Shelley’s eyes flicked on to the email from her oncologist. It had just come in. “Your results,” said the subject line, which was in bold.
Against Dr Gupta’s advice, Shelley had insisted on receiving the news by email. She’d told him she had to fly out to Bali, so she wouldn’t be able to go to the clinic.
Shelley ignored the email and logged off, with it still unopened. She stretched.
She felt she knew what it said already. She could literally feel it in her bones. Her shin bone sometimes felt brittle, achy. It felt wrong. It hurt sometimes to walk.
She’d pop some Panadeine Fortes, if need be. The pain would go away.
Right now, she felt fine. She poured herself a large chardonnay, and strolled out, summer dress swishing, on to the patio.
She lay on the sun lounge and hitched her dress up to her thighs for maximum tan potential. Why not? She thought. What am I gonna get? Cancer?
She took a sip of her chardy, lit up an Alpine Light and inhaled deeply.
‘’Ooh yes,’’ she thought. ‘’this is the life,’’ taking out a bottle of black nail polish and intending to spend five minutes, each, painting each nail on her fingers, and then her toes.
The birds tweeted; far away a light plane buzzed by and traffic hummed.
Her phone bleeped, jolting her out of her reverie. It was a text from Jimmy, her boyfriend of five years. Or ‘Lov-ah’, as she said to herself, though never to him.
‘’What did the doctor say?’’ said the text.
Shelley set her phone aside, and thought about how she would reply.
She smiled as she thought of Jimmy – tall, thin, with a razor sharp mind, he was the master of sarcasm, but also nervy and sensitive as anything. He would explode in anger at ridiculously trivial things – a faulty toaster or a telephone marketing call at dinner – but not at her.
He had cried like a baby when his dog, Sunny, had to be put down a few months before – from inoperable cancer. Jimmy was still not recovered from that, not really.
The five year relationship with Jimmy was the longest in Shelley’s life. There was still a current between them. They were connected.
Still, Shelley insisted they keep separate flats. He’d proposed several times and she’d laughed it off.
He’d pretended not to be hurt, but you could see it all over his face. She’d felt cruel, then, but the feeling of being …. tethered scared her.
It suddenly struck her that if she told Jimmy the truth about her medical results, it might well kill him.
Which, she realised just then, meant he loved her. Her heart did a nosedive – it seemed to go down into her stomach, and her eyes brimmed with tears.
She took a deep breath, blinked the tears away, took a deep drag of her ciggie and an epic draw on her wine. And poured herself another glass.
Shelley finished her nails, butted out the smoke, wiped her mind clear and lay back on the lounge, for what seemed like hours.
Her phone trilled loudly, rudely interrupting a blissful trance in the soft, warm sun, that was something like sleep.
It was Jimmy.
‘’Got my cheez wiz boy?’’ Shelley barked in a Chicago accent – an in-joke between them from their favourite movie The Blues Brothers.
‘’Three orange whips,’’ he replied, for, oh, about the 500th time in their relationship.
‘’What’s up,’’ said Jimmy.
‘’Just havin’ a drink and a smoke and a tan in the back yard,’’ she drawled lightly, like a hillbilly. ‘’Workin’ hard.’’
Shelley had taken a redundancy from her newspaper reporting job three months before.
Jimmy was still in the trenches, as an online editor.
‘’What did the doctor say?’’ Jimmy asked, and there was tension in his voice.
He’d been a basket case three years ago, through her breast cancer treatment. But although she didn’t show it, she was touched, and kind of thrilled, that he stayed around.
No, she resolved now, she wasn’t going to put Jimmy through all that again. She’d been his good old sparky Shell, and it would do her good, too.
She was gonna live in the land of De-Nial. Forever.
‘’All clear,’’ she lied now, to Jimmy.
Hey, maybe if she said it often enough, she’d believe it, too. ‘’What about we go to that Mexican joint tonight?’’
Jimmy said it was just what he felt like. “Do they have chicken wire on the stage?’’ he asked. Another Blues Brothers allusion.
‘’Oh, yeah,’’ she said. ‘’And BOTH kinds of music – country AND Western.’’
And she hung up, lay back on the lounge, put her sunnies on, and cackled.