‘I don’t want to leave you all.’ She paused. ‘It seems so soon …’

She was my wife, and I was sitting beside her bed in a ward of the Westminster Hospital. The ward had a name, after some illustrious benefactor; it was in effect the cancer ward. To begin with, she had been treated there over the last two years as an out-patient; she had now been an in-patient for ten weeks. What she was saying was recognizing that she was never going to come out, that she was going to die. She was going to leave us all.

‘It seems so soon …’ She was fifteen years younger than me – when I married her I was forty, she only twenty-five. Since then we had lived through thirty-eight years of close and happy marriage. After a succession of false starts preceding it, I could only take it as an enduring stroke of luck, inexplicable in terms of reason. (She always said I was the most interesting man she had ever met; in return I said she always knew how to make a man of me.) There it was, a lasting refuge and joy to us. I had married her as a pretty girl: ageing had transformed her into a beautiful woman … We had of course lived conscious of the fifteen years’ difference in our ages, had sometimes discussed how she was to cope with a protracted widowhood. Now it was she who was going to go first, with me aged seventy-seven and her only sixty-two. ‘It seems so soon …’ It was.

Dead Faces