‘I want to send you for tests’ said the doctor. She turned round to look at him. She was buttoning up her blouse. He smiled and handed her an envelope.
At home she steamed it open. It was matter of fact. It did not say This woman may be dying, please check. Neither did it mention the word, routine. This kind of thing happened all the time but it was not everyday.
Burgeoning buds, blousy blooms, everything was a reminder. The sun bled in, extra-intense. It was June but it had the maniacal heat of August, that last fling panic of sexed up, steamy fervour, low slung, sultry late night sunsets. She flung off her tops to put on lighter ones and that too was a reminder. She tried not to catch sight of herself in the mirror.
The sizzle had caught her daughter early too. She was fifteen. She was heading out with Eddie. Eddie who was seventeen and had a motor bike. Her daughter wore cut off jeans and a crop top, everything cut off too soon. She was called Emily. She shook her long hair down her back like a shampoo advert and when she and Eddie held hands it was with the fingers interlocked, jammed together – the way they entwined their legs when side by side on the sofa watching TV programmes about young things who bit each other or flesh tearing zombies. They were taking the motorbike to get to the sea. They moved so fast out of the front door that their words were behind them, hanging in the hallway when they’d gone.
She had been worried about the motorbike. Boy racers. Emily regarded her with the patience cultivated for the young and imbecilic. ‘Nothing bad will happen’ she said, swinging the spare helmet with her skinny wrists. ‘We’re all dying, all the time’ she thought the boy mumbled. It could have been that; he was seventeen, he had a goatee.
Later she followed them to the sea. Some sea, maybe not their one. What they said and where they went were necessarily two different things. She went to the place called Greystones, where there was no sand, only grit and shingle. She held weighty, sea softened stones in her hands then let them clatter onto the beach. She sat down and watched the sea creeping in, washing out, laid back with stars; she threw rocks at it, fled. She trod the harbour walk like a penitential pilgrim, she vanquished the hill in one breath, discarded it on the descent. She never looked back. She could feel the stares of pleasure trippers, strolling souls, hot on her hair. She made for the car. Young lovers embraced on a bench between the car park and the sea. She turned the key. She was still alive, the key was warm.
Lumps like pebbles in her breasts when the darkness finally fell; her husband asleep to the sound of her internal screaming. This time she watched her face in the mirror; the face of the possibly condemned. She seemed serene. You couldn’t tell a thing from it. When Emily came home, her clothes intact, her breath hot and determined, her face too gave nothing away. Before bed, she had leaned against her mother on the sofa, her hair spilling over her mother’s arm, her head nudging against the pain. She had brought her mother a stone, something like an agate, with a smooth edge; a worry stone for the edge of the thumb.
Eddie had driven away slowly, the dusk thickening his disappearance. He was a good boy. He kissed Emily on the cheek but kept his face there for the longest. Time was difficult to measure when running out. She’d stood back, in the holding bay of the hallway where she was not held or holding but she could hear the TV where her husband was watching and there was laughter. When Eddie stepped onto the driveway to go and he and her daughter unclasped their hands she stepped out and asked him to post the referral letter on his way past the post box. If it was he who brought it – sailing away into the darkness, all energy and zest – there might still be hope.