The woman threw on her coat and grabbed her scarf and hat. Walking along the narrow hallway she smiled to herself. “Let’s go” she said. They closed the cottage door and fell into step, chattering and laughing as they went. Chester followed them along the path towards the canal but on reaching a sunny spot he stopped to enjoy the warming rays. Chester was beyond elderly in cat years and had relinquished adventures on the canal side for a more sedate, secluded lifestyle in the garden. The truth was they were all older now.
The woman’s skin was weathered, deep laughter lines framed her eyes and her hair was white as snow. Inside she was still 29 and ready to take on any challenge, outside her joints were stiff and no, she couldn’t run any more. None of this mattered however because today they were setting off in the canal boat, something she’d anticipated for many, many years. They had no route in mind, it would be a leisurely journey wherever the water carried them.
The barge had seen better days too. Its paint-work had lost some gloss, the horse-brasses around the door were tarnished and pitted but the boat itself was functionally sound. They set off enjoying the peacefulness of the canal and the crisp winter morning. The woman took to sketching the scene in front of them as they gently chugged along the waterway. Sometimes she sang quietly as her pencil traced the weeping willows and spike-headed teasels that grew along the bank.
As they travelled daylight hours began to slip away and they decided to moor-up for the evening, retiring to the galley to make dinner. Snug, warm and well-fed they sat in the barge listening to the lapping water and the shrill calls of birds retiring late to their roosts. Food and the warmth of the cabin took their toll; in time they drifted to sleep, propped in the galley without a care in the world as the moon rose and stars began to stud a black velvet sky.
She felt that she was lying on an unfamiliar bed somewhere in the half-world between sleep and wakefulness. There was brightness above her yet her eyes were closed and it seemed they did not want to open. Strange she thought. She was shivering, waves of involuntary twitching washed through her and she couldn’t make them stop. She didn’t sense that she was cold – how odd.
The woman heard voices, one male, possibly two female but she didn’t recognise them. The voices sounded very close by. Who are these people and why are they here with me she wondered. She realised one of the female voices was calling her name. The calling continued, insistent yet patient until slowly the woman’s eyes opened. Her throat was sore and when she tried to speak in reply her voice was a barely audible rasping squeak.
The room she saw was bright and impersonal, machines beeped and many people milled around in blue tunics and trousers. The woman wanted to sit up to see what these people were doing but what the hell was that pain below her rib cage, why were tubes sticking out of her side and what on earth were her legs encapsulated in? Reality began to creep up on her like the fine lines betraying progression from youth to middle age. The woman could vaguely make out the clock on the wall. Four hours of her life had passed by; four hours when she thought she was her future self, a weathered and worn old woman setting out on a long-awaited riverboat journey. She had been happy as her older self and now corporeal ties had come along to spoil her dream.
She glimpsed a familiar face, kind, smiling and milling around just that bit faster than the others. “Everything went very well, I was able to do just what we discussed, I’m pleased,” Miss M said. The woman felt relieved and unsure all at once, glad the surgery had been successful but also uncertain about the disfiguring change her body now bore witness to. She didn’t want to look at it. At this moment she wasn’t convinced she could think straight still pumped full of pain killers and unable to move.
That evening she drifted in and out of sleep propped up in a hospital bed. Her anti-thrombosis boots hissed and hummed throughout the night, a parody of the water she’d heard lapping against the sides of their barge. Nurses checked her pulse and blood pressure every few hours but unlike the sojourn she’d taken as her older self, roaming the canal on a crisp winter day, present time passed so slowly. She concluded Wednesday 1st August had been very unusual from start to finish.
The following morning the woman mused that within just a few days it would be her birthday. She accepted that she might never become the old woman, the one so happy and carefree. Awakening to this outlook she knew she had to start over, the distinction between dreams and reality had never been so clear. On 2nd August the woman switched her focus to overcoming cancer. Do that, she reasoned, and the old woman with a weathered face and snow-white hair would continue to be a possibility.
Today the woman is still working to overcome cancer and the wrinkly old woman remains an opportunity she is unwilling to give up.
Written in response to the Daily Post Writing Challenge – Starting Over