Elaine always did say that the saddest thing when doing a house clearance was coming across the Christmas decorations. “These people never knew when they put them away that it was for the last time ever.”
We had to keep many of them so that they would ‘live-on” somehow, or so she thought. Consequently our own trees used to groan under the combined weight of so many other people’s Christmas pasts.
Eventually she was forced to purchase a seven foot artificial tree with a metal frame and limbs that could handle the annual load. Testament to it’s being one tough son of a bitch, is the fact that when we got Sammy and Rita as kits’-four years back- they lived in it for two weeks, only coming out for food or a crap or when captured at bedtime.
It’s well over twelve years old now and still going strong.
Monday 21st December.
“Do you want to open Christmas presents now in case you’re still in the hospice on Friday?” I ask Elaine.
“Do you think I will be?” Her voice is steady but quiet.
“To be honest yes” I reply.
“OK, just a couple maybe”.
I am looking at my wonderful wife of almost twenty five years. She is pale and fragile and obviously physically weak. We’ve just been through possibly the worst night of our lives together. Her painkilling meds’ aren’t working right and she has suffered so much because of it.
The pain has eased somewhat, but the vacancy is being filled by fatigue and mild confusion. Cancer is on the move now regardless of us believing it or not.
There’s not much time as we’ve got to be at the hospice in less than two hours. But I don’t want to rush these oh so precious moments that are left to us.
Elaine has always been like a big kid at Christmas. She loves everything about it especially the presents and always has to have a present on Christmas Eve to placate her until the big day.
Her ‘big’ present this year is a Samsung Tablet which I bought with the help of our good friend and IT expert Bob. He’s got it all set-up ready to go, we switch it on and she runs her fingers lovingly across the screen.
“I’ve always wanted a tablet. Thank you darling.”
There’s also a couple of items I bought from the other Vintage Barn sellers and a metal watering can shaped like an Elephant that she saw in the Summer and just had to have.
I can never be certain about presents for Elaine. She loves the off- beat and quirkiness in things most of all, (don’t quite know what that says about me!!).
I change clothes and leaving Elaine to get ready, go downstairs. My insides are in complete turmoil. That voice inside me is talking again;
“You’re taking your wife to a hospice. That’s the Last Chance Saloon, isn’t it? People go there to die don’t they.”
This can’t be real can it, CAN IT!
Twenty minutes pass and I go in search of Elaine.
She’s sat on the floor of our spare room, her work room, packing material into a large ‘boot bag’.
“What are you doing love?”
“I want to get this ready for Liz, to go with the rest.”
Liz and husband Jack are fellow Vintage sellers and Fair organisers. Elaine has asked them to come and collect all of her material and costume stock as she knows I won’t know what to do with it if she is not here.
“We’ve got to get going Elaine.”
“It won’t take long.”
“Leave it darling, I can sort it out with Liz when the….if the time comes.”
“OK help me up.”
I collect her bags and other items, including the Tablet, and go downstairs.
Elaine follows slowly and stops halfway down the stairs to catch her breath. Watching her I feel fear nibbling at the shrinking hope inside me.
She walks straight through the kitchen to the far door and goes outside. I follow and lock up behind us.
I notice she hasn’t said goodbye to the cats. Nor does she look about her outside. She just looks ahead of her and keeps walking, this is totally out of character.
Normally she would make some comment about the trees the garden or the sky. She’d look for birds or gaze across the park. She was always observing life, looking for fuel for her writing and the inspiration of new ideas.
I open the gate and then the car door for her, and help her in.
It’s time to leave, and I’m sure now Elaine knew well enough that for her it was going to be for the last time.
Now there are two routes open for us to get to the hospice.
The most direct is through the park then turn left out of the security gate and drive up to meet the main road. To turn right is to follow the route taken by Elaine every morning and evening to get to Bruce.
It’s a journey she had been doing for several years, until recently.
It follows through a narrow country lane leading to a winding country road for just over two miles.
Not long ago Elaine said she wanted to take the car one morning and drive this way again just to remember Bruce and for the love of the trip itself. His death hit her extremely hard, I don’t think I realized quite how hard at the time.
She has her eyes closed as we pass out of the gate and turning right head downhill.
We finish the narrowest part and turn onto the slightly wider section.
At any time it is a captivating drive.
In Spring Summer or Autumn, the colours smells and sounds vie with each other to dominate the senses. But Winter bleakness gifts it a beauty born of desolation and quiet solitude.
The green of the damp fields shows bright against the grey and muted browns that make up everything else. The air is fresh, but not cold, and the sky white rather than blue, shows a vibrant life of its own to the world below.
A bump in the road, and Elaine opens her eyes and looks around.
“Do you know where we are?” I venture.
“Yes…yes I do.”
She’s looking all around now, like a child seeing Wonderland for the first time.
That fabulous sunshine smile dawns over her face. It can’t mask the truth of her condition but it brings its own light to force reality briefly away into the shadows.
I feel the lump in my throat as if it were real.
We pass hedgerows and fields so familiar. There’s a particular meadow beloved of swans and many other birds and Elaine cranes her neck to see into it as we slowly drive by.
Her blue eyes, wide open now I notice, have a gentle milkiness to them but no sign of tears. The smile shines on. If she is feeling any pain it’s been diluted in a sea of unexpected happiness lapping on the shore of memories.
I thank God or whoever for our coming this way.
We cross the narrow stone bridge over the river and head into the village beyond. Elaine closes her eyes but the smile remains and I know she is ahead of us now and turning into the yard to see Bruce waiting at the stable door.
The voice inside me is saying that she knows this is the last time she’ll pass this way. Deep inside you know it to, that’s why you chose this route.
But I don’t want to believe in voices or intuition or any such bloody thing, they can all go to hell for all I care. We’re a team Elaine and I, and you can’t have a team of one. Who’s Bonnie without Clyde? Butch without Sundance?
I will not believe in her dying, I just can’t. But the voice is persistent and getting louder.
We re-join reality at the main road and turning left, head towards Poole, and the hospice.
To be continued…