If, after reading this story, it strikes a chord with you…
We’ve known each other for such a long time now so, however many days, weeks, months or even years we are apart, it always feels like yesterday since we last sat down to drink a gin and tonic together. We can just pick up where we left off, that’s what we do and it’s the very best thing about our enduring friendship.
I’m going to be making myself really busy today. I need to sort the garden out before Sophie comes home from Uni for the summer break. If today was a normal day, I would ask you round for a drink later, to inspect and appreciate my horticultural endeavours.
I can’t believe it’s been quite so long ago we started growing into each other’s lives after meeting in our teens. Those were the days when the highlight of our week was eyeing up the talent at the young farmer’s club. I was pretty handy at skittles in those days. Who was the very cute boy from Upton St. Leonards, with the big eyes? Do you remember him? His father was big on silage. Richard, I think his name was. I wonder what happened to him? He’s probably still knee deep in silage.
We tasted our first and last, haggis together at the New Year’s Eve party at the Farrier’s Arms. I thought it was quite tasty until you reminded me it was made from liver, heart, and lungs. Which, despite my alcohol fuddled brain, made me stop and think; I’ve been veggie ever since. I can’t believe I drove home afterward, after several pints of lager and at least one glass of fizz. Well, I got as far as yours and crashed on your parent’s sofa.
I used to really enjoy straw-hauling with your family. Your father used to get very upset if either of us had our ‘periodical’, as he called it, he didn’t believe girls should lift anything at that time of the month. Maybe he was right. I can’t even lift a large flowerpot these days, but I seemed to be able to hump bales back then without any problem at all. Well, I suppose it must be getting on for forty years ago now. Where has all the time gone?
We used to play cards and get pissed with your parents. Imagine the teenagers in our lives wanting to sit down and play cards with us. And, as for getting pissed, Sophie always says I get really embarrassing.
She made me laugh… she would only have been about fifteen at the time. We were discussing my memorable childhood, with my mostly absent parents and she said, it sounds like you were living in the dark ages, Mum. What did you do with yourself, stuck out in the middle of the country without Social Media and a mobile phone? There never seemed to be a shortage of things to do did there? And I don’t remember watching too much TV either.
After you and I both started working, when your parents went on a much-deserved two-week break, they left you in charge of the farm and I moved in to keep you company. We, that is you, milked 150 cows before going to work, whilst I was running around with a hosepipe clearing up the shit, trying to be helpful. Just imagine! Sophie never sees the light of day until lunchtime when she’s at home and I need the cat to remind me he needs feeding.
I’m going to cook spag bol for supper tonight. Your favourite and I’m going to use your recipe too, you know the one where you bake the bolognese in the oven? I’m going to have a glass of wine whilst I cook it. Do you remember, the only cookery programme I used to watch was Keith Floyd? Until I discovered the Naked Chef. I need to open a bottle for the sauce anyway… that’s my excuse.
Alexa… play songs by Freda Payne! Do you remember when I bought the Band of Gold album? Charlie Rodgers had just dumped me and I played it over and over again. I remember you and I brought the house down when we sang it at Julia’s Hardiman’s Karaoke party.
You’ve always been there for me, buoying me up every time one of my disastrous relationships fell apart. And, I can’t lie… there were more than just a few, weren’t there? You were so right when you said, do not marry Jon, it will be the worst thing you ever do. And it was, the absolute worst thing I ever did; what a bastard he turned out to be. Me, coming home early from that conference in Sheffield and finding him in our bed with his secretary; who was barely out of secretarial college. What was so shocking was that, instead of being convulsed by guilt and remorse, he asked me to pop in with them as he thought our sex life needed spicing up.
You took me on holiday to Antigua to get over Jon and you did such a good job. We laughed until we cried about the silly little shit, but I agree, I should have concentrated more on getting my head together and working on my suntan, instead of falling in lust with a fellow hotel guest. Rob O’Donnell, the hunk from Austin, Texas, with his bronzed body and a deliciously well-developed six-pack. How was I supposed to know that he was about to be the next Hollywood golden boy?
Donna Lucas, don’t you dare think about sleeping with him, was what you said. You know you’ll never see him again. How often have your words come back to haunt me? But, hey ho, after one too many Rum punches at the Manager’s cocktail party, the inevitable happened and more than once during our last week there. I think he was the best lover I’ve ever had, however fleeting it might have been. But, as always, you were right. I didn’t see him again and nine months later, you were with me when I gave birth to my beautiful Sophie.
You know I wrote to Rob to tell him about Sophie. By that time, was earning megabucks and to his credit, he started sending regular financial contributions in my direction. He’s always said that Sophie can go and see him anytime when his busy schedule allows, but over the last twenty years, the mountain has never seemed to have wanted to come to Mohammed… or is it the other way round? More fool him. She is my world and she could still part of his, more glamorous, Hollywood life if she wanted to but, so far, she has shown no interest.
Oh shit, Grace, what the hell am I going to do now? You always were my saving Grace. You have always been there for me and I only bought another bottle of Gin last week… for our next put-the-world-right-session, after you’d finished the sodding chemo. I really thought it was going work… this time. Fuck the chemo! Fuck cancer. You were so positive and so very brave, throughout the whole bloody thing. I must have driven you mad, rocking up every day, talking drivel and trying to make it sound upbeat. Sod the garden! Sod the spag bol! I’m not hungry anyway… you’re not here to eat it with me, so what’s the point?
I loved you so much Grace and I’m not sure if I ever told you… maybe a few times when I was drunk and I did mean it by the way. I really hope you knew. One day, I know we will sit down and pick up where we left off. Make sure you’ve got a bottle of Gin in the cupboard when I arrive.
That’s not your Red, Red, Wine ringtone. I can’t believe I’m not going to be hearing it anymore. It always reminds me of being with you in Antigua. We had such a great holiday, even though I screwed it up a bit, literally, with Rob.
‘Hi Mum, how are you?’
‘Hello, beautiful… it’s great to hear from you…’
‘Are you OK? You sound a bit… down. You’ve been crying… oh no… please don’t tell me it’s Auntie Grace… Mum?
‘I am afraid it is, Sweetie… our gorgeous, brave and caring, Grace has gone, but although we’re going to miss her so very much much, the important thing to remember is that she’s not in pain anymore. No more suffering.’
In memory of one of my oldest and best friends who lost her battle against Cancer on Friday 19th October 2018.
I was gutted when I received the news that one of my oldest friends had lost her battle with Cancer.
She remained incredibly positive and upbeat until the end, during her fight against this abominable disease. She fought with dignity and courage.
Twenty-four hours after her death, I wrote this short story in her memory.
I would stress that this is a work of fiction and the only similarity to our relationship, is the humour we always shared together.
We should all do our bit to Stand Up To Cancer so, if this story touches your heart, please donate to cancerresearch.org. Thank you. There are around 164,000 cancer deaths in the UK every year, that’s around 450 every day (2014-2016).