Valentines Day is a bit different with kids in the house. I would try to describe it but it wouldn’t be better than the great post written by The Clothesline, so I’ll just shamelessly plug it here:
I’m not a big VDay person any more (maybe when I was sixteen) but it was nice to go to the coffee shop with my husband after dropping the kids off at nursery. Even if we did talk work before going to look at carpets.
I did manage to finish my cards commission by the skin of my teeth (my friend will be here to collect them in an hour) but I nearly forgot to walk the dog… All in all it was a normal day.
Claire’s post isn’t very romantic I’m afraid. It was the next thing on my list of topics to write about, it wasn’t meant to land on or near Valentines Day. That’s life I guess. It’s also quite long so I’ll keep my daily chit-chat to a minimum.
Claire chose a table in the corner of the coffee shop and sat down. The latte didn’t look up to Starbucks’ standard but the mug was warm and she’d tipped in sufficient sugar to mask any unwanted taste. Looking around the crowded room she felt the warmth spreading through her hands and down into her body. She let out a sigh and closed her eyes.
The phone rang for several seconds before she recognised the sound as hers. It rang so rarely she’d forgotten the brassy ringtone selected to be audible in bars. I should probably change it to birdsong or something. As she patted her coat pockets to find the source of the noise Claire noticed several blue-rinse grannies doing the same thing and let out a chuckle. Welcome to the twenty-first century.
“Hello?” Claire hoped it was a sales call she could ditch quickly. She hated trying to hold a personal conversation in a public space.
“Claire, it’s Ruth. Where are you? Robert said something about you losing your job and ruralising. I told him he’d finally gone senile.”
“I’m in a coffee shop Ruth. Can I call you back?” She heard an intake of breath down the phone and felt her happy mood drain away. “I’m not fobbing you off. It’s just hard to talk. I’m all pressed in with people.” She nearly said the blue-rinse brigade but realised her southern vowels were carrying rather too well above the northern hubbub. She drained the last of her coffee and pulled at her coat, all the while keeping the phone to her ear.
“Hang on Ruth, I’ll go outside. Do you want me to call you back, save your bill?”
Her sister agreed and Claire was able to put her coat on with two hands. She hesitated then pulled on her gloves and hat too. The Skoda was parked at the other end of town and she had no idea how long her sister would talk for. Even though the sun was shining it was still sub-zero by the lake.
The phone connected after one ring. “Thanks for calling back. I needed to talk to you. I already called Mum and Robert.”
Claire felt a heavy weight drop into her stomach. Ruth rang Robert; that could only mean major news. Hang on, she rang him before me? Shaking away the irrelevant thought Claire looked around for somewhere to sit down.
“What is it?”
“I got the test results back. They’ve seen something and they want to investigate further.”
“What do you mean something?” Claire took a sharp breath of icy air and began coughing. As the fit passed she processes the words. “Do you mean a lump? A tumour? Cancer?” Framing words around the thought made them too real.
“They don’t know. A lump, yes, but it could be benign. They won’t know until they do a biopsy.”
Claire had majored in arts at school, science was not her forte, but she had a feeling biopsies meant inserting needles where they didn’t belong. Ruth confirmed it.
“They said it will be done under anaesthetic so I won’t feel it.”
A shiver tore through Claire, chilling her from the inside out.
“Oh god.” The sunny street dimmed as the words took on sense. “Do you need anything? I’m in Cumbria but I can head down if you need me to take Sky.”
“It’s fine, Sky will be at school and Mum will pick her up. It’s not a complicated procedure. I just thought you should know.”
“Of course. I’ve been meaning to call and ask about your results. It’s just. Well.” What excuse was there? I’ve been swinging through the trees like Tarzan or following an Aussie I only just met up mountains I’ve only just heard of? Even by their family standards that was pretty lame.
“It’s okay, you don’t need to explain. It must be difficult, with your job and Michael.” Ruth trailed off, waiting. When Claire didn’t add anything she gave a small sigh. “You can tell us what happened you know. We won’t judge.”
Ha! Not judge? It’s practically the family motto. Claire forced the thought away. “Sorry sis, there have been a lot of changes. I’m not being coy about Michael, there’s nothing to say. He wanted something I couldn’t give him so it needed to end now before it imploded later. And I haven’t lost my job but I am fighting to keep it, using a skill-set I didn’t possess last week. But none of that matters if you need me in Cambridge.”
There was silence. Claire wondered if Ruth was even still listening or whether she’d gone to see to Sky. She waited, unsure what to do. Her bum was freezing to the bench and she’d lost the feeling in her nose. Do I hang up and call back? Then she heard an rush of breath and what sounded like sobbing. Must be Sky.
It took a moment to realise the crying was coming from her sister. “Ruth? Are you okay?”
The sobbing intensified and Claire listened helplessly, feeling awkward at witnessing her sister’s grief. She got up and walked along the street to get her blood moving. Eventually the sobs gulped to a halt and her sister’s voice wavered in apology.
“Don’t be silly. You cry if you need to. I can’t imagine how scary it all is.”
“It’s not that. Well, I am terrified. More about how it’s going to affect Sky. No, it’s just you had everything. The flat, the job, the fit bloke. If it didn’t work for you, who does it work for? What is there to live for? Where’s the hope?”
Claire’s heart pounded loudly, thrumming in her wind-frozen ears. A lump formed in her throat and she grasped for words. “You have Sky. She’s your hope, surely?” As she said the words Claire felt the falseness. She couldn’t imagine living her future for a child who would be ever ungrateful. At the same time it rang true and she knew it was the right thing to give Ruth hope.
“You’re right. I’m being silly. It’s just, you and Michael, you clicked. He adored you. We all hoped he’d be the one.”
We? Claire didn’t like the idea that her family had been discussing her love life in her absence. If she thought they talked about her at all she hoped it was to envy her new car or latest work achievement. Did Michael adore me? Images flashed through her brain like a movie on fast forward. They were good pictures, full of laughter and understanding. It made her ache with emptiness.
She heard a loud noise coming from Ruth’s end of the phone and for once was relieved to have their conversation cut short by her niece.
“You give Sky a hug from me, Ruth, and let me know how it goes tomorrow. I can be in Cambridge if you need me. Just call.”
Her sister murmured her assent and hung up, leaving Claire motionless and alone on an unfamiliar high street.