“Picture yourself in a boat on a river, a massive boat on a massive river, or rather a fjord, heading for the midnight sun in Norway. In an evening gown…, pampered by the ship’s crew…, after a meal at the captain’s table…, on deck with glass of wine…” My friend Margaret was trying to convince me to accompany her on what could possibly be her final holiday due to the diagnosis she had received just before her 70th birthday last year.
“I can’t,” I replied. “I don’t have a passport.”
“Well, you had better get one. I intend to go this June, before my cancer takes me, and I want you to come with me.”
“Okay, Margaret, if you put it like that I suppose I had better renew my passport.” I wasn’t going to bother. Didn’t expect to ever need a passport again. Didn’t want to travel. Didn’t like flying. But if my friend’s possible last wishes were to go on a Norwegian cruise, then I would have to comply. I owed her that.
Margaret was a seasoned traveller. She made all the arrangements. All I had to do was get my passport renewed. That and buy a whole new wardrobe of course.
We would be travelling from Dover. No need to fly. It was to be a holiday of a lifetime and we were having a suite. No half measures with this holiday. Margaret was paying for most of it, she just wanted my company. I insisted I paid my share but she would only accept a small donation. “I can’t take it with me,” she said wryly. “I might as well spend it.”
That was back in January.
The holiday was all booked and paid for by May. I had renewed my passport and started my wardrobe shopping. Meanwhile Margaret was going through hell with her monthly chemo sessions. She had a regular schedule of the week after being violently ill, the next week being not so bad and the last two weeks of feeling practically normal. The sessions were due to finish at the end of May. Hopefully she would then be well enough for the trip.
At the beginning of June I got a text from Margaret to tell me she was back in hospital. I rushed in to visit her, and was shocked to see how ill she looked. I had got used to her looking a little frail on the last two weeks after her chemo sessions, but she had refused visits from anyone but her family during the first two weeks, so I never got to see her at her worst.
“My tests were not very good,” she said quietly when she saw my concern. “The cancer has spread. They can’t operate. They can only give me palliative care now. They say I cannot go on our holiday. They don’t know whether I will even live that long.”
I was devastated. I tried to comfort her, but Margaret was quite calm about it. She said she had always suspected that she was getting worse and was not going to live very long. She had made all her arrangements. Her family were all well catered for. She had even organised her own funeral, except for confirming the actual date.
“Don’t worry about me,” she said. “I have long since accepted the inevitability of my premature death. I am ready to go. But I want you to promise me one thing.”
“Anything!” I said.
“I want you to go on this holiday. It’s all paid for. Here are the tickets. Take your daughter or someone.”
Three days later Margaret was dead. Her funeral was the day before we would have been going on our holiday together. Here I am now, with my daughter, about to embark on the holiday of our lifetime, and all I can think of is how Margaret would have loved to have been here.
Creative Writing homework April 2016 to first line prompt: “Imagine yourself in a boat on a river…”