I stop running at the top of the hill to catch my breath, adrenaline still pumping. Usually, I marvel at the beautiful medieval Castle and the perfectly manicured gardens at the bottom of the hill. Today the park is quiet, no birds, no children playing. I’m alone. The park is empty even though it doesn’t close to the public for another hour, but Christmas Eve is tomorrow, and I imagine people are rushing to buy last minute gifts for loved ones, or work colleagues. I close my eyes thinking of the doctor’s news I got today, to reflect on my life. Forty-three, alone, my husband left me for a younger model that he got pregnant. Dr Brady’s words ricochet in my head.
A bead of sweat trickles down my forehead which I wipe away with my gloved hand, I open my eyes, exhaling slowly, ready to run again. My hot breath mingles with the crisp cold air. The grass crunches as I slowly run to the path where the mud is frozen solid with no sign of thawing.
The path is dabbled with weak December sun that filters through the canopy of branches that radiate from trees on either side. In summer, the park is beautiful, a combination of ash and sycamore trees with a scattering of bamboo. When their leaves moved in the wind, they would emit a soothing hissing sound. I want to close my eyes thinking of the soothing rustle of bamboo leaves but running on the uneven surface could result in a fall, my hips are precious. But after the news today, does it matter? No matter what my decision is.
My lungs burn, adrenaline continues to pump even though I run slowly. The path slopes down to the duck pond. I stop to catch my breath at the white wonderland. The pond frozen. The branches of the trees that surround the pond are sprinkled with frost like icing on a Yule log. Duck feet markings cross over and back on the surface of the pond, and leaves are captured in the frozen water, radiating in a perfect crystallised ice flower.
I thought back to the doctor’s office this morning. He must have seen a kid before me, he still had his Santa Micky Mouse stethoscope around his neck. He must have a difficult job.
The sun was not shining anymore but it didn’t seem. Thick black clouds were moving across the sky. The rise in temperature meant snow. My dad told me that fact when I was little.
He would put me on his lap as he sat on the cushioned seat in our sitting room bay window. ‘Martha, you know its gonna snow when there’s been a hard frost and then the temperature rises.’ He would hug me closer, ‘Snow clouds are like a thermal blanket.’
I sigh, warm in my childhood memory. We would watch the robins eating bread on the bird stand in our garden. I would snuggle into my father’s big strong arms, ‘Martha, robins, they are spirits of our loved ones,’ and he pointed to a robin on the bird feeder with a bright red breast, ‘Martha, that one is your mother.’ A lump forms in my throat I still miss her.
Snow started to fall thick and slow, floating onto the pond. Frost and winter always marvelled me at how they could transform the ugliest landscape into a beautiful crystalline white picture, I found the whiteness was calming. I look up to the sky, snowflakes land on my eyelashes and they melt as they fell on my face.
A small bird landed on the pond. It was a robin. A small red-breasted robin. The thick snow fell on it, but I could not see if it melted from the heat from its little body.
I close my eyes thinking of Dr Brady’s words, ‘Martha, are you taking this in?’
He had taken off his round glasses, like the ones people wore in the 1920s. He sighed as he rubbed the glass, ‘Martha, your answer’ he leaned forward his voice softer now, ‘What is it to be?’
I shrugged, what could I say?
‘Martha, I need your answer. It’s either six months, or you will get two years with chemotherapy. Which is it to be?’
I knew I’d have no quality of life with chemo, and I’ve no one to share it with. I didn’t answer him but took my coat and returned to my one bedroomed flat and changed into my running gear. It was ironic that I had taken up running the year before to get fit.
Now, I look at the red-breasted robin, snow covering its head like a white velvet crown. The Robin stares at me, and I back at him. Our eyes lock. A coat of snow begins to cover him. It shakes its head; the snow crown falls of him and he flutters his wings freeing them. The robin flies towards me, and for a minute is suspended like a hummingbird in front of me before flying away, but the robin looks back at me before disappearing into the sky.
That was when I had my answer.