UKArchive ID: 26046chrissytotoro
Originally published on February 21, 2011 in Fiction
"I'm fallin' down," I say. I want to tell her I got the 'flu or somethin' somethin' she can give me some pills for but the truth just comes out of my mouth.
I hate the way they do that. Like when they ask you, 'What can we do for you today?' Like you was in there yesterday? And the way they don't look up. Like, 'I'm doin' somethin' very important here an' you are interruptin me.' I hate that. Like I would choose to spend a Tuesday mornin' sittin' wif my mum in a shitty waitin' room for twenty minutes longer than I should have 'cause this woman couldn't drag her sorry arse outa the bed or 'cause some stupid old woman has taken too long complainin' about her hot flushes. Tah!
But really, I don't know what to say. I don't want to tell her why I'm there. I'm scared that if I tell her that will make it real.
She looks up at me an' I fink she looks like that mad doctor in East Enders, with the neat hair and the makeup and the big eyes. Those eyes look right into you. Like she had this X-Ray vision? And she is X-raying into your mind?
"I'm fallin' down," I say. I want to tell her I got the 'flu or somethin', somethin' she can give me some pills for but the truth just comes out of my mouth. Like when I locked the puppy in the shed all day and as soon as I opened the door to feed him he came straight out an' ran into the road an' the consequences of my sayin' 'I'm fallin' down' are just as 'orrible.
She's all interest, the X-ray eyes workin' overtime, readin' my 'body language' like she really doesn't understand or maybe doesn't believe my words.
"Do you mean you're fainting?" she asks, "passing out?"
I say; "If I had meant faintin' or passin' out, that is what I'd have said. I mean fallin' down. On my feet one minute, on my arse the next."
"How often has it happened?"
"Free times. First time was ten twelve weeks back. I was in my bedroom, playin' a game? I stood up and the next thing I'm sittin' on the floor."
She asks me if I felt dizzy, if I stood up too quickly. I tell her, no.
"The second time I was at a mate's house. We'd just got in an' we went up to his room. Like he went in first an' I was just steppin' froo the door and bosh. I'm on my backside again. An' he turns to me an' says 'Pick your fu ... feet up, bro.',' an' we laughed."
She asks, "Did he have to help you up?"
"No. I just got up."
"And the third time?"
"The fird time I was in town wif my mum an' we'd just come out of Tescos. I was pushin' the trolley. Not stupid, not pissin' about. Suddenly I'm sittin' on the floor. My mum fought I was foolin'? She shouted at me an' then I told her about the other times. That's when she rang 'ere."
"She's here with you now?"
"Yeah. I'm like sixteen but to her I'm still seven."
She smiles this doctor but there's a look in those X-ray eyes that disturbs me. She presses her hands togever and says; "I'm going to have to ask you some personal questions, Quinn, do you want your mam here?"
"Like, if they're personal, no."
"OK. Do you smoke?"
I look at her. "Does it not say on my notes that my dad died of lung cancer free years ago?"
"No, it doesn't. I'm sorry."
"Believe me, you watch somebody die like that an' you ain't quin' up to top yourself in the same way."
"How about alcohol?", she says and I think 'Do I tell her the truth or...?' I decide that the truth is best.
"On the week ends. Sometimes we get some cider? Depends on if we got the money."
"And this is only on the weekends?"
"I'm at school. My mum wants me to do good. She finks that's important."
She folds her hands. "How about other drugs?"
"Like street stuff an' that? No way! I'm not that stupid."
"I didn't say you were but I do have to ask. And I have to ask you, are you sexually active?"
This is the question that I hoped she wouldn't ask, 'cause I'm sixteen and I've never done it. I look down at my hands and I mumble that I'm not. She looks surprised. "My mum's always told me that you have to respect people, women."
"Well that's an excellent attitude."
"Hardly goes to make me the coolest bloke on the globe though does it."
She has that indulgent smile on her face.
"Have you had any illness recently? Cold, 'flu, anything like that?"
"Do you take regular exercise?"
"I play football."
"You any good?"
"I got a trial for Chelsea, next month."
"My mum finks it's like not a good career choice."
"Well, that's mums for you. Have you had any injuries at all, in training or playing."
She looks down at her hands and then smiles at me. "I'm going to have to give you a physical examination now, Quinn, so is it OK if your mammy comes in now?"
"Yeah, that's cool."
I watch her as she leans forward to buzz the receptionist girl to bring my mum in and I think this is a cool lookin' woman. She smells clean and her hair has that looked after look.
There's a knock on the door an' my mum comes in. She's tryin' not to look worried but there's a look in her eyes that's been there since the fallin' down. My mum is scared, like when my dad was first diagnosed wif cancer an' that scares me.
The doctor goes about her business, gets me to take off my shirt, sounds my heart, does my blood pressure. Then she looks in my eyes an' that's nice 'cause she's close to me, she looks in my ears and I hear my mum say "You shine a light in his ears, doctor an' it go straight through and shine on the wall."
My mum don't really fink I'm stupid it's just her way of layin' off the fear.
“Well,” says the doctor, “Your heart rate is a little bit elevated.” An’ I think ‘That’s because I have just had a gorgeous woman touchin’ me an’ gazin’ into my eyes.’ But I say nuffin’.
“What d’ya think is wrong, doctor?” My mum asked.
“Be perfectly honest, Mrs Larra, I’m not sure. Can you tell me what you saw when Quinn fell down outside the supermarket?”
“Just that. We’d done the shoppin’. He’d been perfectly normal. We go outside. It wasn’t very hot or very cold. I said something to him about where I’d parked the car an’ the next thing I know, he’s sittin’ on the floor, lookin’ up at the trolley. I said ‘Get up and stop playin’ the fool’ and then he told me what had happened before. I was very worried.”
“I can appreciate that Mrs Larra.”
They go on talkin’ like I left the room or somethin’ an’ I hear the doctor sayin’ somethin’ about tests.
“I’ll try and get you an appointment as quickly as I can but for the moment, I know it’s not easy, but try not to worry. It could be an ear infection, it could be his eyes, it could just be he’s still growing up.”
“Ya mean like hormonal,” my mum says.
“Could be, could be. Children develop at different rates.”
I resent being called a child.
“I’ll just get the nurse in to take a blood sample, doctors are hopeless at it.”
There’s this really gorgeous girl sticking needles in me an’ tellin’ me to make a bit of a fist an’ then it’s over. The doctor’s sayin that she’ll try an speed them up an’ I’m no wiser than when I walked in.
“T’ank ya very much doctor,” my mum says and touches my tie straight because that’s what mums do when they can’t do anything else.
The doctor gives me time off school and reassures my mum that she doesn’t think that it’s sickle cell because that ‘presents much earlier and with a lot of pain’ and my mum says that she thought she should mention it ‘with the boy bein’ of mixed race.’ Like the doctor hadn’t noticed?
An’ then we’re heading to the door an’ I turn to say thanks to the doctor an’ then I’m fallin’ down.
If it hadn’t been so scary it would have been funny. Me sittin’ on my arse by the door, mum holdin’ up her hands in her best ‘glory hallelujah Sunday meeting style, the doctor scooting around her desk to try and get to me before the gorgeous nurse an’ me just sittin’ there like it’s all normal.
The doctor goes back to her desk an’ it goes from East Enders to Casualty in minutes. Suddenly there’s ambulance people an’ the doctor’s briefin’ them an’ they’re being pally, callin’ me by first name and tellin’ me I’m all right. I want to tell them, I know I’m all right that it’s my mum and the doctor that’s worried but I don’t say anything.
Scene change to the hospital. It’s like ev’ryfin’s goin’ on around me an’ I don’t have any part to play. I’m now the patient an’ patients don’t get much of a speakin’ part.
They ask me a lot of questions but they’re mostly the same questions the doctor asked me. I give the same answers but they seem to think that my answers are more important.
Doctors come and go. I have to pee in a bottle which is well embarrassin’ ‘cause my mum doesn’t want to leave me but eventually they persuade her to go and get a cup of tea. There is somethin’ very different between havin’ a pee an’ givin’ a urine sample but I manage it and it’s taken away to the pee specialist. There are those people, people whose job it is just to look at pee.
For a while it’s just me and my mum. She sits by my side, holdin’ my hand an’ I know that inside she is so scared. She’s been here before. All those visits with my dad.
I squeeze her hand because I want her to be confident and not to fink about my dad.
“Hope we get out of here before seven,” I say and she looks at me. “Chelsea is playin’ tonight.”
“It’s important, mum.”
She smiles. “We’ll be home by then.”
A grey lookin’ bloke who hasn’t been before pops his head around the curtain. “Quinnlan Larra?”
For some reason my mum stands up but the grey bloke sits her back down.
“I’m Mr. Fisher, consultant neurologist. We’re arranging for Quinnlan to have a scan.”
I can’t resist. I go; “Oh no, the washing machine.”
Grey man smiles. “Yeah. Tele takes away all the mystery, doesn’t it.”
I say; “I fought you had to wait a long time for them. Like go on a waitin’ list or somefin’?”
“We need to know what’s going on in your head, old son and we need to know now. So someone will be along fairly shortly to take you along to the washing machine and I’ll pop by when it’s done.”
I look at my mum as he goes and I can see from her face that this worries her.
“Cool,” I say. “They ain’t gonna find nothin’.”
She looks at me an’ I see the act come on. She doesn’t want to frighten me. “I be surprised if they find a brain to scan.”
It’s nearly four o’clock. The scan has been done and we’re just waitin’ now. It is boring and my mum has exhausted her stock of reasons to be cheerful and the longer we wait, the more I see her goin’ in an’ eatin’ on her own fears. She’s been here, done this an’ somewhere she’s got the T shirt. ‘Cancer is a word, not a sentence.’
“D’ya reckon I could get a drink,” I ask. My mouth is genuinely dry but I also can’t take my mum sittin’ there like a prophetess of doom.
She stands up and pops her head round the curtains and I hear her ask a nurse if it’s all right for me to have a drink.
The nurse comes in to the cubicle with a wheel chair and a young bloke in a brown uniform. “Erm you can’t have a drink for a minute, Quinn. I’ve got to take you to Mr. Fisher’s office.”
“I ain’t goin’ in that,” I say. “I can walk.”
“It’s just what we have to do,” she says like she’s used to sayin’ that, like she’s used to bolshie kids who don’t want to have their control taken away completely.
I get into the wheel chair and the young bloke pushes me. He can’t be more than a couple of years older than me an’ yet he wheels me along like he was pushin’ a baby in a pram.
We don’t go far just down this corridor and then the nurse is knockin’ on a door an’ brown boy is pushin’ me into a light, modern room. There’s papers an’ computers an’ it looks like the office where we went to settle my dad’s insurance.
Grey man is standing behind a desk and he waves my mum to a seat and then sits down as brown boy pushes me up to the desk next to my mum.
The nurse and brown boy leave an’ it just the three of us.
There’s lots of seconds when no-one says anything and I’m startin’ to feel frightened.
Grey man shifts back in his seat and I wonder if he’s getting out of range.
“There is no easy way to tell you this. Quinnlan has a large tumour deep in his brain.”
I close down and I hope that my mum is listening so that she can tell me all about it later. The man is sitting there, opening and closing his mouth like a big grey mullet, but what’s coming out I can’t really say. I hear one or two phrases; reductive surgery, radiotherapy but the most important thing has been said. I have a brain tumour. That’s what the falling down has been all about. It’s big, the tumour and it will probably kill me.
“Are there any questions you want to ask me?”
My mum is crying now so I figure that what he’s actually said is pretty devastating or maybe she’s just thinking about dad.
I ask; “Time. I need to have a time scale.”
“OK erm. Everything depends on the growth rate of the tumour. We’ll need to do more tests to determine that, but with the reductive surgery and with radiotherapy we’re looking at I would think twelve to eighteen months before you get any other symptoms.”
“And the other symptoms? You’ve probably said this but I’ve got to admit I wasn’t listening that well.”
“Of course you weren’t. The other symptoms will include double vision, head aches increasing loss of mobility. Some of these will result from the surgery and the radiotherapy straight after but they will be relatively short lived.”
I get struck by a brilliant, witty, cruel thought. “A bit like me then. ‘Cause this is going to kill me, right?”
My mum nudges me very hard but Mr. Fisher appreciates the graveyard humour. “Yes. It is.”
“And how long will these ‘symptoms’ last if I have the surgery and the radiotherapy?”
“Depending on the radiotherapy a couple of months.”
“And if I don’t have the treatments? How long do I have then before I get really sick?”
“Again, it depends on the growth rate of the tumour but a pure guess ten to twelve months.”
I try to work this out, to do the math. Maximum eighteen months if I have the treatment but minus two months which is sixteen months. Maximum twelve months if I don’t have it. Four months. Is it worth it?
My mum asks; “Are you absolutely certain?” And I want to hug her and tell her how daft that is, but I don’t. She’s got a right to cling to whatever hope she can.
“You’re of course entitled to a second opinion Mrs Larra but the scan is pretty clear.”
“How long before I have the surgery, if I’m going to have it?”
“What do you mean if you’re going to have it? Of course you’re going to have it.”
My mum is lookin’ at me, glaring and angry.
“We’ll need to do another scan in six weeks and then we can decide on what we’re going to do.”
“I fink my mum has already decided but not me.”
“I understand, old son, believe me.”
“Can I go home? I mean apart from the falling down, I’m all right, aren’t I.”
He looks at me long and hard.
“Only I got a trial for Chelsea next month,” I grin at him. “I s’pose that’s out the window now, innit?”
Scene change to now. It’s my birfday. I’m eighteen. I think. I haven’t fallen down for nearly a month but that’s ‘cause I don’t stand up. I’m on morphine pretty much all the time an’ the nurses are really nice here.
My mum coped as long as she could but the doctor thought a hospice was better. My mum has been really special an’ I think she should have somethin’ special so I aksed one of the nurses to buy her some flowers an’ they’re going to give them to her when she comes to visit.
I got a birfday card from the team. I got one last year but I thought that was just for the tele.
I’m not frightened of death. Looking forward to it a bit. I’ve done livin’ an’ bein’ ill so I wanta see what bein’ dead is really like. I never really thought about it before, bein’ dead, well you don’t. When the only thing that seems to be wrong is that occasionally you do a bit of fallin’ down, you don’t think you’re ever going to die.
I feel bad about leaving my mum but I would have left her anyway. I’d have grown up become a man, played football or got what she calls a proper job and I would have left her, that’s what kids do. I suppose this way, she’s had me longer. Now that is odd.
I wonder if there is somethin’ on the ‘other side’? Mum believes there is but she believes in God and all that. Even after dad died, she still believed. Faith, not belief. Belief requires proof, faith is something you just have. Not sure if I do.
I’m tired now. I’m going to get some kip before mum comes.
Archived comments for Falling down
geordietaf on 21-02-2011
Fantastic. You managed the difficult trick of being moving without being maudlin. he only minor observation I have is that it takes a while to work out that the narrator is just 16. I had him down as an old man or woman and that caused a little confusion at the start, but you may have intended that kind of uncertainty.
Paul, many thanks for reading, commenting and rating. Sorry you found it confusing, that wasn't my intention. I thought by mentioning that he was there with his mom that had made it pretty clear that he was a youngster.
Still, you enjoyed it.
geordietaf on 21-02-2011
Oops. I meant 'the' not 'he' in the preceding comment
franciman on 21-02-2011
This talks with a really authentic voice. The phonetic dialogue helped, but it was the way you got inside Quinn that made it so absorbing.
Jim, many thanks for taking the time to read and comment and for the generous rating.
I like people, all kinds of people and so I like to get to know how people think.
Ionicus on 21-02-2011
I don't normally read prose, especially long pieces, but my curiosity was aroused when I read in the Forum that you were perplexed at how the story could be shown to be of different lengths.
I am very pleased that I changed the habit of a lifetime because this is a remarkable piece of writing. Well done, chrissy.
Luigi, many thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
I'm glad you enjoyed it.
e-griff on 26-02-2011
An excellent story, told without overemphasis, with Quinn's mundane thoughts running along with an occasional insight that shows he's not just a stereotypical teenager but also quite a smart cookie. It worked well.
What intruded for me was the (to me) very self-conscious and awkward attempt at his accent. It didn't seem to me to be consistent or credible, and the 'like' s at the beginning were intrusive and annoying. The story would be improved greatly by a better treatment of this aspect (even if you simply dropped any attempt at all and just wrote in plain english, with maybe a few quirks in his speech, but not the narration). Other odd things, such as the doctor talking about his 'mammy' also struck me as odd.
This is a good story, and a bit more editing and revision would be well worth the effort, IMO. 🙂 G
e-griff, many thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
Sorry the 'voice' didn't work for you.
I will think on your suggestions.
teifii on 03-03-2011
Well you thoroughly led me astray from what I was supposed to be doing but it was worth it. If it were in a real book, I'd sat I couldn't put it down. Quin is amazingly believable.
teifii, many thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Glad you enjoyed it.
It is a real book, well part of a real book, it's one of the stories in End Games.
Rab on 28-10-2013
Read this in the 2014 anthology and just had to add my praise to the comments above. Wonderful, and I agree with Jim about the way you captured Quinn's voice.