March 11, 2010 § 1 Comment
“Your father will be back in a minute. He’s just gone up the road. You know how he likes to read the Sunday papers. The kettle’s on though.’ Marie Feltham stood at the open window, leaning down on the sill with her arms folded beneath her, looking out and up the road where her husband had climbed up to the newsagents in the village. To her daughter, seated behind her, she looked old. The veins on the back of her hands stood out like knotted ropes on the bough of a ship weathered with age. Her dress was worn, almost threadbare; the pink fuchsia print faded and lacklustre.
Mrs. Feltham finally turned away from the window, a smile creasing the corners of a wrinkled mouth. She left the window wide open, as ever, and Elaine was grateful she was still wrapped up in her duffel coat. Her mother’s flat was always cold, which was ironic considering it was above a shop which sold fireplaces; all because of the perenially open window. She worried about her catching her death constantly, but despite her advancing age, she never seemed to take any notice of the deep chill that permeated her surroundings with an icy gloom.
Elaine continued to study her mother as she chose her favourite armchair – grimy and beginning to lose its stuffing like a soldier spills guts out of a mortal wound – and settled herself into it. She sighed contentedly, reaching over the arm and producing her knitting needles from her sewing basket. She never once looking up at her daughter. The rhythmic clink of the sewing needles were loud as cannon blasts in that silent, frozen apartment. From the kitchen, these sounds were accompanied by the plastic thhhck of the kettle switching itself off, the water boiled. Marie didn’t look up. Elaine rose from her armchair and headed out to the kitchen. ‘Jack will love this sweater. Green is his favourite colour. He feels the cold quite keenly, you know’.
Her mother’s words sounded like they came from a faraway place, thick and muted, as Elaine reached up and opened the cupboard where her mother kept the teacups. Marie must have heard her, as she called out from the living room, briefly distracted from her task. “Make sure you get a teacup for your father.” Elaine reached up and pulled out two teacups, both of them fancy and ancient, decked in gold trim and intricate floral patterns. The insides of each were stained brown from decades of containing tea for her mother and father. She reached for the sugar jar. Two for her mother, half a teaspoon for her. Her eyes were beginning to fill with tears as she carefully placed a teabag in each cup. She held the kettle steady as she poured in the water. She could feel the heat of the metal against her cheeks. A teardrop splashed on the counter. Chiding herself inwardly, she wiped her sleeve over her eyes.
As she brought the tea in, she knew that Dr. Steinman was right. Her mother would have to be admitted to the nursing home; she was showing no signs of recovery. Although she was tough as old boots physically, her mind was beyond repair. Elaine placed the cup down on the stained mahogany table in front of her mother gingerly, but still managed to spill a drop on the surface anyway. Her mother continued to knit. Again, she never looked up. Outside, it began to rain, lightly at first and then turning to a downpour. Large drops of rain began to spatter on the windowsill. A rising wind agitated the ochre curtains hanging limply either side of the window frame. Elaine disappeared once more to the kitchen to fetch a dishcloth for the spilled tea. In the living room, the rain had wakened her mother from her reverie. She rose slowly from her seat and crossed once again to the window, looking out and up the road. She leaned on the windowsill, the rain penetrating her sleeves. ‘Your father will be back in a minute. He’s just gone up the road.’
Elaine came up beside her mother. She carefully laid an arm around her shoulder, wincing at how sharp the bones of her shoulderblades felt beneath her dry, stretched skin. “Why don’t we close the window, Mum? It’s raining now. And look, you’re getting wet.”
“But I want to look out for Jack. He’ll be home soon,” Mrs. Feltham replied. Her gaze were fixed out the window. Behind those vacant hazel eyes, Elaine couldn’t begin to fathom what was going on.
“We’ve been over this before, Mum, remember? Dad.. passed away… remember? Over two years ago…,” the words came slowly, broken like glass. Tears returned to her eyes; her lip trembled.
“He’s just gone to get the Sunday papers. You know how he likes to read his papers. He’ll be home soon. The kettle’s on.”
Elaine turned away from her mother, leaving her leaning on the windowsill, the rain outside beginning to matt her white curls. In her mind’s eye, she saw the broken body of her Dad, Jack Feltham, lying by the side of the road where it had been struck and knocked down by a motorcycle careening through the village. She saw the glow of police lights illuminating the blood slowly seeping from his coat. The lenses of his glasses, splintered and scattered across the asphalt. She saw her mother looking out the window, day after day, for someone who would never return. A piece of her mother had died that day, her mind snapping like a dry twig in an autumn wood browning with age and beginning to wilt. A piece of her had died too.
Her mother returned to her armchair. She picked up ker knitting needles. “Green is Jack’s favourite colour,” she chirped. With that, the dam broke and Elaine didn’t bother to hold back the flood of tears. She took out her mobile phone, and dialled Dr. Steinman’s number.
Photo credit: Amy Massey