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Authors: Charlotte Castle

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BOOK: Simon's Choice
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“What’s going to happen to me?” The lint was free from its fibrous net now. Sarah flicked it away, found another and started working on it. “Am I going to die?”

Her father took a deep breath, followed by some other long inhalations. His shoulders steadied slightly and he turned to look at her. “We all die, Sarah.” He tucked a stray hair behind her ear, his fingers feeling slightly rough against her delicate skin.

She frowned at him and gave a little nod. “We all die when we’re old. Like Harry’s granddad. He died last week. He was old. Harry missed PE. I’m not going to be old, am I? I’m not going to be a grown-up.”

Sarah’s daddy’s voice went squeaky. “No, you’re not going to be a grown-up.”

Sarah’s tummy flipped again. “Do you want a tissue, Daddy?” Sarah unraveled herself from the blanket and got up. “Do you think we could have your special hot chocolate? I’ll brush my teeth after.”

Sarah watched, fascinated, as her father’s features contorted into a number of facial expressions that she had never seen before. He looked like he was in pain. Or like he was trying to smile at the same time as being in pain. Or having a poo. Actually, that was quite disgusting, Sarah thought, and pushed the image to the back her mind.

Daddy sniffed deeply, snot making a disgusting gurgling sound in the back of his throat. “Come here.” He sniffed again, his voice cracking a little bit. “Let’s go get hot chocolate. I don’t think we need to worry about teeth tonight.” He picked her up, a little unsteady. Sarah held on tight as he put the blanket back round her shoulders. She buried her head in his neck, breathing in the comforting, salty smell of his skin, his aftershave - so familiar - and another scent, tangy, alcoholic.

Sarah sat on the island unit in the kitchen, the blanket wrapped round her, her bare feet sticking out the end. She loved making hot chocolate with Daddy. Mummy didn’t do it right, didn’t break up extra bits of chocolate from the treats cupboard. She didn’t do it in a pan, stirring until all the lumps of Dairy Milk or Galaxy had melted.

“Have we got squirty cream?”

“Not sure, Princess. But if we do, we’re having it. Do you want to grate chocolate for the top?”

“Uh-huh.” Sarah spun awkwardly on the counter, and carefully ran the bar of chocolate along the blades of the grater, watching her fingers as she had been taught. “Daddy?”

“Yes, Princess.”

“How old am I going to be? How much older am I going to get, I mean?”

Sarah watched her Daddy as he stopped. His knuckles went white as his grip tightened on the pan he was stirring. He put the chocolate powder down and came to her, frowning, though not like when he was cross. His forehead was frowny, but his eyes were kind. He put his hands on either side of her hips, as a tear rolled down his cheek.

“You are very, very poorly, Sarah. We’ve tried everything we can to make you better, but those baddie blood cells we talk about have just been too strong for us. As you know, you have been getting more poorly recently and that is going to continue. The special hospital place we are going to on Tuesday …”

“Mad House.”

“Madron House, yes. Madron is a special kind of hospital for girls and boys, like you, who aren’t going to get any better. At first, we might just go there during the day, or if you are feeling particularly unwell. After a while, you might decide that you want to stay there more, particularly as they can give you medicines that will make you more comfortable.”

“How long will I be there?” Sarah felt the tummy going over a bump sensation again. This time she felt tears welling up. “When am I going to die?”

“We don’t know, darling. I can’t answer that.” Sarah watched her daddy chewing his lip, something he did when he didn’t want to tell her something.

“What happens when I die? Will it hurt?” Tears had started flowing now and Sarah wiped them roughly from her face with the flat palm of her hand. Her daddy did the same, his face creasing again, his voice going funny.

“No, treasure. It won’t hurt. You will probably be fast asleep and won’t know anything about it. Mummy and Daddy will be there, cuddling you and you will just slip away.”

“To heaven?”

“Yes, to heaven.”

Sarah nuzzled into Simon, who held her tight in her arms. It hurt a bit, but it didn’t matter. “But, Daddy. Who will live with me in heaven?”

Sarah felt the arms around her slacken slightly. Her father’s breathing seemed to stop for a moment. He moved back from her slowly, his face in hers, his breath tainted with the whisky stuff he had been drinking.

“God, Sarah. You will live with God.”
“But I don’t know God.”
There was a pause. “Of course you do, darling. God is with you all the time. He knows you. He made you.”

“But I don’t know him. I don’t know what he’s like.” Sarah started to sob now. She didn’t want to go somewhere alone. She didn’t even like going to the loo in restaurants alone. She was scared. She knew she wasn’t a little, little girl anymore, but she still needed her Mummy and Daddy. Or her Grandpa Aitch. Or Grandma Diana. She had to have someone. She started to howl now. She couldn’t help it. She’d had enough of being brave little Sarah. She was going to die and she was going to go to heaven and she wouldn’t know anybody there. It wasn’t fair.

“Great Grandma and Grandpa will be there – and Mummy’s grandparents. They were lovely. They will take care of you. And then there is Mummy’s dog from when she was little. And Grandpa Robert had a pussy cat called Winston – he’ll look after you…”

“I don’t KNOW them.” Sarah hyperventilated, struggling to get the words out. “And I can’t be looked after by a stupid cat. I need a grown-up. I need you and Mummy. I’m scared. I don’t want to go on my own…”

Sarah felt herself being lifted off the counter top. She wrapped her legs round her father as he squeezed her. She could feel his tears dripping onto her neck and ears; he bit the shoulder of her nightie as he mumbled into her shoulder. Beside them the milk hissed as it boiled over, the bubbles surging up, uncontrolled, out of the pan.

I’ll go with you. I’ll go with you. It’ll be alright. Oh God, it’ll be alright. I’ll go to heaven with you.”

Chapter 15

“You stupid,

Another roll of ribbon hissed past Simon’s head, followed by a carnation and a box of nameplace cards. He dodged the missiles, ducking beneath the florist shop counter. Two or three blocks of oasis crashed down upon him, projected with surprising power despite their light weight.

“What was I supposed to do? Wake you up?”

,” howled Melissa. “No.
. You should have brought her up to bed. We could have talked to her together. I could have changed the subject. We could have worked it out. But you…” Another carnation whizzed past, “… you, stupid, selfish, drunken
…” A rose followed the same trajectory “… decided to get pissed up and have the most important conversation we will ever have with our daughter
on your own and shit-faced

“I didn’t mean for it to happen. She

“And not
,” Melissa’s face, incandescent with rage, appeared above where he crouched, “not only, did you decide to
tell our daughter she was going to die
, you also told her that you were going to
die with her

“I didn’t!” Simon wailed, cringing in case Melissa decided to bring anything heavier down upon his head. “I didn’t mean it like that. I was upset, confused. I …”

“You were
! You’d downed an entire bottle of whisky and a bottle of wine and you let Sarah see you like that. You are a dirty, hopeless alcoholic and I
want to see you again.”

Melissa disappeared again. Simon waited a few moments to see if more missiles would be forthcoming. The airspace above him seeming clear, he stood up cautiously.

“Being drunk one night doesn’t make somebody an alcoholic, Melissa.”
“A whole bottle of whisky, Simon.”
“Bad, yes. But a one-off. We’ve both been drinking too much. I don’t think it’s unknown exactly, given the circumstances.”

“You told her you were going to kill yourself.” Melissa sat down on a plastic office chair near the back area of the little shop.

“No. I didn’t. I think I told her…”

“You think.” Melissa spat. “You don’t even remember.”

Simon sighed and leaned on the countertop. “I do remember. I said that I would go with her. She was scared and I was scared and it just sort of came out. I didn’t think …”

“No, you most certainly did not
, Simon. There hasn’t been an awful lot of thinking going on in that head of yours for sometime. I’m sorry, Simon, but I don’t want you back in the house. You’ll have to go and stay with your parents. I can’t have a loose cannon, a drunk, in the house at this time. You’re a liability.”

Simon stood up straight, his hands flat on the counter. “I’m not a drunk. You can’t throw me out, Melissa. How bloody selfish is that? Do you think that’s what Sarah wants now? Don’t you think that’s going to hurt Sarah a lot more than it hurts me?”

We’re shut.”
A startled woman shut the florist’s door hastily as Melissa leaped up. She flipped the sign over. “I’m not trying to hurt anyone. I’m trying to protect my baby.”

“Oh no you’re not, Melissa. You’re hell bent on blaming me for all this. It’s just an excuse to cause me pain, and in so doing you’re going to cause Sarah pain. Just when she needs us to be more together than ever.”

“How dare you suggest that I don’t have the best interests of my child at heart? You, you who decided to tell our daughter that you would
die with her
. I’ve got to tell you, Simon, Mum and Dad were really knocked back when they heard that one. It was bad enough babysitting her this morning and discovering that she knew she was going to die, but you really
iced the fucking biscuit
when you told her that she’d have some

“What on earth did she say to them?”

“Being our daughter, she breezily announced that given that she was going to die soon, she was going to eat as many sweets as she liked and she was officially putting an end to teeth brushing. She also demanded that we get cracking with the last Harry Potter book because
she wants to know what happens before her and Daddy go to heaven

Melissa paced the room, her hands behind her head. “I know you are hurting, Simon. I know that you find conflict difficult. I know that you love your daughter, but can you really, really tell me that you are in a healthy frame of mind at the moment?”

“Are you?”

“I’m keeping it together.”

“Generally, so am I. No. Don’t start shouting. Last night was stupid. And unfortunate. I didn’t know she was going to come downstairs. She hasn’t done that for years. And it was difficult. She asked really, difficult questions. I can cope with her …” Simon steeled himself yet again, the words still difficult to form, “ … Sarah going… not being there, I might just recover from. One day. But Sarah being alone and scared somewhere? I can’t handle that, Melissa. I cannot cope with the knowledge that she might be scared.”

“She’s dying – not going to boarding school.”

“Don’t be so fucking flippant.” Simon gripped onto the counter top again, this time to quell his rage. “I’m a Christian. I believe in heaven. I don’t know exactly what happens there, but I do know that Sarah is going onto another place without me. And I know that Sarah is scared about going to that other place. Alone. It’s the most natural thing in the world for me to want to go with her.”

“Want to? So you
saying that you are suicidal? Because you do realize that this isn’t ‘The Faraway Tree’, don’t you? There’s no magic tree to get you up there and a special slide when you want to come back down. What makes you even think that heaven exists? Grow up, Simon. It’s all a fairy tale. It’s just a bedtime story we tell ourselves to make us feel better about death.”

Simon looked at his wife with wonder. His wife? She was a stranger. Sure, she looked the same, almost. Anger and revulsion had besmirched her countenance. Her classic good looks were now tarnished. And yet he had coped with her hatred, understood her disgust. Had pitied her even, understanding her anger to be a part of the agony that she too was experiencing. He felt her pain in each barbed comment, comparing her to a wounded animal, unable to show her anguish in any other way than biting and attacking.

But the vicious denial of an afterlife? How could she possibly deny him – deny
- faith in an afterlife, the safe place that their daughter would go onto,
the place where they would see her again
? Refutation was obscene. Unforgivable. To have lost the simple faith that Sarah was to continue being loved, to continue being …

“Do you know what, Melissa?” Simon stood taller now and Melissa instinctively stepped back. “I have coped with your rejection. I have dealt with your misplaced anger and scorn. I’ve soaked up your hatred and I’ve even felt sorry for you whilst I’ve done it. But I am not going to allow you to stand there and refute the very basics of the religion that we have both taught our daughter and which right now is the only thing keeping me from falling apart. Sarah will be going to the God that we have both worshipped and you will
suggest otherwise in my presence again. Once Sarah goes into Madron House, yes, I’ll move out, if that’s what you wish. But while Sarah is at home, I’m not going anywhere. And you need to know this: I will do anything,
to make my daughter safe and happy. And there’s not a damned thing you can do to stop me.”

* * *

Simon carried Sarah out of the back of the car and set her in the wheelchair provided by the community nurses, then tucked a blanket round her legs. Madron House, named after the patron saint of pain relief, was a purpose built, colorful building, with a wavy roof and glass walls.

BOOK: Simon's Choice
10.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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