Authors: Charlotte Castle
“We’re not Sleeping Beauty’s parents, Simon. We can’t hide all the spinning wheels.”
“Don’t do this, Mel. Not now.”
“Then when, Simon? When
you going to talk about it?”
“Hiding the spinning wheels didn’t work anyway.”
“No. It didn’t, Simon. You're right.” Melissa turned to Simon and lowered her voice further. “I can’t go through this on my own. I can’t nurse her and worry and make medical decisions and try to guess what is going on inside her. I can’t cope with the worry alone, each time I see a bruise, or blood in the sink, or Sarah doesn’t feel like ice-cream. I can’t struggle with the knowledge that our little girl, who right now is lying in bed in the next room, is going to
, while my husband carries on as if nothing is happening. You have to talk about this, Simon. Shit, we have to talk to
are we going to keep this up?”
“Keep what up?”
, Simon. Behaving as if nothing is wrong. It’s been almost a month since she came out of hospital. Don’t you realize that time is slipping away? You haven’t mentioned the future once, not once in all these weeks. Do you know what Sarah said to me this morning?” Melissa’s face shadowed with anger. “Do you know what our little girl said? She said
'When I grow up, I’m going to work at Disneyland.'
When she grows up, Simon. Sarah isn’t even going to have another
let alone grow up. We have to deal with this. We have to talk about it …”
Simon leaped towards Melissa and shoved her against the wall by the bedside table. Melissa’s eyes widened above his hand which was pressed over her mouth and nose.
For the first time in Simon’s life, a surge of violence rose in him, a desire to smash his clenched fist into his beautiful wife’s face, to crush bone and split flesh. To
her. He squeezed her wrist hard, relishing for just a moment the knowledge that it was causing her pain, then let go, turned away from her and gripped the small table set in the window to steady himself.
“Do you know why Sleeping Beauty was called Aurora, Melissa? Did you read that bit?” He sank into a tub chair, his head cradled in his hands. “It was because she filled her parents' life with light, like the sun at dawn. The only thing is, they didn’t mention what happened while she was gone from them, did they? They don’t tell you what happens when the light goes out.”
Melissa paused, mentally checking that she was not injured. She noted the pain in her wrist, but dismissed it as minor. It was worth it just to see some kind of emotion in her husband. She glanced at the door to Sarah’s bedroom and assessed the chances of her having heard their fight.
Her voice, when she finally spoke, was small, shaken. “Because they all
through it. Simon. You’re
going to sleep through this. We are not going to just have a nice long nap while the bad bits happen. Soon Sarah will be gone and you have to start thinking about life after that. Life after Sarah. You have to start thinking about what you are going to do. What we are going to do. And right now, we have to decide how to help Sarah. She’s not well, Simon. This holiday is over. I’m calling concierge. She needs to go into hospital.”
Simon lifted his head from his hands. “Don’t, Mel. Don’t. If she goes into hospital here, she may …” he faltered, “… she may never come out. We need to get her home. I want her to be in England. Let me change the flights. It’ll be okay. We can get her back home.”
Melissa looked at Simon, her eyes narrowing. “Fine. Change the flights. Get a car. But I’m going downstairs to talk to the concierge about her removal to hospital if necessary. Check her temperature again. If it spikes any more, she goes to
. Behave like a doctor, Simon. Because if you don’t, I’ll have the park doctor come up and take over.”
Simon nodded, then stood and walked towards Sarah’s room. “I’ll check on her and then I’ll call the airline. Do you, er … do you want me to look at that wrist?”
“It’s fine.” Melissa snapped and walked out of the room.
* * *
“Is she asleep?”
“Yes.” Simon tucked the blanket around his sleeping daughter’s chin, wishing he was able to make her more comfortable in the cramped airplane seat. “What time is it?”
“About 9 p.m.. We should be home half-tennish. Dad’ll probably be waiting for us already.”
“Can I get you any drinks at all?” Simon and Melissa both shook their heads as a member of the cabin crew, her hat denoting her senior status, beamed at them. “There are more blankets in the overhead locker. Ring if you want any assistance. Leeds Bradford have been informed of your impending arrival, and a wheelchair will be provided to take the three of you off first. We should be coming in close to the terminal, so it is only a short walk into baggage. Security have been briefed to clear you quickly. My name is Karen and I will be your Senior Executive Flight Attendant for the evening. I’ll be looking after you for the next twenty-five minutes. Are you sure you don’t want any drinks - free of charge…?”
“I’ll take a scotch.” Simon said.
”Nuts?” The air hostess responded brightly.
“Sorry? Er … no. Thanks.”
“Erm, yes, please. That would be lovely.”
“Just give him the bloody scotch.” Melissa interrupted.
“Of course, Madam.” The air hostess replied tightly, her painted mouth pursing. “Anything else?”
“That’s everything, thanks.” Simon answered.
The girl smiled graciously at Simon. “Enjoy your flight,
.” She rolled down to her next passengers, the little bottles on the trolley tinkling against each other.
“How to make friends and influence people, hmm, Melissa?” Simon unscrewed the little bottle of scotch.
“I’m sorry if I’m a little charmed-out, Simon. I happen to have a lot on my mind at the moment. Perhaps you haven’t noticed.”
“Don’t start this again.” The ice began melting instantly as Simon poured the whisky over it. “Let’s just get Sarah home.”
“You need to take her temperature again in ten minutes.”
“I know that, Melissa.”
“I’m just reminding you.”
“Thank you.” A hint of sarcasm.
“You're welcome.” Overly brightly.
There were none of the demonstrative gestures or good-humored teasing that usually peppered a Bailey/Halford homecoming. Even Porridge stood quietly in the doorway with Diana and Melissa as Simon carried Sarah, wrapped in blankets, up the stairs to her bedroom.
When Simon came back down, they filed quietly into the kitchen, taking their usual seats at the big pine table.
“Tea or wine?” Melissa leant on the island unit. Her usually glossy hair was lacklustre and purple rings shadowed her eyes.
“Wine, darling.” Diana picked up her handbag and gestured towards the garden door. “Do you mind …?”
There was a general mumble of permission from around the table as Diana, dropping all pretence, took out a packet of Silk Cut and made her way to the door.
“Oh God, that’s better.” She exhaled deeply, the smoke pluming out of her and into the dark garden beyond. “What do we do next, Simon? Why does she sound so short of breath?”
“Anemia. The red blood cells carry oxygen around the body. Sarah doesn’t have many.”
“And why are her lips so blue?” Robert interjected, his tone short.
“Cyanosis. Oxygen again.”
“Is she safe upstairs?”
Melissa clunked an assortment of mismatching wine glasses onto the table, and opened a screw top bottle of red. “I’ve put her old baby monitor on. I’ll get the other handset now.” She disappeared into the hallway.
Robert reached for one of the glasses. “How long has she been like this, Simon? She seemed okay when I took you to the hospital. But now? Blue lips, wheezing. Surely she should never have gone to that dratted theme park. Why has this happened so suddenly?” Diana and Robert both stared at Simon expectantly. Simon was the doctor. He should have the answers.
“We were told that her decline would be rapid. We were also told that we could have up to three months where she was relatively healthy.”
“It was too damned tiring for her. You shouldn’t have taken her.”
“Robert.” Diana moved back to the table, having flicked her cigarette butt into the garden. “Don’t.”
“No, Diana. He’s a doctor. He should know how to look after her. Blue lips!”
“The cyanosis has only come on over the past few hours. Granted, it looks concerning. It is ... concerning.” Simon stared at the grains in the pine table, tracing them with his finger.
Melissa returned, the crackle of the baby monitor announcing her arrival. She placed the handset on the table and they all stared at the lights as they rose and fell with each of Sarah’s labored breaths. “So, what do we do now?”
Three faces looked expectantly at Simon. “We call Mr. Abnam in the morning. Try and shift Porridge and I’ll bed down on the floor in her room tonight. Her temperature is stable, she’s responsive and she can walk. I’ll check on her every half hour through the night. If her breathing worsens she may have to go on a ventilator, but I don’t think it’s necessary at the moment.”
Diana spoke. “So she’ll go back into hospital?”
“Maybe, maybe not. Given that ..” Simon faltered, he pressed his lips together hard, frowning to steel himself and push the threatening tears away, “… given that it has been agreed not to proceed with any more treatment, it may be that we care for her at home. Or, she may go into Madron House.”
“Already?” Melissa turned quickly to look at Simon.
“She might go on day visits. Or just stay on bad days. Either way, it’s time we went to see them. I’ll talk to Mr. Abnam in the morning, but I think we will be advised that we need assistance now. She’s going to need pain relief, anti-nausea medicine, round the clock support …”
“How long, Simon?” Robert’s voice was gruff. “How long has she got?”
A terrible silence settled over the group as each stared intently at Simon. Simon pitched forward imperceptibly, a sensation of sinking through the wooden chair and table coming over him. “Possibly only a month.”
* * *
Simon did as agreed, and spoke with Mr. Abnam, Sarah’s consultant. Sarah’s GP, Dr. Brown, had made a house visit and Mr. Abnam, not wishing to disturb the poorly girl any more than necessary, agreed to make a remote prognosis, based on the information given to him by the two GPs.
The cyanosis had lessened, her breathing easing. Both doctors confirmed that the respiratory problems did not sound pulmonary, but were the result of anemia. Mr. Abnam agreed with the prescription for iron tablets. As Sarah had begun to complain of pain
(“The sheets hurt, Daddy.”)
, painkillers and anti-nausea drugs were prescribed. The Community Nursing Team were briefed and by that afternoon they had visited Sarah, with the promise that they would return once a day.
Dr. Brown examined Sarah, sitting up in her white wooden bed, propped up on pink gingham cushions and pillows.
“Right then, Sarah. I’ll leave you to, er ….”
“Yes, Spongebob. Of course. One of the Community Nurses will be along to see you this afternoon. I’ll come back tomorrow, before you go to look at Madron House. Okay, Sarah?”
“Why am I poorly again?” Sarah looked archly at her father and the other doctor. “I was supposed to be better. Why am I poorly again?”
Dr Brown glanced quickly at the girl’s father. How much did the child know? Not a lot, it would appear. He cleared his throat. “Sometimes, when we have such a nasty illness as leukemia, it can come back again, even when we have been feeling much better.”
“But it keeps coming back. It doesn’t go away. They said I was better. Why am I poorly again? When am I going to get better?”
Dr. Brown looked quickly at the father. This was his territory.
“I don’t know, Princess. We’re trying to make you better at the moment.”
“Why aren’t I going into hospital?” Sarah scowled, looking steadily at each of the doctors. “Why is this time different?”
“Ah, do you know what, Sarah? Why don’t we talk about this later? Dr. Brown has to get off to see all the other poorly girls and boys who are waiting for him and I think Porridge is ready for a walk, aren’t you, Porridge?” Porridge, chin on paw, rolled his eyes up at Simon, looking extremely uninterested in going for a walk in the early April drizzle.
Sarah sighed, rolled on her side and took up the remote control for her television. “’Kay.”
* * *
For Simon, Sunday brought a hangover and church. Melissa and Simon’s usual evening bottle of wine had risen to two and it was not the first morning that Simon had sworn, over his effervescent vitamin drink laced with paracetamol, that they would cut back. The beneficial blurring of the senses and fogging of the mind that the alcohol brought in the evening was negated by nausea over breakfast.
“Do you want one?” Simon waved the tube of vitamins at Melissa, who stood stretching and yawning by the Rayburn.
“Hmm. Thanks. Do we have proper coffee?”
“You’ll be lucky to get a Nescafe, never mind percolator stuff. You not coming to church?” Simon gestured at Melissa’s dressing gown and slippers.
Immediately Melissa hardened, her eyebrow lifting. “Yes, of course, dear. I thought I’d just leave our daughter upstairs, on her own.”
“You know I didn’t mean that, Melissa. I thought perhaps your mum would be coming over or something.”