Sometimes it was almost funny. There was certainly a sort of irony to the situation; for a man who prided himself on his intelligence to be felled by this, of all things. Sometimes he felt afraid and would admit to himself-only to himself, you understand- in the dead of the night that he was scared of dying. He tried not to think too hard on what the lead up to that death would bring; the thought alone would have been enough to paralyse him. Most of all, he felt sad. And alone. Always alone.
It started, as these things so frequently do, with little things, easy to pass off as nothing of note. There were headaches and a vague feeling of nausea in the mornings which made Douglas snort wryly to himself: fifteen years sober and still hung over. But then he began to notice other things- he was getting clumsy, fumbling on tasks he would normally have been able to complete with a graceful ease- and he was forgetting little things in a way that a niggling voice in the back of his head told him wasn’t merely a sign of getting older.
It took him two weeks to give in the inevitable and visit the doctor with his concerns hoping, for probably the first time in his life, that he would be proven wrong. In his best case scenario, he would go home feeling chastened but blessedly relieved. As it happened, this wasn’t to be. The next few weeks became a blur of inventive new deceptions as he tried to hide the cause of his frequent absences from Carolyn, claiming to have appointments with doctors (true enough), dentists, and on one particularly trying occasion, a vet.
Carolyn’s increasingly frustrated reactions would have amused him if he hadn’t so desperately wanted to tell her. The night before his second scan was appropriately bleak and Douglas found himself hanging back in the portakabin after their unmemorable flight. He made a vague attempt at looking occupied, all the time feeling Carolyn’s eyes upon him. She’d asked him then if there was something she should know (for the sake of the company, of course). “Everything’s fine,” had been the response, and he had never hated his infernal pride more.
He had spent enough time sober during the course of his medical degree to know what the likely outcome would be, but somehow this didn’t make diagnosis any less shocking. His GP was a sympathetic young woman (barely more than a girl- she was young enough to be his daughter- that thought gave him a pang) and the sun shone mockingly through the window of her office as she struck the blow. She was a reluctant executioner, he could tell, not yet having mastered the art of looking detached, and as the death sentence rang in his ears, merging with the suddenly audible sound of his own heartbeat, he felt distantly sorry for her.
This child physician then proceeded to explain the treatment options to him, taking pained pains to point out that these would only prolong the inevitably. He took little in and would have forgotten everything she had told him if she hadn’t written it down and it was with an air of considerable distraction that he noticed his hand was shaking as he took her letter. And then she asked it, an innocent enough question posed out of kindness, and all of a sudden he was drowning. Her six word sentence seemed to suck all the air from the room: “is there someone we could call?”