‘Do you miss it?’ the book says.
‘Miss what?’ I say.
‘Having cancer,’ the book says.
‘Is this a joke?’
‘Not at all,’ the book says. ‘Far from it.’
‘A pretty poor joke at that,’ I say.
The book looks at me for a second. ‘I’m quite serious. I’ve been meaning to ask you for ages. You see, my theory is you miss being ill.’
‘Go on admit it,’ the book says.
‘Sometimes you are a real disappointment,’ I say.
‘And that there is a part of you that quietly hankers after being ill again.’
‘You’ve really lost me this time.’
‘The certainty of it, and the drama. The being centre of attention. Go on, admit it.’
There is a long silence.
‘There is something in what you say,’ I say. ‘But you’re not completely there. Let’s be clear, cancer and treatment for it I do not miss. For one second. You remember when I thought I was relapsing a couple of years ago? It floored me. Utterly. Took me ages to get over it. So you can’t go round saying I miss it like that because, even though it’s ten years ago, the memory of it’s still too close. It’s like yesterday. Where you’re closer to the truth is what you’ve touched on about the other side of illness, that hyper-awareness of the preciousness of things. It wasn’t so much being the centre of attention as having the opportunity to pay attention in what felt like the first time in years. To everything. The light leaving the room, apple blossom, hearing ‘A Case of You’ on the car radio… It was brilliant, and all too much at the same time. Since then I’ve become aware that you can’t live on that level of deep appreciation forever. You just end up crying at the tiniest thing. All of the time. But if I’m honest that is the thing I miss, the reminder to live with appreciation for every second, even though it came at such a great cost. The advantage of ‘normal life’ is that one’s intensity level is much lower. The disadvantage is that it allows you to forget.’
As I finish I notice the book has its head in its hands. ‘I had no idea,’ it says, without looking up. ‘I was only joking,’ it says.
‘You should take care of me,’ I say. ‘While there is still time.’