That Elusive Cure 12
By lisa h
Sal stayed in bed all evening, leaving me to concentrate on the kids. Thank God I had this mystery boon of energy – whether placebo or actual – it was welcome and frankly necessary. I got the kids off to school the next morning and after waiting to what I judged the reasonable hour of ten o’clock, I ventured into Sal’s bedroom bearing a tray of toast and orange juice.
“Come on, you.” Time to shake the funk off.” I opened the curtains and sat in the arm chair. I felt like I was on a repeat of the day before.
It was a few minutes before Sal even moved. I’d almost nodded off as well, her rhythmic deep breaths sending me towards a nap.
“It’s not a funk.” No hello, no good morning, no how are my kids today. But I hadn’t expected any of that. I’d prodded her on purpose. Years of dealing with her had given me tools to help. Sal’s sister used to come around more and when Sal got like this Jill would use the kids and throw a guilt trip on Sal about her lack of mothering skills. All that did was send Sal down the rabbit hole even further. The best way, at least for now, was to make her defensive. Not angry, just defensive. It was a knife’s edge of an accomplishment. Get her too angry, and I’d be cleaning up a destroyed house after she went on a rampage.
“Yes Sal. You’re in a funk.”
“It’s not a fucking funk. Stop being a bitch.”
I shrugged. “Suit yourself.” I went to the kitchen and boiled the kettle, getting the meds she needed ready as the tea brewed. “Here.” I was back in her bedroom. I put a mug of tea on the side along with her tablets. “As it’s not a funk you need your meds.”
Sally gave me a dirty look, but I’d made my point and she took the pills without argument.
“You getting up today?”
Her bed was a mess, the sheet half off so she was lying on the mattress. The whole room stank of stale, sweaty human. The open window simply wasn’t helping enough.
“We could go for a walk down by the beach.” I got up and stared down her garden. The grass needed mowing and the patio almost hidden by the weeds growing in the cracks.
She wasn’t biting. Sally had thrown the bed covers over her head and was lying perfectly still. Playing dead. The phrase popped into my mind and stuck. Seemed horribly appropriate given what was probably going through her mind.
“We could have a joint funeral.”
Finally. Words. I’d all but given up.
“I’m not planning on going anytime soon. So I guess you won’t be either. Best get out of bed and try to live a little before the end.” I was impatient. In the back of my mind, the pod teased me, distracted me. I needed to be there for Sal, completely, not with my mind still in a dirty old church in Birkenhead.
“It’s easy for you to say. I have this darkness on me. It’s like an oily blanket and I can’t get out from underneath.”
“You should try a wash then.” I regretted the words the minute they left my mouth.
I heard a sound and realised she started weeping. “Don’t you think I would if it was that easy? Everything is so hard. Moving is hard. Eating is hard. Feeling is hard. I keep thinking it would be easier if I just snuffed out, but with you being ill I don’t know what would happen to the kids, and it’s the only thing keeping me here right now.”
I couldn’t cope today. All the words I wanted to say were geared to hurt, to dig, to force her into action, any action. Sal had gone emotionless again. She’d sat up in bed, tears drying on her cheeks. Morning had gone, the afternoon bringing the sun. I watched as the light crept across the carpet. Jimmy had rung, telling me he loved me, just like I’d wanted but inside I felt as numb as Sally did. I felt like I was here for duty, not love like I normally was. The ache in my liver wasn’t so bad, less than it normally was. I told Jimmy who said thank God the chemo was working. The business with the pod had built up inside me. I wanted to confess, to tell Jimmy what I’d done, where I’d gone. I didn’t care if he called me insane. But I didn’t I kept it quiet, told Jimmy I thought I might come home today.
School leaving time, and I still hadn’t got Sal to move. I picked up the kids, their disappointment in seeing me painful to bear. My patience at an end, for a moment I thought maybe I should call in the professionals, but my feet were too fast, and suddenly there I was, stood at the end of her bed, hands on hips.
“Enough wallowing!” I shouted at her.
Sally all but fell out of bed in surprise.
“You’ve got two kids out there who hated that I picked them up from school. They love you and need you. I’ve got an ache in my belly that needs my pain pills and I’m too afraid to leave you and go get them. You’re being selfish holed up in bed and refusing to move. Either get moving or I’m calling for back up.”
“Bitch,” she spat the words at me. “You’re no better than Jill.”
That hurt, but I wasn’t backing down. I’d pandered to her and that hadn’t worked. “I can bugger off if you like. Let your little boy play carer. Is that what you want?”
“Why are you being such a bitch to me?” She emphasised the word ‘bitch’.
“Because look at us. The sick looking after the sick. Jimmy wants me home so I can rest. He still thinks I’m going to get better, and that weighs on me, it bloody crushes me. I’m never frigging getting better. I’m on the slow road to death. I don’t get an option. I had plans to live to one hundred years old. I was going to celebrate my centennial with a book about all the big changes in the world during my life. Instead I’ll be lucky if I see forty-five. And then there’s you, with a perfectly good body wishing yourself dead. Do you know how jealous I am of you?” There, it had come out. The words I’d never intended to share.
The kids had heard the shouting and were stood in the hall outside the bedroom door. Christ, they did not need to hear this.
“I’d swap bodies with you if I could. In a heartbeat.”
Her words triggered a wave of shame. My anger disappeared in an instant. “Oh Sally, I’m so sorry.” I sat on the edge of the bed. “I shouldn’t have said those things.”
“I don’t want to go to the headcase hotel.” Sal didn’t tear up, she didn’t frown, or stare wide-eyed and knowingly at me. Her face didn’t give away any emotion. She simply lay there staring at me, her expression bland.
“I won’t let them section you again.” I touched her arm, unsure if she was ready for human contact.
Sally nodded at me, the first proper emotions breaking through, her eyes glassy as she put her hand over mine. We stayed like that for a long time. I knew she’d get through this episode when she finally got up out of that bed and went to the shower.
As I changed her bed clothes, self-loathing came over me. Instead of thinking about Sally and her kids, and the breakthrough I’d made in simply getting her to wash, my mind was fixed on that damn machine and how I’d get another session in two days. Sally was right. I was a bitch.