The cancer World Cup


The ward is a void without him.

Football blares in the corner, the monotonous roar of the crowd unleavened by his profanities. Yesterday I saw him shunt a sleeping patient two yards to the left so he could watch the game from behind his desk. Like a goalkeeper moving a wall, I thought.

I have made friends with the New Doctor. He is young, charming, and has ambitions. He should not tell me this, he says, but a post has come up in Dublin. Go for it, I say. Life is too short. We catch each other thinking the same thing, but laugh it off with a joke about England’s defending.

It is turning out to be a good summer. Barbecue sales are up, the radio says. (England crawl their way back in the Test.)

But the sun is evil. Suddenly constant, I am not allowed to visit it. I stand at the sink drinking my litres of water, gazing at blackbirds fanning their tails in the heat. I slink out for milk, clinging to shadows. I come back with sunburn.

I have become expert at playlists. Stevie Wonder while they inject me, Nick Drake as I come to.

I am not angry, I am too tired. The sun finds this amusing.

All the while he is not here. Dying patients die without him. The persistence of one bluebottle fills the room. Bing. Bing Bong.

I make friends with another patient. Our whole lives in five minutes. My grandfather, his, his father. Even his mother had it. Now it is his turn. His second, he tells me. Nothing I can do. Not with my genes.

I think of my grandfather, peering at the cricket on his giant wooden telly. His member’s tie. Clapping from miles away as though they might hear it. His googlies in the garden afterwards. His grin.

A tea trolley, with sandwiches, deafening. Wobbling arms pouring tea, laughter like a slap awake. Has he come back? He is not here. He did not say goodbye.

The nurses do not flit, they walk with purpose, their eyes lit up by duty. The binging of the drips. There has been a penalty. No one speaks.


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