Missed Part 1? Read it here
Missed Part 2? Read it here
I remember the first visit to the specialist hospital for treatment. That building, a giant grey block of concrete, was like a great tombstone towering over us. I had visions of it careening over and crushing us as we walked through its doors. And it did, in its way. It snuffed out our spirit.
She grew sick of hospitals, sick of doctors, sick of me telling her to cooperate. And I was sick of her too.
‘I’m not going back again, Sharon. All they do is prod and poke me and then tell me its more doom and gloom.’
‘They’re trying to help.’
‘They all know I’m a dead woman walking.’
‘They’re trying to keep you walking for as long as possible.’
‘What if I don’t want to?’
‘You’re ready to die, are you?’
‘I think I am, yes. You should just shoot me rather than keep dragging me down that hospital.’
‘Alright, Mum. I’ll see if the bloke at Holme Farm’ll lend me his shotgun and we’ll put you out of your misery, eh?’
‘You’d love that, wouldn’t you?’
‘Absolutely. Would give me a great deal of satisfaction to blow your old brains out.’
The cancer spread so quickly that the doctors could barely keep on top of it. I used up all my holidays on her hospital appointments and I had to beg and plead with my colleagues to swap shifts and arrange last-minute cover. I was a hair’s breadth away from being sacked. And then I fell out with our Mark.
‘She’s your mother, too. Why is it all on me?’
‘I work, Sharon.’
‘And you think I don’t?’
‘In a shop, part time. I have a proper job. I can’t take the time off like you can.’
I said some terrible words to him after that. Had to wash my mouth out with soap.
When my dear brother did find the time, his presence was treated like a visit from Queen Lizzy. My mother’s face lit up, all smiles and sparkles in her eyes. She’d say more to him during half an hour than she would to me over an entire week. And I don’t blame her. With him, she got news about all the fascinating facets of his life; his work, his turbulent relationship with girlfriend, his nights down the pub. My life was just her. All I had to offer was reminders about her medication and her appointments and what the doctor had to say about her lymphoedema.
The hospice was my choice. I picked it because it was a mere two-storey place. It was about as different as you could get from the oppressive lump of concrete that was the hospital. Mind you, it still had that vibe about; that sense of greyness and decay that smothered you as soon as you walked in its doors. It made my chest feel tight.
Mark didn’t want her to go. ‘She should die at home.’
‘I can’t cope with that, Mark.’
‘It’s not about you.’
‘But it is when I’m the one watching her die. I can’t do that on my own.’
‘Do what you like. But if she hates it, it’s on you. I want her to know it was never my choice.’
I pitched it to Mum like a holiday camp, same as the hospice folk had done for me. Activities. Games. Theme nights. Company. Good food. They even had those therapy pets visit the residents once a week. She’d have new wee things to smother with love.
She agreed to it without any fuss. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I’d have a fight on my hands getting her there, but she was all in. She did it for me, though, rather than herself. Gratitude and guilt fought one another every single day that I went to visit her.
It was the early hours when she left us, three and a half weeks since she first took up a bed. Just me and the nurse there with her. She’d been in and out of sleep all day, breath shallow, lips parted. I knew it was coming and when it finally did, the tightness in my chest eased. I was so bloody relieved. Awful, aren’t I, for saying that?
Mark couldn’t understand why I wasn’t hysterical with tears when I called to tell him. I didn’t shed a single one that day, or the next. Didn’t cry when we made the funeral plans. Didn’t cry as we walked into the crematorium. Didn’t cry through the service or when they pressed that little button to send her into the flames. It was only at the wake, when the condolences came rolling in, that it hit me. The tightness in my chest returned, worse than it had ever been before.
‘She was a good woman, Sharon.’
‘She’ll be dearly missed, Sharon.’
‘The stories I’ll tell of her, Sharon.’
Platitudes repeated over and over, some of them heartfelt but most of them said just because they’re what’s supposed to be said. None of it meant anything to me; I knew what she’d been in life, probably better than most.
I went home early to be rid of them all, to pour myself a glass of wine and grieve for her alone. I needed an empty house to think of her and shout at her and laugh at her and beg her to crawl out of her bloody grave and come back.
When I let myself in the front door there was the unmistakeable stench of piss.
I followed my nose into the living room and there, bold as brass in the middle of my sofa, was a cat sat licking its arse. I wasn’t even surprised. It felt like it was my mother’s doing, one way or another.
I stared at it for a short while, and then it finally deigned to look at me with eyes far too big for its scrawny little body. Its black coat was dull and patchy, but its green eyes shone as though it knew things about me.
I glanced at the back window and saw it had been left ajar. My fault. I’d opened it for some fresh air before the funeral and forgotten to close it when the cars turned up early. After all my wittering about home security. Maybe I’m more like my mother than I thought.
I wondered how I might go about shooing it out. I didn’t want it throwing itself at me and shredding my skin to ribbons with its claws. With slow steps I approached the sofa and the cat puffed itself up, trying to make its undernourished body look more threatening than it was. I took a seat, determined to tell it I was unbothered.
It got to its feet and gave me a warning growl.
‘You can bugger off if you don’t like me making myself at home in my own house,’ I told it.
I sat in silence, staring at the wall while it sized me up. I wondered if this was what my mother had put up with. She always made out that her first meeting with each cat was idyllic, like they fell in love at first sight. Maybe it wasn’t that simple. Maybe she’d put in the time to earn their love. In that case, she’d had more patience with them than she ever had with me.
The cat crept towards me, sniffing at the air along the way. It was probably hoping to smell my fear, but I wouldn’t give it that satisfaction.
It flopped down beside me and nestled into the warmth of my leg. I tried not to think of the fleas as I tentatively scratched at the top of its head. Soon a soft, thrumming purr emanated from its chest and filled the room. My mind wandered to thoughts of the kitchen cupboards. I was sure I had an old tin of sardines stashed away. And there was some ham in the fridge. Good ham from the butchers, but I supposed I could sacrifice it.
My mother always talked a lot of old shite—shite that I’m not daft enough to believe—but somehow five years have passed by and I’m still sharing my sofa with that bloody cat.
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