Her hazel eyes were watching the sky. She had a faint smile on her face and her hands sat still on her lap, inside the pinkish mittens. Janet looked content. She did look content, I convinced myself while I decided whether I should caress a golden lock of hair running down her back — as a river of the purest gold running down an august mountain. Was this trip a good idea? They said we shouldn’t come: they said there would be plenty of time for this once it was all over but still we persisted and insisted and we ended up at the train station waiting for the first train that would take us to the ocean. She felt we needed to do it that day and so did I but buying those tickets was an act of desperation; or so it looked like from the outside, I suppose. I suppose if I were watching a pair of young-looking girls asking for tickets for the first train to the coast and in such a hurried manner I too would consider them desperate. Perhaps we were desperate; that would make sense.
‘Are you okay, Janet?’ I asked, putting my hand on her shoulder.
‘Yes, yes’ she said with a nervous smile ‘I-I definitely am.’
She must be worried about me, as she always was: she must think I’m not strong enough to do this and that I’m afraid something terrible will happen. Well, I am afraid: I want nothing terrible to happen to anyone, least of all her but my nervousness and my anxiety could not possibly be the highest of my concerns when it came to making her happy — they could not possibly be and she must know that. She should know that just from looking into my eyes. So I made her look into my eyes: I turned to her and gently pushed her away from the window and I said ‘Janet, I want to do this. Do you want to do this?’
‘Yes. I definitely do’ and I could feel the certainty dripping from those words. ‘I need to do this. I need to see the ocean one more time’ she said, putting my hands in between hers.
‘Then don’t worry: don’t worry for a second because I am here for you, Jan, I really am. We’re going to do this and it’ll be alright, I’m sure of that’ I said, never having been less sure of something; but she would not find that out, not then and not ever, for I was there to be her strength in case her own strength failed her and that was exactly what I was going to do.
‘I know, Jules. I know. Thanks for doing this, I mean it’ and a tear rolled down her cheek. ‘This means the world to me.’
‘This means the world to me too’ I said just before uncountable tears streamed down my face. I promised myself I wouldn’t do this and there I was, crying. ‘We’re nearly there. It’s going to be awesome’ I said smilingly while I dried my cheeks with my blouses’s long blue sleeves.
We alighted from the green train and walked towards the sea. The cold breeze welcomed us and Janet said she had looked it up and it might snow before we went home: she said she would love to see the rocks by the sea covered in snow. I promised her that if there were any chance of snow we would stay there to see it. Maybe we should have brought a wheelchair: maybe I should have brought more clothes, I thought while I helped her with her wool cardigan and her coat and her scarf and her colourful tuque. She looked lovely and not at all sick, covered by all those layers of bright coloured fabric. She looked like she would live a thousand years.
We had been to that town before, the two of us together: and we had had such a great time then. We were in college and we drank beers and forgot about all our worries and we flirted with cute guys we’d never meet again — it just didn’t matter, because we were together. I tried to help her walk without offending her but when I encircled her waist with my right arm she did not resist and she didn’t look at me with that face she often made when someone tried to help her, the eyes and frown that said “I can do this, let go of me”. Not this time; and that was — right then and there — the first time I realized she was about to die: the first time I fully understood her weariness and anger and then peace and finally her mortality. She smiled softly at me and I think she knew I knew. I think she noticed I had just noticed; and she understood my understanding. ‘Well, let’s go, lovely lady’ I said as we walked down the same street we had walked years before: the one that led to the white pier where we would sit and pretend death could never reach us.
(Obviously the amazing featured photograph was not taken by me but by a British photographer, Chris Wright, and I hope I don’t get in trouble for using it. Here is his website: Electrical Image.)