A garble of words splutter, stall and start again, only to be interrupted by a gulping sob. Silence. He moans: a wavering sound of distress as he wrestles with shock and fear.
‘Where are you, Tom?’
‘Tesco car park.’
‘You’re upset.’ I listen, silent; smacked across the face by the stark terror in his voice.
He tries again. At first there’s a liquid choking sound as his tongue writhes, denying expression to some awful information. ‘It’s An ….’ He can’t quite get Annie out. A deep, resonant, sob tolls from the very depth of his soul.
‘Deep breath, Tom.’
There’s a ragged sucking of air. ‘ANNIE!‘ The shriek grates like chalk on a blackboard. He cries some more, less of a hurricane, control begins.
Inside I’m moved to the point of tears. ‘Annie?’ A gentle question.
‘Di…agno…sis.’ He whimpers, breath panting; slowing as he settles down. Silence, he’s gathering himself.
‘Thanks Mac.’ His voice is normal. ‘She’s got an aggressive cancer, Leukaemia, just got the diagnosis … and it hits me in the fucking car park.’
‘It was going to get you somewhere.’
‘Sorry, Mac, I just had to call someone.’
‘I’m glad it was me … do you want me to come over?’
‘No, I’m fine now. I’ve got people to tell. How about a coffee tomorrow …’
* * *
It’s two years after our traumatic conversation. Tom and Annie went on a rollercoaster ride of Chemo, recovery, relapse, long periods of re-hospitalisation and other highs and lows. We met for coffee when Tom needed to share or talk or be reassured.
I learned that my role on the journey was of Listener-and-Optimist-in-Chief. He didn’t want me to be an objective face-the-facts voice, he got plenty of that from the doctors.
Two weeks ago we met over a Mocha. Annie continues to gain strength and the conversation is about their future. A journey through darkness and despair towards a bright new dawn.
It ain’t all dark out there