By Aliha Dar Mercy Mounthawk, Co. Kerry

Irish Times Supplement, Shortlist 2019, Ages 17-18

Bony fingers landed on my left shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. The pity stuck to my
shirt like slime when she lifted her hand. I smiled briefly. So briefly that the doctor may have
missed it if she had blinked.
“So, I’ve prescribed Procarbazine, to be taken three times a day, with food,” She typed
aggressively on the keyboard. “speaking of, I can’t stress how important it is for you to be
eating a good diet, especially now that you’re ill…lots of vegetables and wholegrain foods…”
My head nodded instinctively. “Yeah…hmm…okay” The mundane white walls swallowed
me, and I sat, silent and numb.
Raindrops melted my foundation. Some tears were hidden in there too. I blinked, long and
hard, attempting to empty my eyes. I had to stop crying before I got home. My heels clanked
against the wet concrete, the car wheels swashed in the puddles. The tears made my vision
blurry. Multiple pavements were in front of me, the cars were merely lines of light in my
peripheral vision. A gust of wind slid up my coat. It surprised me. It seemed to slither through
my bones, like poison. I used to love those icy nights – now they would forever bring me
back to those words, “It’s cancer” spilling from her lips, down my ears. The memory fluttered
repeatedly in my brain like an old, broken movie projector. I jiggled my keys in the door and
my engagement ring glimmered in the orange streetlight. It caught me off-guard and the tears
started again.

Andrew. Poor Andrew. I never thought I would love someone that hard. I love him so much
it’s almost dangerous, if anything happened to him I don’t think I would survive it. That fact
alone made my heart break. Imagining him alone, crying, made me sob with anger. How can
I leave him when I promised I would stay him forever? To comfort him forever, to love him,
I was perched on the edge of the bed, counting my hangnails and Andrew jumped and landed
next to me.
“I feel like I haven’t seen you in a few years, how’s life?”
“Great, I finally broke up with Andrew and now I’m dating this young, hot American model
and we’re travelling the world together, which I could never do with Andrew ‘cause he’s
scared of planes.”
“What a loser!”
“I know,” I teased and tapped him on the nose. He laughed goofily.
“No, seriously, how was your day?”
“Not good, you?”
“You can’t just say “not good” Emily. Come on, I want every detail. Who pissed you off?
Did Angela make your coffee wrong? Did your mum call you too many times?” He smirked
at his own jokes. I giggled.
“No, hahaha,”
“What is it then?”

“I went to the doctors, my tests came back,”
“Oh, you never mentioned it…”
“Anyway, it’s cancer.” I delivered the news in the same blunt tone as I had received it.
“What kind?” He asked quickly.
“I always knew there was a reason for your stupidity – nobody can be that slow without a
reason!” He laughed intermittently, then put his head into my lap and sobbed into my
stomach. I stroked his blonde strands, my nails lightly scraping his scalp.
“I know, darling, I’m so sorry,” I mumbled while gasping for air in between cries. My body
eventually fell sideways onto the bed and I held Andrew until his sniffles morphed into soft
snores. I kissed his slightly sweaty forehead and closed my eyes.

I woke softly but didn’t open my eyes immediately, not until I realised I was moving.
“Andrew,” I couldn’t help but laugh “what are you doing?” He smiled down at me as he
carried me towards the living room – clearly struggling.
“Shhh, stop talking, you’re ruining it!”
“What exactly is it?”
He pursed his lips and shushed me again. I dropped my head into his chest and let him have
his moment. He clumsily placed me on the sofa, the jarring, bright pink one which sat
arrogantly opposite the T.V.
“Oh crap, one sec,” he mumbled.
“Andrew, for God’s sake!” I chuckled.
He came tip-toeing back holding an overflowing tray with both hands and a blanket under his
arm. He placed the sugar-oozing tray in front of me and threw the blanket over my legs.
“Okay, so I decided – about 20 minutes ago – that we’re having a Sunday. Don’t look at me
like that, I know it’s Thursday but we’re having a Sunday. Look,” he pointed at the T.V,
“Love, Rosie” was paused on Netflix. “We’re ready to go, all the food you’ll need for the
whole day. You don’t even need to stand up today.”
“One thing, love,” His smile dropped. “What if I need to pee?”
He rolled his eyes over-dramatically.
“I’ll carry you, obviously, Jesus,” he winked. “Just one rule, no cancer talk, just for today.
Tomorrow we can Google all the homemade remedies you like, but today we’re gonna watch
sappy, romantic movies, eat all this food and fall asleep right here,”
“Yes, sir.”

He climbed over me and wrapped his arm around me from behind. Our legs automatically
intertwined as “I’ll never fall in love” played onscreen. I must have dozed off because
Andrew started shaking me and moaning that I was missing the best part.
“Shut up, would ya?” I snarled.
“Oi!” He jumped and pinned me to the sofa. His legs either side of my hips. “Make me…”
I lifted my neck and kissed his plump lips. They were soft and familiar and ever so slightly
sweetened with chocolate. His hand caressed my face and slowly made its way to my neck.
My phone startled us as the incessant vibrating shook the coffee table. Andrew groaned.
“Leave it,” He muttered.
“Get off me, loser.” I scrambled off the sofa, grabbed the phone and stood up in, maybe, four
“Hello,” I said, a little out of breath.
“Emily Reed? Hi, it’s Dr. Gomez, sorry to say this over the phone but we decided it would be
best to let you know as soon as possible.”
My heart pounded. Andrew was miming at me to put the call on loudspeaker. I pulled a face
at him but listened to his ceaseless pointing.
“There seems to be have been a mistake with the test results. It turns out the results I gave
you, weren’t exactly yours.”
“Sorry, I don’t understand.”
“The scans we showed you were for an Emily Reid. R-E-I-D. I can’t apologise enough for the
“Oh, well, okay – so, I don’t have cancer?” I stammered.
“No, your scan was perfect, please let me know if there’s anything I can-”
“Doctor Gomez, I love you!!” Andrew screamed into the phone.
“I’m sorry, that’s my fiancé.” I slapped him a few times with a smile plastered on my face.
“Thank you for calling.”
“Bye, Emily!”
I squealed and wrapped my arms around his neck.
“I don’t have cancer!!”
“You don’t have cancer!!” His eyes were bloodshot. “I love you so damn much!”
He lifted me up – with ease this time – and dropped me on the sofa, planting kisses on every
centimetre of my face. And finally, I could breathe again.