It Wasn't Stockhausen's
The ward is lit like the sky before a thunderstorm and from his bay Bill Hare can see right to the end, but only in the one direction, towards the nurses’ station. The other side is as unknown to him as the dark side of the moon. He tells his consultant oncologist this as a joke, and two days later she puts a book on his bedside locker: A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin. Her hands make brief, doubtful movements while she tells him how her job takes her to conferences all over the country, the whole world, in fact, because even in the rainforest they still get cancer. She says that it’s hard to be apart from her family and Bill knows she is only pretending to read the charts that confirm his urine output is low today.
My husband is funny, she says. He calls me up at whatever hotel I’m in and tells me to open the window and look at the moon.
He looks too, from the window at home. Doesn’t matter where in the world you are, it’s still the same moon.
Yes it is.
It connects us, see?
What? You both -? Oh. Okay, you look at the moon.
The consultant oncologist blinks fast. She is offering him the moon as palliative care where chemo and radiotherapy have failed, but this is something a woman of medicine cannot say aloud; this is something Bill must come to understand for himself. Bill thinks what the hell? but the gesture is nice. Still, it is not reassuring to know that away from his hospital bed she is a person who misses her family and cries because some of her patients will die and her medical training cannot help them, although books might. A man, he thinks, would have kept this hidden. It is because of this that Bill feels compelled to pat the consultant oncologist’s hand when she sets the book on his locker, but in doing so he makes things impossible. When it comes to the miracle of denial, whatever happens from this point on, he has overtaken her.