cover of the cd case clutched so tightly in her two hands that her knuckles were white,
“Did you sleep well?”
She raised her eyes slowly and nodded, now smiling broadly from some other place
“Yes” she said, “I think so”.
The haunting voice of Norah Jones soared from the machine next to her and she returned to the world I had torn her from with my presence. I hovered in the doorway, shifting weight from one foot to the other, searching in vain for rational conversation, but she suddenly alighted from her post and I stepped back in surprise
“It’s in here” she said and pushed passed me into the study. I turned and followed her with my eyes.
She sat down at a desk piled high in papers – probably his – and pulled open the top drawer. A small candle burnt on a marble plate, dancing in a draught from who knows where – there were no windows open.
She pulled out a lighter from the drawer and a second small, red candle which she placed in a mock-marble egg cup. Then, with placid smile and wayward hands, she flicked … and flicked … and flicked at the wheel until a flame burst from the wick then died immediately – a mirror of her own strength. She repeated the process and I willed her success, while quashing the urge to scream “don’t you know how dangerous this is … look at all this that could burn ….!” …
The ritual lasted five minutes or so, during which neither of us spoke. She had long since left me for a far worthier recipient of her attention and she lit 5 candles to her cause. I was touched. And terrified. She gazed, entranced, at her offering while the music tantalised us both – “Come away with me” penetrating both the moment and the silence.
“Who are the candles for Sweetheart?” I asked at last. She stared at me, puzzled
I cursed my lack of discretion. “Of course they are. They’re pretty.”
I love candles. But I was way out of my comfort zone,
“Babe, I need to go.”
I backed, reluctantly, out of the room. She didn’t even stir.
I turned to leave and she was on me like a whirlwind:
“You didn’t come! I waited for you as he said you would come. But you didn’t …” she was laughing now, sardonically – I didn’t understand but her words were scratching and clawing; I tried to take her hands,
“Shhh, Darlin, it’s ok, but what are you talking about??” She bobbed around me, her head inclined slightly as she glared up into my face, punishing me with her eyes, her chin sharp and resolute, the middle button of her cardigan straining across her pyjamas as her chest heaved in indignation.
He appeared behind me from nowhere : “Hey Little One are you OK? You didn’t come to my birthday party. Why?”
We turned. She pointed, her arm outstretched at me “She didn’t come. You said she would come!” ….
He flinched, I recoiled, I searched his face
“Was I supposed to come here?”
He looked sad. He said
“Oh Little One, she came later. She had to work.” I said
“Oh God, I had no idea I was supposed to come here!” He shook his head almost imperceptibly at me and mouthed “don’t worry, it’s OK!” ….
I left, thinking, No, this was not ok.
It will never be ok.
N has a large number of brain tumors and has undergone over 30 operations which have just about kept her alive. The tumors behind her eyes are inoperable and are increasing in size month on month. She has good days and bad days. It is a matter of time, but she is a fighter. She has fought the cancer demons for decades. In her decline, and perhaps her last stoic effort to middle-finger the real world she inhabits, she now fights everything and everyone, including her family and her closest friends. She has moved on from our concept of reality and has no idea what she is doing is this world, nor the consequences of many of her actions. She frequently wanders out alone and gets lost, she has packed her husband’s entire possessions into cardboard boxes which she has distributed between the underground garage, a store-room and the spare bedroom where he now sleeps. He says she ‘hates him’. She lights candles and prepares champagne dinners for an imaginary friend. She has attempted to jump from the balcony of their 3rd storey appartment but was, luckily, (for her family although I am uncertain whether it was lucky for her) brought back to safety by her son and a member of the emergency services team.
Her husband is severely physically disabled. He does what he can. He is away at work 5 days in 7 and some weekends. The children do what they can but are both studying at universities away. There is no home help as it is not considered to be necessary yet.
Each time I am confronted with her condition, I am confronted with my own ignorance on the subject and have vowed to educate myself more. In her case, the tumors are genetic and her son and daughter are proven carriers. Her son has already undergone potentially fatal surgery as a child to remove a life-threatening tumor.
There is a lot in all of this that is not right, but, as an acquaintance, not directly involved, where the hell do you start?