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by Jacqueline Harrett

Five o’clock. I’m awake. It’s still dark. I lie listening to Derek’s soft breathing. How can he sleep? I haven’t been able to sleep for days. Exhaustion is slowing me down. I’ve watched the clock all night.

I slip out of bed. The laminate floor is cool underfoot as I pad downstairs to make a cup of tea.

How long is it since we saw the consultant? Weeks? It seems like forever since my world came crashing down.

He’s very patient, Mr Mackenzie. He explains things in his lovely Scottish burr.

“It’s a major operation, replacing the aortic valve, and carries risk.” He pauses as if waiting for questions. I’m rigid with fear. “But without it, things will get worse. If we leave it any longer there’s the danger of heart failure.”

I thought my heart would burst there and then. I nod and grip Derek’s hand until he winces as my nails dig into him.

Half past five. Time to shower and dress. I have an outfit for every occasion in my life. My armour, Derek calls it. As long as I know I look good I can face anything. The clothes are laid out in the spare room. A blood red dress, black pumps with a silver lining and a black jacket. In the handbag are the papers we will need when we get to the hospital.

Six o’clock. Time to waken Derek. As I lean over my husband of thirty years I want to weep. Instead I kiss his forehead. “Time to get up, sleepy head.”

He opens his eyes. “Tea and toast?” It’s a joke. When we were first married, we used to have breakfast in bed. I shake my head.

“No way. Nil by mouth, remember. I expect the nurse will get you some tea and toast, when you come round after the operation.”

Seven o’clock. I leave Derek, trying not to cry as they wheel him away. I go home to watch the clock again.

Jacqueline Harrett hails from Northern Ireland but has lived in Wales for most of her life. Her short stories and flash fiction have appeared in anthologies The Wish Dog (Honno), When It Is Time (MTP) and online at Modernartbypost, CafeLit, Paragraph Planet, Blue Animal Literature and 101words. She has also published a non-fiction book, Exciting Writing (UKLA Author Award 2006), mini book Tell Me Another and written various articles for teachers. Jacqueline also writes with Janet Laugharne under the pseudonym J. L. Harland (jlharland.co.uk). Their debut novel, Elin, was longlisted for the Cinnamon Debut Novel Prize 2016 and they are working on a sequel as well as a short story collection and a non-fiction book. Find her at jlharland.co.uk and @JLHarlandAuthor.