As we left my parents’ place in Derby earlier this week to drive back home, Mum stopped P and I on our way out. ‘Oooh hangonhangonhangon,’ she fretted, her slippers skipping hurriedly across the kitchen floor. ‘I almost forgot. I saved this for you when I cooked the turkey.’
Wednesday, 30 December 2009
‘Oh, um, ta,’ I said, accepting the greasy, V-shaped bone and holding it up to Ps line of sight with a raised eyebrow.
‘I know you weren’t here for your Christmas dinner,’ Mum continued, ‘but I thought it was only right that you two should have the wishbone.’
P and I winked at each other as Mum turned back to the fridge, then held it between our little fingers, closed our eyes as we wished (mine longer than his – lately my wishes have become less simple desires than contractual requirements with sub-clauses), then watched as the bone snapped on his side.
‘Who won?’ he asked.
‘Er, I dunno,’ I mumbled, trying to remember whether wishbone-winning was more Christmas cracker than short straw.
‘Let me see. Where did it break?’ questioned Mum, parting us from our pinky-grip and peering over to assess the situation like a boxing referee. ‘Ah, P’s side,’ she concluded. ‘Then it’s your wish, Lis.’
‘What were you wishing for?’ P later asked from the driver’s seat as we approached the M1.
‘What, seriously?’ I frowned.
‘Yeah, tell me.’
‘Do you really need to ask?’
‘Well, y’know, it just took you such a long time, is all.’
‘That’s because it had three parts.’
‘Yes, love, three.’
‘I think you know full well what about.’
‘What, health?’ he queried, neatly sidestepping the c-word.
‘In a roundabout way, aye.’
‘All three were about health?’ he accused.
‘Kinda, yeah. Two were about straightforward health and the other was about the career thing that the health thing played rather a large part in,’ I answered awkwardly, adding to my requests of the universe with the hope that paraphrasing a wish doesn’t render it invalid. ‘Look, love, if I tell you exactly what I wished for it won’t come true, right?’
‘Ah, okay. Right,’ he agreed, getting back to something far more important on Five Live.
P didn’t need to ask what I’d wished for, of course. Nobody needs to ask. Because The Bullshit saw to it, from the moment it pulled up in my drive, that whenever I’m tugging on a wishbone or blowing out birthday candles or wishing on a star, it’ll be pretty bloody obvious to anyone in the immediate vicinity what it is that I’m after. (Dave Grohl in a broken lift. Obvs.)
Frankly, throughout my life, I’ve done pretty well out of wishes. I passed my GCSEs and A-levels, got into the postgraduate course I applied for, married the man I loved and saw to it that Derby County won the 2007 play-off final. Hell, who’s to know whether I’d be writing this post with a real left tit and a ponytail, had I been wishing not to get breast cancer all these years. But meh, whatever. If I had hindsight that sharp I’d probably have decided against that shellsuit.
From spending a bit of time with the ’rents over Christmas, though, it became clear that I’m not the only one with wishes as transparent as turkey stock. On Christmas morning, P and I sat on his folks’ sofa, polishing off bacon sarnies and the best part of an M&S chocolate biscuit assortment (surely the adult equivalent of a selection box) while we waited for his Mum to get back from church. In our house, going to church was never a feature of Christmas day – hell, of any day – but there’s nothing unusual, of course, in religion being as much of a 25 December tradition as new socks and heartburn.
P’s family aren’t, I suppose, what you’d call staunch Catholics. Of all the Lynch mob, I think there’s only actually his Mum who goes to church and, certainly for as long as I’ve known her, those visits haven’t always been that regular. Or, at least, they hadn’t been until I was diagnosed.
‘Mum’s started going back to church,’ P said, puzzled, putting down the phone as he nudged aside my sick bowl to perch on our bed. ‘I think it’s helping her.’
‘Then that’s a good thing,’ I reasoned. ‘We all need to cling onto whatever we can to get through this.’ (The Bullshit had a tendency to occasionally turn me into Yoda.)
‘She’s praying every night,’ he continued. ‘And she’s lighting candles to ask God to help you get better.’
‘That’s nice of her,’ I nodded. ‘But it’s probably a bit late for his help, eh?’ I said, gesturing to the dressings on my chest with the nod of a balding head.
But flippant as I was – am? – about the role of religion in Stuff We Can’t Control, I was grateful for P’s Mum putting her healing efforts into something so unscientific.
As the wishbone story makes clear, my Mum has different unscientific beliefs. Where P’s Mum has religion, mine has superstition. Where P’s Mum says a prayer and lights a candle, mine salutes lone magpies and tells you off for putting new shoes on the coffee table. And where P’s Mum has a crucifix on the wall of her landing, mine has a PG Tips monkey on her kitchen shelf. A monkey that, for as long she’s had it, I’ve beheaded on every visit to Derby, pushing its ears down beneath its shirt in the not-very-grown-up equivalent of scrawling ‘Lisa woz ere’ on her worktop. It’s an age-old prank she’s come to expect, like pressing the spare doorbell and watching as she answers the front door, or shifting the letters of her festive NOEL decoration so that it spells LEON. I’ll distract Mum with doorbell-ringing or tea requests, then mischievously shove my thumb down the monkey’s neck, forcing its head into its belly. Twenty minutes later she’ll scream ‘Liiis!’ followed by ‘that’s cruel’ or ‘put him right’ or ‘imagine if I did that to Piglet’. (She’s right, mind, I’d have the bollocks of anyone who assaulted Piglet.)
But just as P noticed that his Mum stepped up the church visits after my diagnosis, this week I noticed that the PG Tips monkey on Mum’s shelf remains headless. And when I thought about how long it was since I last assaulted her soft toy, I realised it had been well over a year. Over 18 months, even. In fact, I hadn’t decapitated that monkey since the week I was diagnosed, and Mum – contrary to what she would have done prior to The Bullshit – hasn’t pulled his head back from out of his shirt.
Call it superstition, call it religion, call it what you like. Whatever it is, it’s gratifying to know that, by doing the daft, irrational little things they believe in, the people who matter are doing whatever they can to help keep me Bullshit-free... touch wood.