The Rainbow Path by Ellie Edwards
As my daughter described this magical place, I almost felt it was real . . .
WE nearly lost her again last night, Mum,” I whispered. “I know, love.” “I don’t know if I’ve got the strength to go through that. Not again.”
“She’s your little girl, darling – of course you have the strength. Especially for your little Ellie.”
I smiled weakly as Mum rubbed my back.
Even though I was in my mid-forties, my mum was the only person who could make me feel instantly better with a hug.
I’d lost count of the hours we’d spent like this over the years, sitting on uncomfortable hospital chairs, watching my sleeping daughter as she found her way through to recovery.
The nurses would come in periodically, checking charts, completing the necessary papers until we could take Ellie home again.
Mum called home to update Dad every few hours; I would stretch my legs along the corridors, sliding coins into vending machines for plastictasting coffee or synthetic, powdery soup. We took turns to visit the café on the ground floor.
It was all sadly familiar. When Ellie popped into my life, seven years before, it had been a delightful shock.
I was in full career-mode and living in a chic London loft apartment, so motherhood had absolutely not featured in my life plans at all. But my world changed the instant I realised I was expecting.
Something deep inside me simply responded, “Oh, of course”, as if everything else I’d ever done was simply leading to this baby.
My boyfriend wasn’t the parental type, or indeed the marrying type, and I put no pressure on him to be so, but we stayed friends and were still in touch as Ellie grew up.
Within weeks of the first ultrasound, I’d sold my digital marketing business and my goldmine of a flat, turned freelance consultant and was heading back to my rural roots.
As I was house-hunting, five months into the pregnancy, a stunning rainbow materialised, arching over the hills and disappearing in a small Cotswold village.
Drawn towards it, I found my future cottage off this same village green and felt a sense of coming home. The buying process and moving in was hasslefree, with every nook of the cottage a perfect fit for my favourite possessions.
Ellie emerged into the world one snowy morning many weeks later, and so my next chapter began.
It was several months before I realised something was wrong.
She’d been a rose-pink slip of a baby, so her being small never bothered me, but during a regular check-up, the doctor had one of those concerned frowns that hits you like a belly punch.
He took a deep breath and put down his pen.
“Emma, I think it would be a good idea to refer Ellie to a specialist to be on the safe side.”
And this marked the start of the next chapter, during which I became an expert in certain medical jargon, in securing appointments and in navigating my way around clinics and outpatient units.
Ellie had a rare form of asthma. The specialist explained we’d need to rule out any food allergies and use an inhaler to ward off the worst symptoms, but that her particular condition could lead to hospitalisation “in the event of a severe attack”.
It was like a bomb that could go off any moment.
Thankfully, my friend Sue, who worked with me on graphic design and also lived in the village, was on hand to take over my business projects if Ellie and I had to rush off for treatment.
“Emma, no-one tells you this before you become a mum, but for every high of loving your kids, there’s the flipside of feeling helpless when they’re hurt,” she said. “Every child seems to be born with some way of terrifying their parents. It’s life.”
Sue had three children herself, now all in their teens, so she and Gary were facing a whole other set of worries.
“There’s no such thing as easy parenting unless you simply don’t care enough to be worried. But that’s why God also gave us tea and biscuits.”
Sue was a brilliant designer, and the perfect friend.
Around this time, my retired parents announced that they were looking to downsize and would I mind if they ended up in the same area of the Cotswolds?
They had “coincidentally” found the perfect bungalow in the next village to mine. My instinct told me that they were rallying round and I’d never loved them more.
The first time I called Mum in the middle of the night was when Ellie was nearly three and had stopped breathing after a friend’s party.
It was a rush of
panic and ambulances, beeping machines, trolleys, calm professionals and reassuring voices.
Finally, at two a.m., an exhausted-looking junior doctor came to me.
“She’s stable, now, Ms Harrington, and all the signs are good. You can relax.”
Relax? I didn’t think I’d ever relax again. I sat looking at Ellie, unable to let down my guard, wrung out by the intensity of the emotions of the last few hours.
I called Mum, who came with a calm voice, crosswords, a flask of tea and sandwiches.
When she pulled my head to her shoulder and stroked my hair, I was a child again. I fell asleep in seconds.
Ellie awoke around dawn. “Morning, Mummy. Nanna!” She beamed. “Am I in hos-pickle now? I was in the colours! It was pretty!”
Mum and I drew close, one on each side.
“The colours, and the fairies, all around.”
Mum and I smiled, thinking this must be a slightly hallucinogenic side-effect of the treatment they’d given her.
The next time she was hospitalised, though, 18 months later, she spoke about the colours again.
“It’s beautiful, Mummy. My Rainbow Place.”
“What’s the Rainbow Place, sweetheart? Can you tell us about it?”
“Do you have to be asleep to go there, lovely?” Mum asked.
“People, yes. Fairies can go any time they like. It’s where they learn to fly.
“The clouds are soft so, when they fall, they don’t get hurt,” Ellie said earnestly. “But if the fairies bump into all the clouds too fast they make a little hole and then the light goes through the clouds like great big fingers of sunshine.”
My little chatterbox wiggled her fingers while Mum and I listened to the descriptions of this magical place, relieved.
Over the years, any time she was very ill or had a seizure, she would talk about this Rainbow Place. Mum saw it as Ellie’s way of dealing with the trauma of the episodes she had.
“Every time she has an attack, I’m petrified she might not pull through,” I admitted to Sue. “It’s exhausting. Then she wakes up chattering about rainbows and fairies!”
“But Emma, isn’t it comforting to think she’s in such a happy place? Kids are so much more open than adults. Who’s to say she doesn’t get a glimpse at paradise?”
“You’re right, she wakes up happy and excited. It’s beautiful, I love hearing about it.”
“Well, any other time it happens, focus on the magic, Em, because maybe it’s there to help you as well as her.”
So I did that the next time we ended up in hospital.
We had both become used to Ellie coming round and babbling away, her growing vocabulary giving greater insights into her unconscious.
“I think there are other people, but you don’t see them like men or women. More, um, shapes and light.” She sought to find the words. “But I always know who they are, even though I can’t see a face.”
A nurse came in to take Ellie’s blood pressure then. Mum slipped out for a break, so I continued chatting in an attempt to distract Ellie.
“What’s everyone doing? Are they working?”
“It’s a busy place. And happy. They’re making all the new leaves ready to decorate the trees in spring.
“Each person makes snowflakes, too, one at a time. But most things in the Rainbow Place can’t be seen.”
“Oh, cuddles, tickles and hiccups. You can’t see them, but they’re all around. They bubble over and fall on us when we don’t expect it.
“You know how sometimes you might suddenly feel excited and happy for no reason at all? It’s when they’ve made too much laughing in the Rainbow Place so they sprinkle it outside. See?”
“Good morning, Ellie. I like the sound of that, wherever it is.”
I hadn’t noticed the new doctor come in.
“It’s the Rainbow Place. Mummy was asking me about it.”
“Hello, Ellie’s mummy. I’m Doctor Elliot; we met briefly last night.” He shook my hand.
“Hello. Thanks for your help getting her through that attack. How is she looking? Is there anything I need to know?”
“Everything’s fine. You’re doing great, Ellie.”
“Actually, I’m Eliot like your surname. But with one L. So you and Mummy could never get married because then I’d be Eliot Elliot, which would be kind of weird. Are you one L or two?”
He glanced at me and I blushed with embarrassment.
“I’m Elliot with two Ls,” he answered seriously. “I think it makes a great first name, though, very classy.”
“I’m named after the writer George Eliot and the poet T.S. Eliot. Mummy loves them.”
“I do,” I said, finding my voice, “although maybe the doctor doesn’t need all our history?”
“Well, Eliot, I recently discovered that our name also means ‘believer’,” the doctor said, “and I believe you’ll be well enough to go home tomorrow.
“I just need to check your heart rate and a few other boring things, so why don’t you carry on telling Mummy about your Rainbow Place while I do all that?”
Ellie did. She described huge kitchens where sadness and tears were gathered up and taken to fairies who mixed them all together and shaped them into smiles.
It reminded me of what Sue said. Maybe it was a message for me, too.
“Most of the time you can’t see the Rainbow Place so you just have to believe in it,” she said solemnly, “but sometimes all the colours leak out and that’s when you get a rainbow. That’s the proof, see?”
The doctor and I exchanged glances. I was amazed at all the detail and half-tempted to believe in this Rainbow Place as much as Ellie did.
She sipped her drink then looked up.
“Is it breakfast time soon?”
That was the last time we ever had a hospital stay, thank goodness.
With more advanced medication Ellie managed to grow out of her illness and, from the age of twelve, she never had a seizure or scare again.
It wasn’t completely our last hospital visit, though. We needed to return for regular check-ups and got to know the staff very well, like Dr Elliot.
One day, as we were driving towards the hospital for a final appointment, Ellie pointed out of the windscreen.
A double rainbow had formed, clear and defined, soaring over the Cotswolds and alighting on the hospital entrance. As we approached, the colours seemed to intensify.
At that moment, out walked Dr Elliot, momentarily bathed in this beautiful rainbow path. He recognised us, smiled broadly and began to walk towards us.
“I knew it!” Ellie ran off to meet him.
“I think I probably knew it, too,” I whispered, following the rainbow path towards them and sending a quiet thank you up into the air. ■
Relax? I didn’t think I would ever relax again.