How do you say goodbye to your children? A mother battles cancer in a heart-wrenching sequel to Poppy Day
How do you say goodbye to your family for the last time? Poppy Day is looking forward to her best year yet. She's 32, married to her childhood sweetheart, and a full-time mother of two gorgeous children. She loves her clean little house in the countryside—a far cry from the London estate where she grew up. Her husband Mart, a soldier, has just returned safe and sound from his latest tour. But Poppy is so busy caring for others, she hasn't noticed the fatigue in her body, or the menacing lump growing on her breast. If there's anyone strong and deserving enough to defeat cancer it's Poppy. After all, she's fought harder battles than this. But does life really work like that?
About the Author
Amanda Prowse is a novelist.
Read an Excerpt
Will You Remember Me?
By Amanda Prowse
Head of Zeus LtdCopyright © 2014 Amanda Prowse
All rights reserved.
'Bye, Granny Claudia!' Peg waved her hand over her head, ensuring her farewell would be drawn out until the last possible moment, and watched as Granny Claudia got smaller and smaller in the rear window. 'I've had the best Christmas ever!'
These were the words they wanted to hear from their daughter every year.
Peg settled back on her booster seat with her baby brother, Max, dozing in his seat by her side.
Poppy smiled at her husband as he turned the car out of Clanfield, the Oxford village where they had spent the festive holiday in the dear company of the mother of their late friend Miles. Gracious and well-educated, Claudia was a surrogate grandma for the children and a welcome voice of guidance for Poppy and she relished the role. Her only son, Miles, a journalist, had been killed by a car bomb some years earlier, and she had been widowed for a long time now.
Poppy closed her eyes and pictured the Christmas Day just passed: a golden turkey with all the trimmings, a brisk walk with the kids in the snow as dusk bit on the day, and dark port in crystal glasses that had sent her into a glorious sleep in her husband's arms as they sat in front of the roaring log fire. Peg was right; it had been the best ever.
'What's the best Christmas you ever had, Mum?' Peg whispered.
'Ooh, I think this one will take some beating.' She squeezed her husband's thigh across the central console of their Golf. The joy of his surprise return, early from tour, still lingered.
'What's the best present you ever had?'
'Definitely Daddy coming home.' Poppy beamed.
'What about when you were little?' Peg shook her head to get her toffee-coloured fringe out of her eyes; it needed a trim.
Poppy looked out of the window at the snow-spattered hedges and the wheelie bins crammed full of Christmas packaging, awaiting collection. She only ever gave her daughter diluted accounts of the deprived conditions in which she had grown up, not wanting to upset her with the image of her mum wanting.
When they were children, Poppy and Martin had routinely gone to bed on Christmas Eve in their respective damp flats with tummies full of butterflies and expectancy. Neither knew whether, the next day, all their dreams were going to come true, or whether it would be a rubbish day like any other. It was nearly always a rubbish day like any other, but that didn't stop them being excited. There was always the smallest possibility that the rumours were true, that if they had been good, they would get lots of great stuff. Poppy was a smart child, quickly learning that the whole Santa thing was a rotten lie, but for an hour or two before bedtime, the anticipation would be almost painful. She liked the possibility that there might be some magic, somewhere.
The disappointment of waking on Christmas morning to find it was just another shitty day, albeit with a bit of cooled turkey, a couple of roasted spuds and a string or two of balding tinsel thrown in for good measure, didn't wane. That was until she married and had kids of her own. Now she and Martin could give Peg and Max the sort of Christmases they could only have dreamt of for themselves, erasing the miserable memories in the process.
Poppy turned to face her daughter. 'Well, I don't remember too much about my presents, but one year, when my nan and grandad were asleep in their chairs —'
'Nanny Dot and Grandad Wally?' Peggy interrupted to show she knew who was who.
'Yep.' Poppy smiled. 'Anyway, my mum had gone out somewhere.' An image flashed into her head of Cheryl arriving home, giggling as she slid down the wall with a defunct paper blower between her lips and the smell of booze hanging over her in a pungent cloud. 'I curled up on the sofa and watched the movie Miracle on 34th Street. It made me feel very Christmassy and I remember thinking how lovely it would be to have your wishes come true. That was quite a special day for me.'
'I think wishes do come true. I wished my dad back and he came!' Peg clapped.
'That's true,' Martin confirmed over his shoulder.
Poppy tucked the shoulder-length layers of her hair behind her ears. 'Well, as I said, that film was very special for me.'
'I like that movie too, Mum.' Peg beamed.
'I saw the black-and-white version though, Peg. The original.'
Peg considered this. 'Black-and-white films make me really sad.' She spoke to her hands, folded in her lap.
'Why's that, Pickle?' Martin asked in the rear-view mirror.
'Cos everyone in them is dead.' This she delivered with her palms upturned and her voice doleful, as if she was standing on a West End stage.
For some reason this struck Poppy as funny. She snorted her laughter into her palm and Martin followed suit.
Peg folded her arms across her chest. 'You two drive me crazy!'
This was fuel for their already giddy state. The two of them laughed until their tears spilled and they wheezed for breath.
'I really missed you.' Poppy gazed at her husband, the one person who could make her giggle even harder just by giving her a well-timed glance.
'I missed you too.' He grinned at his wife, who reclined in the passenger seat.
'It's New Year's Eve,' Peg stated.
'Yes, love, it is, and tomorrow is a whole new year! It's exciting, isn't it?'
'Are we going to have a party?' Peg sat forward, eyes wide.
'No, I don't think so, we are far too boring.' Poppy pictured a night alone with her man, the kids tucked up, a glass or two of wine, and hours and hours in which to make up for their long, lonely months of separation. She felt a stab of excitement at the prospect. Her soldier was home.
'Jade McKeever says her mum and dad always have a party and they drink champagne and beer and cocktails. Last year, her dad's friend got drunk and weed in the downstairs cupboard because he got mixed up and thought it was the loo.'
'Well, that certainly sounds like fun.' Poppy grinned at her husband.
'We don't have to have a party, Peg. I could just wee in the downstairs cupboard anyway.' Martin winked at her.
'Oh, Dad, that's gross!' Peg stuck out her tongue.
'You started it.' Martin laughed. 'Is Jade McKeever Ross's girl?' Martin had worked with Ross, a fellow mechanic, in the past.
'Yep, and Jade is Peg's new life-coach, apparently.' Poppy rolled her eyes.
'We never have parties. I'd like you to have one so I can sit on the stairs and watch everyone getting drunk!' Peg was on a roll.
'You don't have to get drunk at a party, Peg. Sometimes it's nice to go and have a dance and chat to your friends —'
'Wee in the cupboards,' Martin interjected.
'Yes, that too.' Poppy slapped his arm. 'We didn't even have a proper wedding reception, did we, Mart?'
'Nope. Didn't need all that fuss, I was just glad to get my girl.'
Poppy pictured Jenna and a couple of Martin's mates from the garage singing 'Ta da da da ...' repeatedly to the tune of 'Here comes the bride' as they arrived at the back bar of their local.
'Who caught your bouquet then, Mum, and tied ribbons and tin cans to your lovely white car?'
Poppy smiled. Peg had definitely seen too many wedding-themed movies. 'I didn't have a bouquet or a fancy car. It was just Daddy and me and a few of our mates in the pub near where we lived. I had a lovely day, even without the fuss.'
'Would you have liked all that – tin cans and a fancy bouquet?' Martin asked, his face now serious.
Poppy considered this. 'Sometimes I think it would have been nice, but if I picture a reception or a big party, then I see the kids there, so I guess I didn't miss not having one. But maybe a party one day would be good. We could do it for our silver wedding or something?'
Martin nodded. That sounded like a plan and was sufficiently far off not to send him into a panic over finances and organising. 'Am I really your best present?' he asked.
She nodded. 'Yep. Although when I'm rich and famous and have my kidney-shaped swimming pool, am wearing a diamond on my finger the size of an ice cube and have danced in my evening dress in the rain, that might change.'
'You'll still need me to pick you up and carry your bags though, right?' He leant towards her.
'Always. That's your job, to pick me up when I fall and carry my bags.'
'And kill baddies!' Peg piped up from the back. They'd quite forgotten she was listening. It set them off giggling again.
Finally, as Peg dozed and Max snored, Poppy turned to her husband. 'How was it? Out there?' She looked straight ahead.
Martin exhaled through bloated cheeks. As usual he would spare his wife the reality of life on tour, the crushing loneliness, the boredom. 'Oh, busy. Hard work, a shitty place, the usual. I've had enough, really, Poppy.' He ran his hand over his face and rubbed his chin.
She nodded. Me too. 'Well, if you can stay here for a bit, that'll be okay, won't it?' She tried to offer a small flicker of consolation.
'That'll do me, mate. It's all I want, to come home to you and the kids every night. Trouble is, I don't know how long it'll be until I'm off again, and it's the uncertainty I don't like.'
'I know. I know.' She placed her hand on the back of his and thumbed his tanned skin.
'I hate being away from you and the kids, but it also makes me realise how lucky I am. Imagine all those blokes like me who are away and don't have our heartstrings.'
Poppy smiled and squeezed his hand. It was their thing and always had been, the belief that they had heartstrings that joined them across time and distance. Linking them as one, no matter what.
Poppy gave a long yawn.
'Am I keeping you up or are you just bored?' he joked.
'Sorry, I can't help it, I'm permanently knackered.' She sank back into the seat.
'Ha! It's me that's travelled across the globe, hopping on and off planes and sitting up half the night and it's you that's yawning!' Martin tutted.
'I know. I think I've found it harder work than I realised, having you away this time. But you're back now and that changes everything.' She grinned, wrinkling her nose in the way that Peg had inherited.
An hour or so later they were back in the rolling Wiltshire countryside.
'It's bloody beautiful here, isn't it?' Martin grinned, leaning forward against the steering wheel to take in the bright sky and snow-covered fields.
Poppy nodded. They'd traded the concrete of East London for all this green, open space and the novelty was still acute for both of them.
As she stepped out of the car, Poppy looked across at their army quarter, one of twelve identical houses that had been built in the 1970s for the MoD. It was flat-fronted and rather ugly on the outside, but inside, the lounge/diner was quite spacious, the large windows let in lots of natural light and the kitchen was a useable square. There were two good-sized bedrooms and a third that people used either as a study or, like Poppy and Martin, allocated to their second or third child.
Martin lifted the bags from the boot of the car. 'God, it's bloody freezing! Hope you left the heating on.'
Poppy tutted. 'Of course I did. Can't risk a pipe freeze in this weather. I do manage, you know, when you're not here. It's a case of bloody having to!'
Martin smacked her bum as she walked past and made her way inside.
Jo, their neighbour, ran down her front path in her slippers, blushing as she patted her hair, which had been hastily shoved into a band. 'Mart! Oh God, wasn't expecting to see you. What you doing home? Thought you had another couple of months to go?'
'I did, but they cut the tour short.' He smiled. 'I didn't want to say anything to Poppy in case everything changed. You know how it can.'
Jo nodded. 'Don't I just.'
'It was all very last-minute, but I got to Oxford on Christmas morning in the early hours.'
'You lucky sod.' Jo wrung the tea towel in her hand; she wanted her husband home too.
'Danny all right?' Martin asked after his drinking buddy and fellow armchair Spurs supporter; he had been one of the last to be deployed to Afghanistan.
'Yeah. Y'know.' Jo shrugged. She didn't need to elaborate on how horrible it was to be separated, especially over Christmas.
'Give him my best.' Martin nodded, sincere.
'Will do, mate. Tell Pop not to worry about tonight. We were going to open a bottle of plonk and watch a bit of telly, but tell her I'll catch up with her in the week.' Jo hovered.
Martin nodded again in her direction. He had no intention of allowing Poppy to honour this engagement; tonight he wanted her all to himself.
Poppy stood in the kitchen and watched as her man lumbered through the door, laden with bags of laundry, presents and the detritus that gathered in the car on any journey.
'You're home,' she whispered.
'The place looks lovely!' Martin grinned, taking in the immaculate leather sofa, shiny laminate floors, cushions plumped just so and dust-free surfaces. He smiled at the tiny Christmas tree in the window and the Santa statues on the side table; he was glad they had made the effort even though they were away for Christmas itself. It made the place feel like home. He loved how Poppy cared for their house; he felt a sense of pride every time he opened the door. 'And bloody huge! Living inside a tent and washing in a communal block every day makes this feel like a palace!'
'Is that right? Better get me a tent then. I'll kip in that for a couple of weeks and then come in and be as chuffed as chips with this grotty quarter.' Poppy slipped her arms around her husband's neck and kissed him on the mouth, running her fingers over his shorn, fair hair. He knew she loved this house and loved looking after it, finding it far from grotty.
'How soon can we get the kids off?' he whispered gruffly into her hair.
'Well, that depends. If I had a hand with cooking tea and getting them into their PJs, it would all happen a lot quicker.'
'Consider it done.' Martin clapped his hands, loudly. 'Right, Peg, Maxy, who wants what for tea?'
The two thundered into the lounge. 'Chicken nuggets, chips, peas and chocolate mousse please, Dad!' Peg shouted.
'Yes, nuggets!' Max nodded his agreement.
'Coming right up.' Martin bowed. 'Is that on the same plate?'
The kids giggled. 'I love having my daddy home!' Peg pogoed up and down, Max joined her.
'Tell you what, babe, why don't you go have a shower, have a moment to yourself,' Martin said to Poppy as he headed for the kitchen.
Poppy smiled. She liked having their daddy home too.
She kicked her pants on top of the jeans and T-shirt that lay in a heap in the corner of the bathroom, and let the water splat against the shower tray. She usually jumped into the slightly chilly deluge and started scrubbing as it warmed, but not tonight. Instead, she carefully laid out her silky nightie, dressing gown and only matching set of bra and pants, then positioned her perfume bottle ready for a quick spritz before she went downstairs. He's home! She grinned into the mirror and practised her smouldering pose: hair over the shoulder, cheeks sucked in slightly, eyes fixed. She laughed; she was rubbish at that stuff and she knew that, after eighteen years together, Martin would only find it comical, not alluring. She felt sexy enough without trying to do sultry as well.
Steam engulfed the space as she let the hot water wash over her. She squeezed a blob of her new, expensive shower gel into her palm – a gift from Claudia that she had been determined to save for special occasions. Well, this was certainly a special occasion: it was New Year's Eve. Again she smiled at the thought that her man was on the floor below her instead of miles and miles away, across a sea or two.
Poppy inhaled the shiny, amber-coloured liquid. It smelt of vanilla and honey; lovely. She rubbed her hands together to make lather and ran her palm over her arms, neck and chest. Like most people, she had a familiar ritual for her washing routine, doing it in the same way and soaping her body parts in the same order. To deviate would feel odd. She considered this and smiled, wondering how long it had taken for this sequence to become habit. Did other people for example start at their feet and work upwards? Poppy grimaced; that would be entirely wrong.
She began to sing, loudly. 'Let your love flow ...'
Excerpted from Will You Remember Me? by Amanda Prowse. Copyright © 2014 Amanda Prowse. Excerpted by permission of Head of Zeus Ltd.
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