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A LONG SLEEP

Chapter Four (you can find Chapter 3 here)

Copyright Stevie Turner 2019


Mum is sitting by the door as I turn my key in her lock.

“I’ve been waiting here for ages.  Where have you been?”

I stifle a sigh of exasperation.

“The M Eleven was blocked.  I had to take a detour.”

“Oh.  Well I’ve made some lunch for you.  You’d better come and eat it.”

She rises stiffly to her feet, clutching her walker; an old lady so far removed from the mother I once had to be virtually unrecognisable.  I follow behind her to the kitchen.

“We’ll go up the A Twelve going back.  I can’t be doing with that again.”

Shuffle. Shuffle.  The walker makes it to the kitchen.  I want to scream at my mother’s slow pace, but realise that nothing whatsoever now has the ability to reverse the ageing process and make her move any quicker.   She opens the fridge door and takes out two buttered slices of bread.

“I tried to open a tin of salmon, but I couldn’t do it.  The ring thing fell off, and I can’t use a tin opener anymore.”

“It’s okay.  I’ll do it.”

I open the cutlery drawer; it’s filthier than I remember.  I run the can opener under a hot tap and spoon out the tin’s contents into a bowl.

“Is this all for me?”

“Yes.” She replies, as she sinks down onto a chair. “I went to my lunch club.”

I look up at the clock.  Half past two, and we’ve still got to get to our hotel tonight.  I wolf down the sandwiches, then hurriedly wash up and put the plate away.

“You’re Mrs Whip-it-Quick, you are.”

I smile at Mum and pick up her case.

“Come on, we’d better get going.”

“No.”  Mum shakes her head. “I have to go to the toilet first.”

Why on earth couldn’t she have gone while I ate my lunch?  Case in hand, I sit by the front door and wait impatiently for her to exit the toilet.  After what feels like three years she opens the door.

“Sorry.”

“I might as well go now, but I won’t be a minute.”

Mum’s struggling with her coat as I emerge from the bathroom.  I help her do up the buttons.

“You won’t need your coat on in the car.”

“It’s always cold in your car, Connie.  You never have the heating on.”

“That’s because it’s summer.” I reply and roll my eyes heavenwards. “It’s ninety in the shade out there.”

“When you get old like me, you’ll feel the cold.”

By the time we make it to the car it’s gone half past three.  I know Mum will chatter the whole way there, and I grit my teeth in preparation for the long journey back to Norfolk.

***

A stress migraine threatens as I unpack my case.  Mum is safely ensconced in one of the downstairs rooms for disabled guests, and I am totally alone and free for the first time in months.  I hang up the last blouse and flop onto the bed, feeling the burden of responsibility slip away.

I must have dozed, because a buzzing phone wakes me up.  The migraine has disappeared and my mother’s strident voice pipes up in my ear.

“When is it dinner time?”

I check my watch.  An hour has gone by in a flash.

Now.  Meet me by the dining room door.  I’ll be down in a minute.”

I run a cold flannel over my face and change my tee shirt.  We’re the last to get seated in the dining room, which mainly consists of ladies no longer in their prime and only one or two old boys.  Mum looks around the room.

“It’s full of old people in here.”

I cannot help but laugh. 

“You’re no spring chicken, Mum.”

My mother gives me a haughty look.

“I bet I’m younger than this lot.”

By the look of our dining buddies, she is.  The salmon sandwich was digested hours ago, and I’m famished.  I push the boat out so to speak and order steak and chips, with a side order of salad.  The food is good, and for once my mother cannot find anything to complain about.

I’m rather relieved when after dinner Mum announces that she wants an early night.  I escort her to her room, and then take a stroll along the seafront.  It’s still not quite dark, and after walking for a while I find an empty seat on the opposite side of the road to the bright lights of an amusement arcade.  Shallow waves roll to the shoreline, loved-up couples wander past, and I enjoy being with my own thoughts in the balmy early evening.

***

It’s been ages since I’ve been able to sit on a beach in peace.  Mum dozes in a deckchair, and I think back to when Dave and I first started taking Kieran out in his specially adapted wheelchair.  People would stare every time he made a noise, and I’d feel the full force of their disapproval. After a while we stopped taking him out in public at all, apart from trips to visit family.  We became insular; stay-at-home, and boring.  When Dave started to find excuses not to come home at all, I didn’t even have the gumption to ask where he was.  I was busy with Kieran, and figured he’d tell me soon enough what was going on, and he did.

Mum brings me back to earth with a jolt.  She pulls her cardigan tightly around her shoulders.

“It’s a cold wind today.”

I’m slowly baking in my deckchair, and would give my right arm for some shade.  However, it’s best to keep Mum happy, as the complaining would soon begin to grate on my nerves.

“I’ll bring your duvet next time.”

There is a tut of annoyance from the deckchair next to mine.

“No need to be sarky.  When you get old, you’ll understand.”

I’m already bloody old; fifty three summers have passed, and soon to be fifty four.  I close my eyes and muse on whether I’m destined to be a carer for the rest of my life.  No man has ever looked twice at me since Dave left, and I’m sure none of them would want to take on the burden of Kieran anyway.  This is it for me now; tea and scones at Sainsbury’s on Mondays and Tuesdays, visits from Katie and Finn, and the odd week away with my mother.  I’m just existing.

Chapter 5 tomorrow…