Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Right Time: the director's cut

My goodness, is it Wednesday* already? How did that happen? 

I know it is bad form and tediously boring to apologise for lack of blog updates, and even worse form and much more boring to offer pathetic excuses for them.  My mum is in town for a visit; I sort of quite urgently need to sort some work out; a few deadlines are approaching, blah blah blah.  Basically the distractions have been flying thick and fast this week; things should get back to normal soon.

For now, as promised, this is the original, longer version of the short story I entered in that competition a while ago and keep saying I will never mention again.  I still prefer this version, personally, but that's just me.

The Right Time
I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognise my face. I try to avoid mirrors normally, and catching sight of my reflection in the bathroom one was an accident. Before I knew it, I had seen myself.

It was just after that nurse arrived. The one who smells funny. I don’t know her name, I hardly know any of their names. I don’t really like nurses. Except that blonde haired one, maybe, who came once. With the fingernails. But that one I had this morning, I don’t like her. She made porridge for breakfast. It was all beige lumps and watery milk, and smelled like wet cardboard. I didn’t want it, but it’s best not to make a fuss. It was easier just to open my mouth and let her put some porridge in. I spat some of it out afterwards, when she wasn’t watching, into one of Walter’s old handkerchiefs. It’s behind the dressing table now, I think. Or maybe I put it in the bedside drawer, where my tablets are.

I look at the clock on the wall, but I can’t read it. So I ask the nurse what the time is. She looks up, and pretends to screw her eyes a bit.

“Those numbers are far too small, aren’t they. We’ll have to get you a bigger clock. I’ll mention it to your daughter. “

I don’t tell her I can see the numbers perfectly. I know where the hands are, too, it’s just hard now to tell what they mean. I used to be able to tell the time. Now, by the time I’ve worked out where one hand is and counted in fives, I’ve forgotten where the first one was.

The nurse says it’s half past ten. That means Jane will be here soon. I wish she was coming later. I tried to ask her to wait until after lunch, but she didn’t listen. She never listens. To her I’m just silly old Mum. But the fog in my head is so much worse in the mornings. I remember better in the afternoons.

The nurse leaves, and I sit on the edge of a chair, practising things I can say to Jane. I hear keys in the door, and she breezes into the room like a Spring day. She’s carrying flowers, and when she gives me a hug her hair smells like apricots.

“Mum!” She smiles “How are you? I’m so sorry I couldn’t come yesterday.”

She has that man with her again. Do I know him? I get muddled with faces, these days. The ones I’m supposed to know I don’t, and the ones I think I know, it turns out I’m not supposed to. Sometimes the people I talk to smile, but not all the way to their eyes, and I know I’ve got it wrong again. I’ll just wait for the man to say something first.

“Hello dear. That’s a pretty shirt”.

“I’m glad you noticed! It’s the one you gave me for Christmas, remember?”

Did I really pick that shirt? Jane has always looked terrible in purple. It makes her skin too yellow.

“Oh, yes, of course, I know that. I just meant.... it looks good on you, that’s all”

She puts the flowers in a vase, and starts to tell me news, stories about people called Charles and Robbie and Jennifer, and other names I don’t remember. One of them has a dog, and it is getting sick, or one of them is sick in hospital and needs someone to look after their dog. I don’t know. The man doesn‘t say much, just puts down the magazines he was holding and sits awkwardly in the chair opposite me. He looks like he would rather be somewhere else.

I smile, and nod like I’m listening. Nodding is good. Suddenly I realise that Jane is frowning. Why is she frowning?

“Mum, where’s your necklace?”

I keep nodding.

“No, Mum, it was a question.” Jane’s voice has changed slightly. She sits down next to me.

“Auntie Rose’s pearls. You were wearing them on Tuesday.”

I know the necklace she means. I’ve hidden it from the nurses. Yesterday, I think. Or maybe the day before. But if I tell her that she will ask me where, and I don’t know.

“I don’t like it any more” I snap. “I’ve put it away”. If I sound angry, maybe she’ll talk about something else. That works sometimes.

The man speaks.

“They do this”, he says. “Squirrel things away. I read about it. You talk, I’ll look.”

He starts to open drawers. Suddenly I feel a burning sensation in my stomach, and I don’t need to pretend to be angry any more. What does he think he’s doing poking around in my clothes?

“It’s not in there.” My voice rises, but the man ignores me.

“Jane, tell your friend it isn’t in there””

“My friend? Oh Mum.” Her eyes fill with tears. “But you know Charles.” The man puts an arm around her and she looks at him the way she used to look at me when she was a little girl. He strokes her hair and murmurs something in her ear.

“It’s rude to whisper, you know” I hear myself say. I don’t like making Jane sad, and I know I have, but don’t know how. Still, I don’t want that man looking in those drawers. My personal clothes are in there. Slips and things.

“Sorry, Edith” he says. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m going to wait outside in the car while you and Jane have a nice chat.” He looks at the magazines as he leaves, and then looks at Jane. She nods. They don’t notice me watching. No one ever notices me anymore.

“How about a nice cup of tea” Jane says, and bustles off to the kitchen before I can answer. While she is gone, I look at the magazines. I don’t read them of course, just look at the pictures. They are all of other people’s flats, which look the same. These are odd magazines.

“Garden’s looking nice” Jane says, coming back with the tea. “Harry is doing a great job, isn’t he?” Harry lives next door. Walter never liked him much. Shifty eyes, he always said.

“I suppose so” I say. “I hope he’s not been in the greenhouse. Walter would have hated that.”

Jane sits down.

“Mum, Charles and I have been thinking....”

“Charles? Do I know Charles?”

“OK, then Mum, look, I’ve been thinking. This house is getting very big, and maybe it’s time to start thinking about, you know, whether, you’d be better living somewhere else. Look, I’ve brought some ...”

“But I live here. This is my house. I like it.”

“Yes, Mum, I know, but now it’s just you.....”.

“This is Charles’s idea, isn’t it?” I interrupt. I still don’t know who Charles is. But it seems like a good thing to say.

“Oh Mum. A minute ago you said you didn’t even know Charles”

I have said the wrong thing, I know I have. She sounds cross.

“Of course I know Charles”

Jane sighs, and hands me one of the magazines. “It’s both of us, really”. She says. “Just....have a look at these. Some of them seem nice. Please. We can talk about it later.”

I shrug, and we sit in silence again. It is so quiet I can hear the clock on the wall ticking. I pretend to drink my tea for something to do.

Jane reaches into her purse, and pulls out a box. “Look, I’ve brought you something” she says. Inside it, there’s a watch. No hands, just big green numbers. I can see it is 10:52.

I like knowing what time it is again. I don’t know what to say. Thank you doesn’t seem enough, but it’s all I can think of.

“Oh, it’s nothing” she says. “I just thought you’d like it.”

She helps me put the watch on, and we keep drinking our tea. The magazines with the houses in them sit in a silent pile on the coffee table. I notice my reflection for the second time today, in the window. I can see Jane too, sitting next to me. For a moment I am confused. Two reflections. The purple shirt; is that her or me? I touch my left ear to check, and one of the reflections copies. That must be me. I’m getting smaller.

Jane watches me, and smiles. She puts an arm through mine. “Aren’t we a handsome pair”

I smile back, and look at my new watch, and at the yellow flowers in the hallway, which are just like the ones Walter used to grow. I look at my daughter and the awful purple shirt she has worn especially. She looks tired. Maybe it’s time. I look at the magazines again.

“Do any of these flats have gardens?” I ask. Walter would want me to have a garden.

*Yes, yes, I know it's also the first of September, and the September-ness of today is a much more astounding quality than its Wednesday-ness, univerally speaking.  But I was supposed to do a truckload of things in August and hardly did any of them.  I am calling today August 32nd.

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