I pick up the expensive, surprisingly heavy fountain pen, remove the cap and hold it poised over my freshly printed will. My lawyer just left.
This is no cheap pen. It belongs to my father, and he doesn’t yet know I swiped it. I admire the highly polished, wafer-thin lapis lazuli barrel and the delicate gold vermeil cap coating the sterling silver underneath. It looks too elegant to be between my clumsy un-manicured fingers.
Did you know that lapis lazuli is technically a rock not a mineral? I don’t care what it is really. I love the bright blue and the dancing gold shimmers. My father loves this pen and probably wonders where it is. No matter - soon enough I will be dead and he will have it back.
I am ready to sign this document, I believe. I am thinking: this is something an old lady should be doing, an elderly widow perhaps, with children fighting over her years of accumulated possessions. Her pale, wrinkled fingers should be clutching a pen, rings loosely hanging around her knuckles. She should have children and grandchildren craving anything valuable in her house, wanting her jewelry and cash, willing to take her slightly outdated TV and DVR to pawn or sell. Not the shaggy old dog which is just as incontinent as grandma and can just as well go into a shelter for its remaining sad days. Not the dusty old photo albums, priceless to the old lady but worthless to the children, or the cheap jewelry given to her some sixty years back by a poor but enamored beau, which they would merely roll their eyes over before tossing aside.
My fingers, by contrast, are smooth and young, if somewhat stubby. I don't like my hands. I’ve never really had 'looks' but I have considered myself reasonably presentable and well-dressed. If physical aging starts at around age twenty years, then mine has barely begun. At least on the surface; inside my body the situation is quite different. I might look quite young on the outside but inside I am rotting and dying, and nothing can change that. I never was beautiful but I was young - I am young. Funnily enough I will always be young in a way.
Nobody has to write a will; I mean nobody is forced to. You can say you wrote one, then just not do it at all, or you can say you aren’t going to. Let them fight it out among themselves. I prepared mine, but should I sign? If I choose to put the lid back on this beautiful sky blue fountain pen, put it back on the nightstand and push the unsigned will to one side, that’s my choice. The pen is unforgiving and hard between my ever-weakening fingers.
However, I am not so ambivalent about who gets what after I die. I don’t have descendants; I don’t have kids. Don’t get me wrong - I wanted them before I got my diagnosis, but it just wasn’t supposed to be. I have a husband and I have my parents. Yes I have a lot of acquaintances too but they don’t come into play when it comes to writing my will. This is strictly a family affair and between the four of us.
So what is going on here anyway? Let’s rewind just four years, back to my eighteenth birthday. It was never going to be a quiet affair. My parents wanted the biggest, flashiest party money could buy. My boyfriend Vincent was happy to go along with their wishes. He could never afford to do anything huge for me anyway. I would have been happy with an inexpensive meal and a movie, but my parents wanted to plan the party of the century, so I just went along with it and let them plan the whole thing. I knew it would be wonderful.
Vincent and I were going steady at the time, and my mom and dad also invited eighteen of my other friends and fifty-two of their own! Not that I’m complaining because they did organize and pay for the whole thing, but it makes me smile to think of it, as just another social occasion for them, to wow their friends and schmooze with those who mattered. Yes, that was some party and the photos were as amazing as the memories, or almost.
You know, not everyone is going to like my will. Not only because I am only twenty-two years old and shouldn’t have to be writing one, but because of what it says. I might not have much but I will decide where it goes and who gets what… and who gets nothing at all.
“Come on!” called Vincent, at my party, “come and dance with me!”
Laughing and dizzy, I wrapped myself in his arms, closing my eyes and looking upwards to see the flashing lights through my eyelids, feel the heady swirl of alcohol I shouldn’t have drunk but did anyway, and enjoying the warmth of Vincent’s hug. This was certainly a birthday to remember - the brand new, elegant looking, cream-colored Mercedes my parents thought I deserved, the extravagant party with half of the city’s elite in attendance and the mountain of gifts in honor of my eighteenth, most still unopened. I was spoiled and treasured, and walking on air.
My best friend Gia was there too, with her boyfriend James. Gia and I had spent so many crazy evenings hanging out at her place watching movies, indulging in girl-talk about Vincent and James. Every girl needed a Gia. She was bug-eyed and open-mouthed at my OTT party but then my parents do go in for overkill. Gia simply loved it, and didn’t stop talking about the event for a whole week afterwards. What a night it was.
I catch myself smiling, in a daydream, cold heavy pen still poised mid-air. Will the ink dry out? Does the ink dry out in expensive pens like it does in cheap biros? Do I even care? I’m sure Celia, my pleasant enough, middle-aged nurse (who is currently snoozing in a chair), could source another pen if need be. She knows I’m not leaving her anything, so it doesn’t matter. She’s only been here four days anyway. It’s an easy post for her and she must love the agency for choosing her for this position. Celia just waits until I take my last breath, close my eyes and drift off into my final slumber. My parents will sign her invoice, probably with this lapis lazuli pen safely back in my father’s hand, and that’s that, she can go merrily on to her next nursing gig.
I clear my throat and Celia has the good grace to wake up. She looks, panicked, at me. I smile sardonically at her (yes, hi, I’m still alive over here) and return my attention to the pen and the will. I hear Celia take a breath and shuffle in her seat.
This pen is indeed beautiful. Lapis lazuli is a beautiful blue gemstone which used to be ground into powder to make eye shadows and medical elixirs in days of old. Michelangelo even used it to make his famous aquamarine. Lapis is simply lazurite blended with calcite and pyrite to make it sparkle and dance, and to make it eye-catching enough for fountain pen barrels this beautiful. It reminds me of myself. I am simply a young girl in her twenties but it isn’t just me; it’s also the cruel twist of cancer through my body, strangling everything that is me, permanently dappling my soul like the sparkles of gold in the lapis.
I am simply plain old lazurite, without the calcite or pyrite to make me sparkle. The pen is as hard and as cold as stone. That will be me one day too. Lapis lazuli, when held tight, is supposed to release stress and bring deep peace. I clench my eyes closed, hoping that is true. It is December’s birthstone not mine, but I don’t care. I don’t feel any release coming out of the flinty coolness.
I must have danced with Vincent for an hour or more at my party. Our friends were dancing too. The snacks and drinks were endless, the music was wonderful, and my parents couldn’t have been happier. This was such a great backdrop for them, and they had invited such influential guests. I didn’t really mind. As long as Vincent was there, and my friends too, I was happy. I had a new car and a hundred other gifts to go, plus I knew they loved me. What else could I want?
What else does an eighteen year old want besides love, friends, a cute car, a healthy bank account and fun times? At least, right up until that moment she knows her sickness isn’t because of pregnancy, it must be something else -
I take a deep breath and imagine signing the will, the pen rolling smoothly against the paper, releasing the ink as beautifully controlled as only the finest fountain pen is able. I think I inherited my love of fine writing instruments from my father. Only the best was good enough for him, and this pen was a gift from me after all, a few days after my twentieth birthday and on his fiftieth. The cold hard lapis lazuli was a beautiful contrast to his warm and jolly heart. His eyes danced over the colors, and my soul danced with joy that he liked it.
I married Vincent a year almost to the day after my birthday party. He was my prince and I was his princess. He brought me flowers and I cooked him meals from brand new cookbooks still smelling of the bookstore. They might not have all been successful but I can’t say I didn’t have fun trying to cook. We had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun.
The day I got my diagnosis I had actually just bought a new cookbook. I didn’t work so cooking had become something of an obsession, or at least a hobby. I was halfway into searing my Mexican-seasoned chicken thighs when the phone rang, and I could tell by my doctor’s tone it wasn’t anything good. That evening passed in a blur.
The following morning at the doctor’s office, I knew not only was I dying but I was dying quickly and had barely a month, if that, to “put my affairs in order” as they say. Panicked, I tried to call Vince. I’m usually a 'text only' girl - I never use the phone to actually phone people! But this required an actual call. I wanted to hear his voice. But all I got was his voicemail. This was no good! I needed to hear his voice and to feel his love and his comfort. I pulled up his ‘Find My’ tracker, sure he would be at the office. My father had given Vince a job but actually Vince had earned it himself. He was smart.
Strangely enough Vince wasn’t at the office but in a department store. It was only 11AM. I couldn’t wait to fall into his arms after hearing my diagnosis, and decided just to go right there, then bring him home. I needed Vince with me to deal with this.
The department store was called Nightingale, and was five stories tall. It was almost fun tracking Vince until I realized the app didn’t show which story he was on. I had to take my pick of five. Well we could disregard the children’s and toy section. I assumed menswear but no. I decided to ride the escalator two floors up to gifts and kitchenware but then I saw them. I stepped off at lingerie because I saw the back of my husband’s head. He was kissing Gia.
I could barely believe that. I had hardly got my head around my diagnosis but to be faced with this as well -
Gia saw me first and froze, then slowly pulled away. Vincent turned around and his mouth dropped open into an O. What was going through his head - that he’d lost me or that he’d lost his swanky position in my father’s company? Both, I thought, striding around to the downward escalator, and heading home.
He tried to blame me, would you believe it? I closed my ears and I closed my heart. I now find myself back in my parents’ house where I grew up. I have my own money, most of which was signed over to me when I married Vincent. But now I have to decide where it goes, and it’s going back to my parents. They were there to love and support me, even if they leave me with snoozing Celia instead of spending much time with me themselves.
I run a stubby nail along the cool blue of the fountain pen. Everything comes full-circle in the end. My life might have been short but it was my parents who took care of me. Nobody else. And so, with a scratch and a flourish, I sign my name at the bottom of my will. Vincent isn’t going to like getting nothing at all, but he made his choices. He has the rest of his life to live however he wants.
My parents get everything back. It was all theirs to begin with anyway.