This story is by Ann Rapp and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The bright red London bus looked cheerful against the grey sky as it came round the bend and pulled up at the bus stop. Marjorie Boniface started panting as she ran the last few yards to join the queue and board the bus which took her up High Street to the Doctors’ house where she was due to work that day. Catching her breath, Marjorie took a seat and thought “I must be getting old, I can’t run a few steps without getting winded!”
She was glad it was Tuesday, her day to clean for the Doctors because it was one of her easier jobs, especially now there was just one Doctor, Dr. Beatrix Hammond, a gynecologist at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Stratford. Marjorie liked Dr. Hammond, she was elderly now, but a kind, gentle woman, who treated her as an equal and not just as the help. She had worked for her for twenty years and they had become more like friends than employer and employee. They rarely saw each other, but when they did, they would sit and talk over cups of tea. That wouldn’t happen today, Marjorie thought, the Doctor would be at work. So she could take her time and enjoy cleaning the Hammond’s beautiful home before walking to her next job, round the corner at a lawyer’s house.
Marjorie let herself in with her key, hung up her coat and put her bag in the kitchen. She started her work there, but found just one small plate and a mug in the sink. Everything else looked untouched. Next, she collected the vacuum cleaner and headed upstairs to “do” the bedroom. After her husband’s untimely death in a car accident, Dr. Beatrix, or Trixie as she liked to be called, had moved into the small bedroom at the top of the stairs, with just a single bed. Marjorie, herself a widow, had spent most of her work hours, and much of her own time, sitting with Trixie and listening if she wanted to talk, trying to help her through her grief. It had taken a long time, and two years after the tragedy, Marjorie didn’t think Trixie was anywhere near being over losing her husband.
She opened the bedroom door and bustled over to the wall to plug in the vacuum cleaner, but froze in her tracks, and gave a little scream when she saw Trixie in her bed.
“Trixie, Dr. Hammond, are you alright?” she asked, then dropped her tools and ran to the bedside. “You gave me quite a fright.”
Beatrix Hammond looked up at Marjorie with a blank stare. She appeared dazed and confused.
“Shall I call an ambulance? You look like you’ve had a shock.”
Trixie, looked beseechingly at Marjorie and shook her head.
“I’m going to make you a strong cup of sweet tea, stay there, I’ll be right back.”
Marjorie made tea, worried about Trixie and wondered what she should do to help. She caught herself thinking that it had been a hectic, stressful day already and it wasn’t even lunch time, but felt guilty for her selfish thoughts when her friend and employer was upstairs suffering. She took the tea up to Trixie, helped her sit up and encouraged her to sip the hot drink.
Gradually, Trixie’s eyes began to focus, and she put the tea down, turned and said “thank you” to Marjorie. She still looked quite distressed, and Marjorie asked again, “what has happened to you Trixie? What can I do to help?”
Trixie’s eyes filled with tears, which slid down her cheeks, then she gasped and began to sob, deep, wracking sobs that shook her whole body, and frightened Marjorie.
“Oh, Marjie, they told me I have Alzheimer’s,” she said, now clinging to Marjorie. “I have to give up my work. It’s the end for me. My mother had it. You’ll remember when we looked after her here until the end. Her sister, my auntie Edith, had it, and spent ten years locked down in hospital because she would wander off. My mother always said it was ‘a fate worse than death,’ and before she got bad with it, she would constantly ask me if I could give her something to end it all. It was a nightmare, but she begged me and she was suffering, so I helped her in the end. And now I have it. And I have to deal with it on my own.” Another batch of deep, heart-rending sobs followed.
“You are not on your own Trixie, you have some family, you have a lot of doctor friends, and you have me, we will help and take care of you.”
“I’m not going to do it, Marjie, I’m a doctor, I can help myself. I will not ‘go gentle into that good night’ or whatever the quotation is, I just won’t!” and she thumped her arm on the bed.
Marjorie held her friend and hushed her. She planned to get Trixie settled, then would call the hospital and talk to Trixie’s doctor. She had no idea what to do, but was worried about Trixie talking about helping her mother to end it all: she could get into serious trouble if the wrong people heard her. Marjie vowed she would never repeat what Trixie had told her, although she was quite shocked to hear such a confession.
Trixie’s own doctor and close friend, Jim Brady, came to the house as soon as he could. Trixie lost no time in asking him if he’d be willing to help her with her plan to end her suffering. Marjie heard Dr. Brady offer sincere sympathy to Trixie, but he answered with a resounding “no,” warning her to not bother asking him again, as he would not change his mind. He gave her a sedative and called her friend Liz Gilbert, who was also a nurse, to come and stay with her. Marjorie left to go to her other job for the day, but called to see Trixie again on her way home. She offered help, but nurse Liz, whose air of authority and super-efficiency scared Marjie a little, had everything under control: Trixie was resting in bed and looked much better.
Nurse Liz was shaken by Trixie’s diagnosis, but pledged her loyal support. When Trixie asked her if she’d help her end her suffering, Liz said she would consider it if Trixie would consider taking part in one or more of the current tests and trials of treatments for Alzheimer’s. Liz worked with the patients in some of these trials and knew her friend would be an excellent subject, in part because of her medical knowledge.
Trixie asked Marjie to sit with her and share a cup of tea. Nurse Liz objected, ordering her to rest, but she insisted and all but ordered Liz to leave her and Marjie alone to talk. Liz didn’t like it, but she did what her friend asked.
Trixie told Marjie she hated the idea of acting as a guinea pig for any medical tests or trials. She said she would rather be dead than add to her suffering in this way. She asked Marjie to stay in the room with her for moral support while she told Liz her decision. Marjie agreed, but told Trixie she was afraid her refusal to take part in the tests would get an outright “no” from Liz about helping her with her plan. But Trixie clung to Liz’s promise to consider it.
“Why not read all these books and papers Liz brought you about the tests, then decide in a few days,” Marjie said, “they seem tailor-made for you.”
“What do you mean?” Trixie said.
“Trixie, you have the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met and what makes you happy and thriving is when you’re helping people, especially people who are ill. By testing new medicines on your own illness, you are helping thousands of people in the future who may be healed or helped.”
“You are much too kind to me, Marjie, but thank you. I will read through all this material, then when you come back on Thursday, I’ll have made a decision.”
Trixie was true to her word and read about the tests and trials being run on medicines that had the potential to help with Alzheimer’s, and on those done in the past which had resulted in the current treatments, some of which were proving helpful for many sufferers. After a while, she became interested in the work being done, then something sparked within her and her interest blossomed into enthusiasm. Finally she remembered Marjie’s kind words and realized that she didn’t want to die, she wanted to help, to be a part of these Alzheimer’s trials. She would use this illness she had been given to help towards finding new treatments and a cure for Alzheimer’s. She would choose life over a “fate worse than death.”