Carol enters her currently unoccupied nineteen-year-old daughter’s bedroom. With all the strength she has, she rubs out a familiar pain in her chest as she searches through a variety of bags, scattered everywhere in the room.
“So many bloody bags, Bethany. Which one did you put them in?” she mutters, picking up and unzipping a small green rucksack. Rummaging through it, a few of its contents fall out; a scarf, a packet of tissues, a small plastic tub of pills, a few folded sheets of lined paper roughly ripped out from a notebook, and a bottle of water.
“Finally,” she says, popping open the container of painkillers, washing down two with the bottle of water that fell on the floor. She sighs, with instant relief.
She sits on the edge of the bed and looks around at the mess in the room, some of which she’s created herself. She tuts and begins tidying up, starting with repacking the green rucksack – the scarf, tissues, a used bottle of water, and… without thinking about it, she unfolds the paper and starts reading. But after the first line, it hits her – realising what it says and who wrote it.
I want it to end. All of it.
Carol brings her hand to her chest again, but this time from a mother’s love and worry.
She had to read further. She needed to.
I imagine I’ll have tears in my eyes, but I’m desperate to feel… To just feel a sense of release.
I’ve never – will never mention this to anyone. I don’t think they’d understand how I could feel this way. They’d probably only see me as ‘having a bad day.’
It’s been a bad few years. I just haven’t let on.
What’s the point in disappointing and depressing the ones who are closest to me? Bringing them way down to this level and causing them, in my eyes, unnecessary concern. It isn’t worth it. I’m not worth it.
I don’t want my family and friends to feel guilty. I don’t want them to have those conversations.
What they don’t know doesn’t hurt. Not really.
Unable to move, Carol exhales, softly rubbing the written words between her thumbs and fingers.
I’m not an attention seeker. I’m frustratingly shy and annoyingly awkward. Or simply frustrated and annoyed. A few years ago, I was brave, bold, outgoing. A few years ago, I loved life.
Carol tries to remember the last time she heard Bethany lose herself in wild laughter. Or smile with her eyes. It had been a long time.
I can pinpoint the exact day my attitude changed. When this confident girl faded, leaving this empty shell behind.
June 29th, 2017.
There’s those moments… Important, life-defining moments.
We cried. We got angry. We fought. We won. We cried some more. But… It’s back.
Her cancer’s back.
Carol’s heart breaks further as her tears fall free. Sniffing and wiping away the wetness from her eyes and nose with the cuff of her woollen cardigan, she tries a controlled breath before feeding the first page behind the second.
Sometimes – nearly all the time – I just want to scream until my lungs hurt and I pass out.
But, I’ll never scream.
Her love quietens me. And when she smiles at me.
I love her smile, and the creases around her eyes and lips she’s never afraid to show.
Her smile keeps me.
Sinking her head to her chest and resting the seemingly heavy papers on her lap, Carol grabs hold of the bed with both hands. Now tense and sick with guilt.
There’s a chance I could have it too. If I do, I want it to be quick. I don’t want it to drag out painfully like it has for her. There’s a reason why they call it ‘battling with.’
But, what I want is to feel at ease again and to believe the doctors when they say they’ve ‘got it all this time,’ after taking another chunk away. Because, for those few months, everything tasted that much sweeter. The radio kept playing our favourite songs we’d always sing along to. The days felt lighter and longer. Days when we had more time.
But now, I’m just tired. And angry.
I just want this feeling to end. Before it’s too late.
The front door opens and shuts. “Mum?” She hears Bethany calling out from downstairs.
Carol remains sat on the bed, silent and still, preparing to show Bethany the precious prose she discovered. But, shaking her head, she folds up the pages and puts them back in the green rucksack as quick as she can.
“I’m upstairs, sweetheart,” Carol replies, mopping her final tears with her damp sleeve.
“I got you some green tea,” Bethany says while walking up the stairs. “Hey, maybe I should get some ice cream? We haven’t had ice cream in a long time,” she says, now standing in the doorway of her bedroom.
“Sounds good to me,” Carol says, with – she hopes – her best-loved smile.
Bethany looks around her room. “Did you try to tidy up in here? Don’t bother, Mum. Waste of time and effort.”
“Ah, I thought about it, but that’s as far as I got,” Carol says, shrugging her shoulders and dropping both hands beside her on the bed.
“Did you find your painkillers?”
“Yes,” she says, scooping up and rattling the tub of tablets in the air. “They were in one of your bags. Do you need all of these bags, Bethany?” she jests in an effort to disguise which bag she found them in. Bethany nods in reluctant agreement, still scanning her room from the doorway.
Oblivious to her daughter, Carol has been staring at her since she came in but has only just begun to see her. To see her smothered in such sweet darkness.
Keeping those aching words in the same bag as her painkillers, perhaps Bethany wanted her to find them. And to be read by the one person she realised Bethany hated to let down the most. The one person she needed the most. They both needed each other, and neither was going to let the other down now. Not this close to-
Taking a deep, shaky breath, Carol pushes herself up and steps over to Bethany. Gently, she puts a hand on Bethany’s cheek and looks into her eyes, before kissing her on the other. “Come, on. Let’s make us a cup of green tea, hey?” Carol makes her smile brighter and starts for the stairs.
Standing still in the doorway, Bethany closes her eyes and listens to her mum sing through the house, feeling instantly surrounded by a familiar sense of comfort. The warm, treasured memory of her mum singing to her when she was little, to help her sleep at night, floods back and fills her.
Hearing the kettle boiling downstairs, Bethany regains focus. She unzips and peels off her coat, and goes to throw it anywhere in her already unkempt room, only she hesitates when she sees her green rucksack on the floor, standing out as if on display, or a feature of her room. She drops her coat on top of the bag and heads back downstairs to supervise and finish making the tea.