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The Vine

It was a damp but warm late summer in St. Ives, England's artist's Mecca, on the north coast of the county of Cornwall. The tourist numbers were starting to dwindle now and the schools would soon be starting up for yet another year of imparting knowledge. It is so strange that schools always teach knowledge, but rarely teach or develop the natural skills and gifts of their students. This was the last few days of August, in three days it would be September, time to make the most of those last days of freedom, thought Joanna Mansfield. Jo got out of bed early that Friday morning, her bedroom faced east and during the summer the rising Sun streamed into her bedroom. The view from her bedroom looked out onto another house, and to the right, a white painted wall of their neighbour's house. That white wall had a creeper growing on it, that in Autumn showed the most wonderfully coloured leaves of Red and orange and yellow. Jo loved that vine, and sometimes would sit on her bed and gaze at its leaves for minutes on end. In the afternoon, the Sun's rays would reflect off the white wall and the coloured leaves, filling her room with a warm orange glow.

It was almost seven when Jo made herself a bowl of breakfast cereal and a cup of her favourite English breakfast tea. Jo's father Louis Mansfield, owned a company that operated pleasure boats and fishing charter boats around the Cornish coast, and the company was doing well. Jo had never seen much of her Dad over the past five years but these days the company could afford to employ a manager, so, 'Dad' was around a great deal more. “So what are you up to today,” her Dad asked.

I'm meeting Monica on the quay side at eight, we're going to Hayle shopping and then to the beach for the afternoon,” Jo informed her Dad.

Well it's OK for some, some of us have to work to get the money for you to spend,” Louis replied, laughing.

That's why I love you Dad.”

I want to buy Monica a new beach outfit, all she has is that moth-bitten old school thing,” Jo explained, “her parents are having a bit of a hard time. Her Dad lost his job when the brewery closed down.”

No problems Jo, ask her if there is anything I can do, see if he's interested in working on the boats.”

OK Dad, but the family are quite proud, so if they think it's charity . . .”

Isn't Monica the one that's a talented artist?”

Yep, she does some incredible stuff, you saw some at school, at open night.”

Oh yea, I remember,” Louis said thinking hard about the parent's night, “Well, have a good day darling, I'm off to work, see you later,” he said, and gave his daughter a kiss on the cheek.

Her breakfast finished, Jo trotted off down the steep hill to the town and then to the old sweet-shop near the harbour wall, where Monica was waiting. They walked to the bus terminal, chattering, the way young teens do, all the way. The number fourteen bus was there and at eight-fifteen it pulled away, on its Hayle, Cambourn, Redruth and Truro route. The two girls got off the bus at the Hayle retail park, and headed into Marks & Spencer, the popular, quality retailer. Like most ladies in the making, the girls browsed the spacious store, trying on at least a dozen garments each. Finally, Jo selected a school blouse and skirt, and a pair of embroidered jeans, which she took to the till, together with a beach top and swim suit that Monica had admired and tried on. The two left the shop at eleven-thirty, then decided to walk back along the shore to the west of the Hayle River and around the bay to Carbis Bay.

It took about an hour to reach the Carbis beach and getting sodas and pasties from the little beach shop they settled down to relax on the sand. Jo removed her cotton dress to reveal a modest swimsuit underneath, then threw the beach set she had bought Monica across, “Get into this Monica, it's yours,” she said.

Monica was surprised and a little embarrassed, but accepted the gift and changed under the beach-towel she had brought along for the purpose. “Thanks Jo, it's lovely,” she said and gave Jo a hug.

I saw how you liked it, now shut up and get some sun, it's back to school next week,” said Jo finishing the last of her pasty. Jo spread her beach-towel, laid back, inserted the earphones of her mp3 in her ears and closed her eyes. Both girls fell asleep in the warm late summer sun.

It was Monica who awoke first and saw that the time was after four, and she had promised to be home by five to help her mother. She rolled over and gave Jo a shake, “Wake up sleepy-head, time to go,” she said in Jo's ear. There was no response, so Monica shook Jo's arm and a little louder said, “Come on Jo, stop messing about, I'm going to be late.” But there was still no response from Jo. Monica stood, grabbed a bottle of water and poured the contents over Jo. Her friend never moved a muscle. The first signs of panic where now rising in Monica and she looked around, not quite knowing what to do, few fourteen year old girls have much experience in life's emergencies. At the far end of the beach she observed the lifeguard station, and after a moments thought started to run the two-hundred or so yards to the small hut. The lifeguard was inside, making tea, he looked around as Monica burst in, “Can you help please, I can't wake my friend up.”

Tried a bucket of seawater,” suggested the lifeguard, rather more sarcastically than was needed.

I have tried, with drinking water,” explained Monica, ignoring the sarcasm.

OK show me where she is,” said the life saver, grudgingly. The two hurried back to where Jo was still sleeping in the Sun, the lifeguard lightly patter Jo on her cheeks then bent over to listen to her breathing, it was shallow. After a moment he stood, and then asked, “You got a mobile?”

Yes,” Monica responded.

Then you'd better ring for an ambulance,” the lifeguard suggested, “something is wrong.”

Monica, with shaking hands dialled one-one-two and a second later a voice asked, “Police, fire or ambulance?”

Ambulance, please, quickly,” she said almost sobbing now.

About eight minutes later the ambulance pulled up on the road near the hotel. The lifeguard waved a black and yellow flag to attract the paramedics, who then sprinted across the sand carrying a stretcher and other equipment. After a few moments examining Jo the paramedics lifted her onto the stretcher and carried her away to the ambulance. Monica was left on the beach, the lifeguard helped her to pack up all the friend's property and she phoned her mother to explain what had happened. Monica's mother picked her up in the family car and it was left to her parents to break the news to Jo's parents.

Although there is a surgical hospital at Hayle, Jo was taken to the much larger county hospital at Trelisk, near to Truro. An hour after Jo arrived in the Accident and Emergency department, Jo's parents arrived. They were in for a long wait. After an examination Jo was taken to the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanning room in the basement, and then to the Neurology ward, Louis and Janet Mansfield sat by her bed in the small private room for three days, on the third Jo opened her eyes, surprised that she was no longer on the beach. Now that Jo was concious they could start to diagnose the problems, so another MRI scan was organised. Sadly this scan confirmed the earlier one, Jo had developed a brain tumour, deep in her brain, which the surgeon said was inoperable. They gave Jo about three months to live.

A week later Jo was taken home, she started suffering extreme headaches and was becoming palpably weaker, sometimes confused, but at other times Jo had periods of incredible lucidity. One day in early October, when autumn was getting its teeth into the climate and the local plants and trees, Monica made her usual bi-daily visit. She found Jo at a low ebb, it was difficult for Monica to hold her tears back, but hold them back she did.

Moni, I'm going to die soon, I can feel it,” Jo told her friend.

Of course your not, you'll be better soon,” Monica insisted.

I can feel my life draining away, as each leaf of the vine out there falls, a little bit more of me dies.”

That is just silly Jo, that vine will shed its leave and next year will come alive again and produce more leaves, and that's what you will do, you'll feel bad, but next year you will be back to yourself again,” insisted Monica.

I know you mean well Moni, but I know, when the last leaf falls from that vine, I will die.”

Over the next few weeks Jo kept on insisting that death would come when the last leaf fell, and the leaves on the vine kept on falling. Monica's parents, committed Christians, came and prayed with Jo, but the leaves fell and Jo became weaker. One night in early November a storm blew in from the Atlantic and the howling wind ripped all but three leaves from the vine, and Jo was unconscious for more, and more of each day. Monica still visited and mostly just held her friend's hand and smiled when the medication wore off, and before the next dose was automatically administered. The day after the storm another leaf fell, when Jo awoke she looked to the window, saw that only two leaves remained, she smiled and fell into another sleep. Two days later there was just one leaf left, it stared at Jo through her window in defiance, but stayed where it was. Each morning and every afternoon Jo looked out of her window at the vine she loved and still the leaf was there. It was still there, as orange as any leaf could be, when December arrived, and when Christmas came the single leaf clung to the vine with determination. So it was through January and on into March, and it was still there when the first buds appeared in April. As the buds opened and became verdant green leaves, so their energy seemed to feed back into Joanne Mansfield. By June Jo was able to sit out of her bed, and although the new foliage now covered the orange leaf, Jo knew, somehow, that it was still there.

By the following August Jo was almost back to normal, the doctors at the hospital were amazed at her recovery and the tumour had shrunk to the size of a pea. After a visit to the hospital in mid August she asked her next door neighbour if she could look in their back yard for the leaf that refused to die. The neighbour produced a ladder and Jo climbed to the level of her bedroom window and parted the dark green leaves of the vine. On her second attempt she saw the orange leaf and stretched out her hand to touch it, but what she touched was the wall. There, on that white wall was a miniature work of art in oils, with colour variation, with veins and a with life painted into it. Jo immediately knew just who had painted it, her best friend had saved her life with the smallest work of art, but Jo knew that Monica would never paint another work that would be so meaningful.

The above story is a work of fiction and has no connection with any incident or persons alive or dead, and similarities to any person is entirely incidental.

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