The ABBA bloggers will be away till 27th December. Meanwhile, a very Happy Christmas to all our blog readers, and here is a Christmas story to keep you going till we return.
A Christmas Eve Miracle
The room was very quiet. She could hear the hushed bustle of the night nurses in the corridor outside, but she knew they wouldn’t come in. She’d had her cocoa, had her pills. They’d leave her to sleep—or not—till early morning. There was nothing else they could do for her, after all. She looked out of the window where she could just see the cross on the rounded dome of St Paul’s, outlined against the festive glow of the London sky. She found it comforting. It had been there a long time, seen every kind of suffering, survived intact. She sighed. She was not going to survive, it seemed. But she’d bloody well fight anyway.
She remembered the morning, two weeks before, when she had walked into the oncologist’s office. The children and Daniel had been outside, waiting; a solid bulwark of love. But she’d wanted to hear this news on her own.
“I’m sorry, Glorianna,” he’d said. “It’s not good. It’s spread to your lungs and liver very fast.” She wasn’t surprised, and had said so. Her breathing hadn’t felt right for a while now, and even the kids had noticed the yellow eyes. She’d joked about eating too much custard, but they weren’t stupid. Not her kids. Then he’d dropped the bombshell of hope.
“There is a new treatment. It’s very experimental—from Canada. We don’t know if it will work. But it’s your only chance. It would mean being in Bart’s over Christmas though….”
Hope is a funny thing, she thought. Without it, you have no choices, everything is grey, and you just have to get through to the inevitable end as best you can. But with it—with even a tiny drop of it—the world of possibility wakes in full colour, and you can start to dream again in a way that makes your heart beat faster with maybes. She’d discussed it briefly with Daniel and the kids, not wanting to spoil what they all knew was probably the last Christmas they’d ever have together. But Daniel had been adamant.
“Any chance is better than nothing. You’ve got to go for it. We’ll just bring our Christmas to the hospital, that’s all.”
So here she was. Christmas Eve. She didn’t think the experiment was working, and the new drugs had made the tiny bit of hair she had left fall out, which was a bummer, because baldness was not in fashion this year. But she had to go on trying and hoping. It was the only weapon she had. The quarter bells of St Paul’s tolled out the time. Bingbong, bingbong, bingbong. Only fifteen minutes to go, and it would be Christmas Day.
The door opened softly, and closed behind the person who had come in. She couldn’t see him properly. The room was lit only by the light from outside, and the green glow of the monitors. But it appeared to be a man, dressed in white scrubs. His name badge hung down from the breast pocket, obscured.
“Hello, Glorianna,” he said. “I thought you might like some company.” His voice was very soft, gentle, accented slightly. Middle East somewhere, she thought. He came over to the bed and sat down on the end, careful not to joggle her battered, tender body. He had longish brown hair, tied tidily into a ponytail under his theatre hat, and a short, neat beard.
“Haven’t seen you before,” she croaked. Her bloody voice was going too, then. She cleared her throat, impatient with it suddenly. “You just on for the Christmas shift?”
“Yes, just for Christmas,” he said. “I like the peace on the wards. Is there anything I can do for you while I’m here?”
“What, apart from a Christmas miracle cure?” she asked. “That would be good.” She was proud of keeping her sense of humour. She found it helped other people feel better about what was happening to her.
He laughed. It was a nice laugh, made her feel more cheerful all of a sudden.
“It’s snowing,” he said. “That’s a miracle if you like. It never snows in London at Christmas. The bookies will be furious.” She squinted over at the window and gasped with pleasure. He was right. Big, fat flakes of proper snow were falling, fluffy and white against the glass.
“Take me over there,” she said. “Let me look properly. Please.” Manners were important, even if you were dying, she thought. He got up and fetched the wheelchair from the corner. Gently, he helped her sit up, swing her legs over the edge, moved the drip so she could drop into the chair without getting tangled up. “Ooh,” she said as his hands swam past her blurry vision. “What have you done to yourself?” The backs and fronts of both were covered in square, white gauze dressings.
“Just a little accident with some nails,” he said. “Doesn’t hurt anymore, just a bit messy to look at.”
He wheeled her over to the long window. It was a first floor room with a little balcony outside. They’d let her have a room to herself—it was a lonely luxury. The snow was falling faster now, and the ground below was already nearly covered with a white rug She looked and looked. It was beautiful.
“Did you know that each flake is different?” she asked him. “God must be pretty amazing to have thought that one up, don’t you think.”
“I do,” he said. “And He is.”
Suddenly a pigeon landed on the rail, then another, then another. Fast and furious they came, wings whirling in the snowstorm, until the rail was heaving with swaying bird shapes. Glorianna opened her mouth to speak, but then shut it again. The sparrows had started to arrive now, squeezing between the pigeons, chirping and squabbling, fighting like the warriors they were. Her visitor laid his hurt hands on her shoulders. She felt their warmth, like healing honey dripping into her bones. She closed her eyes, drinking it in. Then she opened them again, as she heard a muffled miaow.
Now it was the cats’ turn. Slinking and squirming, they lined up in rows, unblinking slanted eyes trained on the man behind her. Grey ones, tabby ones, tattered ears, scars, stripes, orange, white, black, and everything in between.
“Whatever…?” she stammered. But the pressure of those warm honey hands sent her back into silence, just as the mice and rats appeared. Bootbutton eyes, twitching whiskers, a sea of intertwined tails and noses, and sharp, yellow teeth sat on the windowsill. The cats didn’t move a muscle. Glorianna strained her eyes to look at the ground below. It was now covered with fur and a general wagging which sent the snow into joyous flurries of white. A puppy let out a single high yelp, but was cuffed by its neighbour immediately into silence.
BONG! BONG! Great Tom started to sound the hour of midnight from the south-west tower of St Paul’s. As the last chime echoed into stillness, the animals bowed their heads, knelt, worshipped. Glorianna too slipped forward onto her knees. It was physically impossible for her to do so now, in her weakened state, so she must be dreaming, she thought. But it was a good dream, a dream she didn’t want to end.
“Please,” she prayed fiercely. “Oh God, please.” It was a formless entreaty, made many times before, but this time, with those hands on her shoulders, she knew she was being listened to. She offered up her great love for every bit of her life on this wonderful, flawed, generous earth. The long journey from Jamaica with Mam and Pop. The first cold winter, school, her marriage to Daniel, the births of Jasmyn, Dillan and Joel. She offered her cancer, her anger, her fear. She offered everything and hoped it would be enough. Because now it was Christmas Day, and she’d already seen two miracles. Surely a third wasn’t too much to ask.
When she opened her eyes again, it was nearly daylight, she was back in bed, and her friend of the night had gone. A new nurse was standing there, replacing the drip bag.
“Happy Christmas,” she said. “Look, it’s snowed!” When she’d done what needed doing and left, Glorianna cautiously eased herself out of bed. The window seemed a long way to go on her own, but she made it by leaning on the dripstand. The balcony outside was empty now, but by peering hard, she could see a few feathers and tufts of fur in the snow. The whiteness was also pocked and marked with small prints and lines where tails might have whisked through it. Glorianna pinched herself. It hurt. She was awake. It had been real. And she was going to live. She knew that as certainly as if it was written on the glass in front of her.
“Thank you,” she whispered to the cross on the dome. A man in the courtyard below stopped walking and looked up at her. He had long brown hair and a neat beard. He raised a hand to her in greeting. The palm and back of it were covered in square white dressings. Then he walked around the corner and was lost to sight.
I was asked to write this story for Cancer Research. It was published in the concert programme for their 2008 fundraising carol service at St Paul's Cathedral. It is dedicated to the memory of my sister, who died of cancer in December 2001.