Her husband held her particularly close that morning as he left for work. She waved him goodbye and checked her watch. Six fifteen. Shower first or breakfast?
The dog’s soft whine and imploring eyes were a momentary distraction from her purpose. She stuffed her feet into a pair of old suede boots, pulled on her duffel coat and opened the patio doors. He ran out into the garden with a joyous abandon that made her smile initially, then feel slightly envious. Picking up his lead and some doggy treats, she gingerly stepped out in the courtyard to join him.
There were few cars and even fewer people around at that time of the morning. The dog performed a ten-second wee, then dragged her back towards the house. His momentary distraction by a low-flying wood-pigeon nearly pulled her off-balance and she felt the racing pulse of fear begin. The dog seemed to sense that something was wrong however, He stopped pulling and waited patiently for her to open the gate that would let them back into the safety of the courtyard.
Back inside the house, she sat down briefly in order to calm herself. The doggy brown eyes worked their charm again; he was soon settled with his breakfast and she was free to continue with her own preparations. She checked the clock. Twenty to seven.
Breakfast first and she took the easy way out with cereal and fruit juice. Knocking back the parade of pills lined up on the counter top, she wondered if she would ever get back to a time when she was pill-free? Pain-free? Panic-free?
The dog joined her on the sofa as she crunched her way through the cereal. The BBC news provided a slight distraction but the dog’s warmth on her leg, the touch of his silky ears and the occasional grateful lick, all these provided her with the reassurance she needed for now.
She washed up her bowl and glass, leaving them on the drainer to put away when she returned. If she returned. How silly! Of course she would return.
Giving the dog a brief hug, she went off for a shower, hoping that the hot water would wash the muzziness away and help her to think more clearly.
The stimulus lasted long enough to help her choose her clothes for the day. Nothing sloppy but nothing too restrictive or uncomfortable. She needed to be comfortable. The last thing she wanted to worry about was her appearance but she took extra time drying her hair, applying her brave face and finally, getting dressed. She checked her watch. Had a whole hour and a half gone past?
There was still no need to rush though. They had arranged to meet at ten o’clock. It took five minutes to walk to the bus stop (ten to allow for her reduced speed of walking). She had checked the bus timetables on-line and the journey took twenty-five minutes provided the bus arrived on time. She had a back up bus going from the other side of the road in case the first bus failed to turn up. She dared not think any further than that because the panic rally would set in and she’d never leave the house.
Standing in the kitchen, fully dressed now, she checked that everything was there. Keys, purse, phone and rucksack so that she could carry her worldly goods and still have her hands free. The Midas card that she and her husband had purchased two days earlier so that she didn’t have to get anxious about having the correct money for the bus. The walking stick. Her constant companion for the past nine months, only ever replaced by the support and comfort of her husband’s arm.
She went back in and gave the dog another hug, knowing that she was procrastinating. It was time to go. Her heart pounded as she pulled on her coat, filled the pockets with the items she needed immediately and pushed her arms through the straps of the rucksack.
Locking the door was achievable, so was walking down the garden path to the point where the dog regularly watered the shrubs by the front door. Opening the gate was harder. She took a deep breath and hurried through, pulling it closed behind with a clang. The stick! She forgot the walking stick! Retracing her steps with a speed that had been alien to her for so many months, she unlocked the door, grabbed the hated stick, locked up again and was back onto the pavement before she realised it.
She checked her watch. Only seven minutes to get to the bus stop! Concentrate. Walk fast but don’t fall. The stick will help you. She could see people waiting at the bus stop. Would they ask the driver to wait for her if they saw her hobbling down the road? Would she fall? Would she lie there like a stranded fish; unable to get up, embarrassed by the concern and kindness of other people again?
She put on an exceptionally brave spurt of speed and got to the bus stop with time to spare, joining the queue of elderly people and their walking sticks. She looked down at hers, feeling less resentful and more grateful for the support it had provided.
The bus arrived. There were plenty of seats. The Midas card worked and as she picked up her ticket and sat down, she could feel some of the anxieties ebbing away; each one a hurdle that she had overcome.
She checked her watch again. On time and only one more obstacle along the way.
As the bus neared town, she felt herself grow cold. As she approached the scene of the accident she grew hot again. For nine months they had driven the other way, had avoided the place where the careless driver had hit her as she crossed the road, throwing her into the air and against a wall, where she lay, winded, confused and in such pain. Nine months ago.
Nine months of struggling to walk again. Nine months of being too afraid to go out alone in case she fell. Nine months of falling in the house, of not being strong enough to take the dog out for a walk, of needing her husband’s arm to support her.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying desperately hard not to panic. She had to do this.
The bus stopped and opening her eyes, she realised that the danger had passed. They were at the bus station. She was safe again. She got to her feet to join the other passengers and as she and the stick got off the bus she heard a sound that made her smile and banished all the fear. She turned and saw her friend, grinning like a loon and hurrying towards her.
“Sally! You did it! I’m so proud of you! ”