The Rain­bow Path by El­lie Ed­wards

As my daugh­ter de­scribed this mag­i­cal place, I al­most felt it was real . . .

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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.”

“Like what?”

“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.

“Look!”

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.

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