Whenever I stay with my brother-in-law and my nephews, I pick up something from my late sister’s bookshelves.
George Orwell and her beloved Charles Dickens rub up against the fluffy female fiction she enjoyed when she was terminally ill – ‘send me something light, that’s easy to read and has nothing to do with death or dying!’
It’s her Chick Lit collection I turn to every time now, because Jenny Colgan and Lisa Jewell take me right back to our last afternoons together. By two o’clock she’d already be fighting exhaustion. I was desperate to see her rest, but she knew that giving in to the constant fatigue meant she probably wouldn’t wake up in time to collect her boys from school.
The logic of tricking a dying woman into sleeping is lost on me now, but I was always right in those days and used her inherent kindness against her. In her world the needs of a pregnant little sister trumped those of a young mother with only a month or two to live, so although I was there to help her, she’d spend half her time concerned about whether I was overdoing it.
If I wanted her to rest, I had to pretend my pregnancy was draining more life out of me than Stage IV cancer. “Let’s just sit down for half an hour and read. Recharge our batteries.”
“Okay, but whatever happens don’t let me fall asleep.”
We’d take a sofa each and within five minutes she’d succumb to the printed lullaby of a £7.99 Happy Ever After from Tesco. I’d put my book down and watch as the late winter sun caught the expressions on her sleeping face – anguish, bewilderment and confusion. When her features finally softened in the peace of deep sleep, I would put a blanket over her and sob my heart out solidly and silently for the next hour.
When the clock struck three, I’d creep past her tiny, snoring body, splash cold water on my face and waddle round to meet my nephews at the school gate. The victor collecting her spoils.
*This is the alternative prologue to my upcoming posts on Qatar. You can read the original here.