Connie is checking my pulse. Lyre has periodically leapt up from her chair to lay a hand against my brow. They are looking for signs of illness, fever, derangement.
We are in my garden, sitting around the little table where we normally play cards of a summer evening. The cards remain in their pack.
“It’s good for a person to have her dearest friends around her at a time like this,” I whimper.
Connie’s hand grips my wrist. I watch them exchange glances.
“I want you to remember me how I once was. Fit, healthy, easy-going, a lover of life, a woman with dreams and plans and ambitions. That’s still who I am essentially. Remember that. Underneath this horrendous weight, is a woman with a sunny disposish.”
Lyre talks like a woman in shock. “But how could this have happened? How did it sneak up on you?”
I can’t answer her because there is an enormous lump in my throat.
Sometimes our lives just take terrible turns for the worse.
All I’d said a week ago – and I’d said it to Peony by the by, while I was washing up and she was watching me doing it – was that I still had an open-ended car ferry ticket to France, given that Laurence was now busy with THREE commissions from newspapers and magazines, not to mention his rather relegated day job at the hospital.
“You wanna be careful who you say that kind of thing in front of, Ma,” she told me.
“Wha- ?” I looked up and heard, rather than saw, the scurrying of feet from the kitchen. Mother’s feet. We peered out of the window and saw her hurrying across the lawn to Charlton in the shed. She was skipping, as a matter of fact. And very possibly singing.
“Idiot,” said Peony.
And so here I am on the eve of a holiday with my mother and my brother, a prospect that filled me with despondency when it happened routinely in my childhood, let alone now in middle age. And that’s not even bearing in mind the hollowness I feel at being abandoned by a man I thought liked me but who would far rather knock out clichés about the future of the NHS than sign his name next to mine in the guest book of a little Brittany auberge.
What misery heaped on misery.
But my friends are here. That’s something isn’t it?
“You’ll see,” says Lyre in her caressing tone. “You’ll survive this ordeal and come back a stronger woman. Your luck will change, my dear, I promise you. I know good things await you. Your time will come.”
Connie is shaking her head tearfully.
“No human being should be asked to endure this amount of suffering.”
They are full of love and sympathy for me.
But their eyes say “idiot”.