By Heather Pearson
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The news came bullet first. The sight of the gun came second.
‘Secondaries’ he said, and I thought of schools.
‘So now the hunt’ he said, and I thought of red jackets, domed hats. Defensive shoulders and jaws.
What he meant, of course, was a technological tracing through nodes and organs; measurements and contrasts forming first a data maze, then readouts stopping abruptly one day, all pointing at the lungs. Two halves of one breathing whole. We looked at them on an x-ray and your cheeks stung in a symmetrical slap of shame.
You smoked to make difficult things easier. To make little moments of bliss. And it worked. And now easier has become impossible. And every moment is fleeting. The dealer always wins. And I love you and every you who lit up back through the years with impassioned ferocity, but no judgement or blame.
No war would be waged on your own troops, you knew that would be your path straight away. Dignity, instead. And painkillers.
At home we set out a clean ashtray, coffee, puffed cushions, a foot stool. Oncologist-approved Chianti in the evenings. The cat warmed your lap, purring. I tucked you in with books and blankets to make you stay, right there by the window. Who could leave, with such an armour?
‘Tell me a story’ you said one night in a power cut, a lazy smile telling of morphine bliss, lashes pretty in candlelight, ‘tell me about the world you’ll see.’
I could think only of wonders I’d seen already with you; standing inside your raincoat at the bus shelter when I was too small for school, too big for a buggy. Rain lashing the outside of thin plastic windows, burned and bubbled black by teenager’s lighters. Lamp-posts looming, steel periscopes, rigid orange faces flickering down as they tried to warm.
It smelled of Polo mints inside your coat; Polo mints, cigarettes, perfume and copper coins. I know now these are also the smells of your handbags, your purse, your pockets, your pillows, your books. Your gloves, your scarves.
In the raincoat your thumb found my cheek through the silky pocket lining when the bus drew into sight.
‘Montreal, one day’ I answered, failing to sound sure.
You smiled, nodded your eyes shut. We listened to the cats’ velvet engine marking time and love. Breathed each other in.