This story was first published in August 2021 in Writing in a Woman's Voice
I think of planning to get up off the floor. Or am I planning to think of it? I imagine each step in minute detail. Slightly shifting my weight onto my left hip, starting to move my hand to the right, but I do nothing. A moment later the messages are becoming more insistent. You must move. Get up.
Mum always used to say I could never make a decision. But I proved her wrong with Len. We’d known each other since we were kids. He’d always been sweet on Celia Hollingworth. They got around together all through school and it was understood by everyone that his father being a boiler-maker, he’d follow him into the trade and she’d make the perfect wife. Funny how fate can make a few quick flicks of the wrist. And suddenly you find yourself on the floor.
The pain is starting to throb. I need to distract myself…thinking about other things helps, but when it gets bad, it’s like I need to talk out loud or shout. I know what’ll happen if I start talking to myself…Marion’ll walk in and think my cheese has finally slid off the biscuit. You’d think after such a long life I’d be able to dredge up one bloomin’ song…so many locked away in my brain, but the words won’t come. Only silly things. Oh dear, what can the matter be. Seven old ladies got locked in the lavatory…they were there from Monday to Saturday…
It was the war that did it, of course. Who ever heard of calling people up by a random ballot? And for a war nobody cared about in a place no one had ever heard of. I wrote to him when Celia got married. Just newsy stuff, nothing personal. Well, he wrote back. Such long letters about the country, politics, the Yanks…all sorts. His descriptions were so lively I felt like I was there with him. I still read them sometimes and wonder who wrote them. The person who penned them never came home.
A fund raiser went round for him the week before he was returned. Staying back in the hospital after the presentation group left, I sat on the end of his bed and we talked until the nurses started giving me the evil eye. It was then that he asked me.
She stayed in there far more than she oughta, all to get rid of superfluous water…Marriage is hard work. That’s the thing girls today don’t realise. During the hard times I found strength in unlikely things. I remember living off a smile from Dr Kemp for weeks. And I always found comfort in the regularity of the night soil man coming on Sunday nights, whistling as he clanged the lids. I never felt happy going to sleep until I heard him. You hang onto these solid things when the life around you slides and cracks. If you can find enough real, hard things, they might just start to lock in and stop everything else sailing around…She went in to repair a suspender, it snapped up and ruined her feminine gender…
It only started when he lost his job. Of course, I was partly to blame. I didn’t understand what he was going through. He wanted to up sticks and leave this small-minded town but I couldn’t. Not with Mum so ill. I think he had an argument with someone on the way home that first night. Dinner was cold on the table and I was out in the garden when I heard the door slam. It was my fault he’d been fired, he said. There were no single men, so married men without children were next. Called himself a luckless bastard with a wife like a fallow field. I know he didn’t mean what happened. It’s like he was seeing someone else. Not me. Never me.
She was drunk as a skunk when she came through the door, the stalls were all full so she peed on the floor…The kettle turned itself off automatically ages ago. The teabag can sit in its cup unattended. Like me. I am aware of wetness on my calf, soaking my stocking: the water that sent me down here to count my blessings for a while.
I thought about leaving him. Visiting Mum at the home usually turned me though. I often wondered if she’d bullied me into staying whether I wouldn’t have left immediately. But it’s easy not to make a decision when you have nowhere to go. There was a certain comfort in having no choice. And there were good days. I always remind myself of that. She only went in to make herself comfy, and then she said “Girls, I can’t get my bum free…”
Time has slowed into a foggy stasis—how long have I been here? What has happened outside in the world since I’ve been examining the diamond-patterned linoleum and gazing up at the wooden panels of the kitchen cabinets? I turn to rest my cheek on the lino, deeply scratched in places—we never did get round to replacing it. I know that when I become serious about upward leverage my hip will explode in spangles of pain, a rampant argument between the joints as opposed to the current drone I am trying to block out.
I keep an ear open for Marion. Most mornings she comes through the gap in the fence and taps on the window and we have tea together out in the sunroom. She goes to her daughter's on Wednesday...is today Wednesday? No, Tuesday, I'm sure.
Her urge was sincere, her reaction was fickle. She hurdles the door she'd forgotten her nickel...
I'm sure it's Tuesday.
I can’t understand children these days. All pasty-faced cave dwellers. I know I wouldn’t be in the house all day if my legs were up to it. Marion has a granddaughter, Jessie. It was her eighth birthday the other day and she was given a digital camera. Of course she already has a mobile phone. For security, her mother says. And of course she has her own TV in her room where she can watch her own shows—it had to go somewhere after they got the plasma screen. Lucky there was enough room, what with the computer being in there already. I think nine might be a little young for her first car, but of course I don’t say anything. What do I know about this world of modern communication anyway? She hadn’t been living according to Hoyle, was relieved when the swelling was only a boil…
Marion is on the email. Says she knows how to open mail from Stephen and how to send a reply. Stamps would be cheaper, she says, but at least she knows they always find him. Plus her handwriting isn’t what it once was. No one puts pen to paper these days—although my niece Annie loves those little square sticky notes. It strikes me that a lot of written communication comes in tiny squares these days. Does anyone bother to remember anything any more?
She went in, in a heck of a hurry, when she got there, it was too late to worry…Some things you remember better than others. Some you deliberately forget and some you remember differently to other people. I often wonder about that. Marion still says her worst night ever was seeing me running down the street tearing at my nightie. She can be quite dramatic at times. All I remember is finding him and calling the police. I felt as cool as a cucumber. I remember sitting down on the back step and holding Len’s bloodied hand in mine and saying, ‘Don’t worry. Everything will be all right.’ I don’t recall the police arriving. You can’t remember everything.
The third old lady was little Miss Draper…she went inside, and there was no paper…all she could find was a bricklayer's scraper…
I wish Marion would hurry up. She must be gassing on the phone. I can just see the top of the magnolia tree out the kitchen window. There’s a little bird that’s been hopping around a lot these last few days. Got some babies, no doubt. I watch her agile little flits and hops and think how lucky she is, but how short her life. But then, living long is not all it’s cracked up to be. Len must have known that.
She was known as a world renowned farter…she went in and played a sonata…
I think I’ll just lie here a little while longer.