We all want to change our lives, ourselves, in one way or another. Some people want to lose weight. Others hate their job. I’m among the group that just wishes they could get out of bed without the accompanying symphony of clicks, creaks and groans that seem to be multiplying with every birthday. I hated growing old. The wrinkles. The aches. The tendency of young cashiers at the supermarket to call me ma’am. I don’t think I was alone. Millions are spent every year by companies selling us youth in a bottle. None of it works, of course, but we still spend money we don’t have on that little tub of hope. Yep, everybody hates growing old. That is until you’re told it’s not going to happen.
‘Slip, slop, slap’ is what they say, and believe me, you should listen. If I could go back now, I’d bathe in factor fifty. Give me the thick, only comes in a pump bottle, I can’t tell if that’s bad foundation or good sunscreen stuff. Zink stick me up, baby. But it’s too late for that now. That’s what the nice doctor sitting behind the desk is trying so hard to tell me. I’m not one hundred percent on the medical definition of ‘metastasised’, but I know it’s not great. Her voice is barely audible over the ringing in my ears. That’s not a symptom of the actual disease, you understand. No, that’s just a reaction to hearing the C-word. Her hand rests gently on my shoulder as she hands me a stack of papers and steers me to the door. I wonder how many times she’s done this.
Kerry is going to kill me, and yes, I see the irony in that statement. She was always on at me to stay out of the sun. To look after myself better. My gut ties itself in knots at the thought of letting her down. I do have to tell her, right? What am I thinking? Of course, I have to tell her. But how? I’d like to hope the right moment would present itself, but I tried that when I proposed, and I royally ballsed that up. Thankfully, she saw the funny side in my clumsy attempts at romance and agreed to marry me anyway. Whether she still will is to be seen. Is there much point in marrying someone who’s dying?
Damn, I forgot my key again. Kerry answers the door and rolls her eyes at me but smiles that halfway, ‘I’m annoyed but not really’ smile. There’s no way around it. I’ve got to do it soon. Now even. I can’t drag this out; it’s not fair. None of this is Fair.
“You want a glass?” she holds up a bottle of my favourite red.
I slump into the armchair, “make it a big one.”
“You ok, babe? You look tired.” Sliding down onto the sofa across from me, she hands me the bottle. No one’s ever known me this well. A lump in my throat rises, so I wash it back down with a swig and then another. Before I know it, I’m holding a half-empty bottle.
Kerry raises her eyebrows at me, “wow. Rough day?”
How am I going to tell her?
Shit, I didn’t mean to just blurt it out like that, and now she’s looking at me with a mixture of confusion and concern. I’m gonna have to just come out with it now.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I went to the doctor today.” Another swig of wine. “Well, actually, I went a couple of weeks ago. I went back today for my results.” She’s staring at me now; I can’t read her expression. Maybe another mouthful of wine will help. “I have cancer, stage 4. There’s nothing they can do.”
She nods and chugs her glass of wine. Silently she walks over to the fridge, opens it, then closes it and returns to the couch with her glass still empty.
“I’m sorry, cancer? What?”
I join her on the sofa and pour her a glass before finishing the bottle myself. “I’m so sorry, babe. Doc says I’ve got six months at best.” I lower my head and gaze into the empty bottle, “I understand if you don’t want to stick around, it’s probably not gonna be pretty.”
Only now does Kerry look at me. Her eyes are swollen with tears.
“You think you can get out of marrying me that easy?”
“Sam, can you give me a hand with this bloody dress?”
Sam crosses the length of the room in two strides and zips me up. “You look beautiful.”
He’s kinda right. For the first time in my life, I’ve been pampered and polished. I hardly recognise myself.
“You can’t be doing that at the altar.” Sam raises his eyes at me, and I stop scratching.
“It’s just these painkillers are making me so itchy.”
He’s still giving me that look, so I place my hands in my lap, a sign that I’ve heard him.
“Ready to go?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
Kerry and I decided to walk in together. Unfortunately, walking is a bit beyond me now, so she’s forced to push her bride down the aisle. It’s far from an ideal entrance, her lifting the front of her own beaded white gown with one hand and pushing me with the other, but somehow, she manages to make it look elegant. Her vows are beautiful. Miles better than mine, but then I expected that. She’s perfect. We decided to forgo the reception. Even before, this was never about a big party for us. Kerry helps me to bed. I’m lighter than I was, so at least the job’s a little easier for her now. Her bride in a profiling bed downstairs, surrounded by pill bottles and a commode in the corner, is probably not the wedding night she’d hoped for, though. Hell, it’s definitely not what I’d hoped for. The armchair by my bed has a clear indent that moulds perfectly to Kerry’s body as she sits down and rests her head on the edge of my pillow.
“I wish I could give you the life you deserve.”
Kerry lifts her head and places an impossibly soft hand on my cheek. Her last words to me were even more beautiful than her vows.
“You already have.”
Story by Stacey Potter