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They say people see their life flash before them when they’re dying. Well, maybe that’s the case when you’re drowning, or falling from a cliff, or about to hit a wall as your car careers out of control. But when you’re “dying” – i.e., you have a limited period to live – you take day trips.


My doctor has given me three weeks, perhaps more, before I make that final departure. But today I’ve decided to take a brief tour of the South of France, circa 1984…


I’m sitting in a car, which is being driven slowly along a winding Provencal road to the Lac de Ste Croix where we’re heading for a late afternoon picnic. Strange-shaped trees line the road, their trunks bunched up from the middle, like young children showing off their bellies. I was only 17 at the time and the idea of children was just a romantic, idealised notion.


Sitting here in the sun-dappled conservatory of the hospital the thought of my own children is a reality too hard to bear. They are still so young, Edmund barely three and Hal six: two innocents who up until a few months ago were pulling up my own shirt and nestling against the swell of my stomach.


Now the pain is too great physically and mentally for such contact and they come here to visit between trips to nursery and school and the long list of activities that I’ve organised to keep them on track.


I don’t want to remember, but I do ...The same holiday in France – I’m walking back from the fete under a midnight moon when it happens: the clumsy hands and drunken mouth forcing me, disgusting me, making me scream out for help and then, as a last resort, break into tears. I hadn’t felt like crying at the time. I was angry. Angry that this brute, a so-called friend of the family we were staying with, had forced himself on me. But I cried. I cried because we were falling away from the others.


I cried because I had long since realised that the female is no match for the male when it comes to physical strength. I cried and, to my surprise, it worked. He backed away and I ran. Ran all the way back to the village and the family and friends who really didn’t want to know, who found it all rather embarrassing, but told me the next day, with knowing looks, that he had slipped into a ditch on his way home and broke his leg and was a sorry state around the village. It seemed like divine retribution – a reason to believe in the power of good.


That belief crumbled away – much before all this. Those happy freak incidents that seem to suggest that someone or something benign is watching over us, dried up long ago, like the skin on my parched, aged hands.


Another journey: 19 years later. I’m walking along the Thames Embankment. The autumn leaves blow around my ankles and the traffic crawls and stops as the lights turn red. The line on my pregnancy test has turned red. After five long years of “trying”, “struggling”, it’s happened and my husband, on the other end of the mobile, can’t believe it, can barely speak for relief and joy.


Those delicious walks afterwards – to and from the station to work and back – heavy with child but light of step. This “joy” had been a little late coming, but there was no doubt, I had no doubt, that it would finally arrive. And he did.


Later my step slowed. It slowed to the pace of a toddling child. It slowed under the weight of a second pregnancy and a buggy loaded with children and groceries….…


Back to 1984 and France and the path through the pine forest down to the lake. The grown-ups are busying around, preparing the picnic, laying out blankets, opening wicker baskets laden with cheeses ripening in the later afternoon sun – fruit, pates, hams, crusty baguettes and olives drenched in garlic and pepper oil. It was to be a proper meal before our long hike back to England. The grown-ups poured wine, while Laura and I lay back and drunk the air – the brilliance of youth needing no sedation.


Late the next night, Laura and I are in a service station, sharing a beer, squabbling over the remains of a cheese baguette, wondering where to sleep in this unfamiliar provincial town just five kilometres north of Lyon. Walking across the forecourt, past the cars and trucks, we head for the side of the road, either to sleep, or wait for a lift.


He leans out of the truck’s cab, his long lank hair flapping around his shoulders and asks if we’d like a lift to Paris. And we say, “yes”, “qui”, “merci” and let this charioteer speed us through the night, as we nestle down in the back of the truck, the strains of a CD and the comforting sounds of night-time motorway traffic lulling us to sleep.


This kind, silent stranger drops us off at a girlfriend’s apartment on the outskirts of Paris where we are given a room for what’s left of the night. We never see him again.


The kindness of strangers. I see it now in the eyes of the hospital consultants and therapists – the nurses and the junior medics who come to change my drip and take my pulse.


But their benevolence is mixed with a certain weary impatience and resignation. After all, I’ll still be here in the morning.


The winter of 1987: I’m on a black slope high above an alpine village. The drop is severe and, gripped with fear, I doubt that I will be able to traverse to the other side. But I do, crisscrossing the powdery white snow like an L-plated angel. It’s exhilarating – the speed, the cold blast of air against burning red cheeks, the feeling of being brave and alive.


In the evening I drink mulled wine with friends, dangling soggy pieces of bread into hot melted cheese. I feel mellow and alive.


I’m on top of the world again two years later: floating on my back like a star fish in a circular pool on top of a pretty colonial hotel in Harare. I’m on a work assignment, but there’s plenty of time for leisure.


Cool drinks by the pool, the kindness and company of strangers in the restaurant and bar at night.


I still swim a little. The physiotherapist took me to the hospital pool yesterday afternoon. She helped lower me in, my tired, thin, sagging skin erupting in an explosion of goose pimples – its finest moment in months. The cool water sapped whatever strength I had and, within minutes, she was heaving me back out onto the poolside.


They walk me too – up and down the white-walled corridor, with its cheery cheap modern art and peeling posters. If it’s a nice day, they sometimes lead me out into the hospital grounds. They rarely leave me.


Do they expect me to escape? The only escape I seek is in my thoughts: to sit back on the bench under the flowering apple tree and think. Think about how it all went wrong; how I strayed so far from the path.


Six years ago: pushing the pram up and down the embankment, the baby crying in protest at my exhausted, angry, hungry face. When he’s asleep, I park the pram by the river’s edge, open my polythene-wrapped sandwich and start to read about how to be a good mother……


I remember that other time down by the river one bitterly cold winter's night.


We clung to each other, turning round and round as we kissed and touched, instinctively moving towards a dark, shadowy spot where we fell to the ground. I could have died with happiness……


Six months later I follow a hearse through the sleepy seaside streets to a municipal crematorium on the outskirts of town. Death doesn’t come on call. It came far too early for my father.


My mother visited yesterday. She brought the usual plastic carrier bag of food and magazines but, I noticed, she didn’t bother to empty out the contents. Instead she just looked at me, her hollow eyes a reflection of my own, and said: “Where did all this nonsense come from love? Where did it all come from?” There’s no answer to that, of course.


We all know, though, where it’s heading.


The boys are outside my room, I can hear them scuffling around. Ed has started to cry and call for his dad. My mother leans over and squeezes my hand, “You must try, you must, for them,” she pleads, with quiet urgency. She begins to empty the contents of the bag onto the bed as Ed comes in holding his dad’s hand. Hal walks in slowly a few paces behind.


I try to smile, but stop when I see the look of horror on Ed’s face. Hal, who’s older, tries his best to hide his pain, but it’s there between us on the bed, beside the untouched chocolates and fruit.“Eat something, mum, please,” says Hal.


And I want to, so very much. He gets out his Nintendo and I watch him play, surprising myself as I help him with a tricky move. Ed bounces up onto the bed, but he doesn’t cuddle. He can’t cuddle.


My husband looks down at me and then turns his face away, walking silently out of the room. He returns five minutes later with cups of coffee for himself and my mother. They’re staying longer today.


I reach out for a bar of chocolate on the bed and unwrap it quickly in case I lose my nerve. “Wicked, mum,” says Hal, smiling, willing me on.“Me bit, me bit,” says Ed, as he watches me go to take a bite. I break off a chunk and give it to him and I hear my mother sigh. But it was only one piece, and I take another, and then another, cramming the chunks into my mouth, clamping my lips shut. I shudder at the taste, the invasion, and look up to see them all watching, waiting for me to chew. The chocolate is melting on my tongue, trying to seep down my throat. And then I start to choke.


They leave, ushered out of the room by the nurse, Ed in tears, Hal fighting them back and my mother pale and shaking, holding onto her son-in-law for support.


The nurse comes back in and wipes the chocolate mess from around my mouth and off the sheets. A short time later the trainee Canadian therapist arrives. She’s been briefed about the 'development' and asks me if I want to try the canteen again today.


I turn away. It’s at times like this that I want all the stuff, the images, to fast forward and blur into one: so I don’t have to endure this drip, drip, tripping.


But I have one more journey to take today.


Holding onto the nurse’s arm she walks me slowly down the corridor to the small canteen. I surprise myself and let out a little laugh. The nurse turns and looks at me. I can’t explain and make a joke instead:


“It’s not over if the thin lady eats.”


She gives an incredulous look and reaches for a tray.


                                                                                               The End


Karen Taylor is a London-based author and journalist. The Trade, a financial thriller, is published by Endeavour Press and available on Amazon.

Karen is currently working on a new teen thriller Off The Rails.

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