Maria walked out of the clinic onto the street. She stood for a moment as if trying to decide which direction to go in. In truth she was in a state of severe shock.
How could it have got so far? how could her Doctor have missed it? why hadn't she gone sooner for a second opinion?
What on earth was she going to do now?
Maria had no doubt the Specialist was right, she had felt it inside her for weeks now, growing and multiplying aggressively as if its life depended on it. Ironic really, its fight for survival and growth was linked directly to its death, and through that, hers too.
'A race to the death', she thought, a cold laugh escaped her throat and attracted attention from a pedestrian walking past her.
Her shock still numbing her to the truth and what it meant, giving her the sense of everything being unreal, allowing her the moment of graveyard humour that came with the knowledge that your death was imminent and irreversible.
Too late for treatment the Specialist had said, “Sorry,” he had said.
“How much time do I have?”, she had asked meekly, terrified of the answer, knowing it wouldn't be years, but hoping it wasn't going to be too short a time. He looked away out of the window as if making a decision within himself.
He turned back to her looking her straight in the eye, he said as gently as he could.
“Maria, you should put your affairs in order and then go on a holiday, don't delay. Go somewhere nice, where the sun shines and the sky is blue. You don't have that long” his eyes continued to hold hers, willing her to keep control, forcing her to be strong.
In the end she broke eye contact, stood and walked out. Not another word. It was enough.....
Her feet were taking her somewhere. Direction seemed irrelevant now. Direction was for people who had time and had somewhere to go and needed to get there. She had none of that.
Her knees started to tremble, the shock beginning to seep into her muscles, the adrenalin wearing off. Her stomach felt funny, like it was fluttering, trying to fly away, but being held back by a heavy weight inside her.
She needed to sit. There was a railing, then a gate, open. A garden with a chapel on the other side. Maria walked through it and immediately felt calmer. The green lawns, orderly flower beds, perfectly trimmed edges highlighting her path forward. She saw a bench.
Maria reached it and sat down, she noticed there was an oak tree behind and it created dancing shadows through its leaves. Despite the hot day Maria felt cold. It was a coldness that you knew would never warm, not like sand on a beach, or butter in a frying pan. This was a cold that would grow despite everything.
She thought about the Doctor, "put your affairs in order", he said. She laughed. She was single, a virgin, she owned nothing; not even a dog. Her parents were killed in a car crash when she was five.
She owed nothing to the foster homes that kept her prisoner until she was old enough to walk out. The State had got her somewhere to live, paid her a small allowance while she searched for work and she had no friends.
Nowhere to go, just a small apartment with its magnolia walls and A4 notices in every room reminding her of the house rules. Nobody she could speak to. Nobody to say goodbye to. Nobody to miss her going.
At the lowest point in her life she had nowhere to turn.
Then finally it came. No sobbing, no lurching or wailing grief, no angry screams of “Why ME?”. Just a flood of tears flowing down her cheeks, collecting at her chin and then dripping onto her light grey jacket.
Maria cried for herself because there was no-one else who would. She wasn't really feeling sorry for herself. Well, yes maybe she was, but she was grieving. Bearing on her own the grief of a loss of a life yet un-lived, of opportunities never to be taken, of lovers never met. Maria wept for places never visited and children never conceived.
She remain like that for some time. Her strength ebbing, her fight to live diminished by the cold futility of her condition. She had no reason to move, nothing to go home to so, she sat there motionless. Uncaring.
A shadow fell into her view, a person. Her eyes still so full of her tears that she could not see properly, but felt the presence near her. They were close and must be able to see her crying. She no longer cared.
Maria felt the wooden slats under her move as another weight counter balanced hers as someone sat down on the bench beside her. She felt them as they reached out and took her hand in theirs. It was a man's strong hand, it was warm, it enveloped hers, small and petite as it was.
Slowly, as the hand continued to hold her she felt the strength flow from him into her. The feeling she felt as the love of another human being enveloped her and filled her full to overflowing. She had never experienced such feelings. Her life to date had been devoid of such strength, such beauty.
Now, entranced by the gentle flow and the feeling of strength the firm grip gave her and the mental caress of love and affection that enveloped her taking away her grief by layers. Replacing it with contentment and a fullness that left her dazed.
Her eyes cleared, the tears dried. Maria looked out over the garden, as if seeing it for the first time. Butterflies were dancing over the flowers, sometimes alone, then together with others. Always bouncing with light and energy alighting on a stamen and drinking its fill before flying off again. So much colour. So much beauty.
She wondered at the man beside her who she had not yet turned to see. His hand still held hers continuing to infuse her with strength and will. She dared not look in case he disappeared and she was left alone again with her grief and desolation.
Eventually, when she could take no more. Maria took her other hand and laid it on the one that held hers holding it fast.
Now the strength she received was flowing through her and back out again returning to the person who held her close to his heart, who enfolded her completely, if not physically, then fully in spirit.
She felt the strength of love take root in her and begin to grow. As it did so Maria took courage and turned towards this man who sat so still and emanated such love and vitality.
Finally, taking courage and raising her eyes to meet his face, she took wonder at the simple features that looked back at her.
The old man, his blue eyes full of a brightness, a glimmer that captivated her, like the hand which still gripped hers. His look filling her with amazing strength, suddenly freed her of the heavy burden her malignancy had chained her to. She felt freedom from care, the worry dropping from her shoulders, the shadows began to depart her soul and she was left light-headed.
“What!... What is your name?” Maria asked him.
She wanted to know who this person was who had in the space of a few minutes turned her life from one of loss, desolation and personal grief to a new feeling of happiness, love, freedom and hope. her hands continued to grasp his, not letting go for fear he would just turn out to be a hallucination.
He smiled at her “People call me Gabriel”, he said “and I promise I will not let go”
He kept her hands in his, but put them in front of them so she could see the hold he had on them.
Feeling totally confident that he would not let her slip away she smiled at him, almost laughing such was the feelings she was experiencing. The darkness in her fading quickly against the sheer depth of his love.
“It is time for us to go” he said simply, smiling at her reassuringly. She nodded, she knew within herself that he was right.
He stood pulling her up with him, she felt a slight tug as though she had been somehow caught on the bench and then the feeling of joy and happiness, an emotion still new to her, washed over her once more and for the first time she felt completely free as they walked on down the garden, he still holding her hands in his, she not taking her eyes from his face.
The sun continued to shine on the bench, while the figure of the young woman, completely still now in the evening light, leaned back as though enjoying the last of the sunlight. She looked relaxed and at peace, a smile on her face. The butterflies flew around near her, one settling on the back of the bench where it reflected in the brass plate screwed into the top rail, its image broken by the engraving which read.
“In memory of John Gabriel, a loving man taken from us too soon – go with God”
© Tobias Roote