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 National Health Service 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 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 …