Janet’s Ashes – A Short Story- Part Five

Previously……….

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.

Continued……….

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.

Featured Photo

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.

Janet’s Ashes – A Short Story- Part Four

Previously……

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.

Continued……….

There wasn’t much to tell. I’m divorced, no children, no siblings. I see my parents once a week usually. I’m also a workaholic, so the nearest I get to socialising is gossip with the neighbours  as I garden or when we pass in the street.

Janet asked me to stay and be introduced to her sister. She’d mentioned me in her email. I was happy to oblige. I’d never before in my life become as involved with anyone as I was becoming with Janet. I couldn’t even analyse myself what I felt as we talked. It was comforting, but more than friendship, she was undeniably attractive, but it wasn’t lust. It wasn’t just pity either -although that did play a part. I enjoyed being with her, watching how her movements and expressions changed to reflect movements in her moods.

The ding-dong sound of an incoming Skype call found us sitting side by side on her sofa. Janet’s tablet lay open on a tiled coffee table in front of us. She picked up the iPad to answer the call. Linda was as blonde as Janet was flaming auburn, but their faces and body types declared their relationship. Linda asked immediately about the diagnosis and prognosis.

“Christ, sis!” she said, “That’s awful. How do you feel about it?”

Janet went through with her the conversations she’d had with me. She was spooked by the idea of death but was even more frightened by a dread of pain, of utter helplessness and dependence on others. She told Linda how she didn’t know what to decide about her treatment options.  As a nurse, Linda was able to say a bit more about her own, admittedly few, experiences of caring for patients with advanced, cancerous brain tumours. A couple of times, Linda addressed me directly. She spoke as if she assumed that Janet and I were an item. Neither of us disabused her of the notion – though later we laughed about it. Linda said that if Janet became incapable of coherent speech or thought – as was possible – I was to become her contact. We exchanged details.

When the call ended, Janet started sobbing again. She said how what Linda had described had filled her with fear. For a while she lay in my arms. Occasionally I’d get up to make us a hot drink or one of us would need the toilet.

Later, Janet asked would I mind staying the night. She said again that she was afraid to be alone with her fears  It wasn’t, she said, that she wanted sex, simply for the company of someone to hold her while she tried to sleep. Only moments later, however, she said that she’d changed her mind.

“Jesus Robbie,” she said, “within days they’ll want to admit me into hospital. If I can’t have sex now, I might never get to have it again. God! I never thought I’d be pleading for a bloke to fuck me, but I’m pleading now”

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.

Featured Photo

Well, it wouldn’t be Liverpool without the Beatles, would it? The statues stand near the Museum of Liverpool. I took this shot with a camera that I traded in a while back – a 24 MP Pentax K3-ii. I used a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens.

The EXIF data are 1/100 secs @ f4 and 16 mm,. The ISO was 100. The shot was tripod mounted.

Janet’s Ashes – A Short Story- Part Three

Previously……..

“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.”

Continued…….

“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.

Featured Photo

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.

Janet’s Ashes – A Short Story- Part Two

Previously…………

“Hi,” I said, “You needn’t have waited. Have you been here long?”

“You cheeky bugger,” she said, “I’m sorry I woke you up now,” but she was laughing as she turned away.

“I’ll start again,” I said, “Fancy meeting you again. How did you get on at the hospital?”

Continued…….

“They put me through a battery of tests and I have to go back in two days for another appointment with a specialist.”

“Perhaps it’s just to let you know the results,” I said, “It still might not be anything serious.”

When the train doors hissed open we managed to get a seat together again.

Once the train was underway, I asked some more about the tests and she talked me through them. I didn’t say anything, but I was thinking that it didn’t sound like they’d be sending her home from her next visit with a pack of paracetamol.

She looked pale and, from her clenched fists and the way she kept biting her lip I inferred that she was worried.

“I’m being nosey again,” I said, “but what are you going to tell your family?”

“I don’t have any family here,” she said, “My mum’s dead and my dad left us years ago to go God alone knows where.”

“Oops” I said, “Foot in mouth time. Who else will you be going home to or seeing tonight then?”

“Just my empty flat,” she said, “My sister lives in Australia now. She’s a nurse.”

“Boyfriends? Workmates? Neighbours?” I asked.

“You really are a nosy sod, aren’t you?” she said.

“I did warn you, but I’ll shut up if you want some peace and quiet to think.”

She used her fingers to tick-off points: “Boyfriends? – not for months now. Workmates? – none. I’m self-employed as a hairdresser working at clients’ own homes. Neighbours? – none that I talk to. I’m a hermit. I’ll email my sister tonight and set up a Skype call.”

She pouted, pushing out her lower lip. “Lonely little me.”

“Aaaw” I said, “Diddums. Listen, nosey me again. Feel free to tell me to bugger off – or worse – but, if I give you my phone number, will you ring me, text me, whatever – if you feel that you want someone to talk to.”

“Phone you?” she burst out laughing, “I don’t even know your name or anything about you.”

“Well, okay” I said, “Fair point. I’m Robbie Davidson. If you phone me, you can find out as much as you want to know. You’ll also be able to tell me your name, but only if you want to.”

She placed her elbows on the table between us and rested her chin on her splayed hands. She looked at me, jutting her chin out.

“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.”

Featured Photo

Merseyrail is the best way of getting around in Liverpool and surrounding areas, so I’ve included a flavour of that with this shot, taken with my former 24 MP Pentax K3-ii with a 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens.

The EXIF data were 1/4 secs @f/4.5 and 28mm. The ISO was 100. This shot was tripod mounted but was a compromise. I didn’t want high ISO noise but the available light wasn’t brilliant so I used a fairly wide aperture and sacrificed shutter speed to get a better overall exposure. I wanted to capture the way the train lights illuminated the tiled walls and ceiling but the slow shutter speed led to the train, its movement and it’s destination light being blurred. I didn’t get much chance of a re-take of the following train because the platform staff were unhappy about me taking tripod mounted photos anyway.

Janet’s Ashes – A Short Story- Part One

My messenger bag was swinging, to and fro, and it was banging my back and hips as I ran down the two flights of metal steps from the station bridge to the platform. The train conductor had one foot already inside the carriage as he waved me towards the open door nearest to the staircase.  I ran on board, waving to thank him and, as I spotted a pair of empty seats, I heard the doors slide shut with a hiss and a bang behind me, and the buzzer signalling the driver that it was safe to drive away. I hefted my bag off my shoulder onto the aisle seat and sat next to the window.

On the facing window-seat, a woman of about my age, mid-twenties or so, sat looking at me and smothering a smile with her hand. There was an open magazine on the table between us.

“You cut that fine,” she said.

From what I could see of her above the table, she was a smartly dressed, attractive redhead wearing a white roll-neck sweater under a black jacket.  She had a local accent.

“Yes,” I said, “the next express service won’t be for another hour,”

“What’s your rush?” she asked.

I pulled a handkerchief from my pocket and wiped the sweat from my face.

My chest was still pounding as I took a couple of deep breaths.

“I’m a writer,” I explained, and I want to make sure that I can get myself a spot in the library as soon as it opens.”

“Oh!” she said, “What kind of writer?”

“A writer-cum-photographer who’s currently doing some genealogy research for a book.”

“Mmm! An actual writer, photographer and researcher? Are you famous?”

I said that I wasn’t famous at all and asked her about her journey. She told me that she had an appointment at the hospital.

“Nothing serious, I hope?”

She raised an eyebrow and twisted her mouth. I raised both hands in surrender.

“Sorry.” I said, “We writers are inveterate nosey-parkers.”

She laughed.

“You’re forgiven. It’s only a check-up. Probably nothing. I’ve been having these headaches for a while, sometimes bad enough to make me vomit. I saw my GP and he’s referred me for this appointment.”

“Sounds unpleasant. I hope that they can sort it for you.”

She smiled and went back to reading her magazine.

When we reached Liverpool, I wished her luck as she was alighting. She turned to thank me then went on her way. Now that the table wasn’t in the way, I could see from behind that her long, slim legs were clad in black bootleg trousers over black pumps. I was tempted to walk a bit faster to catch her up, but I didn’t want her to think that I was making a nuisance of myself.

Later, by mid-afternoon that day, I was on my way back home. I arrived on the appointed departures platform to the sound of unintelligible platform announcements, train movements, whistles and crowd noise. A lot of people were waiting. The train I wanted had arrived but the doors were locked while the staff prepared it for its journey.

My mind was still busily thinking about the family trees I’d been looking at. A voice from my side broke my concentration – I recognised the voice and her accent. It was the young woman from my outward journey. She was asking whether I’d found what I’d been seeking. I turned to her and smiled.

“Hi,” I said, “You needn’t have waited. Have you been here long?”

“You cheeky bugger,” she said, “I’m sorry I woke you up now,” but she was laughing as she turned away.

“I’ll start again,” I said, “Fancy meeting you again. How did you get on at the hospital?”

Featured Photo

Given that this short story – located mainly in Liverpool – will be in five parts, my photos accompanying the episodes will feature scenes from that city. I took today’s early morning shot in Liverpool Lime Street Railway Station in September 2015.

I used my first ever dslr camera – a 16 MP Pentax K50 with an 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. The EXIF data are 1/15 secs @ f/3.5 and 20 mm. The ISO was 800.