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Say No to Death

Dymphna Cusack is a writer of world acclaim whose works have been translated into many languages. She belongs to the famous galaxy of modern Australian realistic writers.

Cusack’s works were first published in the mid 1930s. She wrote a number of plays and novels (the novels Southern Steel, 1953, The Sun in Exile, 1955, A Bough in Hell, 1971). Her writings treat a wide range of topics involving social and moral problems essential to Australian people and to the entire progressive world.

Say No to Death’ is one of Cusack’s most popular novels. It was published in 1951. The plot of the novel is a dramatic love story of a twenty-five-year-old soldier Bart Templeton, who is back home after the Second World War, and a young typist Jan Blakeley. Their happy days do not last long. Jan suddenly falls ill with tuberculosis. Fifteen months of the desperate struggle for the girl’s life end in failure…

In spite of its tragic end, ‘Say No to Death’ is an optimistic novel. Bart Templeton acquires friends who share his grief. It is evident that Bart will find his path and his noble aim in life and will say his firm “no” to death.

The doctor examined her throat. “Nothing wrong there,” Jan looked at his magnificent head, his broad shoulders, the strength of his white hands, and felt completely reassured. He had attended her when she had pleurisy, and it had always been the same; whenever he came into the room his brisk, easy manner had given her comfort. Now she was both comforted and relieved. He looked up at her with a twinkle in his prominent eyes.

“Not a thing to worry about, my dear Miss Blakeley,” he said, turning on his usual smile. “You look wonderful. Not a trace of that old pleurisy left. Now what you want is plenty of exercise and plenty of sun. Judging by the tan you’ve got, you’ve already been doing that.”

Jan nodded. Her eyes were bright with relief and excitement. It was wonderful to be rid of the dread that had gnawed at her every time she thought of the stains on the handkerchief. She had been almost afraid to ask him, and when she forced herself to ask, her voice was shaking:

“And the blood, Doctor…?”

“Put it out of you mind altogether. Obviously you swallowed a fish-bone and that caused the trouble.” He patted her shoulder paternally. “You’ve been worrying, too, I know.” He towered above her, bluff and hearty, exuding confidence as his eyes twinkled down into hers. “Admit it! With that young man of yours away you were worried, weren’t you?”

Jan bit her lips. Her eyes faltered and she looked away. He laughed. “Well, now he’s back everything will be all right. I hope to hear that you’re going to be married soon. That’ll be the best thing for you.” His voice was fatherly as they moved towards the door. “You know, young women with your men away in the Forces are apt to get a bit neurotic, but everything will be all right now.”

He handed her an envelope. “Get this prescription made up at the chemist’s. It will stop that coughing in the early morning.” He held her hand and she felt well-being and assurance flow into her. Jan went out and stood a moment by the tree, hearing the rain-drops pattering against its leaves.

The doctor’s parting words rang in her ears like a benediction. She didn’t know exactly what she had feared, but all kinds of hazy, unformulated terrors had been in the back of her mind. His words had brushed them aside and his kindly ridicule about neurotic women had made her see how absurd they were.

She stood waiting for the trolley-bus to take her down to the city, where she was meeting Bart for lunch, but her excitement made her so impatient that she could not bear to stand waiting.

She decided that she had plenty of time to walk through Woolloomooloo.

The surge of her excitement and joy rose as she reached the top of the hill where Bart was waiting for her. He saw her coming. She moved with such grace, her beauty so bright in the dull day that he was shaken. This is it, Bart, my boy, he said to himself, this must be the real thing.

When she came up to him, her eyes were warm with welcome, the colour bright in her cheeks from climbing the hill, her breath coming light and quick between her parted lips.

“Hello,” he said, “you’re early.” She smiled.

“Been to the quack?”

She nodded.

“No need to ask what he said?”

The smile lingered on her face.

“You look so healthy. What actually did he say?”

“Just what we thought. It was a fish-bone, of course”.

Bart took her arm. “Anything else?”

“I need plenty of exercise and sun and piles to eat.”

“That suits me, particularly, the eating part. Where do we go?”

“Wherever you like.”

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