TIME DASHED, a swift and terrible spring.
Ginny had not responded to the antibiotics and gone back into hospital. Mum flew up from Palmerston to fuss and dispense daily updates. The first inklings Ginny's illness was something more serious gathered like graveyard fog.
But none of us were prepared for D day - the day of diagnosis. The day the young doctor entered Ginny's room and told us the melanoma was back, had metastasised, was far advanced. He had no treatment plan to offer.
Before leaving the room, eyes downcast, shamed in the face of Mum and Ginny's shock, he said they should contact the Hospice. Then he was gone.
The Hospice, the fucking Hospice - palliative care, a halfway house of the dying.
In a quavering voice Mum recounted all this. It was later and we drove back to the hospital to collect Ginny. She did not want to stay there. She wanted to come home. The doctors said okay.
Dying. . . I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea. Like a sunk cinder-block it settled fat and heavy at the bottom of my brainpan. It displaced all my cerebrospinal fluid.
Such a minor, minor thing the year before, the year the mole was carved from Ginny's leg. The ‘shark bite’ she'd christened it. Cancerous, sure, but small, minute even, and the surgeon said he'd gotten it all and things had soon gone on as normal.
But he hadn’t. He fucking hadn't, and here we were, now, on a shapeless Monday morn, with Ginny, thirty-five, who never went out in the sun, was the only one in the family never to have smoked, dying of skin cancer. The idea pressed down, crushed down, it snapped through my atlas and axis verterbrae, it was heading for my chest, it was heading for heart.
My sister Hannah in Sydney got a call as we drove. She was not ready for the conversation, who could be?
I wish now I’d been able to break the news better, that my intentions had been more pure. That some stunted, horrid part of me hadn’t thrilled at the drama of it all, the sheer scale of disclosure.
This withered to nothing before the terror in Hannah's voice. "What do you mean cancer?" I had to pass the phone to Mum. Mum soon began to cry. I sucked down cigarettes for all I was worth.
Finally Mum passed the phone back. "Hannah, you have to get here as soon as you can. I mean like today or tomorrow.”
Tears in her voice, Hannah promised she would. We agreed to talk later and I ended the call - with Hannah crying. I hated to leave her like that: upset, alone, at work. But what could I do?
There was nothing any of us could do.
AT THE hospital Ginny was putting on a brave face - we must stay calm, we must make light - but could no longer hide the battle her silent, savage fight. Like an acid splash it was etched all over.
She'd dropped ten kilograms - a great start to her weight loss we'd joked the day before - her skin turned to translucent white. Her movements were slow, her respiration heavy, and her eyes, from their dark hollows, guttered like candles in a cave.
Yet even then I did not understand, had not brought her oxygen tank for the drive home. It was only a short drive you see. Mum was upset. Ginny forgave.
But it was difficult for her.
She had to sit with the window down, head partially out, quietly gasping. I studied her - her profile out of the corner of my eye - with the empty traffic and its empty people pursuing their empty workaday lives - as the rasp of her pant chewed a hole through my mind - and I could no longer pretend.
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