Magazines, specs, watch – they should be all right if I leave them on me locker. Clean nightie, underwear, slippers. God, I hate when they take me clothes. Still, it’ll be worth it. There now, pull this curtain open, up on the bed, under the covers, settle these starchy pillows. Ah! That’s better. But I wish they didn’t smell like that. Everythin’ smells like that in here. I’ll have that smell off me tomorrow when Jimmy visits. The last time it clung to me for weeks. They may as well have stamped St Luke’s on me forehead. But this isn’t like the last time.
‘A positive step,’ the doctor said. ‘We’ll bring back the old Norma.’ What did he know about the old Norma? And who said he could call me Norma anyway? I should a said ‘marvellous, Stephen.’ But I hadn’t the nerve. I asked ‘im if he’d give me back a nipple. He laughed. I didn’t see what was funny. I miss me nipple. So does Jimmy, though he never says.
‘Sure that’s not important, love, as long as you’re well.’
He tried to console me after the operation when I told ‘im they’d taken the whole lot, not just the lump. But he winced a bit later when I showed ‘im the flat brown scar. I could hardly bare to look at it meself the first time, lopsided in me new nightie.
‘Don’t fret, Mrs Williams,’ the nurse said, dressing it. ‘You’ll get used to it after a while.’ Nurses have a tone, haven’t they? I don’t think they mean it. It’s just, once ya get into that bed, they treat ya like a child, like your mind doesn’t work or you’ve gone deaf or somethin’.
I can hear the trolley. Good, I’m dyin’ for a cup a tea. It’ll be me last too. They’ll hang one a them fastin’ signs at the end a me bed an’ that’ll be it till after the operation. I wonder if there’s any chance of a bit a toast. Ah, I won’r ask. It’ll be good for me to do without. I could do with losin’ a bit off me hips.
‘Yes, love, two sugars please.’
Ha! Wouldn’t it be gas if they could suck it off me hips an’ use it to balance me out up top? I’d go home a new woman. Marjorie Morrissey would be flabbergasted.
‘What are you goin’ in for?’ says she to me last week.
‘Cosmetic surgery,’ says I.
Ya should have seen her jaw drop. When she found out what was wrong with me last year, she couldn’t help herself. She had to tell me about her Aunt Lilly with the lump on the left side and when they opened her up she was riddled with it – didn’t last a fortnight. Imagine sayin’ that to someone on their way into Luke’s. That’s when I decided I wasn’t goin’ to be fodder for her horror stories.
‘I’ll get well to spite her,’ I told Jimmy. He was sittin’ on the end of our bed an’ I didn’t want to look at ‘im. I can see right into ‘im sometimes, like he’s a little boy an’ I’m his mammy, knowin’ exactly what’s goin’ on in his head despite what’s comin’ out of his mouth. He gave me a hug then an’ we didn’t talk about it again.
In the car on the way in, he gave out about the pint goin’ up, an’ we talked about Shirley’s new boyfriend. Shirley’s our godchild. We’ve none of our own. She’s a lovely girl, made up with her job in the service and her boyfriend, drivin’ around in his 97D. ’97, I wasn’t sure I’d see it. The doctor frightened me, ya know, with his talk of lymph tests and chemotherapy. I just looked at Jimmy when he told us. I couldn’t take half of it in, only that I had to come back for test results.
When I got out, Jimmy went to the library, borrowed every book he could lay his hands on, even The Book of the Breast .He must a been mortified when your woman was stampin’ that!
‘If we understand it,’ he said to me that night, ‘we can fight it better.’ I thought he’d never come to bed, squintin’ through his glasses at that tiny print, readin’ bits out to me when he thought they were important. His way a copin’, I suppose. My way was to sleep as much as I could an’ watch Oprah Winfrey on the telly. The Yanks get their knickers in a twist over nothin’ an’ they make a programme about it!. ‘Get a life!’ that’s what Shirley says when she sees them.
She’s gas, Shirley. She used to come round every day after work an’ sit with me for a while, keepin’ me up to date with the local gossip. I’d tell her about Jimmy an’ me, how we met at a dance in town. Near Christmas it was. Dickie Rock. He asked me up for a jive an’ we stayed together the whole evenin’. We must’ve gone to every dance in Dublin that Christmas. I went through more stiletto heels than dinners an’ he must a gone through a fair few jars a brylcreem. He never had a hair out a place, not even when he threw me over his shoulder. That made Shirley laugh!
‘I can’t imagine ‘im throwin’ ya over his shoulder now!’ ‘Right enough,’ I said. ‘It’s been a long time since he’s done anything like that.’
Between them they kept me laughin’ really. Only sometimes I’d get scared when I was alone, in the little gaps between Oprah and the news or if Jimmy went out for a paper. I’d imagine I could feel somethin’ eatin’ me, only inside out. I’d stare down at me breast an’ expect to see somethin’ burstin’ through it. Then I’d run to the window an’ take in gasps of cold air till Jimmy came an’ put his arms around me an’ guided me back to the bed.
Brrr! I think I’ll ask that nurse for another blanket. ‘Nurse! Nurse!e’ God, look at her, scurryin’ out a the ward, afraid I might be lookin’ for another cup a tea. Ah, that’s not fair. They do be run off their feet sometimes, ‘specially at night. In Luke’s you’d hear them in the dark, runnin’ to some bed, swishin’ the curtains round, then maybe rollin’ the bed out. The wheels would click over the saddle of the ward door. I hated that noise.
‘Nurse, you’re back! Would it be okay if I took a blanket off that empty bed? I’m a bit chilly.’ Look at her noddin’ at me like the Queen Mother!
Where’s me slippers? Now, the blanket, pink or blue, like somethin’ you’d see on a newbom’s cot to show if it’s a boy or a girl. I said that to the doctor.
‘Half a me looks like a boy,’ I said, but I wasn’t upset. He’d just told me an’ Jimmy that the tests were all clear. Jimmy actually kissed me in front a the’ doctor!
‘You’re great, You’re great!e’ he said and the doctor shook me hand.
‘In a year’s time,’ he said, ‘if and when you’re still clear, we’ll consider cosmetic reconstruction. Meanwhile, you can be fit for a prosthesis.’
Well, we laughed all the way home! They gave me this thing in a shoe box. It wobbled on me lap in the front seat every time we went over a bump. I said to Jimmy, ‘I won’t be able to dance with that up me jumper.’ When I tried it on at home, we put Al Martino on the record player an’ waltzed round the room together an’ collapsed in a heap on the couch. We laughed until Shirley called, then I showed it to her an’ we laughed all over again.
‘What’s this?’ she used to say to me after.
‘What do ya call the gap between two prosteses?
I’ll be glad to be rid a that thing though. It was all right when I stayed easy, but if I tried to walk across the room, it’d go bouncin’ in a different direction entirely to the other one. Jimmy said, it got so I looked like one a those girls from a finishin’ school, walkin’ so carefully I could have balanced half a dozen books on me head. I didn’t jive last Christmas, that’s for sure!
Better settle meself down now, lights are goin’ out.
Ahh, it’ll be different this year. I’ll buy meself one a them sequined black dresses that clings to your curves an’ shimmers when ya move. I’ll go to every party I can an’ I’ll dance till me feet are achin’ an’ poor Jimmy Williams begs me for mercy! That’s a promise!