Every day, Sharon Parsons looked through her kitchen window and watched as Stephen Williams walked down the garden path, out through the gate and along the road towards school.
He was a bright kid with a pleasant disposition, who’d do anything for anyone. He was small and delicate, but it didn’t stop him from trying to do everything his contemporaries did, so he frequently came home covered in cuts and bruises; his school uniform being the worse for wear.
Stephen was twelve, but looked at least two years younger–a constant source of irritation and embarrassment to him, but he took it with good grace–his mother reassuring him that, ‘one day, he’d be at an advantage of looking younger than his peers’. She didn’t tell him that it might be many years before he could cash in his advantage.
Sharon watched as he strolled off to school, waiting as one of his numerous friends ran to catch him up, dwarfing him and making him look like he was at least two years younger. Sharon smiled then turned away from the window. She glanced at the photo on the kitchen table, it was of her daughter Lucy, whom she would go and visit as soon as she changed out of her ‘working clothes’.
Lucy was in hospital again, her leukaemia, an acute myeloid form, was in crisis once more. Sharon’s husband, Ritchie was in Afghanistan with his regiment, the Royal Fusiliers, with whom he was a bomb disposal expert. If Sharon let her mind wander into the dark side of her imagination, she could quite easily see that both the people she loved most were very vulnerable and could be taken from her at any time. She popped the anxiolytics, the doctor prescribed, without which she’d never make it through the day. She wondered if she was becoming dependent upon them–but that was for another day; today, she’d just try and get through one more and be encouraging and supportive of Lucy, the apple of her eye.
Stephen was one of her classmates, and he frequently asked her mother how she was–Sharon rarely told the young man the truth, she was probably going to die unless they could find a match for her bone marrow. Sharon dressed after showering, it was mid morning and all her chores were done–living in the house by herself, it didn’t take long and having no appetite, meant she had little in the way of washing up to do.
As she dressed, she looked at the photo of Lucy and Stephen playing together in her garden. It was summertime and Lucy had dared Stephen to wear her bikini, as they seemed the same size, it fitted rather well. Most boys would have balked at the idea, but Stephen just laughed and posed in an exaggeratedly girlish manner, giggling, one hand on his hip the other behind his head as he pouted at the camera.
Lucy had looked so well in those days, before the AML had made itself known and Sharon’s world had started to collapse around her. Her own mother had died from alcohol related disease when her dad died of a long and agonising form of cancer of the lung, which had metastasised into his spine. Sharon had struggled with booze, with Ritchie away and Lucy in hospital, she’d only her sister, who lived in Scotland some three hundred and fifty miles away and her bottle of wine for support.
Initially, Ritchie had been given compassionate leave, but then he was recalled when Lucy seemed in remission. Sharon had coped while Lucy was home, but soon the symptoms of tiredness and ‘feeling unwell’ returned to her darling daughter and she was taken back into hospital.
The local hospital wasn’t able to cope, so Lucy was transferred to a specialist children’s hospital thirty miles away–on a good day an hour’s drive, on a bad one two or three. She used to leave home at mid morning to avoid the traffic and come home, often quite late at night. When things with Lucy were bad, she’d stay overnight at the hospital. She kept a bag in the car, just in case.
As Sharon changed her clothes, Stephen was in assembly, the headmaster, Mr Althhorpe, was thanking the children for helping in giving blood samples to see if they could find a tissue type match for Lucy, who was very ill again.
“We hope and pray that we can find a match, so this delightful young lady can return to us, and continue her education. Thank you all who participated in this errand of mercy.”
“Did you give blood?” asked Donny Summers.
“Yeah, course, she’s a friend of mine,” answered Stephen.
“I didn’t–I’ve heard they take bone marrow from your leg with a bloody big drill.”
“So, they knock you out first.”
“Uh-uh,” Donny shook his head, “the NHS is so like cash-strapped, they can’t afford it.”
“Don’t be stupid,” insisted Stephen, “that’d be like, torture.”
“Yeah, like a humungous vampire bat sucking out your marrow.”
“Ugh! Anyway, I don’t care, she’s my friend.”
“Well, your girly bone marrow is much more likely to match her than my testosterone type.” Donny drew himself up to his full height, towering over Stephen.
“Yeah, I’m so girly that I gave blood while you, ya big woofter, couldn’t, ‘cos it would hurt too much’,” said Stephen in a silly childish voice.
“Woss going down?” asked Muppet–his name was actually Roger Morpeth, but in a previous school, that had been transformed via several manifestations, most of which he couldn’t repeat to his mother, settling eventually on Muppet.
“Hi, Kermit,” said Donny, knowing it was a nick-name too far, “Stephanie here is looking forward to having her girly marrow drilled out,” he gave a graphic mime of the process as he saw it, saying ‘BlackandDecker,BlackandDecker’ over and over in a mechanical voice while doing the ‘drilling’.
“They don’t do that, do they, Steph?” Roger asked continuing the ribbing of the smaller boy.
“Didn’t you give blood then, Kermit?” Stephen teased back.
“No way, José,” Roger shook his head.
“I suppose it would be green and slimy, anyway?” suggested Donny.
“But she’s a girl from this school?” protested Stephen.
“Yeah, but we don’t all wanna play Barbies with her, like someone we know.”
“I think both of you have yellow blood, like a jaundiced chicken.” Stephen said in disgust and turned to walk away.”
“Ooh ‘ark at ‘er? Keep yer knickers on, Stephanie,” they called to his back, which caused several other kids to laugh. Stephen ran off to hide the tears he was certain his treacherous eyes would produce.
About eleven o’clock an envelope dropped on the mat in Stephen’s house, from The Anthony Nolan Trust*. His mother picked it up and opened it then gasped.
When he got home that evening, Stephen bore few more bruises, all courtesy of Donny Summers. He in return bore a rather large one on his shin, the only blow Stephen had landed, but it hurt nonetheless, probably more than Stephen’s. Like many bullies, Summers was essentially a coward.
As he came in, his mother waved the envelope in front of him, “I want a word with you, young man.”
“What’s that?” asked the boy.
“It’s a letter asking you to go to the hospital for further blood tests.”
“What for?” he was momentarily confused.
“To see if your marrow matches, Lucy’s.”
“Yeah, okay, when is it?”
“No it isn’t alright, I don’t remember giving my consent for the blood test in the first place.”
“But it could help save Lucy’s life.”
“I’m well aware of what it could do, mister, I just wish you’d brought me the consent form to sign, instead of forging it. I presume you signed it.”
“Um–no, Squiffy did.”
“I’ll have words with him the next time you bring him here.”
“Yes, Mum–it was my fault, I forgot to show you the letter and then it was too late and I wanted to help Lucy.”
“I know, son, and it’s very noble of you, she’s a lovely kid.” Carol Williams looked at the same photo her neighbour had, of the two kids playing in the garden in bikinis. “You look like sisters,” she said, as she did every time she looked at the photo.
“Mu-u-m, pullease? I thought we were going to get rid of that.” Stephen pointed at the picture.
“No, young man, when you get a bit too big for your boots, it’s good to remind you of who you are.”
He blushed rather glad that none of the other incriminating photos survived. In truth, Lucy had got him dressed up loads of times, but usually with few if any witnesses. They stopped it a couple of years ago, as puberty threatened and so did Sharon. It was also coincident with the onset of Lucy’s illness.
Once or twice, Stephen wondered if it was some sort of punishment on her for dressing him up, and his relaxed attitude to pretending to be a girl. Then he’d felt really down and had prayed and prayed for forgiveness for him and Lucy. He’d even offered to share her illness if God spared her.
He went to see the local vicar, not someone he knew terribly well, a Jessica Parker, who looked even nicer than the American actress. She had reassured him that Lucy’s illness was not a punishment and he had squirmed when she probed him for more details of just what they had done wrong.
He was horrified when she asked if they’d been having sex–to him that would have been like shagging Mr Bumble, his large ginger tomcat.
“So what did you do that was so awful, that God would punish you?”
“She used to dress me up in her clothes and we’d play with her dolls and things.”
The lady vicar smiled, “I don’t think that actually constitutes a sin, and I suspect God has slightly more important things to do than worry about a boy in a dress.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” Stephen blushed.
“Besides, it seems the problem started after you ceased the practice. So don’t worry yourself about it.”
“Thank you, I’d just thought I’d check it out.”
“Would you like to say a prayer for your friend?” The kindly woman had sat with him and offered a prayer for Lucy’s deliverance from the crippling illness, and the provision of a suitable donor to help save her young life.”
They went to the hospital and more blood tests followed, they also went to see Lucy, who was very poorly and Stephen came out sobbing in his mother’s arms. He’d never seen anyone so ill before and the idea of death was alien to his young experience, only occurring in hamsters and guinea pigs. When Mr Bumble had bounced off the front wheel of a car and been quite badly injured, Stephen’s sensitive heart was nearly broken. Fortunately, for him and the aptly named myopic cat, the local vet was able to patch him up and he survived. Lucy had been Stephen’s constant supporter while Mr Bumble was poorly, and she’d helped him through his distress–letting him wear one of her dresses when he wanted to cry-->” ‘Cos it’s okay for girls to cry,” so Stephen protected his masculine pride.
The next few days were a blur, as the tests were done and Stephen was asked to become a marrow donor, his was the closest match. He jumped at the chance to save his friend’s life, hoping and praying it would all happen in time. Lucy looked so ill.
His hip was really sore after they took the marrow with a large needle–after sedating him. They gave Lucy chemotherapy to kill all her diseased bone marrow and then, introduced his marrow cells into her sick body. Time would tell if it had worked.
Stephen was allowed time off school to heal, he only needed a few days, but Mr Althorpe had praised him in assembly, saying he was a real hero. The headmaster had called at Stephen’s house and brought him a get well card signed by his whole class and another from all the staff. He’d also brought a pile of homework, which wasn’t quite so welcome.
They waited each day, his mum and he, for the call from the hospital to say Lucy was recovering, that his donation had worked. Sharon was still staying there and Ritchie was being flown back from the battle zone to be with his family. Stephen had something which had seized his mind and would not let go. He had to do it, or God wouldn’t work his magic, he was sure of that. But he needed help. Who could help him?–in the end he could only ask his mother.
When he outlined his plan, she told him he was being silly–the universe didn’t work like that–and besides, they couldn’t go and see Lucy, until Sharon phoned. Despite his mother’s rejection, he kept badgering away at her.
“This has got nothing to do with Lucy, has it? You just want to do it, don’t you?”
“If I say yes, will you let me?”
“If you spend your own money, okay.” Carol Wlliams shook her head, once this crisis was over, she’d take Stephen to see their doctor, he obviously had an issue that needed sorting. What Sam, her husband and Stephen’s dad would say, was another matter. He was over in the States for a month, at a university in Florida.
So it was that Saturday, Carol reluctantly went shopping with Stephen and helped him buy the things he wanted. The silly boy used up most of his savings, but it seemed he eventually had all he wanted.
The next day, by pure coincidence, Sharon called to say Lucy was improving enough to see Stephen, after whom she was asking. “Um–okay, I’ll bring him this afternoon, sort of–um,” said Carol.
“Is there a problem, Carol? He hasn’t got a cold or anything? You know she can’t see anyone with any sort of bug, don’t you?”
“Yeah, Shar, no he’s fine, just a bit crazy–you’ll see what I mean, and he’d love to see her.”
So it was, that at three o’clock that Sunday afternoon, Carol led her son into the hospital and up to the haematology ward. Sharon gave her neighbour a hug and smiled curiously at her son. “You’ve got some visitors Luce,” she said gently rousing the sleepy girl.
“Hi, Auntie Carol, where’s Ste...St-eph-an-ie,” she shrieked and the two children hugged each other.
“It’s okay, you’re going to get better now,” said Stephanie.
Sharon looked bemused at the embracing ‘girls’ and Carol said, “I know, it’s crazy, but he...I mean...she, will only wear girl’s clothes until Lucy comes home. If she doesn’t, she thinks Lucy will relapse.”
“Eh?” She smiled and said, “But it’s hi...um...her bone marrow that’s doing the trick, so far at any rate.”
“I know, but she insists, it’s Stephanie until Lucy comes home.”
“Has she got enough clothes?”
“Well, I’m hoping it isn’t going to take much longer, is it?”
“I don’t know, Carol, but I’m home tonight, I’ll sort out a few things of Lucy’s and drop them over. What does Sam say?”
“He doesn’t know, but you know what he’s like, more interested in atoms than children, he might not even notice.”
“I don’t know, Stephanie is quite a pretty girl,” said Sharon and both mums chuckled, “But I tell you what, the way they’re getting on, I think her reappearance has cheered up my Lucy.”
“She’s got a prezzie for her somewhere, Steph have you given Lucy her gift?” Carol called to her daughter.
“I think that syringe full of marrow cells was the best gift anyone could have given her, the gift of life,” said Sharon. With that, the two mums embraced and both had tears in their eyes.
*The Anthony Nolan Trust —helps find bone marrow donors, named after a boy who died from Leukaemia.
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.