‘Arranging your funeral,’ I tell my mother, when she asks what I’ve been up to. Her eyebrows disappear into her hair.
‘Even for you, that’s sick,’ she says. But there is laughter in her voice. She bounces down my garden path to her car, because it is Thursday, and Thursday is our shopping day. Unable to think what else to do I follow her, and settle myself into the passenger seat. She is still smiling to herself over the joke she thinks we are having.
Two weeks ago I vacuumed up the biscuit crumbs from this car, filled a plastic bag with used tissues, cried over the receipt for the last pizza my mother and I ever shared. It is all back now. My foot nudges an empty sandwich carton. I toss it angrily onto the back seat. My mother glances at me, perplexed by my bad mood.
In the supermarket café we have our usual pot of tea. Impatient as ever, my mother lifts the lid of the metal pot and swirls the teabag around. My tongue involuntarily taps the roof of my mouth in irritation before I remember how much I have missed this. My hand closes over hers. I feel the familiar, hairless texture of her skin. My fingers stroke the mole on her wrist that I keep telling her to get checked out, then the rings that I thought I had removed from her newly dead fingers. She grins.
‘Was it a good death?’ she asks, determined not to let it go. I think about the week of refusing to admit anything was wrong, as her feet grew too big for even her most comfortable sandals and her stomach distended to pregnancy size under her largest jumpers.
I think about the weeks that followed, when both of us knew what was wrong, and where it would end, but neither of us would admit it.
‘I will fight it,’ she declared, her knowledge of the right thing to say having been acquired from soap operas and bad novels.
I think about the day I thought the skin on her legs would burst, so tautly had it become stretched. She ran out of clichés that day. I ran out of hope.
I think about how she stopped recognising me, of how she screamed abuse at nurses who were attempting to relieve her pain, of how, for three days, she stubbornly refused to let go of even this intolerable life.
She raises her eyebrows at me, waiting for some witty response, waiting to show what a great sense of humour she has.
I don’t answer her question. Instead, I blink frantically, then shake my head from side to side, doing my best to wake up.