A cold clear night, no moon, the stars are coming out. Steve glares at them, bloody sky zits. An ironic gust of a laugh. Okay, he’s preoccupied with zits, spots, warts, blebs and any other names you want to call the faults and growths that appear for no apparent reason on a human body. And why wouldn’t he be. Thumping his hand hard against the steering wheel he peers out at Barry’s upstairs window, the light glows cheerily into the darkness. Shit, shit, shit.
This is not his fault; he is a victim of circumstance. Oh, it’s not difficult to know who to blame the culprits are legion. The NHS, Barry himself who he’s meeting for what will be the last time tonight, Fiona of course but not Molly – no never Molly his beautiful innocent little angel child. A smile lifts the solemn expression as he imagines his daughter laughing up at him, blue eyes shining. The grin is quickly transplanted by tears starting unexpectedly as he recalls the anguish of acknowledging he would never see her grow and flourish and succeed. That was the worst of it all, since he had found the growth on the back of his leg.
He had been horror-struck immediately. He found it and knew for certain that this was sinister. Never for a moment did he kid himself that it was of no consequence. Twisting and reaching with the shaving mirror he had peered at it repeatedly. Wishing it away, but he couldn’t leave it alone. All day in work his hand would seek it out probing and rubbing through the cloth of his trousers. Eventually he was sure that he could feel it growing, changing, destroying his flesh. Reflecting now as he waited for his courage to build he wondered, if he had gone to the doctor earlier instead of farting about with the bloody internet would it really have made a difference? Well he had tried hadn’t he, blasted NHS.
Fiona, sodding Fiona with her continual demands for money and the wheedling sneaky pricks at his conscience. Molly needs shoes, Molly needs a new coat. I want to take Molly away but I can’t afford for us both to go and on and on bleeding him dry. If she had been more reasonable maybe that would have made a difference. God knows he begrudged his little girl nothing, absolutely anything in the world that he could give her she should have. It was Fiona who mucked it up grabbing, greedy bitch.
So that was it, he found “The Thing” and to say he obsessed about it was an understatement, it consumed him. Hours and hours spent trawling the medical sites, peering and probing at his leg. God he had even taken pictures of the blessed thing with his phone so that he could do comparisons with the computer images. When he saw it, the very thing with the unpronounceable name the shock and the certainty literally left him unable to breathe. Everything he saw after that reinforced the knowledge that it was malignant and that it would kill him quickly.
Then had come the counting, If I live another three years Molly will be seven, well that’s not too bad. I’ll see her start school at least. If I live only one more year then I will have time to take her to Disneyland. If this thing beats me in a couple of months… Then the tears would start in the darkness, trickling down into his ears. He didn’t want to die, not now it was too soon. There was so much more he wanted to do, he had hoped to find another partner someone who could love Molly and love him and share his old age. He knew that there was still a way to go with his career and he needed to make sure that his daughter was secure. That was the crux of all this, his absolute desire to be certain that Molly was set up. He wanted to have a fund to see her through Uni and on her way to whatever career and life she chose. He knew he could do that but he needed time and now the time was going to be cut short by this cancer.
The first time he allowed the word into his consciousness he had broken out into a cold sweat and the bile had risen in his throat. Visions of bald skeletal bodies flashed through his mind, chemo and all that it meant and to be left a staggering shadow of what he had been, tall, vigorous and fit for Christ’s sake. The fear of all that was why had he left it so long to call the doctor? Again his hand thumped the steering wheel – dickhead, moron, stupid stupid wally.
Well, what was done was done. Bloody Barry, he had to take some of the blame as well. Always borrowing, just a few hundred for a car, a thousand for a share in a guaranteed deal another couple of thousand towards a down-payment on a flat. Why the big one just then though, they say timing is everything and for sure that’s it in a nutshell.
Steve mused self-torture really but that had always been a problem for him the way that he would muse and fret and do mental replays and here he was again.
When “The Thing” had come he had known that one of the first actions he had to take was to make sure that Fiona couldn’t get her hands on his money. There was the life insurance, the house and car etc and then the investments. Quite a good sum, enough to set Molly up but only if it could be secured and fenced against attack by his ex wife. He had spent hours and hours trying to come up with a solution but with Molly so young anything that he did meant that as her guardian Fiona would have access and heaven forbid that prat Si who she was shacked up with. Then Barry had come along with another scheme. The difference was that this one actually made sense it sounded secure and it was backed by some pretty high flyers.
“I know it’s a lot of money Steve, but really I can guarantee to pay you back.”
The solicitor had been fantastic and it had all fallen beautifully into place. He made over the house, the investments and even the life insurance to Barry. He in turn signed an agreement to route the repayments into a fund which would hold it safe and secure until Molly was twenty one. Fiona could go and whistle down the wind. Of course there was a bit left in the bank, what he liked to call running costs so that Molly wouldn’t go without in the meantime but the bulk of it was locked away from Fiona. Brilliant. Barry took out life insurance to make sure that it all went into the fund if anything happened to him and they both wrote wills. He knew that was a bit of a grey area as he could hardly be said to be of sound body but his mind was sound, oh yes, it was addled and preoccupied by “The Thing” but it was sound enough for this. He needed to ensure that Barry couldn’t hook up with some scrubber AD, as he thought of the time when he wasn’t here anymore, and screw things up. Barry left everything to Steve and vice versa, he signed his copy with a tiny twinge of conscience but this was for Molly so it was the right thing to do.
Once everything was in place he had made the call. The surgery was always busy and it didn’t surprise him to be told “Nothing this week I’m afraid. Doctor Ahmed is away next week but you can see one of the others. Is it urgent?”
“No, not any more. I’ll see anyone as soon as you can fit me in.”
“Right that’s next Wednesday then with Doctor Willis at nine thirty.”
He had taken Molly to the seaside on the preceding Saturday, his last Saturday before the start of the treatment. This was his borrowed time and so it had to be special. He knew how debilitating this stuff was and he was absolutely determined to take whatever was on offer to buy time. There would no doubt be surgery and so this last weekend was so very precious and it was good, sunshine, laughter and love.
“Good morning Mr Allder and what can I do for you today.”
“I’ve got a growth on my leg.”
“Ah, can you roll up your trouser leg, let me have a look. How long have you had this.”
“Two months. I have looked on the internet.” Dr Willis glanced up ironically. “I found pictures of it and I had stuff to do before I started, well you know dealing with it.”
“Hmmm. Does that hurt at all?”
“No, should it?”
“No, just checking. Right roll down your trousers.”
Steve wiped his clammy palms discretely against the fabric as he rolled down his trousers. He braced for the pronouncement
“I’ll make you an appointment with the nurse for next week.”
“Yes, the cryogenic clinic. She can zap it for you.”
“Yes, don’t look so worried it’s just a quick spray from an aerosol and then in a couple of weeks it’ll fall off. It’s going to look a bit unsightly until then but it’s under your clothes so that’s fine. Now is there anything else.”
His throat was dry, tongue stuck to the roof his mouth. He gulped. “You mean it’s not cancer, not malignant. Not going to kill me?” Even to his own ears he sounded pathetic. He blushed now in the darkness of the car as he relived it.
“No, no, really nothing to worry about. You were right to come and see me but if there is a next time don’t leave it so long it could have been a very different story if this had been nasty.” The doctor swung round and began typing into the computer. Steve staggered to the door the world swirling. Exultation, disbelief, wonder, excitement – just exactly what was it that he felt, all and everything all at once. Then came the blow, Barry. The money – bloody Barry.
Here we are, outside Barry’s flat, the hammer is in Steve’s hand now. He has made his plans well, there should be no way that he can be traced, he flew out of Heathrow yesterday and then came back on the ferry and as usual just flipped through customs and immigration. There is a lot to be said for looking respectable. It’s a shame about Barry they have been friends for a long time but that solicitor was good, very good and the only way to get the money back is if Barry was to die. It’s for Molly.
Read more: Short Story: Borrowed Time | Shortbread