By: Sarah Gabriel
On the Eve
It’s 13 March 2006. I am propped up on the sofa with a pink
leaflet about how to perform breast self-examination open on my chest
and a glass of Chardonnay by my side. R (husband) is at the other end
of the sofa, watching Manchester City play Tottenham Hotspur on the TV.
Strictly speaking, R does not like Chardonnay. He says it is a
‘nasty’ drink, laden with chemicals that thicken his head in the
morning. But he keeps me company loyally. Has done for many years.
His mother’s drinking has always been a problem for R. So he
drinks to limit me to my half of the bottle, in case I go the same way.
As a result, at times he has had a half-a-bottle-of-Chardonnay-a-day
habit. When he goes to visit his mother, it’s worse. Whisky. Maybe if
he keeps pace with her, is true to her in the place she has to go to,
she won’t have to go there. Maybe she will turn about and focus the
mother’s mirroring gaze on him. My darling child, how could I desert
you? And for what, after all? A mess of toxins at the bottom of a
It never works. He never stops. He is the wandering knight to her Belle Dame Sans Merci. So a psyche is born.
‘It says here you draw the hand in concentric circles outward
to the perimeter of the breast and then bring it back again in radial
I am reading aloud to distract myself. Everything from the
nasty salmon-pink colour of the leaflet, a standard-issue Pantone
number favoured by government departments and the NHS, to the brutal
anatomical diagrams, and the remote possibility of finding something,
combines to make this task distasteful.
‘What do you think it means by . . . ?’ I am confused by a
description of a dimpling of the skin that can occur when a lump is
pulling at it from within. Examining the smooth, clean skin of my
breasts, I see nothing. But maybe I just don’t know how to look?
‘Mmmn?’ says R, without focusing. He is concentrating hard to
follow the commentary on the game, which is turned to low volume. This
is our compromise. Chardonnay for football. Low volume for public
breast examination. The continual trade of marital relations.
‘What do you think it means . . . ?’ If he had a page in front
of him, with a patch of sunlight on it, and I were a cat, I would leap
lightly across and curl myself up to get his attention.
But the Spurs striker has just done a header that clipped the
goalpost. There is the collective gasp, a sotto voce roar, of male
disappointment. A crash of testosterone up and down the country, which
R, throwing himself back on the sofa in our narrow living room, echoes
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