My partner has a condition that I can’t spell, which is usually a bad sign. I really don’t like to think of anybody I love having anything with a Latin name unless it is some kind of pasta. You all know far more about this than I do. I know it’s called something like Arachnid Haemorrhoids or something. Lesley has the condition. I do not. Even if I did, I still couldn’t pronounce it. The thing is, it appeared like a third element in our relationship, like a pet dog. One can no longer assume we can do this that or the other without taking it into the equation.
I must admit, when she was first diagnosed with it, I went into shock. I thought, ‘Oh my God, what will I do?’
I ordered pizza, for a start and got myself a season ticket for visiting at the hospital. I felt helpless. What can you do when someone you love is in pain, and you have to leave them at the hospital. Each time I left, I felt as if I were abandoning her and it cut deep; it ached as such things do. What can you do though? Climb back in your car and carry on with life as normal, while the world is oblivious to your worry and the grief that hovers and gnaws away at everything you do while you wait on a loved one to recover. I remember thinking, on the morning of Lesley’s operation, that she is in hospital and yet the kettle still takes its time, the traffic lights still favour the other drivers and leave me stressed and agitated, and thanks to my pizza, I am now constipated.
But, thank God, the operation was a success. She is one of the lucky ones, or should I say one in four; and that makes me one of the lucky ones too.
I can’t claim to be the most observant of the two of us, which is why I fail to notice when she has her hair done (sorry) and sheknows about the cigarette burn under my desk which I diligently hid with the leg of my chair. She mainly looks out of one eye since the operation, but seeing as, like most women she has eyes in the back of her head, it hasn’t been too much of a problem as far as our relationship is concerned. In fact, it has some benefits. For example, we are now in Wales sitting near the beach. At least, I presume we are because I can hear the sea. A blanket of fog sits on the car like a duvet, taken straight out of a fridge, and all I can say about the view is that the windscreen looks lovely from here. There is a woman, nearby, looking for her dog. The dog is actually on the end of a lead. That’s how foggy it is, but anyway...
Lesley has an eye-patch on her right eye. This means, as she sits in the passenger seat, she has no peripheral vision. So, as we drove all the way to Wales, I could do all those things that men do when they are alone and unobserved in their cars; I can scratch, retrieve my shorts from a certain crevice, stick a cotton bud in my ear and have a good rummage. I keep that in reserve for traffic jams.
It has a downside, too. Sometimes, because I am not touched by her peripheral vision, I feel like I am sitting alone; locked out of her perspective; as if she sits on her own in whatever confessional she finds herself, in the quiet moments when I see her like that. She often, now, seems to be in a little world of her own, the right side constrained and confined by a little white gauze and a black patch. I am very surprised by how strong the connection with another is, purely by being within their field of vision even if it is only to one side. Perhaps it is because it’s the side where the heart is; who knows.
She is due to have a MRI scan at some point, and on the way down to Wales she told me that in some parts of the country, other people do not receive the same level of care. I think we are lucky to live in a place where there are facilities for the scan. I don’t know what we would do if we lived in a place that was isolated and there was no scanner nearby. I guess I could pop her in the microwave for ten minutes and see what happens.
To be serious for a moment though, I am told that the scanner can be a tad intimidating. It is long, like a cannon and makes a clattering noise. I may be wrong but it is my intention to accompany Lesley when she goes for hers; especially after hearing the word cannon; all it would take is someone accidentally pressing the wrong button and she could end up in Bournemouth, slightly scorched and with a ringing noise in her ears.
What is it, I wonder, that started off this bleed in her brain? One likes to make sense of these things and pin down a cause for the effect. There was one time, I recall, when we went off to the Lake District. We were walking through a sunlit glade, dappled and happy, carefully clambering over mossy rocks by the side of a stream running down from the hills. I was ahead of Lesley, pointing out places where she might have slipped, pushing aside branches that could have caught her, and it was such a delightful day. There are days like this when you breath the sunlight that warms your skin. We came to a large tree, with a low branch that I ducked under. I was going to say ‘watch out for this branch,’ but I didn’t. It was so big I never dreamt she would not see it. It was as thick as an elephant’s knee. I moved on, and then behind me I heard a loud, dull ‘thunk!’ It was like someone hitting the tree with an axe. Lesley cried out and I whirled around as she fell to her knees. I leapt over her to stop her slipping down the embankment. She was in severe pain; almost throwing up with the shock of the blow to her head, having introduced it to the thick, unyielding low limb of the tree.
That, I think, was the day that started the bleed. Or perhaps it is genetic? Or unlucky; the tree certainly thought so; last thing I heard it was still receiving counselling for shock and had an appointment to see a tree surgeon. Even now, when she walks past the flowers in the garden, they flinch in case she head butts them. I know, it’s unlikely, but one can’t be too careful.
And speaking of being careful, one thing I have noticed about Lesley’s condition, is that her coordination and depth perception are not quite what they used to be. A few days ago she reached out to tenderly touch my cheek and inadvertently gave me an interesting new nostril courtesy of her fingernail. It was an accident; or at least that what she says; if I am found one day with a toaster embedded in my neck, check to see if she has upped the insurance on me in the last twelve months with a clause in it involving random household appliances.
Her short term memory isn’t quite the same either, or so she says, but she seems to remember if I say I’ll take the rubbish out and then don’t. I don’t dare forget her birthday just in case she remembers it and forgets to tell me to duck next time there is a frying pan heading for the back of my head. And oh yes, she is a little short tempered at times, but then again so am I. She had the patience of a saint to start with. I also had the patience of a saint; in my case, however, it was a St Bernard. So, even though she apologises regularly for sometimes being a little short, which is more than Napoleon ever did, I have to say I am still amazed at how remarkably calm she is; most of the time.
Visually, the effect of the ailment is quite interesting. Sometimes she holds her right hand up against the eye-patch and the brow bone above, applying a little pressure as this eases the pain somewhat. However, it looks like the gesture of someone who has slapped a hand to their head in the process of saying, ’Oh my God!’ or some such expression of alarm. I feel somewhat alarmed by this, because when I seriously screw up, this is the same expression she uses, so I spend most of my time with a vague feeling of being in trouble, like the time she caught me drinking out of a glass vase. It was a very clean scrubbed glass vase I hasten to add. I had put a yoghurt and milk in it, not being able to find a large enough receptacle to quench my thirst, but I think she was under the impression that I had first eaten the flowers and then was drinking the water; she had the same expression one reserves for when you find the dog drinking out of the toilet.
Also, whilst I remember, she has a tendency to get her words mixed up since the haemorrhage. This doesn’t happen too often, but I have noticed it. The other day, when I came in from the garden, instead of saying, ‘my, you do look handsome, and I’m so in awe of your manly and virile presence, darling,’ it came out as, ‘oh for f***s sake! I’ve just washed that floor and you’ve trodden mud all the way through the house.’ Still, as I say, she’s usually very even tempered so I can forgive the odd slip of the tongue, and the doctor is quite confident about removing her mop from my rectum.
Having a mop thusly placed seems no stranger a thought, than the one which involves Lesley having a coil in her head. When the doctor first told me he was fitting her with a coil I thought, yes well, that’s all very well and good but is this really the right time to be thinking about contraception. To be fair though, I have now got used to the concept, and actually find it quite useful. Now, when we are out shopping, if I lose her, all I have to do is take out an industrial strength magnet and in no time at all she flies through the air, knocking shoppers asunder like skittles and clunks onto the end of the magnet. It’s sort of like one of those extendable dog leads. And also, if I tweak her ear I can pick up Radio Four. It must be confusing though, for someone who is a bit psychic, to have such a coil fitted. There you are, tuning into the ether, wanting to channel the voice of your Aunt Matilda, when you get the shipping forecast.
Actually, the coil is not obvious, as you know, not unless you put a pair of hangers in each ear to improve your internal broadcast of The Archers. What is obvious, and I know Lesley is somewhat self conscious about, is the eye patch. As for me, I think it suits her. Despite this, as I say, she feels self conscious, like a female pirate. I deny this assumption of hers. In no way does she look like a pirate, and if you don’t believe me, just ask her parrot.
In closing, I must say, I still feel somewhat traumatised by the rapidity of it; the illness that is, not the mop. I think, though, that the speed with which all of this happened was a mercy, because to spend any time, such as that before the operation was unbearable; to think I could have lost her because of some stupid tree, no offence Pinocchio, or through life’s game of chance on the roulette wheel of an operating table... the thought of it is too vast. It swallows me whole and I disappear into a void, an emptiness that can only be filled with grief. So, now I jest because I can and that is my way of defusing any bitterness at how bad things happen to good people whilst, to be quite frank, complete and utter bastards slip under the wire.
I shall not think on it, even though I know the self survives the loss of the body and we are more than flesh.
Instead, I am happy to sit here typing this, in the car while she sleeps. We are no longer parked up by the beach, lost in the thick, damp fog that rolled in from the cold sea. Here we are, by the side of the road, parked up on a grass verge. The air is clear. You can see for a long way; the blue sky melts into purple, slips into the softness of the distant horizon and thence into the deep waters.
Quietly she slumbers.
Softly she breathes.
I notice I’ve parked us beside a bright yellow sign on a fence that says, ‘DANGER: QUARRY WORKINGS: KEEP OUT.’ We are on the safe side of the fence; I presume, but I wonder for a moment or two, if we are in any danger from explosions here.
At least we’d go together...