I broke down as soon as I stepped over the doorway.
I could smell the garlic of her cooking, the light fragrance of the air freshener she plugged in just above the shoes in the hall. It was to mask the smell of my dads old work boots but she denied it to spare his feelings.
She heard me cry in the hallway and came running from the kitchen, the wooden spoon she had used since I was a child still clutched in her hand. She knew as soon as she saw me, Jason at my back, crumpled on the old carpet I remembered from my youth.
“No, no, no, no,” she kept repeating as she threw herself towards me. “Its not time, it can’t be, its not time.”
I could barely get the words out; I spat and spluttered as I lay on the hall floor. I was home; I was allowed to break down here.
It felt like we lay there for hours, just my mother and I, hugging each other into a tight ball, in defense against the outside. A unit.
Jason had gone into the living room to give us some privacy. I could hear him, pacing between the mantle and the window, on the phone to my dad. Thinking of having to tell him made me cry even harder.
Eventually we stood up, the tears stinging our faces and the smell of garlic turning to a burning smoke as we went to the kitchen to switch off the stove.
My dad walked in the door after about thirty minutes since we had sat at the kitchen table, in silence. My mother clutching my hand and praying into the golden cross around her neck, her faith wa her guide. Her northern star in the myriad of questionable sins, all present in the modern world.
My dad always came in through the back door, he believed that the front door was for guests and jehovahs witnesses. Except this time instead of it being to a house of bickering children and the smell of a home cooked meal, he came back to a house of silence, the smell of burnt garlic lingering in the air.
I had always seemed to be sitting at the table when my father had came home from work. I had never planned it like that but I always seemed to be doing homework or playing with my seaside molly when he stepped through the door, the smell of work and the outside clinging to him.
“You’re my favourite thing about coming home,” he used to say to me, before adding, “Don’t tell your sisters.”
It wasn’t that I was his favourite child, he was much too sentimental for that. It was just that I was the middle child. I was the calmest and I didn’t ask for much.
My younger sister Sara often had some drama, even at the age of four. There was always a story line to her day that even the most ambitious soaps would have found to be too unrealistic.
“Daddy,” she would begin, “My pony struck gold today.”
“Did she now?” my father would say, his eyes alight with interest.
“My pony is a he dad, a HE! You never listen to my stories!” she shrieked before throwing her, apparently male, pony against the clock above the back door and storming through the house.
Dad would always follow her, begging for her to accept his apology. Pleading that he did, in fact, listen to her stories.
“And what marvelous stories they are!” he would fawn over her before, just as quickly as the rage had appeared it was gone, and she was off creating another plot line with her assorted toys.
My elder sister Tonya was different. She was a suck up and always told dad, “You look so young! Have you been using the cream I got you for Christmas?” or “Look how thin you are, have you been using the gym at work?”. Although flattered, the good feeling never lasted long for my dad as these statements of unadulterated ‘lick arsey-ness’ were almost always followed by a request of some sort.
“I need a lift into town,” was a common one but more often than not it was, “I need money Dad.”
We were not a rich family but we had a nice house, a decent car (A Mazda no less, the biggest competition on our street was the Citroen that the Maldoyne’s drove down the street) and had a foreign holiday once a year. Dad believed in earning your own money, especially since Tonya was seventeen by this point, but she was his first born and held a special place in his heart.
I never resented being the middle child. Not ever. I loved not being the youngest, I always had more freedom than my younger sibling. At the same time being the oldest seemed scary and painful to me. Why, please tell me, would any one want to smear red gunk on their lips and poke THEIR OWN EYE with a pencil? Also, I had no idea what a period was, but I knew it meant that Tonya would be a “cranky bitch” I heard her friend say one day, and she would eat all the chocolate ice-cream from the Neapolitan in the freezer. Which seemed terribly selfish to an eight year old. Although even now it seemed a bit greedy.
I now sat at the same table, this time more somber and missing those days of being carefree, as my dad sat down. He reached out and held my mums free hand, the other one holding a handkerchief that was wiping away her, still falling, tears.
“So what’s going on?” he asked in his telephone voice. Parents seemed to have one, overly formal and with an unnecessary over pronunciation of their words.
“I went to the doctor tod-“ I broke down, again, it was getting beyond a joke.
“Hush now,” he held me close, “just take your time and tell me what he said.”
It took me several minutes to gather myself. Jason sat in utter stillness as his eyes scanned me over and over, searching for a way to take away the pain. My mum stayed praying, her lips moving quickly as her head was bent to the floor.
Just as I thought I was pulling myself together he swept me into his arms and the firmness made me break down yet again. My mum could take no more. She picked up the glass she had been drinking some new fad diet shake from and hurled it against the wall.
I watched as the sparkly pieces fell to the floor and lay motionless yet beautiful. Tiny little edges just waiting to cut and tear at anyone who got too close.
She stormed form the kitchen saying nothing. We heard her as she thumped from stair to stair before her bedroom door slammed shut with such force it was a wonder it was still on its hinges. She must have thrown herself on the bed because we heard no more from her.
Jason went to sweep the glass up, having made enough messes in this house to know where the dustpan and brush was. My father looked him in the eye and he left, yet again giving me the privacy I needed to break my parents heart.
“There’s no coming back this time is there?” he whispered into my hair.
I shook my head in silence, my nose pressed up against his work shirt, the smell of spring still coming from the cotton.
“Is there nothing we can do?” he pulled my chin up to look him in the eyes. I was his little girl, his second princess and the daughter to get cancer, I shook my head as the guilt washed over me and I watched just before the tears began to fall from his eyes.
He pulled me back to his chest as he slumped back into his chair. He fell rather than actually sat down and I had to kneel by his side to stay in his embrace. I could feel my hair get wet he was sobbing so much.
I had never seen my father cry, not ever. Not when his team lost a big game and not when he had stood on a nail he had left through a plank of plywood.
I couldn’t stand to see it now either, so I kept my head bowed, my face against his chest. I listened as he sobbed and hid beneath his tears. I had too much to deal with, too much to focus on, it was selfish, I knew that but I just couldn’t face watching my father cry.
It took a long while for us to leave the kitchen. He stood up first his eyes puffy but, thankfully, dry. He smiled to me as he said he would check on my mum.
“It’s not like her to burn the dinner,” his voice was overly cheerful. So forced it made the guilt feel worse. “I’ll be back in in a minute.” And with a quick stroke of my cheek he was gone.
Jason was by my side in an instant. He held me to him but I pushed him away. It was too much. I couldn’t deal with this.
I went up stairs to the bathroom and heard my mother howl as my dad tried to console her behind the bedroom door.
I slammed the bathroom door shut and locked it tight. I walked up to the mirror and didn’t recognize the woman looking back. He hair was a mess, standing up at weird angles and her mascara looked more like war paint. I hated her.
Here she was standing in my parent’s mirror, after causing so much pain to the ones I loved. These were my PARENTS! And that was my husband pacing the floor downstairs. But this woman had the audacity to look like she’d been crying. I turned away from the bitch in the mirror and noticed something flash against the last rays of sunlight coming through the frosted glass of the bathroom.
It was a small golden cross. The one my mother had been given as a gift, almost sixty years ago, on the day of her first holy communion by her grandmother. She never took it off, not ever. As far as I was aware it had hung around my mothers neck since that day all those years ago.
I knew then I had taken everything from her, not only her daughter but her faith as well. My mum was a devout woman, but she was a more doting mother. She had been to mass every Sunday since she had been old enough to attend. Every Christmas play and Easter service, she had been there praying and singing. She had donated money every month and been the perfect Christian woman.
I realized then that she blamed God.
Jason blamed the doctor.
My dad blamed no one.
And I blamed myself because I knew from the second I had seen that cross on the bathroom windowsill that there was no longer any hope for me. I had survived cancer twice and now I was giving up.
I knew I was out of miracles.