By Ron Waywell

Anne Temple got to the station too early—and the long wait gave her time to think.

Her rushing days were over, for the time being at least. She must conserve her energies and, above all, think positively. After all, she was only fifty. Lots of women had gone through the same thing. And her hair would grow back. That was the thing—her hair. She had always been so proud of it—black, luxurious, and manageable. Oh, she could put up with sickness and headaches—there'd be drugs to help. And they made such marvelous wigs nowadays.

The train drew in, and she sank down into her seat with a grateful sigh. Her legs were aching badly, and the crotch of her tights caused her discomfort. Perhaps stockings would be better, but she hated suspender belts.

Her thoughts flashed back to that first morning when she had stood naked in front of the mirror examining her body. She had pressed carefully into her groin, holding her breath as she explored. She was right. There was a lump. Perhaps this explained the tiredness she'd been feeling nowadays. Normally she loved her job as manager of the bookshop where she could talk to people, but of late….

Then more lumps that sent her to the specialist. And his diagnosis. It didn't seem possible. She'd always been so well. Mr. Whitaker had been encouraging, of course. "Now don't worry, Mrs. Temple," he'd said. "The incidence of cures for lymphoma is pretty high, and it's amazing what chemo and radiotherapy can do nowadays. I'll fix you up with an appointment within the next few days, and we can start treatment. It’ll be the Christie Hospital, and as you know, it’s renowned . Do you or your husband drive?"

Anne was too shocked to tell him that she was now on her own, and simply shook her head. But the question brought back all the heartache of the past few months. She still couldn't understand why Bill had walked out. Oh, things hadn't been the same since he retired from the police. And his job with the supermarket chain hadn't helped. He was away so much. That was when the silences had started. And the moodiness. And that stupid Perry Como record that he played so much. "And I Love You So." The song still ran through her head. And yet he hardly touched her nowadays. But to leave like that….

She’d come from work with a nice piece of steak and a good bottle of wine, looking forward to his return from Carlisle after three days away. He would be home by now.

But the house was empty. And things were missing. The hi-fi in the corner; books missing from the bookshelf. Burglars. She ran upstairs and found the front bedroom in a mess; drawers only partly closed; the wardrobe doors swinging open. Then she noticed that only his clothes were missing. Nothing of hers had been touched.

She ran downstairs and the note stared at her from the mantelpiece.

He was sorry. He knew it must be a shock, but he couldn't face her. Some woman in a Warrington supermarket. He'd taken all he needed. She could have the rest.

Anne began to hate him then, and it took months to get over the shock. Then she started feeling ill.

Anne shook the thoughts from her head and looked up as the train drew into Preston station. The seats by her side and opposite were empty, and she prayed that no one would come. She picked up her magazine. She didn't want to talk.

A number of passengers hesitated as they saw the empty seats, but she kept her head down and thought them away. And then she felt impelled to look up.

He was smiling at her with a look of recognition in his eyes, and yet she'd never seen him before. He was a man of about sixty with grey hair and kindly blue eyes. He carried a stick and seemed rather lame. "I’m sorry," he said, "but for a moment I thought…" He made to pass on, hesitated and then turned. He nodded to the seat opposite. "Do you mind?"

She could hardly refuse, and he worked himself into the seat with another smile and a murmured, "Thank you."

There was something about the man that caused Anne to take an interest. He was looking out of the window, and she studied him behind her magazine. He wore the well-cut suit of a successful businessman and had a quiet, confident calmness. For some reason Anne was glad of his presence.

The man sensed her looking at him and turned his head. "Hello," he said, as if she'd come back from somewhere remote. Almost as if to say, "Welcome back."

Anne found herself smiling back. "Hello", she replied and laughed a little self-consciously.

"What do they say?" he teased gently, "Penny for them…?"

"No, I… " she said. And after that it was plain sailing.

Anne learned that the man lived in Manchester and had been visiting his son in Preston. "They've just had a little girl," he said, "I’m a grandad now." And then…. "Are you…?"

"Married? No, I’m…" Anne's eyes filled up in spite of herself and she bit her lip. "I’m sorry."

The man was concerned. "Are you all right, lass?" and reached out his hand.

Anne pulled back instinctively. "No, I'm fine. Silly of me." And then, as if it were some kind of joke, " No, he walked out on me." She smiled rather bitterly. "How does it go in the films? Just when I needed him?"

"I'm sorry. If you’d rather…" The man withdrew his hand.

"No, I’m just feeling a bit sorry for myself. You see…" And Anne found herself telling him about the break-up.

The man's evident concern led her on, and he soon knew about the cancer and the reason for her journey.

He listened quietly with a sadness in his eyes. And then he smiled. "The Christie, eh? I know it well, I should do. Spent enough time there visiting."

He suddenly seemed more cheerful. "You may not believe me, but my wife had the self-same thing. Lymphoma. Look. What do I call you? I can’t keep… Anne? Right. Now listen, Anne. You must stop worrying. It's nowhere near as bad as you think."

He then went on to discuss her illness with an understanding that amazed her. "That's right," she said. "The same with me." And then they were discussing the whole business of how to cope with the situation.

By the time the train approached Piccadilly they were on easy terms. "Nearly there," said her new friend. He was silent for a time, and then, "Look, he finally said. "I'll let you into a secret. It's nearly five years since our trouble. Next week the boy's coming over with the new family, and we're all going to celebrate."

"Your wife's cured then?"

"What? Oh, she's grand. Better than ever."


Anne felt a great relief, but she still had a niggling worry. "It's just this hair business," she confessed "I don't like…."

The man put his finger to his lips and leaned closer. "Listen, lass," he said with a smile. "I'll tell you something, but not a word. Between you and me, I liked the wife better with her wig. Now off you go. Don't wait for me. I've got this gammy leg." And he patted her shoulder. "Now don't you worry. You'll be fine."


John Murray reached the platform and looked at Anne's retreating figure. She walked confidently with straight back and an almost jaunty air.

God, he thought. It's not only her hair. She even walks like the wife. But she'll be all right. She’ll get through. She must.

He walked slowly towards the barrier. "Five years, he whispered to himself. "Five years. And it still seems like yesterday."

Then he paused a long moment before setting out for his lonely flat.

Copyright 2002, Ron Waywell

About the Author

Ron is 80 years old and served with the British Army in India (and Ceylon) during World War II. He retired from the teaching profession in 1985 and, following his wife's death shortly afterwards, took up creative writing as a hobby. Since then he has had short stories and poetry published and broadcast. The North West Network of the B.B.C has broadcast seventeen of his stories.

Ron Waywell passed away at the age of 86 in 2008.

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