In her room we undressed each other slowly, shyly – exploring each other’s bodies with our eyes and our hands before she suddenly pulled me on top of her, on to her bed.
Later, snuggled beneath her duvet, we discussed death, the possibility of an afterlife – and what that could possibly be like. She questioned why she’d ever lived if she were just going to disappear forever.
We had a couple of good days together after that. The best one was when I drove us to Liverpool and we had a round-trip on the ferry. We laughed and joked. She asked me to take a selfie of the two of us. A nearby passenger saw us and she took a couple photos of us in each other’s arms. I copied them onto a pen drive and had some prints made and framed.
Only days later, she was admitted to hospital. By that time surgery had been ruled out of the question. She’d brought the photos of us to have by her bedside. She was treated with aggressive chemotherapy for a while.
Dressed in her green hospital nightwear, she asked me if I’d stop coming to see her if she lost all her hair. I told her I’d love her for the rest of her life and that I’d be there to the end.
“Given that I’ll be dead anytime soon, I don’t suppose that it was much to ask was it?” She laughed and reached to tickle me.
Her condition worsened over the coming days and weeks. Nurses were checking on her much more frequently, and equipment started to surround her with flashing displays, buzzes and beeps. Before she eventually passed into a coma, we had time to discuss things like funeral arrangements and a death notice in the local paper. I spoke a local vicar about officiating at the crematorium. There would be no point in hymns – neither of us expected there to be enough people there to justify singing anyway. My mum and dad came to see her and said that they’d come to the service. She wanted to be cremated and told me where to scatter her ashes.
Meanwhile, I looked after the flat for Janet and cancelled her appointments with her clients..
I’d known Janet for only a few weeks before she went into coma. During that time, I had come to realise that what I felt for her was a love I’d never expected and deeper than I could have dreamed of. Chaste kisses, hugs and words were all we had now to express that love, but I was sure that Janet loved me too.
When we were apart, it was as if a part of me was missing. I’d come to need the touch of her hand, her lilting local accent, her laughter when a jokey remark tickled her. As her condition worsened, conversation became more difficult. She’d lost weight and was often asleep when I came. Often I had to wait while her clothes, dressings or bedding were changed. I missed our discussions and the ongoing process of learning about each other. Occasionally, I was still greeted with the sight of a lovely smile. It lifted my heart every time – only for my joy to crash as I saw the lines in her face and the arching of her body in response to pain. My whole being ached whenever she cried in agony.
In the end the coma came almost as a blessing. I wept for the Janet I’d been losing hour-by-hour but I was glad that, at last, she’d know peace in the time before she’d know nothing anymore.
I’d phoned Linda a couple of days before the coma began, that Janet was starting to slip away. She travelled across to spend whatever time was left for her to be with Janet.
Linda’s husband stayed in Melbourne with the children.
It was, as expected, a quiet funeral. Linda and I read eulogies – in my case, I said what she’d come to mean to me. Those gathered were the vicar, Linda, myself, my parents and a couple of her clients.
When the curtains closed around her coffin, I wailed like a child, totally unashamed. Linda and I comforted each other as best we could as we left and thanked everyone for coming. The undertaker dropped us off at a local pub where my mum and dad joined us for a sandwich and a chance to drink a farewell toast.
A week later, before Linda returned to the other side of the world, she came with me to Liverpool where we reconstructed the ferry trip that Janet had been on with me. As seagulls screamed and swooped, as the ferry’s horn sounded, as the vessel rose and fell in the gentle swell of the Mersey, we took turns to dip our hands into the urn that the undertakers had brought containing Janet’s ashes, and we scattered them into the breeze that carried them across the murky waves to the final resting place that Janet had requested.
I conclude this series of Liverpool photographs in the only possible way – with a photograph Snowdrop one of the Mersey Ferries. I took this shot in September, 2015 with my old Pentax K50, 16 MP camera and its 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.
The EXIF data were 1/100 secs @ f/22 and 55 mm. The ISO was 400.
Janet’s Ashes was the last of my short stories. Tomorrow I’ll start to serialise my latest longer story – Regarding Melissa. As of today, I’m some 16,000 words into the tale. I have no idea yet how long it will be or how exactly it will end. I hope that I’ll be able to get a complete worthwhile story out of it. If not, I may have to resort to asking those of you who actually read my posts to suggest how to continue the tale.