"Lizzy's Wish List", by Angela Petch
Dear best friend,
While I’m feeling brave and I’ve a few minutes, I’m jotting you these lines. It’s easier than talking face to face. Sorry to be cowardly but we’d only blub and end up opening a bottle of red. And to tell the truth, wine’s lost its magic. My medicines don’t mix well with alcohol.
I can’t talk to the twins; they’re too wrapped up with GCSE assignments and boyfriends. (Actually, I hope not literally… wrapped up with boyfriends, I mean. There’ll be plenty of time for that sort of thing). I get bitter when I start to think about not being around for them. I always imagined I’d be there to help plan their weddings, be a granny to their babies, just be there for them when life went wrong. But, hey ho, they might never have wanted to walk down the aisle anyway and I promised myself I wouldn’t cry. Look, I’m going to take a break…
Hello again! It’s now 2.30 p.m. I’ve sorted myself out, had a brew and two chocolate biscuits (I know, I know, sugar’s not good for me) and I’ve got to finish this scribble before the girls get back from school.
It’s no use talking to Pete. He’s ‘in denial’, as they say. We won’t connect again until he’s honest about this damn illness. Whenever I try and broach the future, he changes the subject or leaves the room. He cries sometimes at night. Although he’s turned away from me pretending to be asleep, I can hear him. Honestly, I feel like thumping him. It should be me doing the crying; I shouldn’t have to be brave for him as well.
Anyway, before it’s too late, there’s stuff I absolutely must do. Here goes:
I shall walk on the Downs while the world’s asleep, lay in wait for badgers and foxes in their night prowls and hear a nightingale sing up on Highdown Hill. I shall skinny dip in the Channel, run naked on the salty shore when the tide’s right out and watch sun rise before breakfasting in the Blue Beach Café (dressed, of course). I shall buy those red suede boots I’ve been promising myself and a black velvet coat that trails behind me as I walk. Oh yes – and help at Crisis at Christmas. I can’t put that off any longer. It will be a relief not to have to entertain from our poky kitchen and I’ve never liked steaming Christmas pudding anyway. Then, I need to ride a camel past the Pyramids, keep a Tamworth pig and scratch its back with a stick every morning, stay in a house-boat moored on Lake Dal in Srinagar, visit Easter Island and Portobello Road market.
It’s a lot to do in six months, I know.
Confession time now! I’ve been meaning to tell you for ages that your bum does look big in that purple dress. It doesn’t do you justice. Just take it to a charity shop – preferably the hospice one. And …about Pete. It was my fault he broke it off with you just before the VIth form ball. It was I who wrote that anonymous note telling him you were suffering from gender dysphoria, that you were totally confused about men and had big problems with sex. I’m not exactly sorry because you and David were perfect together and had 24 wonderful years and I can’t honestly say my years with Pete have been that perfect. And while we’re on the subject of David and how much you miss him… well, I promise not to invite you to any more supper parties to try to pair you off with lonely men and widowers, like Bert. If I’m honest, I don’t think I could stand his company for very long either – or his halitosis and hairy ears. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”. I should really try to remember that.
Please don’t be surprised when you next see me. Before it falls out, I’ve dyed my hair blue. I believe it’s a perfect match for my eyes and the new varnish for my toe nails. Plus the three shimmering, turquoise skirts I’ve bought for belly-dancing classes at the Leisure Centre. I should have enrolled years ago.
About afterwards - I have a few favours to ask of you. Obviously my will is done and dusted and with the solicitors. You know me and what a hoo haa there was when Mum and Dad died and Pete and I had to sort out their huge muddle. Never again, I said and I meant it. So, there are some addressed envelopes which you’ll find in the top drawer of my old desk in the study. Some are for posting (I’ve stamped those) and others are for pushing through people’s doors, if you don’t mind the exercise. (Not that you need it, of course.) The letters inside have been written in an effort to dot the ‘i’s’ and ‘t’s’ of my life. There are a few thank yous and quite a few sorries. Most of all there are my ‘love yous’.
The two packages for the girls are memory boxes. I’ve put in a piece of my jewellery and two of my favourite silk scarves. There are photos of milestones in our family and I’ve written a personal letter to each of them. I’ve never been much good at writing down my feelings and it was a killer doing this (excuse the choice of phrase) but I’m glad I’ve done it. I know without having to ask that you will keep an eye on them for me…
I think Pete is aware of this next bit – but in case he can’t hold it together when the time comes, I’ve organised a wicker coffin for church and arrangements of those crimson Urchin dahlias from my allotment. If the hospital has got my prognosis correct, then my dahlias should be looking their best. They’re an old fashioned flower but I love them. Did you know my Grandpa used to win prizes for his? I want the arrangements to look natural, just as if they were still growing – not stiff and artificial. And I’d like the choir to try and sing that aria from Faurè’s Requiem that made us gooey eyed at the concert we went to in Worthing. When I collared the vicar at the deli counter in the Co-op, he eventually agreed to the Dandy Warhols Bohemian song being played at the end of the service, so don’t let him renege on that. It always makes me jig about the kitchen when it comes on the radio and I want my mourners to cry just a little but smile a lot. There have been too many tears lately. And I want absolutely no curled up fish-paste or egg sandwiches - just big, steaming bowls of pasta puttanesca with plenty of Chianti (or proper tea in tea pots for the non-drinkers in the hall after the service.)
You’ll receive your envelope in due course but I wanted to warn you I’m leaving you my set of suitcases with wheels and I’ve also booked you in for a week in the Hotel Medici in Arezzo next June. Do you remember the walk we took over the Viamaggio Pass when we celebrated our fiftieths? The dozens of hellebores and orchids we saw along the paths and the family of wild boar we disturbed in their forage for truffles? We ate our salame and ciabatta on that rock with views over the sun-hazy, blue Apennines. I said how peacefully perfect it was and how I wished I could fly; just unfurl my winter wings and soar into the sky above the landscape. That’s where I want you to scatter my ashes. There’d be room in your new case if you just put me in a plastic bag and took me out of the plastic urn. No fuss, no frills. Just remember to make sure the wind is blowing away from you.
Thank you for the love, laughter and fun, dear friend
PS: Be sure to ask if you can take up my place at the belly-dancing classes. They’re brilliant but there’s a long waiting list. I’m sure they’ll let you jump the queue if you explain.
Highly Commended, While There's Still Time: Writing about putting things right
About the author
Mother to three wonderful children, Granny to two boys, wife to my half-Italian husband, who takes me to Italy for six months each year (where we have a self-catering business....hard life, eh?!), I squeeze writing into leftover 'me-time'.
I have had recent success with short stories and self-published my novel, “Never Forget”, written to record some of my Italian mother-in-law's experiences.
I love walking, tennis, Italian and am about to have singing lessons.
Life is for living and loving.