“Mr Sullivan to Room six, please.”
My knees were shaking as I got up and walked down the corridor. I’d been dreading this moment for a week, ever since I went to my GP about the pain in my belly, expecting to be given tablets and reassurance, and was instead packed off to the hospital to be prodded and poked and have sharp things stuck in me by people with worried expressions on their faces. They’d talked about what they thought might be the problem using very long words that meant nothing to me. “We’ll do some tests,” they’d said. “Come back in a week for the results.”
That had been the worst week of my life. Seven days of contemplating what sort of awful fate must be in store for me. Worst of all, I was on my own. My wife Hannah was off at a business conference in New York, with wall to wall meetings, never answering her phone. And when I did finally manage to get through to her, she made light of everything: “you’re such a hypochondriac, Mark. I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.”
Well, thanks a lot, Hannah. I saw those doctors’ faces. They’re supposed to be cheerful and reassuring, aren’t they? They don’t wear expressions like that if there’s nothing to worry about. Those were the looks of people talking to someone they know is on the way out. How long had I got left? A year? Two? Maybe only a few months? I wanted to know, so I could make the best of whatever time was left to me.
I’d find out soon enough. Taking a deep breath, I opened the consulting room door. I could see straight away from the look on the doctor’s face that it was bad news.
“Ah, you must be here about your test results.” I could see her wince as she prepared to deliver the bombshell. “I’m ever so sorry to have to tell you this, Mr Sullivan, but ...”
“Stop there, Doctor. I don’t want to know the details. Just tell me, how long?”
“Just one day. Twenty four hours.”
“I’m very sorry. I know this is a sensitive matter for you. Let me assure you ... “
I raised my hand.
“Don’t say another word, doctor. I won’t take up any more of your time.”
What I meant, of course, was that I didn’t want to take up any more of my time. My God, I had one day left to live! No way was I going to waste half an hour of it talking to some doctor about whatever grisly end was coming my way. Whatever time I had left was there to be enjoyed as best I could. Not a moment to waste! I practically sprinted out of the clinic. My car was on a double yellow line – the hospital car park was full – and a traffic warden was putting a ticket on the windscreen. My heart sank for a moment, then rose again. What could they do to me? I ripped the ticket off and threw it away.
“Excuse me, sir ....”
“Please don’t take this personally, but there is something I’ve wanted to do all my adult life, and now I’m going to do it.”
I punched him in the face, then got in my car and drove away. I went at seventy miles an hour all the way home through the suburbs, attracting blasts on horns and flashes of speed cameras but disappointingly, no police cars.
When I got home, I rang Hannah. Predictably, it went straight to voicemail. I don’t usually leave a message, but this time I did: “Hello there, Miss Nothing To Worry About. You might like to know I’ve just been given twenty four hours to live. Next time you see me, I’ll be in a box. Have a nice conference.”
It’s an odd thing to say when you’re approaching the end, but I felt great! Suddenly, there was nothing I couldn’t do. Whatever whim came into my mind, I could – I must – indulge it, there and then. There was no need to worry about consequences, was there? I wouldn’t be around to face them. This might be the last day of my life, but I was damn well going to make sure it was also the best.
But what to do? I trawled the internet frantically, looking for suitable thrills to make the most of my final hours. Eventually I settled on chartering a helicopter. Twenty thousand quid – every penny I had in the world, pretty much, but you can’t take it with you, can you? I told the pilot to land on my posh neighbours’ enormous manicured lawn. Then I hacked my way through their big wooden fence with an axe – always hated that bloody thing, blocking out the light – and walked over to the chopper. I was pleased to see them sitting open-mouthed on the patio, so I gave them a cheerful wave and ripped the heads off some roses for good measure before we took off.
The flight was amazing! He took me all over the place – down to the Isle of Wight, then over London, round all the famous buildings and through Tower Bridge, to the consternation of the tourists. Worth every penny, I thought. But it was all over far too quickly – there were still more than half of my twenty-four hours left. I couldn’t let them go to waste.
When I got home there was a message on the house phone asking why I wasn’t at work. This reminded me I had a score to settle with my boss, who had always treated me like crap and repeatedly ignored my requests for a pay rise. So I drove the mile or so to the office car park and rammed my rusty old Vauxhall Astra straight into his new BMW. I left a message on his windscreen, telling him in anatomical detail exactly where he could shove his job.
Walking home, still waiting for the next idea, I saw an attractive woman on the other side of the road. On the spur of the moment, I walked over to her.
“Excuse me, I’ve only got fifteen hours to live. I was wondering if you would be kind enough to spend them with me.”
She laughed. “Nice try, but I’m afraid I’m married.”
“Yeah, me too, but my wife’s in New York and I’ll be dead by the time she gets back. Seriously, it’s all true, including that bit. I got the test results this morning. One day to live. Got to make the most of it. Look, you don’t have to break your marriage vows if you don’t want to: all I’m asking for is a bit of company in my final hours. And right now, what I want to do is find the poshest restaurant in town and treat you to a slap-up meal and all the champagne you can drink. Come on, cheer up a dying man: what harm can it do? Tell your husband you had to work late or something. The name’s Mark, by the way.”
She thought for a few seconds. “All right, Mark. On the off chance you’re telling the truth, I’ll come for a meal with you – but nothing more than that, OK? My name’s Michelle.”
We had a great time – or at least, I’m pretty sure we did, from what I can remember of it after all that champagne. I woke up in a hotel, feeling more than a little ill – though not as ill as I ought to be feeling, given that my twenty four hours was already up. I guess they can’t be that precise about these things.
I looked at my phone. There was a message from Hannah, saying she’d tried to call – probably when Michelle and I were at that nightclub, I guess – and what was all this nonsense about twenty four hours to live? She’d be asleep now, but I messaged her back:
“Hello dearest, sorry I didn’t hear your call. As you seem unconcerned about my fate I decided to spend my last few hours with someone a bit more sympathetic. Her name is Michelle. See you at my funeral, M.”
I heard a groan and looked over at Michelle. She rubbed her eyes and opened them.
“Oh my God. I am so going to regret this.” She looked at her watch. “I’m not being funny, but aren’t you supposed to be dead?”
Before I could answer, my mobile phone rang.
“Mr Sullivan? It’s Doctor Jones here. I’m so sorry once again for the twenty-four hour delay in your test results. I do appreciate this must have been very upsetting for you. Anyway, I’m pleased to say that the tests have now been completed, and I’m even more delighted to tell you that the results were all negative. You have absolutely nothing to worry about.”