Ann was numb. “Try not to worry,” the last words she heard in the doctor’s office kept circling around in her mind. Maybe worry made the brain atrophy faster. But the more she tried not to worry, the more she worried. The only way to stop thinking about it all was to keep herself busy. A normally active person, Ann never took a break now, from the time she woke up in the morning, until the time she fell into bed. She cleaned, she cooked, she gardened and she continued her full-time job at the school. Several times Mark caught himself about to tell her to sit down and rest. But he knew better. He just watched and waited.

The only thing Ann didn’t do was write. She avoided her computer, barely scanning the emails each morning and evening. Several of her writing buddies sent messages via her blog asking in humorous ways about her absence. She hit ‘delete’ without reading them.

She also pulled away from friends. When they asked after her, she’d smile and give them the standard, “Fine, thanks! And you?” When they asked her out to tea she’d politely decline and site the endless mountain of work she had to do. She sat numbly through church services and then walked to the car immediately after the benediction, skipping cookies and coffee in the fellowship hall. Her workmates assumed the even busier pace was an attempt to make up for the time off she’d had.

Then one Monday afternoon she came home earlier than usual due to a cancelled administrators’ meeting. She put the mail on the dining room table and went into the kitchen to put the kettle on for tea. She noticed the answering machine flickering and decided to listen to the message. She half-expected that it was Mark telling her he’d be late for dinner. It started with the perfunctory preamble, “You have one new message at two-eighteen p.m. . . . “ Then she froze when she heard the perky little voice. “Hello, Mrs Marston? This is Dr Gibson’s office. Dr Gibson has scheduled a PET scan and . . . “ Ann hit the machine with her hand to silence it. Her breathing was rapid and a feeling of panic was rising from her stomach to her chest.

Calm down, she told herself. She closed her eyes and forced herself to slow her breathing. What had she been doing? Oh, yes! Making tea. She assembled the cup and saucer, the teapot, the tea, the spoons, the milk jug and the sugar bowl on her favourite tray. She poured the boiling water over the tea in the pot, put on the lid and carried the tray to the dining room table. Then she started going through the mail.

She opened the envelopes without really looking at them, scanned the contents and then put each letter in its appropriate pile. Mark’s outdoor magazine — magazine pile. An electricity bill — accounts pile. An advertisement for a new shopping mall — recycling-bin pile. Bank statement — accounts pile. A business letter. “Dear Ms Marston, Two months ago we posted a letter to you advising you that we would be interested in publishing . . .”

Ann dropped the papers. She stood up, her vision unfocused. Something was rising in her, something she couldn’t swallow down. “NO!” she screamed and slammed her fists on the table. A second “NO!” exploded from her with fury and she swept her arms across the table sending the papers, magazine and tea tray flying to the floor. Ann began to weep uncontrollably, great racking sobs shaking her entire frame, as she sank to the ground and lay in shards of crockery.  That’s where Mark found her an hour later.