I've written the following excerpt in 3rd person. Much as I try, I cannot find another way to voice the moments of joy apparent in this particular episode and writing about them in the 1st person involves more telling than showing. It was hard to contemplate allowing myself to re-experience this properly to write it that way anyway. The background: After a second round of palliative chemotherapy, just before the third, I am just about well enough to 'do some stuff'. At this point I'm not expected to live more than a few months unless the chemotherapy can extend that. Recording family events for keepsakes, for when I was no longer there, was top of my agenda. This particular trip took us to London Zoo. How do you find it? How does the 3rd person point of view impact the story telling?
They’re wrapped up warm, she in a black fleece deerstalker, all of them in outsized puffer coats. Soon the little boy’s face looks red raw, his top lip gleaming with snot. It’s a bitter day.
They’re all holding hands. The bouncing boy between his parents, arms stretched up to meet their hands. He shouts “One. Two, three!” expecting to be swung up into the air. The man lifts him single handed, his free hand toting a camera at the ready. The woman puts one foot in front of the other, trying to keep up with her son and determined to frame the day as a normal family outing.
The car was parked mere meters from the entrance but already the effort of the morning and weight of the staged occasion is taking its toll. Head down a little, she hopes no one notices her face crumpling. It’s the toddler’s first trip to the zoo but it will be her last.
The man is busy, rightly winding up the excitement.
“What animal’s are we going to see Max? Can you think of the big animals that live at the zoo?”
“Elephants!” He shouts, trying to break free to run.
She’s already tired and struggling to join in, but focusing on maternal tasks, wipes snot from the eager little face. Nausea rolls over her in waves. Despite the cold, her insides boil with the chemicals her bladder is keen to empty.
Quickly through the ticket booths and out to an empty gathering area where on busier, warmer days, excited school children must be rallied and briefed on school trip rules. There’s a fleeting thought; she’ll never hear of any of those. She shuts out the future and focuses instead on toilet signs ahead. The man takes the little boy to the mens so they’re all set to go around together. First out, she sinks onto a bench, the desperate task of family fun marred by bitter wind in this lonely animal prison. In her head it had promised to be an oasis of life.
“Smile!” Her husband points the camera at her, attempting to fulfil their mission. Too late to change her mind or come up with a better solution, she smiles. She looks down the camera at the boy, the teenager, the young man she will never know. One day he will be looking back at her. She wants him to see someone he would have liked to meet, brave and cheerful – not broken.
Another wave of nausea and sweat rushes up so she pulls off the hat. He takes another shot at his stricken target, head bare and white, vulnerable in the raw air.
The little boy is shouting something that must be zebra but his Dad is now hugging his wife, torn. No time to explore her thoughts, he takes her hand. “Come on.” The little boy is making a break for it so he lets go of her again.
She cannot keep up, so the man grabs the boy and swings him aloft onto his shoulders and slows his pace. Soon the wriggling toddler is craning his neck to see what’s next. She drifts behind, watching the two of them. This is how it will be now. The two of them.
Enclosures pass in a daze. Constrained, bleak, inadequate. Their occupants’ reality goes unseen. We’re supposed to be saving them, she thinks.
As if Noah’s Ark is moored around the bend, two heads on long necks pop over a wooden fence.
“Raff! Raff! Mummy! Look! Look!”
Like the lookout in a crows nest, he lurches to point. The man holds on tight with both hands so he doesn’t fall, the camera left to swing at his elbow. Delighted little eyes turn towards Mum, astonished to see such incredible creatures are real.
Dad is thrilled. Surely this fulfils the trip’s ambition? Beaming, he turns around to catch her eye but she’s drowning in misery and cannot be lifted to take even this one sweet breath.