You will have to forgive me if this column is a little bit haphazard: in the last three days I’ve written 9000 research-heavy words as part of advocating for the Tall Man, and I’m so exhausted I might actually be asleep. London is muggy and grim; the hospital is relentless; and I need, I think, a holiday. It’s a long time since I had a holiday – we cat-sat for my mother-out-law last summer, if you’ll remember; and we had two nights in Rye the autumn before – but a proper holiday? I am appalled, writing this, to think it might actually have been 2010. It doesn’t look likely we’ll be getting away any time soon – certainly not this summer – and so, I choose the next best thing: a lipstick that feels like holidays.
This lipstick, sent to me by a friend, is rich and shimmery and lovely. It might be raining in London as I type this, but this lipstick suggests – as the name implies – somewhere warm and far off. It has a colour like sun on a patio, and red terracotta pots full of fragrant green things; and a shimmer like the glint of mica in a broken stone on a dirt road up a hill, or the vein of glitter in a marble pillar: it makes me think of places far away from the hospital, the city, the rain.
And it doesn’t look likely that I’ll be going away any time soon. And so, I lie on the hospital floor, and dream: blue sea, blue sky, white sails on the bay. Somewhere Mediterranean, with that smell of crushed pine needles and drying fishing nets and thyme in the spiky grass; the smell of water burbling forth from a tap by the side of the road, and of the dry earth where the cold water hits and churns it over. I dream of late nights with the sound of the sea and the orange lights of the bars, and kids up late playing somewhere in the shadows by the shore, and rough red wine in a jug. Really wonderful tomatoes; tough-crusted, open-crumbed bread. Salt. Salt on the tomatoes, salt on the lips, salt in the hair, tossing it into tangles with the wind and the sea-spray. I miss the sea.
I grew up very far from the sea, and used to wait to see it all year. But it’s worse for the Tall Man: this is the longest he has ever been away from the sea in all his life. We talk about it a lot, in here: the sea I mean. We talk about what it would look like in this weather; what we’d be doing if we were there now. We talk about swimming, and charity shop books, and wine in plastic cups. And we talk about how we’re going to go there again one day. We talk about how it can’t be long now.
I don’t know how long it will be, truthfully. It seems like a very long time since we last saw the sea. And we have never had a holiday: not a proper one. I don’t know why we never did, before he was ill. I wish we had. I don’t have many regrets, but I wish we had seen more places together while the world was open to us, easily, and without fear. It may be possible again some day – I hope so – but for now, I can only wish.
And I do: I have decided, writing this, that when he is well again we will go away. We will go together to some little island somewhere Mediterranean, and eat the coarse bread and ripe tomatoes and salt, and stay up late, and hear the sea. We will swim for miles every day. I will climb the hill to see the bay before me, and I will take my inks and draw. He will read his way through every book on the island. We will sleep in the shade, and we won’t take our phones; we won’t take anything. We will just go. It’s a way off yet, yes. But for now, at least, I have my lipstick, to remind me.
I am so exhausted I might be asleep, but if I am, I am at least dreaming of terracotta, pine needles, and the sun.
ABOUT SOMETIMES IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS...
I’d never been much of a make-up person before 2015, but strange things happen on the cancer ward. When my partner, the Tall Man, was suddenly diagnosed with a rare, aggressive lymphoma, I found myself reaching for a battered tube of Mac Ruby Woo – part armour, part warpaint, all crimson defiance. This is a column about lipstick, and about caring, and about cancer, but most of all it’s my lifeline and it’s proof – for me, at least – that putting on a brave face is half the fight. Read my story so far here.