Reader fiction: Seventies stories

The cancer chat.

"Oh she has, ye know, cancer.”

Discussed always behind a clothes line. A seven-year-old, although playing, straight away knows summat's up. He begins to listen while still spinning the red wheel of his toy car.

'Jesus that’s shocking, god love her, only 50." The reply blowing in through the white sheets.

"Everyone has cancer in them, it just depends if you’re lucky or not, to get it.”

Cancer, the seven-year-old thinks, what's that? A seven-year-old will forget about it as soon as he hears it. “There’s a cure for everything, and hunger is the best sauce.” Another nugget from Granny Nash as she kneaded her soda read. Big brother Neil, who is saving up to visit a place called the Amazon Forest, also threw in his thrupenny bit.

“The cure for cancer, is in the Amazon Rainforest, but big buck business don’t want it found.” What the bloody hell did he mean, and where was my soda bread to slather in butter?

Waiting on my jeans to dry in the kitchen, another conversation is conducted in a lowered voice fashion. “Oh god, Mary, don’t tell anyone but her cancer might have come back.” Brief break to stub out a cigarette. “I know the consultant only comes around once a week.” Beep beep of the washing machine, jeans dried. Technology moving on since the days of the washing line.

In town, daffodils were everywhere on people's lapels for sale, all accompanied by the rattle of charity boxes under your nose. “Help the cure for cancer buy a daffodil.” “Buy a bear show you care,” was another one. It was “National Cancer Day,” it has a day now. Must be getting bigger now. There were “Big Cancer Concerts.” Liz Taylor and Elton John Cancer Tribute Shows. Celebrity cancer stories every week on the cover of those magazines that my mother would buy since the seventies. Tut tutting at some of the more salacious ones whilst stirring her tea.

Tamoxifen, Diazepam, Temazepam boxes, fell out onto my lap that day. The day when my mother asked me to get her some tissues from her bedside locker. She had something difficult to tell me. Walking down those stairs was like going back in time. The seventies house still going strong. Out in the garden she stood where the washing line used to be. All those years ago, when my young ears had listened to that hushed phone call.

Turning around with tears in her eyes, l knew, l just knew, we would now both have that hushed conversation.

Woman's Way