The Colour of Fear

My three year old daughter runs down the corridor oblivious to the sombre atmosphere that clogs the air, making it heavy and difficult to breathe. Her piggy tails bounce as she jumps around. ‘Where’s Granny?’ she says, anticipation and impatience evident in her voice.

The corridor is long and vinyl clad. I expect to smell disinfectant, or possibly the scent of sickness, whatever that may be. But there is no aroma. Is this what illness and death are supposed to smell like – nothing at all?

I rub my swollen belly and worry about the effects of radiation on my unborn child, as I guide my three year old through a door way. I shouldn’t be apprehensive about such things. This is a post operative cancer ward. The patients are recovering from surgery, not radiation therapy.

We enter a room containing four beds, each of them occupied. Everything in the room is insipid and pale; the colour audited out. I barely recognise the woman in bed number one. Her skin is grey, she wears a white shapeless smock, and clear plastic tubes and assorted colourless wires protrude from her nose, her chest, her stomach, her fingers, and her wrist. A transparent bag hangs above her head; nutrients without flavour or hue. A large steel machine dominates the wall behind her. On it the only spot of colour, a tiny red light flashes intermittently.

I pause to suck in a breath, struck by the ironic interlinking of our experiences. As I have rejoiced for the growth in my uterus, this woman has been mutilated because of the growth in hers.

‘Say hello to Granny,’ I instruct my daughter. She refuses, grabbing hold of my legs, burying her face against the curve of my abdomen. I feel something move deep within my body. I wonder if it is the baby responding to its sister’s trepidation, or just my body reacting to the cold dread that invades my heart. I look at my mother on the bed and imagine that her fear must be greatest of all.

The Colour of Fear

Caroline Stills

Joined December 2007

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