Authors: Susie Martyn
This is your Life
Copyright © 2011 Susie Martyn
The right of Susie Martyn to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the express permission of the author.
t was such a beautiful day, I remember thinking – a dazzling sun, unseasonably warm, a clear October sky. A last glimpse of summer before autumn crept in. As I walked into the building, I didn’t know. It was my last glimpse of summer ever.
What followed in ten, maybe fifteen minutes that followed, altered the fabric of my life. The grave words kindly spoken, and timed
, to allow it to sink in; the absurd wave of elation, as at last I understood those terrible headaches and mood swings and why from time to time, my legs would collapse from under me.
denial swept in, big black clouds of it blotting out the truth. How could I possibly have a brain tumour? It had to be a mistake. My scan results muddled with someone else’s…
ow that all these doctors and consultants at last knew what was wrong with me, they could get on with fixing it – at least, that was what I thought, back then. But it doesn’t always follow, I found out. Particularly in the case of an aggressive tumour, like the one they’ve found, in my brain.
here was no mistake. Life in all its fullness had dealt me a rogue card. And there was no time to be wasted, I was told. No putting off the inevitable - not if I wanted to live... And so Lizzie accompanied me to the hospital, the last thing I’d want to put her through, waiting outside as I went for my treatment – such a small figure, such a heavy weight on her shoulders.
So began the rollercoaster – irrational highs before I plunged the depths, clutching at fragments of hope. Fighting like I never had - until that day when even my best efforts couldn’t budge my useless body and the most everyday words seemed just beyond my grasp.
And in those long, quiet nights while the rest of the world lay sleeping, I reached my own conclusions. The reality - that it’s all coming to an en
Now it’s Lizzie’s future I’m worried about. And this wedding of hers, to Jamie…
He’s not a bad person - he keeps her safe, but something’s missing. A light has gone out in her. She’s forgotten what it is to laugh and laugh until she cries, or to love so unreservedly she feels it in every cell of her body. That skin-tingling feeling of truly being alive…
Lizzie… With long, tawny hair and dark brown eyes, she’s as beautiful on the outside as she is inside. There’s a trusting gentleness about her. She always expects the best from people, relies on them even and every so often they let her down. Not that she isn’t capable because she is, but she looks for reassurance, as though she doesn’t quite trust her own judgement.
There’s a hidden
inner strength she hasn’t found yet. When she does, it will change her forever. I wish with all my heart that I’d be here to see it, but there’s the irony: she isn’t going to find it until I’ve gone.
The tiredness is back,
overwhelmingly so. The tumour? A side effect? No-one tells me. But it’s Lizzie I’m thinking about, more than ever, because time is running out, and I haven’t long left to say what I so need to
It had been the strangest day. As though fate itself had taken a hand, reaching into Lizzie’s life, bombarding her with annoying trifles and odd coincidences tweaking her thoughts this way and that like some cosmic plaything, until finally it cut to the chase.
Sitting on the floor of her bedroom, she stared at the letter that had just fallen into her lap, a most peculiar feeling coming over her. The handwriting was unmistakeable – how come it had stayed hidden all this time? With fumbling hands she opened it, unable to think of anything else.
The day had begun like any other - almost - with the kind of May morning that breathed promise. A brilliant, azure sky trailing threads of gossamer, a heavy warmth filling the air, though of course she didn’t notice, simply closing the front door as she began that walk she knew every inch of.
Lizzie Lavender was used to losing people, but this latest of her losses had left her stuck somewhere endlessly grey - like London in the rain she would have said if she’d thought about it.
London in the rain in January
, the worst month, with the sparkle of Christmas over and months before the first hint of spring.
unaware she was missing something - whether joy, spontaneity, l
she simply drifted through the greyness, her perceptions dulled by the fog that followed her around and that hole in her life that her mother’s death had left, like a gaping wound that refused to heal.
She knew the
painful part should be behind her, despatched to that part of her brain which holds even the haziest of memories. She’d read enough about brains to know that most of her life was stored there, a series of snapshots and recordings filed away in the depths of her temporal lobes. It had been a year now, hadn’t it? Long enough surely, for the worst of her grief to have faded into a dull, aching kind of backdrop.
If there was time on the way to work, she’d slip into Joe’s. After the crowded tube and another delay on the Victoria line, she really shouldn’t, but as she passed an invisible hand reached out and pulled her in. And it was good for her, she told herself, this infusion of caffeine through her veins so her heart could draw breath.
Joe’s was her sanctuary
, with the sixties guitar music she loved blasting out of the speakers - Hendrix and Santana this morning. A whole other world she could lose herself in, or so it felt to Lizzie. Such moments were precious and today her luck was in. The table in the window was empty and quick as a flash she’d slipped into the chair, still warm from its previous occupant.
Safely cocooned and sipping her coffee, Lizzie took a breath and sighed. It came from the heart, that sigh, though she barely knew she was doing it. She had too much on her mind. And all to do with her wedding.
hree years ago her path had crossed with Jamie’s, Lizzie on the rebound, fragile-hearted, after her latest fly-by-night boyfriend had taken off, needing to see the world
He was lying of course, simply swapping Lizzie’s gentle honesty for something a little more brash. She’d even seen them together, Matty and his tight-skirted perma-tanned bimbette, an arm curled possessively around her waist, her hand deep in his back pocket, their easy familiarity like a kick to the solar plexus.
Seduced more by the music and the champagne she’d downed than Jamie himself, Lizzie had felt a flicker of something. Those globe-trotting, denim-clad party-boys she normally hung out with, she’d sworn off the whole flighty lot of them. They were trouble, every last one, floozying from one bed to the next. It was time for a change.
Out with the old, in with the new
, she thought, gazing at Jamie through rosé-tinted spectacles. Maybe this serious-looking man, quite sexy in his designer suit, might it be he was the one?
Her friends had been baffled. An
attraction of opposites was how Lizzie described it, waving her arms around as she fumbled to find the right words. Couldn’t they see that? Yes, he was serious, but he brought order to her chaos, calmed her impulsiveness, he had plans.
‘Are you sure you’re doing the right thing Lizzie?’
‘Oh Lizzie, I know it’s been difficult for you, but…Well, you
sure aren’t you?’
But her head
had been buried in the sand.
Things had moved on, with three years of grown-up living behind her that actually, she was quite proud of, and a proper job, which required smart, just-above-the-knee skirts and tailored jackets, instead of her sassy mini’s of old as she’d flitted from one temping job to the next. No more living in her eternal here and now either. Spendthrift Lizzie who could never resist a bargain had been replaced by a most sensible girl who’s every purchase was calculated. She’d caught the habit from Jamie, who had his life mapped out on a spreadsheet.
‘Eliza… Look. It’s frightfully good value, this Jaeger sale…You can save fifty per cent on your suits…You really ought to buy half a dozen now and put them away…’
Not getting at all that Lizzie kitted out in Jaeger would be like be like dressing your maiden Aunt in Topshop. Lamb dressed as mutton, thought Lizzie, and pretended not to hear him.
No longer did Lizzie wish on stars or gaze at the moon the way she used to - those hippy happy days were behind her and sadly her friends had drifted away. After all, that old life of riotous nights out with the girls, drinking until they fell over, well, she’d grown out of it, hadn’t she? It had had its day, run its course and now, there were far more sensible things to be spending her time on.
Life was quieter. Not boring, she told herself,
no, not that at all. Thankfully though, there was Katie. And it was Katie who Lizzie could always turn to. Whatever happened, whenever, no matter what. Who occasionally winkled out the old Lizzie, who’d long gone underground.
‘Cocktails at the Warehouse, just one or two…
Come on! He’ll never know…’
she’d added persuasively, and unbeknown to Jamie, they’d snuck off giggling and crawled home pickled after midnight.
It was Katie too who’d egged her on to buy that glorious dress for her thirtieth birthday party.
Actually, it was more a dinner than a party – a dull affair, organised by Jamie, who never one to miss out on a networking opportunity had invited a bunch of work colleagues.
Wow Lizzie! You
’re a goddess…like Titania out of a Midsummer Night’s Dream…
s had reminded her of how she used to feel and on the night, Lizzie had spent ages fiddling with her hair, pinning it up so that long strands here and there artfully tumbled down. She’d felt gorgeous - until Jamie ruined it. And from there it was downhill all the way, from his disapproval at her appearance –
How frivolous, Eliza… I rather imagined you’d wear that new suit
– to her and Katie getting blitzed as the only way to survive such a deadly evening.
I can’t believe you behaved so immaturely. Jolly embarrassing actually… I can’t imagine what the chaps thought. Really Eliza… I don’t know why you’re friends with that dreadful girl…
Oh what I wouldn’t give…
Lizzie had thought, feeling a sudden pang of nostalgia…
to be foot loose and fancy free and without a care in the world.
Had she been less preoccupied with her mother’s illness, she might have seen it coming. As it was, Jamie’s proposal caught her off guard. But knowing what lay ahead, she was
very grateful to know that he would still be there after her mother wasn’t and when he’d presented her with an enormous diamond, Lizzie banished the misgivings that niggled at her.
Doesn’t he get what’s happening to your mum?
Katie could see what was happening, but then, this was Jamie after all. About as subtle as a brick, as always.
I think he just thought it was a good idea, to do it now. So she would know before… I mean, we have been together for years…
The truth was that Jamie thought no such thing, but with her mother slipping away before her eyes, Lizzie’s logic was more skewed than ever.
Katie had bitten her tongue. It was hardly the time after all.
If only Lizzie had stopped and thought. About how wise it was, making such a huge commitment in the wake of losing her mother. That losing your cornerstone as she had sent ripples through your soul, changing you inside forever.
But still numb, she hadn’t. And now nearly a year had passed and
the big day was almost here. Lizzie could barely believe there were just four days to go. Most things were now in place but since her mother had died, nothing felt at all the way it used to.
Life goes on, Eliza…
Jamie had said most firmly just a week after the ghastly funeral, wasting no time as he booked exclusive hire of a small-but-classy London hotel.
‘We’ll have the Hamachi tuna sashimi, don’t you think Eliza? Followed by roast poulet with
blah blah blah….
He hadn’t wanted
Lizzie’s input, just as Lizzie hadn’t wanted Katie’s:
Lizzie! What’s the hurry?
Is he frightened you’ll change your mind?
Lizzie rested her head in her hands. She’d like to hide here in Joe’s all morning. She felt for Jamie’s latest to-do list in her pocket – he’d emailed it to her when he dashed off to some last-minute conference.
Her latte finished all too soon, Lizzie had no excuse to stay, and so, with a regretful sigh and a wave to Maria, who called a cheery ‘
from across the room, she reluctantly melted back into the madness on the streets. And out of nowhere, as she walked, the thought came into her head.
hy don’t I feel excited? It’s my big day… I have my designer dress, flowers to die for, a top chef, the best vintage champagne…Shouldn’t my heart be thumping, my blood fizzing with anticipation, my cheeks aching from all the smiling at absolutely everyone I pass…
No, she told herself firmly. It wasn’t surprising at all. She was quite simply exhausted. It was all th
is rushing around trying to organise everything. Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders. When Saturday came, and she put on that dress and her hairdresser had worked her magic,
d feel excited, she knew she would.
How could she possibly not?
glanced at her watch and ignoring a sinking feeling, hastened her step.
Steering her thoughts to work, Lizzie tried to focus on the meeting that lay ahead.
Thank God, just this one last day…
She used to enjoy work, dreaming up clever ideas for gardens and mocking them up for photo
-shoots. But these days it was more about budgets and deadlines than creative inspiration and Lizzie was feeling jaded. The readers too, judging from the sales figures, down, yet again - hence this meeting she was late for. Ignoring the blast on the horn as a taxi driver swerved to avoid her, she darted across the road and in through the glass doors.
er heart sank into her boots. It was Julian, her boss, who leapt up the stairs surprisingly nippily given the tightness of his trousers. It was definitely the aging rock star look this morning, thought Lizzie, trying her tear her gaze from his leopard print bottom.
he meeting droned on, Lizzie had zoned out, surfacing when it was over as if from a trance. And as she looked up, the room seemed to spin round, stars dancing before her eyes and suddenly, she couldn’t breathe.
I need some air
, she thought in a panic, her heart racing erratically. She edged towards the door and slipped away unnoticed.
Out of the building and in spite of the clouds gathering ominously overhead, she fumbled in her bag for the Ray-Bans. Safely camouflaged and lowering her head, she walked unsteadily down the street and across the road towards the relative quiet of Green Park.
Still light headed,
Lizzie kept going until away from everyone, she found an empty park bench where she sat, rather heavily for someone so slight and sighed a shaky sigh.
She sat, unmoving, taut and ready for flight.
Something was in the air. Lizzie dragged herself back to the office, still feeling at odds as she stared at the clock. Since when did time pass so slowly? Her attempt to sneak away early was scuppered by the odious Julian of course, whose earlier agitation had subsided into extreme good humour for some reason.