“How do I know that you’re not some weirdo trying to groom me?” she asked.
“Well,” I said, “I haven’t asked you for your name or address. I haven’t asked you for your phone number.” I took out one of my business cards and passed it across to her.
“If you phone me, you can block your Caller ID, so you can stay as anonymous as it suits you. I’m just offering a friendly ear.”
“It’s okay,” she said, “I trust you.” She smiled and reached across to touch my hand.
“Thank you for being so nice,” she said, “If thinking about things tonight starts to bother me, I’ll take up your kind offer. By the way, I’m Janet Kerr. Lovely to meet you Robbie.”
We chatted for the remainder of our journey and before we parted company at the station car park I wished her, “Good luck for tomorrow in case I don’t hear from you tonight.”
Janet did phone, about eight that evening. Not being face-to-face seemed to make it easier for us to speak freely. I learned about her mum and dad – and how they’d split up, how her mum had died: ovarian cancer. I learned about her sister, Linda – all about how close they’d been as children and about Linda’s family in Melbourne. I learned many more things too – about her life, where she lived and her phone number. Before we ended the call we’d arranged to meet on the train again, the following day, on the way to her appointment. I’d be going with her for support: to wait while she saw the consultant and then for her to tell me about the results as we made our way back. One advantage of my job was this kind of flexibility: I only ever give clients a rough timescale for their reports – nature of the job
When Janet emerged from seeing her consultant, she was trembling and needed to sit down again. She leaned forwards, her head in her hands, her fingers moving through her hair. I asked what was wrong and she burst into tears. Her shoulders shook as she sobbed, trying to get the words out. I put my arm around her and she allowed her head to rest on my shoulder. When she was able to speak coherently, she said she’d been diagnosed with a stage four brain tumour. They’d spoken of surgery and chemotherapy but it had spread like a spider. It was terminal – something called glioblastoma, apparently, but they weren’t prepared even to guess a timeline. The specialist had asked her to think about surgery, whether to consent. He’d outlined her options and their respective consequences. He said they’d phone her once they knew what she wanted to do, to arrange for a bed.
Given her ceaseless trembling and the way she was gripping my hands, I told her that I was going to order a taxi for us. I checked her address and postcode. She thanked me. On the way to her flat she told me more about the chemotherapy and the surgery options. She also showed me, on her phone, the email from her sister arranging a Skype call for mid-evening.
When the taxi arrived at her flat, even her eyes seemed to plead with me as she asked me to come in with her to talk for a while. She said that she wasn’t ready to be alone just yet. She kept apologising for how she was. My own heart was breaking to see her like this. She held my hand as we mounted the stairs to her first floor flat.
She apologised for the state of the living room. Her hairdressing equipment took up one corner. There were lots of framed family photographs and she explained each image while we waited for the pizza delivery I’d ordered. When it arrived, we ate it on our knees as she quizzed me about my life. We’d never got around to that properly.
If you’re going to photograph Liverpool, you need to show an image of the waterfront. The Blue Hour is a good time and a panorama lets you include a good part of the skyline. So, that’s what I’m offering today. I took the shot with my Pentax 24 MP K3-ii camera and a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens.
The EXIF data were 1 second @ f/8 and 55 mm. The ISO was 100. The shot was tripod mounted and was merged in Lightroom as a panorama from a three-image vertical series.