“Are you sure you’ve got it the right way up?”
Thank you George, I’m not stupid.” She held the unwieldy map closer to her face and squinted.
“By the time you’ve found something either we’ll have arrived in Bath, or I’ll have passed out with hunger.”
“The printing’s so small on these things.” She turned the map, pretending to try to read the names, but in fact turning it the right way round.
“You don’t need to read the text, just look for a service station sign.”
“I don’t see anything that says ‘service station’.”
“It doesn’t say ‘service station’, it’s a letter ‘S’.” He indicated left, eased into the inside lane, slowed down and glanced over at the wafting map. “They’re marked along the motorway.”
“The one we’re on; it’s coloured blue on the map and I’ve put an orange marker pen line beside it.”
“Ah, that motorway.” She ran her finger along the blue line. “I can’t see … ah yes, just after number 14.”
“Yes there’s a number 14 and then an ‘S’.”
“You mean ‘Junction 14’ and if the ‘S’ is after the 14 that’s in the wrong direction; we’re going south.”
“Find it yourself if you’re so clever.” She flung the map towards him.
He managed to raise his hand to deflect it before it blocked his view.
‘Here we go again’, he thought. How many times had this happened? According to him, every time they went on a journey, especially in recent years. Or was that his ‘usual exaggeration’ as she called it?
It had been different, of course, when the kids were around. When they were small there’d been no choice: he’d had to read the map and drive because Deborah was in the back doting on the twins. Not that they’d made many long journeys in those days, there were too many things to load and unload, and they invariably forgot something.
As Simon and Annabel became older Deborah was ‘banished’ to the front seat so they could read their books, and not be subjected to her continuous commentary on everything they were passing. At the age of eleven Annabel showed an interest in following their route on the map, which gave Deborah the excuse to move her to the front seat so she could at least spend the journey time with one of her darlings. George had been disappointed that it had not been Simon who was interested. Deborah jokingly said this was his chauvinistic side coming out.
On the few family outings they’d made when Annabel and Simon were home during the university holidays, Simon had insisted on doing much of the driving, “Give yourself a rest Dad.” However, George was never comfortable with Simon at the wheel, and buried his head in the AA Book of the Road. It was not that he thought he drove fast, more a difference in reaction and braking time.
When Simon was killed driving back to Cambridge in the car George had resisted buying him for so long, he thought ‘I’m not surprised’, but he kept this to himself. Deborah blamed him for buying the car and not teaching Simon to drive properly in the first place. “You should have sent him to a proper driving school and not taught him yourself.”
Even after the initial shock of Simon’s death had subsided, his loss changed the relationship between Deborah and George. They’d never been ones for public displays of affection, except during their late teens. The swinging sixties was the time of Beatlemania and free love, and they enjoyed both to the full. Nothing’s really free of course, and Deborah becoming pregnant catapulted them out of adolescence. Abortion was discussed, but both George and Deborah said No. They’d known it would be difficult enough to support themselves and one baby, but had not anticipated that the surprise arrival of twins multiplied the problem by more than two.
From the outside it might have looked as though there was little romance or passion in their relationship, but that would be a wrong assumption. Coming through the struggles of those early years had bonded them together. The bond didn’t need many words or gestures to maintain it. They hardly ever argued, disagreed yes, but not really argued. And when they did the reasons were quickly forgotten and no grudges held. People who spent any time with Deborah and George always remarked how comfortable they felt in their company: a feeling that originated in how comfortable they felt with each other.
But with Simon gone, things that would have been minor in the past now took on a larger dimension. Tension was always in the air, which they were aware of even if they managed to hide it most of the time from others.
Annabel had married a few years ago and soon presented them with their first grandchild. Deborah saw the baby almost as a replacement for Simon, and doted on him, sometimes to the annoyance of his parents. When the little boy was four Annabel’s husband was offered a job in Edinburgh. Deborah tried to get George to persuade him not to take it. George thought it was too good an opportunity for Annabel and Peter to miss, and so said nothing. The relationship between George and Deborah took a few steps down the ladder leading to resigned tolerance of each other.
After giving Annabel and Peter a few weeks to settle in Deborah decided she must see her grandson again, before he forgot her. George was determined not to have the usual map problem, especially on such a long journey.
Deborah was so anxious to get to Scotland that they had everything in the car ten minutes before George’s suggested time of leaving: something he could never remember happening before.
‘Not ‘what’, who?”
“It’s not a ‘what’; it’s a ‘who’.”
“You’ve lost me.”
“This is Emily, she’s going to guide us to Scotland. So you won’t have to read the map, you can just enjoy the journey.”
“This is what they call satellite navigation is it?”
“Yes, we’ve moved into the modern age.”
“And how much did this cost?”
“A hundred pounds or so, not much more than a few decent maps.”
“Another expensive toy to play with; you’d think we were made of money. And why ‘Emily’?”
“That’s just the name of the English, female voice. And she can do lots of useful things in addition to showing the way to go.”
“And she won’t answer back when you get angry; you’ll like that.”
George pressed ‘Go’.
Turn right onto Ellington Avenue and then left onto Pembroke Street.
When they stopped for lunch George showed Deborah how Emily could be useful in finding nearby petrol stations, breakdown services, and even motorway service stations. But she was in too much of a hurry to get on the road again to take any real notice.
Deborah didn’t say anything for some time and George assumed she’d fallen asleep, which she often did during long stretches on the motorway. When he pulled out to pass a slow moving truck he caught her reflection in the wing mirror. Her head was pressed up hard against the side window; her mouth was open and her tongue hanging out.
“Deborah, Deborah move your head love, you’ll have a headache in that position. Lay back against the seat.”
She didn’t move.
He slowed down and moved as quickly as the traffic would allow into the inside lane. He shook her leg. No reaction, except for her head lolling more to one side. He pulled onto the hard shoulder. Deborah was breathing, but in a very shallow way. Nothing he did made her stir.
“Now I’m really going to need your help Emily.”
“Can she hear me nurse?”
“We’re not sure at the moment Mr Kemp. The doctor’s waiting for the results. As there are no visible signs of injury, it’s standard procedure here to carry out a brain scan. In the meantime we have sedated her in case there is any pain.”
“How long do we have to wait?”
“Doctor Summers will be here in a moment, he will explain.”
George looked down at the motionless figure on the bed. He sat down and took her hand. “Don’t leave me Deborah, please don’t leave me.”
“Mr Kemp, sorry to keep you waiting.”
“Yes. The preliminary results of the scan show nothing abnormal, nothing to explain your wife’s condition, especially the sudden appearance of it.”
“We’re making a more detailed examination of the scans. I’ve asked the head of neurology to take a look.”
“And then what?”
“We’ll decide that when we’ve completed the detailed examination. In the meantime we’re monitoring all your wife’s vital signs and are happy that she’s in no immediate danger.
“Do you think she can hear me?”
‘The tests I have made suggest not at the moment. The neurologist may want to take a look at your wife, so why don’t you wait in the little room across the corridor. I’ll get the nurse to organise some tea. As soon as I have more information I’ll come to see you; it shouldn’t take more than thirty minutes.”
Several times he asked the nurses, who supplied a constant stream of tea, the British answer to any crisis, what was happening. The reply was always the same; ‘Dr Summers will be with you soon’.
Eighty-two minutes later, he counted every one of them, Dr Summers returned. “Sorry it took so long, but we wanted to complete all the tests.”
George couldn’t tell from Summers’ expression if it was good or bad news.
“Your wife has had an unusual type of stroke.”
“A stroke? But she was fine.”
“These things can and do happen at any time and to anybody, usually without warning. But as far as we can tell from our assessment, it was something between what we call a TIA, a transient ischemic attack, a mini-stroke and a stroke.”
“What’s the difference between a stroke and a mini-stroke?
“In a TIA the blood supply to the brain is interrupted only for a short while: a few minutes normally.”
“But she’s still unconscious.”
“Loss of consciousness is uncommon for a TIA. That’s why we think this was more than a TIA but not as much as a full stroke. The scan does not show any of the damage that we would expect to see as the result of a stroke.”
“So what now?”
“We closely monitor her until she comes round and then we carry out more tests when she can tell us how she feels.”
“Can I see her?”
She was still lying in exactly the same position as when George had left her: on her back with both arms by her sides, outside the bedclothes. He lowered himself onto the chair by the bed and lifted her hand.
“I love you. I know I’ve not said it often. There didn’t seem any need somehow. I think we both felt like that. After all we’ve been through we had a sort of mutual understanding that we were, are, in love. But I want to say it now. I love you; with all my heart I love you. Please don’t leave me alone.”
He searched for some sign of awareness in her, but saw nothing. Tears formed in his eyes and he rested his head on the bed, close enough to be able to kiss her upper arm. He must have stayed in this position for some time because when he felt a hand on his shoulder and lifted his head his neck ached. The hand was Deborah’s.
“I won’t leave you.”
“You heard me?”
“No, but when I opened my eyes your voice saying ‘please don’t leave me’ was the first thing that came into my mind.”
“How do you feel? Shall I get the doctor?” He started to rise.
“Just a minute. I love you. I know I’ve not said it often. There didn’t seem any need somehow. I think we both felt like that. After all we’ve been through we had a sort of mutual understanding that we were, are, in love. But I want to say it now. I love you; with all my heart I love you.”
The exact duplication of his words shocked George, but he was glad they had penetrated her unconsciousness. “I love you too.”
There was a gentle tap on the door and Dr Summers entered. “Ah, Mrs Kemp, how are you feeling?”
“A bit light-headed.”
“That’s not surprising. Do you have any numbness in your arms or legs?”
Deborah lifted her arms and moved her legs. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Good. Very good. We’ll do some tests later.”
“What happened to me Doctor?”
“As I was telling your husband, you’ve had what we call a mini-stroke.”
“A stroke? Will I have permanent damage?”
“It’s too early to say, that’s why I want to do some tests. A TIA or mini-stroke is a sign that part of the brain is not getting enough blood and there is a risk of a more serious stroke in the future. A stroke is a serious illness, but of all people who have a stroke, about a third are likely to make a significant recovery within a month. I’m pretty confident in your case that there’ll be little or no serious consequences. Speed is vital in these cases. The quicker someone who has had a stroke is diagnosed and treated, the better chance they have of recovering. Your husband’s fast response in getting you here was an important factor. I’ll come back and see you later.”
“The last thing I remember we were in the middle of nowhere. How did you manage to find the hospital so quickly?”
“That ‘expensive toy’ you said I’d bought. Emily told me where the nearest hospital was and how to get there.”
“Thank you. You saved my life. I love you.”
“And I love you. Anyhow you should thank Emily.”
“Thank you Emily.”