My short story collection ‘Lemon and Lace’ has now been published on Smashwords for free download. The first story, Forever, appears below.
I felt a sharp needle like pain as I pulled out my first grey hair. Drawing closer to the mirror, I looked anxiously for further signs of decay. Surely those wrinkles around the eyes were deeper? And my neck was definitely showing its age. My mind started to dwell on uncomfortable thoughts of mortality. I pulled out another grey hair, then noticed another and then saw a whole streak of grey.
“Nearly finished the hall, darling,” called my husband Tom. He stood at the bedroom door grinning at me, wearing filthy paint splattered overalls and carrying a dripping paintbrush.
“Mind what you’re doing with that – we don’t want paint on the carpet,” I protested.
“Well you’ve already got a few streaks on you,” said Tom good naturedly. “I can see a grey mark on the back of your shirt and a couple in your hair. What have I said that’s so funny?”
I explained my mistake to Tom as I tried to pick the grey paint out of my hair.
“Well don’t pull any more hair out. I don’t mind a grey haired wife, but I draw the line at a bald one!”
Then he added, with a more serious note in his voice,
“Are you all right, darling? Are you still worried about your Mum?”
“Oh, I’m OK. I just can’t stop thinking about her. I want to do the right thing for her and for us and I’m not sure what it is yet.”
“Well you know I’ll give you my full support whatever you decide.”
I looked up at Tom gratefully and he moved closer to take me in his arms.
“Keep away from me with that brush,” I laughed as I slipped out of his reach. “You really are impossible!”
In the afternoon I drove along the coast road to the nursing home where my mother now lived. Noisy seagulls soared overhead and the fresh biting wind wrapped my skirt against me as I ran up the wide stone steps of Everdene. I was greeted by the Matron, Mrs. Crabtree, in the hall.
“Mrs. Winthrop’s not too good today, I’m afraid dear, but she’s really looking forward to your visit. Would you like to come and have a few words with the doctor? Come this way then.”
Later, I sat by my mother’s bedside, smoothing the hair back from her face as delicately as I could. Her skin was like the soft leather of gloves that have been carefully put away in a scented drawer for years and her hair was an intricate mesh of fine silver threads. She looked up at me and there was a tremor in her voice as she said,
“You will be coming to see me tomorrow, won’t you? I look forward to your visits so much.”
“I’ll be in to see you every day, Mum, and William and Tom will be here too at the weekend. You mustn’t worry – we’ll look after you. Now get some rest. I’ll stay with you a little longer while you sleep.”
She gave a sigh and her frail form relaxed. I continued stroking her head and as she drifted into sleep my thoughts went back to my childhood with all its fun and excitement. We were always busy dressing up or cooking little grey pastry shapes for my father to eat when he returned from work or making fantastic pictures with poster paints and glitter. At the centre of it all was my mother with her endless vitality and enthusiasm.
“I love you forever, Mum,” I murmured softly, as I kissed her perfumed cheek.
I took the long way home and stopped for some time looking out over the endless stretch of the sea. The sun sparkled on the waves and the water faded from blue to a dull grey as it merged into the horizon.
“Just a few more months,” the doctor at the nursing home had told me. “This will be her last winter.”
A pink glow spread over the water from the setting sun and I knew what we would be able to do. The sun sank lower and lower until it was extinguished in the water. Tom would have finished the decorating and collected William from school by now.
As I let myself into the house, the smell of paint hit me. Tom stuck his head over the banisters and blew me a kiss.
“Hello darling! I could murder a cup of tea.”
“What a welcome!” I said, smiling. “If I make the tea, can we sit down and have a chat? There’s so much we need to discuss.”
“I know,” Tom replied. “I’ve been thinking about your Mum all afternoon.”
We talked over steaming mugs of tea in the kitchen and found that we were in complete agreement about the course of action to take.
“Shall I make the call then?” I asked.
“Go on love – you know how happy your mother will be.”
I dialled the number of Everdene.
“Hello? Mrs. Crabtree? It’s Mrs. Winthrop’s daughter here. We’ve decided that the best decision for my mother is to have her here with us for her last few months. Yes, I know it will be a lot of extra work and I appreciate how different things will be for us while she’s here, but you see there’s really no other solution, not for my mother, not after the way she’s looked after me and…”
Just then the door flew open and our son William rushed in, dressed as Superman. He gazed with amazement at Tom’s hair which was liberally sprinkled with grey paint.
“You look old,” he shouted. “Doesn’t Daddy look old, Mum! When you’re both old, I’m going to look after you. You’ll need me then to do your shopping and stuff. Don’t worry- I’ll look after you.”
William ran out and as he disappeared from view I could hear him saying,
“Love you forever!”