A little ‘Flash Fiction’ piece, part of another little project I’m working on for later in the year, hope you like it …
Please, Granddad …
I’d been pretty darned healthy my whole life and fit too – a long stint in the army had seen to that! Even after I joined civvy street, despite a brief period of being a complete and utter slob for a few months following my freedom from the discipline of military life, I stayed active. The one blot on my otherwise healthy lifestyle though was the fact that I smoked. We all did back then. Most of my friends, including many from my army days, had long since given up the filthy habit. I hadn’t though. It had never occurred to me to even try. The fact was, I enjoyed smoking. And why shouldn’t I? I mean, I was a damned sight healthier than most of my non-smoker friends. Maybe it was just good genes; my grandparents had both smoked all their lives and lived well into their eighties. And what would the NHS do without the exorbitant taxes I paid on every puff I took? It was us smokers who practically financed the NHS, I told myself.
And then I got the news, the diagnosis that nobody wants to hear. I had Stage Two Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. I had no idea what stage two or non-whatever it was actually meant other than it was cancer. I couldn’t help thinking the worst. For it to be stage two meant there was a stage one, and that stage two must be worse?
The news hit me hard. Why me? Apart from the smoking, I had always looked after myself. I drank only moderately, I got plenty of exercise, cycled, and hell, I even climbed bloody mountains.
I was 57. I knew I was no spring chicken, but I’d hoped for maybe another 20 good years of life, or at least long enough to see my grandson grow to be a man.
Was I just one of the unlucky ones, or had I only myself to blame? I’d never really believed my own rationalisations about smoking. I knew damned well it was bad for me.
My doctor didn’t approve of smoking. Well, they don’t, do they? But he knew it was a typical reaction to blame oneself. He reassured me it was just one of those things, that the smoking had nothing to do with it. I was sure it was through gritted teeth he admitted that last bit. I was grateful though. Still, whether it had anything to do with or not, I was going to give up anyway.
I failed miserably – quitting cold-turkey, nicotine patches, vaping – nothing worked. I was a confirmed addict, even with the threat of death staring me in the face. I gave up trying to ‘give up.’
It had been several months since my last chemo session. I’d deliberately not visited my family for over a year. Of course, I’d seen my son and his wife when they visited me in the hospital and at a few other times. One thing I was adamant on though, young Patrick, my grandson wasn’t to see me while I was going through the barrage of treatments I was having.
I knew it upset him not being able to see me. It worried me that he’d think I’d stopped loving him. But what could I do? Seeing me completely bald, no eye-brows, sickly and gaunt looking, it wouldn’t have been right for a wee lad.
Since my last treatment, my hair had grown back, and I’d put most of my weight loss back on (and even a bit more). I just couldn’t wait to see my grandson for the first time since I had first started the chemo and radiotherapy treatments. My son and his wife were spending the day with friends, leaving Patrick and me to some quality grandson and gramps time together.
We’d spent hours just playing, laughing, and watching films together until I was pretty exhausted. Amid all the fun we’d been having, I’d gone without nicotine for several hours now …
“Now you sit here, Little man, and watch your cartoons while Granddad goes for a smoke.”
“Please, Granddad, please don’t smoke. I don’t like it.”
“It’s okay, Patrick, I’m going outside to keep all the smelly smoke out of the house.”
The look on his face told me his reaction had nothing to do with the smell of cigarette smoke. I sat beside him on the couch, putting an arm around his shoulder.
“What’s up little buddy?”
“I’ve missed you. I don’t want you to be ill again.” It was beginning to make sense now.
“Aww, you don’t have to worry about that. It was something quite different that made me ill. The smoking won’t make it come back.”
He stared at me. I could see he was trying not to cry.
“Smoking’s bad for you. It makes you have cancer.”
That last bit startled me. The little lad was only six, but he already knew the word cancer. He certainly didn’t know exactly what it meant, but clearly, he knew it was bad. By now it was me trying not to cry.
“Smoking didn’t cause my cancer, Patrick, really it didn’t.”
I held him a little tighter, hoping that might reassure him. He was having none of it.
“Promise you won’t smoke again. Please, Granddad … I don’t want you to die.”
By now, the wee lad was sobbing. Now you all know the feeling: You feel your throat tightening, and a screwing up of the eyes as they fill with tears. You breathe a little harder. You take an almost ‘gulp-like swallow, and then another. All the while, that ‘welling up’ feeling overcomes you, right down to the pit of your stomach.
“You win. I promise.”
I’ve not smoked since …
In 2015 my good friend and fellow author, Ian D. Moore invited members of our FB writing group the IASD (see www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com) to write and contribute original stories for an anthology of short stories on the theme of Relationships in all their many and varied forms. The idea was born out of the author’s personal loss of a much loved close relative to cancer.
Many of the authors, both in this edition and the forthcoming 2018 Macmillan anthology have had personal experience of cancer, either coming to terms with it personally and/or via friends and family.
Even as I post this story, Ian D. Moore and a number of Indie authors are busy editing and formatting the contributions for the 2018 edition, also in aid of Macmillan cancer. In addition to the adult contributions, a number of younger writers have also contributed to the book.
Needless to say, I will be blogging nearer the time and when it’s finally published. In the meantime, if you’ve not yet read the 2016 edition just click Here for the purchase link to You’re Not Alone.
You’re Not Alone …
Ian D. Moore & Friends
By P.A. Ruddock
“Ready for our adventure, Lucy?” I asked. A gentle squeeze of her hand in mine and the almost imperceptible smile on her lips was all the answer I needed.
“Do you remember the last time we were there, just the two of us?”
She did remember; it had been a glorious weekend, one where we enjoyed all that nature had to offer and lost ourselves in each other’s arms and company. This time though all the immediate family would be joining us: Lucy and me, our two grown-up children Cody and Nicola, and Gemma, Lucy’s younger sister. We knew it would be the last time we would all be all together.
“I’m sure that’s where we conceived our Cody.” I added with a wink and a wry smile. Cody chuckled at my last remark, old enough now to no longer be embarrassed at the thought of his parents having once enjoyed all the passions of youth that his generation were presently taking for granted. But enough of all that, best be on our way …
We started off at a nice easy pace, no need to tire Lucy unnecessarily, I thought; I mean, neither of us was still in our first flush of youth, leave the mad scrambles to the youngsters, I laughed, not that Cody was likely to move more than a few feet away from us; our six foot two hulk of a son had always been his mother’s boy; I remembered when he was a nipper, whenever he wanted something, needed help, or anything for that matter it was always ‘Mum, can I…’ or mum this, or mum that… and when she wasn’t around it was simply ‘Dad, where’s mum?’ or ‘Dad, when’s mum back?’ I didn’t mind of course, how could I?
Navigating the majestic scenery of Rannoch Moor was something we had all enjoyed many times before, and even though Lucy knew the landscape and features as well as any of us, I couldn’t resist my usual running commentary: “It was like having Scotland’s answer to Wainwright tagging along.” Cody chipped in.
“Mum loves the sound of my voice,” I chuckled in my defence, adding as I turned back to Lucy, “don’t ya Luv?”
I reminded her of every site and feature we’d ever come across, so yes, I probably did sound like some over-enthusiastic tour guide. But it was more than that; what made it special was its proximity to Leum Uilliem, a nearby mountain where I had first proposed, and where we might well indeed have conceived at least one of our two children during subsequent visits.
“I remember that time dad tried to show you how to use a compass, he nearly went mad trying to explain mag to grid, grid to mag, taking bearings, and the differences between grid north, magnetic north, and then true north, that really got you going… ‘So what are you saying, that the other two are untrue’ you would ask just to wind dad up even more.” Cody was saying to his mum.
Nicola smiled, adding: “Yes, I remember that … ‘What you on about? How can you have three different norths? North’s north, it’s like saying there’s three different Glasgows or Scotlands’ you would say.”
“I remember too,” I said jokingly as I turned back towards Lucy: “It was your way of getting your own back for all those times I came back with completely the wrong things so you wouldn’t send me out shopping again, or mixing all the colours when you had me to do the laundry … you knew I hated owt like that.”
“Well, for what’s worth, I was always with you on that mum,” Nicola said defiantly, holding her hand, adding: “I never could see the point of all that map and compass stuff when you can click a button and see exactly where you are on a colour screen.”
“Don’t be daft Nic, we didn’t have all that back then, and what if we had, not much cop if the bloody batteries die on you or you can’t get a signal is it?”
“Well, that’s made the day complete, ain’t it Luv?” I said to Lucy.
“Sorry mum, sorry dad,” the two of them said with a smile, almost in unison.
“Nowt ta be sorry for kids, I mean, what would a day out be without you two getting into a row over something?” They both smiled.
“Does anyone remember the time we turned up at Corrour railway station and we saw all the camera crews, we thought there must have been an accident?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Um?” Cody grunted.
“Well, it was when they were filming a scene from that film, what was it …Trainspotting … and the catering guys shared some of the film set food with us, and you scoffed three hamburgers.” I said in mock remonstration: “… and then you scolding me for letting him when he was being sick on the walk back later.” I added, turning back to Lucy.
It was nearly midday now, some four hours since the start of our reminiscing adventure, time for a break I thought: “Speaking of scoffing, sarnie and a brew, anyone?” I asked.
“Sounds good to me.” Cody agreed.
“Well, there’s a surprise.” Nicola laughingly added, at which point we all had a chuckle; Cody may have been the youngest but he had an appetite that matched the rest of us put together.
And so it went on, time flying by all too quickly as we swapped stories and memories of our travels together, like when we took the kids wild camping for the very first time; come to think of it, it was only the second or third time Lucy had agreed to camp out overnight as well. The kids, of course, took to it all like ducks to water and had no inhibitions whatsoever when I explained about ‘toilet etiquette’ in the wild.
“Not like you, Luv, I swear the first time we wild camped you thought the countryside would be littered with public conveniences or portaloos.”
Her curt and ‘not amused’ answer of ‘it’s different for men’ was just so funny at the time, especially as just then Cody and Nicola came running past trailing toilet rolls behind them just like the dog in the Andrex advert.
“Oh my god, yes, and Cody planting little flags all over the place to mark where he’d buried his poo.”
“Okay okay, there’s plenty I remember about you as well, Nic.” Again we all laughed. “And then there was that time when we saw that Brocken Spectre, that was amazing,” Nicola said.
“Brocken Spectre?” Gemma asked. Gemma had never been much of an outdoor sort of person so wasn’t familiar with the phenomenon: “It’s a rare and lovely rainbow and cloud formation you sometimes see on a misty mountainside or cloudbank.” Nicola answered.
“It’s a sort of triangular or circular rainbow with a hazy figure in the centre. The figure you see is actually an optical illusion created by your own shadow reflected from nearby clouds. It’s hard to explain but your own movements can often appear to be reflected by the movement of the figure in the spectre.” I added by way of explanation.
“And you and dad convinced me and Cody all the angels in heaven were looking down and waving at us, and we started calling out to them and waving back,” Nicola recalled as she positioned herself to sit back next to Lucy …
Almost fortuitously, it was then that the doctor entered the room. He smiled – not a wide a beaming smile but just one of gentle sympathy. I imagine his manner and sympathetic demeanour was something he had had to perfect over many years but it was still appreciated nonetheless.
There was no need for us to wait for him to ask the question: “We’re ready.” I said. Gemma agreed. A heavy intake of breath and a slight nod of the head from Nicola and a stifled cough and tear-filled flicker of the eyes from Cody told me they were too. Gemma was the first to approach and lean in to take Lucy’s hand and kiss her on both cheeks: “See you again my kind and lovely wonderful sister.” It had been a wonderful day for us all, just sitting with Lucy as we chatted about our times and memories together. And credit to Cody, it has been his idea to enjoy and share those memories at Lucy’s bedside while we imagined one last great adventure together.
I raised myself from the bedside seat, allowing room for Cody and Nicola to approach Lucy’s bed from either side. It was the first time I had released my Lucy’s hand from mine since I had entered the room early in the morning; it was now half four in the afternoon.
“Bye mum, love you always…” Nicola whispered, just loud enough for those immediately near enough to hear.
“Me too mum…” Cody added, the frailty and softness of his quivering voice totally at odds with the strong young man I knew my son to be: “You’re the best mum in the world, the best anyone could have … I’ll …”
I could sense Cody was welling up and could practically see the lump in his throat. He’d struggled to keep his feelings in check the entire day but now that the moment had come, the tears were rolling. He fell to his knees beside the bed, to place one last kiss on his mother’s cheek. I, in turn, placed a hand on his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze, comforted by the return of his own hand to meet it: “It’s not fair, dad, it’s just not …”
“I know, son, I know …”
Cody rose to his feet and slowly moved backward away from his mum’s side, not once looking away from her sight until he reached the window, when he finally looked away, supposedly to cough and clear his throat; but what parent doesn’t know every little nuance of their children? Nicola was always more open with her feelings, and rarely tried to hide when she was upset, but Cody, ever since I could remember would rarely let on if something was seriously bothering him, a practiced master of the ‘something in my eye’ ruse. I recognised all too well the truth of the matter; this time there was little disguising his stifled sobs, and I daresay it was probably only my greater years and experience of death that was giving me the strength to hold back my own, at least for now.
“Mr. Rogers.” The doctor said. I’d almost forgotten his presence. Although it had only been a few minutes since he had entered the room, it was as though a lifetime of memories had come flooding back in that brief time, much like how they describe how your life flashes before you when you’re about to die suddenly.
“I know,” I replied. We all gathered round Lucy’s bed one more time. Just the merest nod was all the final consent he needed to flip the little red switch off the respirator machine, while a nurse simultaneously switched off the various monitors. The cold reality and physical reminders of my wife’s condition seemed to disappear with the extinguishing of the lights and noises of the life-maintaining machinery and assorted apparatus.
“Time of death, 16:47.” The doctor declared. It sounded cold and clinical but I knew he was just following the hospital’s set procedures and other legal requirements.
“It was the right decision, and what she wanted…” I could hear the doctor saying, again his tone and manner caring and sympathetic, just as it had been these past months since the accident. Despite the finality of the moment, there was a sense of peace now, almost of closure for us all, just not for me … not yet …
Two weeks later we were once again reunited on the summit of Leum Uilliem, only this time for real as I looked westward to watch the setting of the sun, just as we had so many times before. The gentle breeze that had complimented the fading light had now grown into an angry storm, telling me it was time. I took the small urn and removed the lid; like a celestial carriage waiting to carry my Lucy’s soul to a better place where I knew she would wait for me to join her someday, the raging winds carried and scattered her ashes…
It’s not goodbye, it’s just You leading the way this time…
An international group of indie authors, inspired by the personal grief of one, decided to collaborate in the spring of 2015 in a project to create this multi-genre smorgasbord of original short stories, all with the same potent theme – relationships. Some are heartfelt, some funny, some poignant, and some are just a little bit scary – much like relationships themselves. All are by authors fired by the shared enthusiasm to give something back in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. Cancer touches us all. It has in some way affected those who have contributed their time and talent here. This is our way of showing that we care.
Indie authors carry forward a revolutionary shift in publishing, which allows the author to be the creative director in their own work. There are many exceptional, experienced and acclaimed writers who have decided to take this bold step in publishing. In producing this anthology we have also had the inestimable assistance on board of artists, graphic designers, and bloggers – all of whom have a place in our acknowledgments. You, the discerning reader, are the other vital part of this equation. By buying this book you are supporting the work of indie authors, as well as discovering their worth. You are also supporting the charity to which we have chosen to dedicate our work. And if you enjoy this book, hopefully you will continue your support in buying, reading, and perhaps reviewing the 2018 edition too …
* 100% of the royalties earned or accrued in the purchase of this book, in all formats, will go to the Pamela Winton tribute fund, which is in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.