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‘Are Nana and Grandad going to die?’

‘Ooh, not for a long time. You don’t have to start worrying about that...Eh, look, your mum’s ready with the dinner. Come on, I’ll beat you to the table.’


*

Mostly, however, death was what adults talked about in hushed voices and, more often than not, in euphemistic shorthand. For example, just the mere mention of Mr. Green could drain the colour from my mum’s face.

When we were both at primary school, my sister, Janice, and I started to take school dinners which meant that the only time the family could discuss the day’s events was in the evening. If my dad wasn’t working late, there was a period of time after tea when we were all present. Not that it was ever exciting, just comfortably familiar. Occasionally, however, Mr. Green’s name cropped up which could change the atmosphere in an instance. One minute we would all be purring over my sister’s drawings, the next, the adults would be in a huddle, leaving the children to occupy themselves in puzzled silence.

‘Janice, show yer dad them drawings you did for Mrs. Preston. tell you, Wally, you need to see these. No, Janice – over by the knitting basket. Now bring them here to show yer dad.’

‘Oh, I say, did you do these? Aren’t you clever? I like the colours in this one.’

‘That one’s called Beauty and this one’s called Starlight.’

(Two minutes later, after much cooing and aahing.)

‘I tell yer what, Janice, can you do another one with horses in it? And, Keith, d’yer mind setting up your soldiers by the armchair? There’s a good lad. I need to speak to yer mother.’

(One minute later, both adults lean forward, conspiratorially.)

‘I meant to say to you earlier. I was talking to Len at work. Audrey got a letter from Mr. Green this morning.’



‘Oh, no, not Audrey. It can’t be true.’

‘I’m afraid it is. Stomach, so they reckon.’

‘Poor Audrey. Oh, and Len, he must be...oh, poor things.’

(A handkerchief appears.)

‘She’s got to go and see him next week.’

‘Is there any chance...you know...of...?’

‘Well, we’ll have to wait and see. Let’s just hope she’s luckier than Arthur was last year. Four months after the letter, that was all he got.’

‘It’s so unfair. You’ll give Len my love, won’t you? Tell him, I’ll write to Audrey. And ask him if I can go and see her.’

‘’Course I will, ducky.’

‘And what about Nigel and the kiddies in New Zealand? Will they know yet?’

‘Len was going to try to ring them tonight from the neighbour’s phone.’

We both knew it was bad news. After all, it had made our mum cry. But what it was, specifically, was anyone’s guess. It was only years later, as a teenager, that I discovered the reason why Mr. Green’s name could provoke such a strong reaction. He was the consultant at the General Hospital and his letters were harbingers of Doom, a final confirmation that the big C had been diagnosed. To receive a letter from Mr. Green was like being left a calling card from the other side.

To be continued.

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