‘I bet I can get to the swings before you’. Mike set off without waiting for Lucy’s reply, his six year old legs pumping him through the park as fast as he could manage. Lucy did her best but couldn’t catch up. ‘Slowcoach’ he called out to her, smiling as he pushed the swing higher and higher. Lucy rocked herself back and forth, still not quite able to find the rhythm needed to make the swing fly.
‘I bet I get better marks than you’ he said as they prepared to enter the exam hall. Both did well enough to gain a place at the grammar school but he won their wager, even if only by a few percentage points.
‘I bet I get a job before you do.’ He grinned at her across the pub table, their old mantra now spoken in jest at every juncture of their lives. He did though, and then asked her to help him pick out the business suits he would need to look the part in his smart, city firm. He was between girlfriends and wanted company more than advice. Mike always knew what he wanted.
He knew that he wanted to marry, then divorce. He knew that he would earn more if he changed jobs. Since his parents had died he had felt no ties to any person or place. He moved from city to city, living life in the fast lane, revelling in excess. Lucy watched as his ambitious plans unfurled and eventually imploded catastrophically as his lifestyle crashed into an unanticipated genetic weakness .
When she first visited him in the hospital she was shocked by how old he suddenly looked. He took her hand and smiled wryly. ‘Hey Lucy, I bet I’ll be dead before you’. ‘Don’t’ she said softly. The gallows humour was so typical but misplaced. He had never known when to stop.
She spoke to the consultant and asked for tests. He explained the risks; she could see that he was unsure of her motives. As Mike’s condition deteriorated and no donor could be found it appeared to be the only option.
She was adamant that Mike was only to be told that a suitable match had become available. Perhaps afterwards, when he could do nothing to prevent it, she would try to explain. She was not sure if she understood herself why this was so important.
Mike was upbeat as he prepared to go under the knife, determined to show his appreciation to the unknown donor by looking after himself better. Lucy wondered if he was capable of such a change.
It was the first bet that he had ever lost. She had turned out to be the one in three thousand who didn’t make it. He was distraught when he found out, furious that she had been permitted to proceed. The price was too high, he no longer wished to go on. The consultant understood but quietly questioned Mike’s attitude. Was he going to waste the sacrifice she had made?
He couldn’t become a different person, but he could honour her memory by trying. That small part of her that continued to live inside him, that prolonged his life, was to be looked after. He would never suggest a bet to anyone again.