by Cherry Casey
It was the kind of heat that made you feel dirty. Every crevice, clammy. And the glare through the window made her squint. Couldn’t even make out what they were driving past. It was just shapes. White and yellow blurs. Where were they? Hang on… what stop did she get on at?
Oh god. Her bloody memory. Embarrassing. A quick scan of the seats didn’t show anyone she knew. She couldn’t even see a driver. Must have come up to the top deck. Well she’d have to get off soon because this was unbearable – the heat, the light. The noise. How was it so bloody loud when there was no one on here? Words upon words that she couldn’t decipher.
She would normally see at least one person she could have a chat with. But there was no one. Just endless seats.
‘The cleaner texted me so I just said, “Irene’s really very ill now. She won’t be coming home.”’
The sound of her name thudded into her stomach. They were talking about her? Who was it?
She turned to look but a searing pain in her neck stopped her. Turning the other way was the same. She couldn’t move. Her body felt like lead and her mouth suddenly so dry.
‘Nan? Nan are you ok?’, the voice pounded in her right ear, she winced and managed to jerk her head to the left. Why wouldn’t they just go away?
She shouldn’t be rude. She should pull herself together, open her eyes and have a chat with them. Tell them she was fine, really. But she was so tired. And if she stayed still, the pain in her neck faded.
They’d gone now, whoever it was. Sounded like Lisa, actually. Maybe she’d headed to the back with the little ones. She’d get up and have a look in a minute, once she’d gathered her strength.
She just needed to sit very still. And breathe. And again. Slowly.
Like when Alison was a baby. When she would sleep on her while they sat in the little pink armchair underneath the bookcase. Irene would rest her on her shoulder, just to wind her, before putting her down so she could get on. Defrost the meat and get rid of the washing pile before John got home.
But with Alison’s tiny feet just touching her kneecaps, her warm body nestled against her chest and her fluff of hair tickling her chin, she never wanted to move. She would sit so quietly for so long. Just breathing in her smell and counting the little yellow ducks in front of her.
Oh she was proud of that room and she didn’t mind who knew it. They’d decorated it together – she’d lined the paper up and John had pasted it down. There was not one piece out of place, not a crease. John was meticulous and she’d impressed him that day. He didn’t so much as say it but he kept going back into the room and looking over it. Row after row of neat little ducks all ready for the baby to arrive.
“No one warns you that you start to fade. Not just physically; she somehow just felt less there. Less seen.”
Army man. Very neat. She didn’t mind at all. Betty next door always moaning about Derek traipsing mud in, leaving dishes around and what have you. Even Alison and Helen married men that never washed up. Not John – he liked washing up. Liked to be organised. That night, when she lost him, she found him standing at the end of the bed looking out the window talking about his boots. Needed to polish them, get them ready for the sergeant. Never left him, the army. Never talked about it, mind.
Wonder what he got up to. Other women maybe? She had no right to know. She always wondered though.
Sitting looking at the ducks. Was the favourite part of the day. Just thinking.
Not like now, they don’t stop. Come by to visit but before you know it they’re out the door again. Not really listening to her. Smiling and nodding while tapping on the phone and barking at the kids. And then gone. To some club or work or something. She was one of their jobs now. Something to fit into their day.
She used to be everything to them. Alison and Helen. And to John. Looking after them all the time was hectic. Felt like too much at times. But at least there was life. Around her, all the time.
Not anymore. She’d gone from being the sun, with those lives revolving around her, to that other planet. Can’t remember what one now but one minute it was a planet the next they decided it was just a star. Nothing.
No one warns you that you start to fade. Not just physically; she somehow just felt less there. Less seen.
It was almost dark now. Where were they? Looking out of the window she couldn’t see anything other than the odd flash of colour. Oh. Were they Christmas lights? They’d come up to Oxford Circus to see the lights, of course – they were on one of her trips. Oh dear, how embarrassing to forget. Up to London to see the lights at Christmas and to the flower festival in the spring. Her ‘mystery tour’ in the summer. Fruit picking then finishing up at the seaside. Little’uns loved that. She’d get up in a moment, wander round and have a chat to everyone. Maybe do a quick bingo or a raffle to kill time on the way home, if she had all the stuff. Yes, she did, she remembers now. She brought it all – the pens and cards and prizes. She had her camera for when they got off and John looked after the money. He was sat at the front, ready to help every one on and off the bus. Their friends. Oh and the family, yes the whole family was here of course that’s why she could hear them. Alison and Tom and Helen and even Gary was here. Oh they were back together, oh lovely. And the children, Lisa, Andrew and Tim and all their little ones, five now – five great grandsons she had. She loved them all the same, all the same to her.
She got up to move to the front, go and sit with John and hold his hand. Hadn’t held his hand in such a long time. Got up and walked down the aisle easily now, it wasn’t so flaming hot.
Cor the little ones bombing up and down around her, “Hi nanny! Excuse me nanny!”.
My god they were making a racket but who cares? That’s what they’re here for, that’s the whole point. Having a good time. There’s nothing else really, is there?
‘Mum. I think this is it Helen.’
‘Mum. I love you’
They were all around her now. Their voices, yes, yes I love you all too my little darlings, just going to sit with granddad.
‘Oh mum, I love you so much.’
There he is. Ah there’s John, bolt upright as normal. He will be glad to see me.
Cherry is a journalist, writer and mother taking her first foray into fiction.