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Authors: Patricia Fawcett

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Rumours and Red Roses

BOOK: Rumours and Red Roses
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R
UMOURS AND
R
ED
R
OSES

Patricia Fawcett

To Jackie and Frank Seed — my dear friends

B
ECKY’S EYES WERE
drawn to the clock on the wall, the second hand flickering as it ticked round. Thirty whole seconds had passed since she last looked. On the little table in front of them there was yet more tea in the sickly green cups and a plate of Nice biscuits, untouched.

They had run out of comforting things to say to each other, they had run out of
anything
to say, and although Becky could feel the pressure of Simon’s hand in hers, the grip almost too strong, she had never felt so alone. She felt stupidly annoyed with him because there was nothing he could do or say to make her feel better. She knew he was going through the same torment, saw it in his face, but that did not help.

‘I’m going out,’ she announced, shaking off his hand, standing up and slipping her jacket on. ‘We won’t know anything for at least another four or five hours.’

‘I’ll come with you.’

‘No you won’t. I want to be on my own. I don’t want you along.’

‘All right,’ he said and she noted his expression, saw that she had upset him, but that couldn’t be helped. ‘Leave your mobile switched on. Hey, come here a minute. I don’t like the thought of you being on your own. Are you sure you’re going to be all right?’

She nodded, close to wincing as he pulled her to him. This was not the Simon she knew and loved for he looked a mess and needed a shave, smelling of the hospital soap gel. But then, just now, was
she
the Becky he knew and loved?

Avoiding his gaze, exhausted because she had not slept properly for the last two nights, she slipped out of his grasp and gently closed the door. For a moment, she leaned against it, feeling her heart thudding in a sudden sharp panic and a rush of indecision. Perhaps she should stay. It wasn’t fair to leave Simon alone. Stop it, she told herself. Get a grip.

She had no idea where she was going but she just needed to get outside, to breathe some fresh air. Trying to compose herself, stilling the panic, she set off up the long corridor, past the play area with its bright walls and the posters and the big noticeboard with all the thank-you letters and photographs pinned on it. Even the parents who lost their children had still found the time and the courage to write. She wondered if they would do the same. The odds were on their side for this particular problem. It was considered pretty much routine; ninety per cent success rate but that still meant ten per cent did not make it for whatever reason. Percentages … she hated them. It is our duty, that sympathetic woman doctor had told them with a smile, to make sure parents are aware of the facts so that they are able to make an informed decision.

Informed decision? What choice did they have? There was nothing to discuss. They did not want to put their little girl through this, such a tiny person, a mere baby at just over one, but if they left her alone she would just get worse and every little cold that most children could breeze through would pose an increasing threat to her health.

This way, she had a chance, a ninety per cent chance, of getting better. It did not, however, take away the feeling that they were signing her life away. Looking at Simon’s flamboyant flourish of a signature on the consent form, hers had looked pathetically small and subdued below it, as if, if it went wrong, it would all be down to him.

Turning at the end of the corridor, she careered into another woman, the other mother on Butterfly Ward whose child’s op was planned for today.

‘Sorry.’ They apologized, exchanging nervous smiles, awkwardly rooted to the spot. They couldn’t just walk away from each other, not today, not this morning. Something needed to be said even though they both seemed to be struck momentarily dumb. It was as if the
unbearable
anxiety of the day had turned them to stone.

‘I don’t know what to do with myself so I’m off out,’ Becky said at last. ‘I don’t know where. My husband is no help.’

The woman, whose name she had forgotten, nodded as if she
understood
. Becky reckoned she was a bit younger than her, middle thirties at a guess. She was very pretty with dark very nearly black hair, pinned up on top of her head, and light brown eyes; dull now, of course, with all the worry. Becky had an inkling she had seen her somewhere before but
couldn’t remember where or when. Living in the same town, it was hardly surprising if they had come across each other in passing but she didn’t feel up to asking too many questions. Just now, it did not matter in the least.

‘Would you mind if I came with you?’ the woman asked, chewing on her bottom lip. ‘It’s going to be ages yet. Look, why don’t we do lunch? We need to eat. It might take our mind off it,’ she added with a short unconvincing laugh. ‘Well, what else can we do? If I read through that post-op leaflet again, I shall go mad.
My
husband’s driving me crazy with all his “what ifs?”.’

Do lunch? She had never felt less like eating. She had lost pounds these last few weeks but worry was not a diet she would recommend to anybody. Thinking about stuffing herself with food just now seemed vaguely obscene. Becky glanced at the woman suspiciously. Do lunch? What on earth did she have in mind? Probably not a baked potato down in the hospital café, which was what she had eaten for the last few days. She had done all the fillings by now.

Up until this moment, she and this woman had not spoken more than a couple of words, a few shy hellos, in fact, when they met in the ward. The situation they were facing seemed to make some people very chatty – but not them. Becky could feel all the words welling up inside her, the things she wanted to get off her chest, the things she could only say to a stranger, a stranger who understood, and it would be a relief to shake them loose. Maybe this was her chance.

Looking at the other woman and seeing her own anxiety mirrored there, she felt herself soften. Instinctively, even at this moment, her feminine sensibilities took in the other’s smart appearance, comparing it unfavourably with her own. Now that she was Simon’s wife, she had no need to shop as if her life depended on it, avoiding certain shops, looking at price tags, continually searching for bargains. Simon had said from the start that she was to spend whatever she wanted because he liked her to look and feel good.

She had just thrown clothes on this morning and hadn’t a clue what she was actually wearing. Her pale denims, she realized, glancing down, the red polo-necked jumper she had worn yesterday and the black padded anorak with the extravagant faux fur trim, over the top and cheap-looking even though it wasn’t, just the sort of thing her mum would buy. Soft-soled flat shoes completed the picture because clicking
along on high heels, along these corridors, did not seem quite right. She would, however, have appreciated a few extra inches just now, faced with looking up at this tall model-like woman before her.

She had to face the fact that, after years of bargain-basement
shopping
, she still struggled with the chic image. When this was all over, her friend Marina had promised her the mother of all shopping trips, when she would attempt to show her how to achieve it. Knowing Marina meant well, she had agreed to it but, just now, it seemed an awful long way off.

It was awkward, packing the right clothes, staying as they were half at the hospital and half in a pleasant but impersonal hotel close by. Their local hospital was not up to specialized heart surgery as this one was so it meant an hour-long journey and it was easier to stay over. Simon said what did it matter just now what
they
looked like, and maybe he had a point, but she felt that she shouldn’t let her standards slip too far, for Samantha’s sake, and it was important too for her own self-esteem. There was no need to resort to bag-lady status.

They were taking it in turns to stay here because there was only room for one parent at a time in the fold-up bed beside the child’s cot. Simon was better at this than she was, at least outwardly an oasis of calm whilst she felt like a volcano about to erupt. She did not know how much longer she could keep it all in check. Samantha, little as she was, was catching Mummy’s mood and that would not do. She had been clingy these last few days and especially so this morning.

‘I’m Adele, Adele Chandler. Alexander is my baby,’ the woman reminded her, looking at her face not her clothes. ‘And you’re Mrs Blundell, Samantha’s mummy, aren’t you? Rebecca, isn’t it?’

Becky nodded, feeling the tears welling up at the sympathetic tone. For two pins, she would have cuddled into this other woman’s arms, a complete stranger, for just now, although they may be poles apart in many respects – Miss Tall, Miss Small, Miss Dark, Miss Fair, Miss Beautiful, Miss OK if she worked at it – just now they were two mothers whose babies were undergoing open heart surgery and that just about knocked everything else on the head. She would never forget the moment Barnaby, the teddy Samantha had been clutching, had slipped from her grasp when the anaesthetic took effect. After being so brave for her baby’s sake, Becky had nearly lost it then, heard a strange sound escaping her lips, a wounded primeval sound, and she had heard the
anaesthetist mutter ‘get the mother out’ before a nurse put her arm round her and propelled her back into the corridor where Simon was waiting for her. With her legs like jelly, she had no idea how he had managed to get her to the little side room where they would wait. Her mum and Simon’s parents would be waiting at the end of the phone all day long but they had agreed that they would not ring until there was some definite news.

Becky glanced at her watch. From what the surgeon had said, she reckoned that, in half an hour or so, they would stop her daughter’s heart beating and switch her on to the machine, so that they could do the repair work. Sometimes, it seemed to her they were given too much information. Simon was keen to know, absorbing the technical facts like blotting paper but she just let the words ride over her. She wanted Samantha fixed and she didn’t care how they did it.

‘It doesn’t help,’ Adele said. ‘Looking at the time, I mean. Rory’s doing that constantly and it’s driving me crazy. That’s why I need to get out too.’

Becky remembered Rory; an older man whom she had thought was the baby’s grandfather at first. Adele was wearing casual clothing, too, although nothing like hers and, as Becky had already noted, she was one of those women who had an easy way with clothes so that whatever she wore looked fantastic. She was very pale, however, and would have benefited from a touch of blusher, a gloss of lipstick. Becky had done the full works on
her
face, something to do this morning, something normal, even though her hand had not been steady as she applied the eye-liner. On second thoughts, eye make-up on a day like today was insane. Either way, success or failure, she knew she would be in floods before the day was out. However, at her age, forty having knocked on the door last summer, she wouldn’t be seen dead without make-up, something her mum had drummed into her.

Lunch? She wasn’t remotely hungry although her mum had told her when they last spoke that she must keep eating to keep her strength up. That made sense and, with no breakfast unless you counted a coffee, she did feel a bit light-headed from lack of food. Hearing her mum on the phone had not been a help for all it had done was make her want her there with her. Like a little child, she suddenly needed her.

‘The café will be crowded,’ she pointed out, feeling a little shy of this woman and not sure she could face the café in the basement. It was hot
and stuffy and always crowded. You never knew where to look, some of the faces anxious, some happy, some people chatting away, some people silent.

‘You mean the hospital café?’ Adele sniffed. ‘Goodness, no. I’ve discovered a lovely little Italian restaurant just round the corner where they do a very nice lunch menu. We’ll have ourselves a glass of wine too. What do you think? Look, we can’t do anything for them now. We have to leave it to the doctors. We have to trust them.’

‘I know. Sorry, I …’ Becky tugged at her jacket. It might have cost a bomb but it was still an anorak. ‘I don’t feel smart enough for a lovely little restaurant.’

She didn’t mean it to sound as it did, but however it came out, it didn’t wash with Adele.

‘Oh, come on, who cares about things like that,’ she said, and before Becky could think of another excuse, Adele had linked arms and off they went.

 

Down in Theatre A, Ho May Ling’s beautiful dark eyes had encountered the first problem of the day. She exchanged a quick glance with the professor opposite. She was doing this operation, true, but he, her mentor and the man she most respected in the whole world, was still comfortingly there to offer support and help if she needed it. She had watched this procedure time and time again, routine enough, but then it was done by his capable hands.

Now the life of this child was in hers.

The problem was unexpected but then you could never be quite sure until you took a good look inside.

Her hands steady, she took a breath and carried on.

 

Hours later, Mr Jenkins, tired but exhilarated, walked up the corridor to break the news.

It was a further hour before Ho May Ling, by now utterly exhausted, was doing the same to the parents of
her
little patient.

 

BOOK: Rumours and Red Roses
6.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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