This story is one of 29 in my anthology Through Other Eyes.
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They think I don’t know that Mum is dying.
Last night, the family met at our house, with Nan in charge, and right at the start she said very firmly, “Oh, we must protect the poor little mite as long as possible. He’ll have time to grieve soon enough.” Then I heard her blow her nose.
Dad said, “Yeah, I want him to remember Anne at her best, not…”
I could see nothing but the back of the sofa though, and if I got right down to the floor, Dad’s big black shoes, and Aunt Tilda’s red high heels.
Jee! Poor little mite, indeed. I mean, I’m ten! Not fair, treating me like a baby, but that’s adults for you.
Anyway, there I was, and at last could put it all together. Dad has only told me that Mum was sick in hospital, but “getting better.” Oh yeah, then why wasn’t I allowed to visit her? And why did Dad have bloodshot eyes like he’s been crying? Dad of all people, I’ve always thought he was made of tool steel like the things he works with. But tool steel doesn’t cry.
They used a lot of big words like prognoscis and pallative, but what I got out of it was that Mum had only weeks to live. I still didn’t know why, but I reckoned it had to be cancer. My mate Tom’s Dad died of cancer from smoking. But Mum doesn’t smoke. Dad used to but not anymore, and anyway, he’s OK, it’s Mum who’s crook.
But Dad told everyone (including me behind the sofa) that Mum’s been moved from the hospital in the city to a ho-spits or something — sounds crazy, but that’s the closest I could get to it — and gave the address, and “Room 14.” I’m good at remembering things.
They kept yakking on, until I got stiff, lying in my hidey hole, and then it was coffee and some cakes a couple of the Aunties brought, but none for me of course. But at last, way past my bedtime I reckon, they got up and Dad followed them to the front door and here was my chance. As soon as the light clicked off, I shoved hard against the sofa and somehow managed to stand on legs that didn’t want to do as I told them. I put the sofa back and lay in my bed with eyes closed when Dad put his head in to check on me.
I rode in the back of the car in the morning instead of the front as usual. Dad didn’t mind, and I looked up the hospits place in the street directory. It was maybe two miles from school. Dad dropped me, and I simply walked there.
The sign said, “Peacehaven Hospice.” Well, that makes no more sense than hospits. I had my story ready, my guts in a knot and my feet in a tangle.
No one at the front desk.
Signs pointed to room numbers. I followed “1-25.”
A blue-gowned lady marched toward me. “Yes?” she said.
“I… my mother’s in Room 14. Dad’s just locking the car.”
She let me pass. Phew.
14. Bare white square with a bed. In the bed, a yellow skull, no hair, not even eyebrows. Two yellow stick arms on the white sheet.
Big brown eyes in the skull look at me. The mouth opens, and Mum’s voice comes out: “George! My love!”
And the stick arms are around me and we’re both crying and she smells wrong but it’s Mum and I hold the skinny body under the sheet and won’t let go.
“Oh George, I so missed you!”
“I wanted to come, but nobody told me.”
“You’re here now. I can say goodbye.”
“No. NO! Say hallo, and stay. Get better.”
“I wish. But the doctors have given up on me.”
“What do they know? Mum, live. For me. Fight it, whatever it is.”
“Darling, I had a nasty thing start in my breast. Now it’s got away and I have lumps everywhere. It’s in my liver, that’s why I’m this colour, and lots of other places.”
“I want you to get better. Mum, forget the doctors. Forget the lumps. Just close your eyes and hold me, and think of being at home. With me and Dad. Be there. Remember the creak in the third step? The smell of coffee in the kitchen?”
I feel her body go soft and still.
“Look, I’ll do a magic trick. Feel my hands? I’m passing magic bullets into you and they look for the lump things and kill them. Feel the lumps dying? Feel yourself getting better? Keep feeling the bullets going through you. They don’t hurt you because they’re magic, they just hunt the lumps and blast them. Feel it. Feel it, Mum, in your liver, wherever there are lumps they’re running scared but they can’t get away from my magic bullets. And…”
There is a noise. The door opens and I move away from Mum. A man in a white shirt says, “Anne, I came to check if you need something for pain again.”
Mum looks at him, looks at me, back at him again. “Sam, meet my darling son George. But, you know, I don’t feel any pain at all for the moment. What I feel is hungry. Do you think…”
Mum is eating some yellow slop when Dad walks in. Too late to hide.
“Oh hi Dad! I’ve come to help Mum get better.”
They look at each other, the “Kids!” look, so I have to yell at them. “Listen, Mum and Dad, listen! You’ve got to believe me! Look, Mum, when was the last time you felt hungry?”
Their eyes change. The three of us are caught in a glow. We are one. My heart hurts with joy.
Time has stopped, but at last Mum says, “George, I can feel it. Thank you my love. I am going to live.”
Sure, this is fiction, but it’s based on fact. This is how a “spontaneous remission” can be created. There is more about that in my book on cancer.