(Okay, okay. The rewrite is moving into the home stretch. It really is. I'm pretty sure it is, only it’s taking longer than I wanted. It was meant to be finished this week and the delay has not been too good for my nerves. For my attention span. For my patience. It’s been a week of feeling defeated by my own story, but I'm pretty sure victory isn’t too far off now. Next week. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be next week. I hope it's going to be next week.
So, as I make a push to get this final, final, final draft finally completed I thought I’d use this week to share something with you. As things stand, what follows are the first 900 or so words my second novel will start with.
In more ways than I can really express right now, I hope you like them.)
“They said it could have been in her for years, just biding its time. Can’t remember the posh word the doctor used for it.”
“Benign. That’s it. Sounds like a little town in the south of France to me. Anyway, her doctor made this whole song and dance about her not seeing them sooner. He kept saying they could’ve caught it and done something for her if she had. Only she didn’t feel any pain. Not until it turned malignant.”
Alistair Lowe, holding old age at bay for long as he could, stopped working on the new garden wall and stood up straight. Eyes staring into a future he didn’t want to see as the word struck home. Malignant. A word with barbed edges. A word that came to you contagious. It opened a fresh wound in his hope starved heart.
“Anyhow, the way that doctor went on about it, you’d think he was the one getting the bad news, not my wife. She barely said a word until we were in the car.”
The afternoon was winding down high above their heads. Cleaning up the stage and sidling away as evening crept into the wings, ready to take its place. Sunlight burnt the horizon red past the lines of roofs around them. The lingering summer warmth was beginning to stretch too thin to hold.
Each brick was getting heavier as they hefted it off the emptying pallet and dropped into place. Their rough edges were beginning to grow stubborn against the old men’s aging fingers. Threatening to drop on their already brittle, stress tested feet at any moment. It all served to remind them that they weren’t getting any younger.
Ed Howe didn’t complain that his friend had stopped working. He couldn’t blame him. Alistair Lowe had plenty on his mind these days. The move was finally going through after being stuck in a quagmire of paperwork for over two months now. Which meant Ally and Dee were almost done with a life lived out of boxes.
There was no doubting that they were both desperate to get to their new home up north as soon as possible. Time had become a such governing factor for the pair of them, since her diagnosis.
“It makes you think,” Ally said. “It could be in any of us. It could be in me. I keep thinking about that. I keep wondering if it would mean I could go with her when she…”
The words caught. He lowered his head, closed his eyes. It took him a moment to gather himself back together, into one trembling piece. Swallowing the end of the sentence before he released it into the world to do any further damage.
Ed carried on working, if only to ignore his own emotions. He’d never been sure what to say at times like this, so he waited for his old friend to speak again. Hoping it would show him the way.
“You know what I mean, right?” Ally asked him.
He didn’t, not really. Him and Maggie were happy. They had a son and a grandchild, with another on the way. Sure, not everything was perfect, but Ed knew he couldn’t complain about it. Not here. When he was around Ally, his problems shrank down to the atomic scale. Dwarfed by a shadow that no rising or setting sun could ever shift.
“It could’ve happened to anyone, Ed. Why’d it have to happen to Dee?”
Ally kept his voice down. The wives were back in the house, out of sight and earshot. Sitting in front of a favourite old movie of theirs and sharing a bottle of something expensive. Ally was clearly hoping that Dee would never know they were talking about her.
Ed had a sneaking suspicion that there was something else at work here as well, beyond the strangling emotions of impending grief and painful times ahead. Whenever they spoke about her illness, Ally rarely named the disease. Dee did the same. It was as if they were exercising some new superstition. Keeping her tormentor at bay by refusing to acknowledge its very presence. Keeping it as little more than a stranger in their lives. Someone who lived further down the street. A friend of a friend. They were doing anything to ignore the cancerous elephant in every room.
“How’s she sleeping now?” Ed asked.
The bricks clinked together as they were put in place. Ally got back to work, applying the mortar with a rusting old trowel.
“Like a baby,” he said, with a loose sniff, “if you can believe it. I lie awake every night and all I can hear is that damn clock her mother left us, ticking away. Every bloody second getting louder and louder in my ears. It’s like I can hear our time slipping away and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
The words choked again. Ed stopped working and looked up to see his friend pushing a hand to his lips as he began to tremble.
“I’m a bloody idiot,” Ally said, stifling the words with the back of his hand.
Never knowing exactly what to do at a time like this, Ed set down the brick he’d just picked up off the pallet, stood and rested a red dust flecked hand on his friend’s shaking shoulder. When he finally removed it, he’d left a clear print on his mate’s old work shirt.