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EXTRACT: The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

Our extract this week is from the new book, The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin. Enjoy!


I went to meet God because it’s one of the only things I can do here. People say that when you die, it’s because God is calling you back to him, so I thought I’d get the introduction over and done with ahead of time. Also, I’d heard that the staff are legally obliged to let you go to the hospital chapel if you have religious beliefs, and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to see a room I’d not yet been in and meet the Almighty in one go.

A nurse I’d never seen before, who had cherry red hair, linked her arm through mine and walked me down the corridors of the dead and the dying. I devoured every new sight, every new smell, every pair of mismatched pyjamas that passed me.

I suppose you could say that my relationship with God is complicated. As far as I understand it, he’s like a cosmic wishing well. I’ve asked for stuff a couple of times, and some of those times he’s come up with the goods. Other times there’s been silence. Or, as I have begun to think lately, maybe all the times I thought God was being silent, he was quietly depositing more nonsense into my body, a kind of secret ‘F-you’ for daring to challenge him, only to be discovered many years later. Buried treasure for me to find.

When we reached the chapel doors, I was unimpressed. I’d expected an elegant Gothic archway, but instead I came up against a pair of heavy wooden doors with square frosted windows.

I wondered why God would need his windows frosted. What’s he up to in there?
Into the silence behind the doors the new nurse and I stumbled.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘hello!’

He must have been about sixty, wearing a black shirt and trousers and a white dog collar. And he looked like he couldn’t have been happier than he was at that moment.
I saluted. ‘Your honour.’

‘This is Lenni . . . Peters?’ The new nurse turned to me for clarification.
She let go of my arm and added gently, ‘She’s from the May Ward.’

It was the kindest way for her to say it. I suppose she felt she ought to warn him, because he looked as excited as a child on Christmas morning receiving a train set wrapped in a big bow, when in reality, the gift she was presenting him with was broken. He could get attached if he wanted, but the wheels were already coming off and the whole thing wasn’t likely to see another Christmas.

I took my drip tube, which was attached to my drip wheelie thing, and walked towards him.
‘I’ll be back in an hour,’ the new nurse told me, and then she said something else, but I wasn’t listening. Instead, I was staring up, where the light shone in and the glow of every shade of pink and purple imaginable was striking my irises.

‘Do you like the window?’ he asked.

A cross of brown glass behind the altar was illuminating the whole chapel. Radiating from around the cross were jagged pieces of glass in violet, plum, fuchsia and rose.

The whole window seemed like it was on fire. The light scattered over the carpet and the pews and across our bodies.

He waited patiently beside me, until I was ready to turn to him. ‘It’s nice to meet you, Lenni,’ he said. ‘I’m Arthur.’ He shook my hand, and to his credit he didn’t wince when his fingers touched the part where the drip burrows into my skin. ‘Would you like to sit?’ he asked, gesturing to the rows of empty pews. ‘It’s very nice to meet you.’

‘You said.’
‘Did I? Sorry.’

I wheeled my drip behind me and as I reached the pew, I tied my dressing gown more tightly around my waist. ‘Can you tell God I’m sorry about my pyjamas?’ I asked as I sat. ‘You just told him. He’s always listening,’ Father Arthur said as he sat beside me. I looked up at the cross.
‘So tell me, Lenni, what brings you to the chapel today?’ ‘I’m thinking about buying a second-hand BMW.’

The One Hundred Years
of Lenni and Margot by
Marianne Cronin is
published by Doubleday.