Short stories

The Wait

She brushed the length of her denim skirt with earnest hands, flicking away non-existent creases. Her chin twitched involuntarily and she bit down on the inside of her cheek, bracing herself to enter the room. No amount of procrastinating was going to change the inevitable. She might as well get it over with. Expelling a rush of air across her pale lips, she turned the handle.

“Morning, Mia. Please, take a seat.” Dr Meadows gestured towards a worn brown chair beside his equally weathered desk, letters and prescription dockets scattered across it, his stethoscope resting in front of him. He smiled as she lowered herself to eye level opposite him.

“How are we doing?” Ah, the Royal We. That simple word combination carried a weight of impending doom, an innuendo of ‘we’re in this together’. This didn’t bear well. Swallowing hard she forced her dry mouth to extend into a lame smile, one that her eyes didn’t reciprocate.

“Ok thanks, Dr Meadows. Well, a bit nervous actually, but ok.” Her hands wrung together and she fiddled with her thin gold wedding band, worn so smooth she didn’t even feel it against her skin anymore. Randall had placed it there seven years ago this May, on the marble steps of a grand Italian church in Amalfi, their friends cheering as he did so, the locals tooting their scooter horns from the square below in celebration of the crazy tourists getting wed outside the church rather than within it.

The honeymoon that followed had been idyllic. The days were filled with boat rides to Positano and Capri, walking the winding hilly pathways hand in hand to watch the sun slip gracefully into the dancing blue water, tasting the most amazing gelato flavours imaginable. Evenings were spent feeding each other fresh anchovies, plump olives and sun-kissed tomatoes, all the while planning their future as a married couple. First and foremost it would entail a bigger house with a large yard and a trade-up from the snug Citroen to a station wagon. They’d soon need the extra room.

With Randall gone now, all the responsibility lay with her. It had taken a concerted effort but she’d adjusted well. There was no choice. She’d stepped up to the plate and taken care of all manner of things not required of her before. These days she could replace a blown fuse or a punctured tyre without a flicker of self-doubt, manage the finances with her eyes closed, and stand her ground with the tax man over incorrect deductions. It was a case of needs must and she handled it deftly. Though, there were times she’d give anything to have Randall at her side to help her through, this being one of them.

“You know, Mia, you don’t need to call me Doctor. Jeff is fine,” Dr Meadows said as he shuffled through a stack of papers and pulled a manila file, opening its cardboard mouth wide before him.

Mia dared herself a quick glance but reading upside down was almost impossible and she darted her eyes away just as quickly lest any sinister words jump out. The news would be better delivered by the kindly doctor.

“If you don’t mind, I prefer to call you Doctor. It makes me feel I’m in safe hands.”

He nodded and afforded her an understanding smile.

Suddenly, the surgery door thrust open accompanied by a delayed knock.

“Sorry Jeff. We need you for a moment. Could you give us a few minutes, Mrs Jameson? My apologies.” The nurse’s reassuring smile landed well off-target as the panic in her eyes overshadowed it.

“Sure. Sorry, Mia. Sit tight. I won’t be long,” Dr Meadows said as he scooped up his stethoscope, scraped his chair back and rushed out the door leaving Mia staring at the walls, wishing like hell she wasn’t alone. She’d been there so many times before she knew every inch of the place. The pasty water-colour prints of countryside vistas did nothing to lift her spirits. The chemical smell that permeated the air and the murmurs from the waiting room never changed. Neither did the insipid colour of the walls. She imagined the pallor of her face was at that moment the very same shade.

Reaching into her bag, she checked her phone. One message. It was a text from Emma. Wishing you lots of luck & love. Text me when you can xx. Her chin began to quiver and tears welled up and spilled over onto each cheek. She threw her head back to suck them in, wiping her sleeve across her face and letting out a shaky sigh. Now was not the time to lose it, particularly before the results had even been delivered. If only Randall was there. He would have held her hand and hushed her fears, wiped her tears and kissed her damp cheeks. He would have told her a joke, something silly to ensure she laughed, and afterwards they would have shared a decadent sweet over mocha lattes and taken comfort from each other. But he wasn’t there and that was that. She had to handle this on her own.

Time seemed to have slowed to a stop and elongated the agonising wait. She wished she’d checked the clock when Dr Meadows had left. She could read the file he’d left gaping open but she didn’t have the guts. There was nothing to do but sit still and try to stay calm. Sleep had teased her the previous night but had never come. Her legs felt as weak as cotton threads and the last thing she wanted was to make a spectacle of herself and collapse in public.

It had happened to her once before in the run-up to the wedding. Randall had told her time and again she needed to delegate but she refused to listen. She wanted everything just so and no amount of concern from her fiancé was going to stop her flitting between appointments and staying up late to arrange seating plans and stationery. And then it had happened, embarrassingly at work. She’d gone into the archives to fetch a file and hadn’t come out again. Sammy had noticed her missing and, by the time they realised the archive key was off its hook, she’d already come around. The vision of a cold, dusty, grey room with towering cabinets like a New York City skyline swaying above her had disorientated her completely. Her forehead throbbed and she could taste metal. Sammy’s freckly round face had wavered in her line of sight and he seemed to be talking under water in snatches of sentences. More faces peered down at her, all wearing the same furrowed brow, all talking in muffled tones.

The noise of Dr Meadows’ door clicking open jolted her back to the present. He smiled at her as he settled into his chair. His sleeves were rolled up as if he’d been in front line action. Mia felt bile rise up and settle in her throat.

“Now. Where were we?” He picked up the file. “Ah, yes. Well, it’s good news Mia. The results are back and he’s got the all clear. He had a lucky escape, mind. We caught it just in time. He’ll be here for a couple of days under observation, then you can take him home.” Dr Meadows tilted his head and unwound the stethoscope from his neck, placing it back on the desk. “Keep his coat dry until the stitches come out but he’ll be running you ragged in no time. No chasing sticks with the rest of the pack for a while though. Keep him quiet until he heals properly, ok?”

Mia nodded. The tears had returned but this time they were ones of relief. Her hands were clapped together in prayer, resting in a line against her lips. The dogs were her family and affectionately known as the Seven Dwarves – one for each day of the week.

She dropped her hands heavily to her lap. “Oh, thank you Doctor. Thank you so much. I was terrified of bad news.”

“My pleasure. I’m just glad he’ll be ok. We’ll phone you tomorrow with an update. No need to worry now.” He stood to open the door. “Give my regards to Randall will you?”

“Yes, I will. Thanks.”

“Is he offshore again?”

“Yes he is. Back home next week.”

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The Crime

The air hung heavy with the embracing scent of Christmas pine but the scene was one of utter devastation. I stood in the doorway, drinking in the carnage – the tree thrown across the floor, baubles strewn in an arch around it. The presents were in disarray, torn from their paper, scattered around the room, analyzed and rejected. The picturesque coffee table books were splayed on the floor, their pages ripped apart, large misshapen paper snowflakes now decorating the room. Tears stung my eyes. And then, the realization I wasn’t alone. He was in the room. My stomach lurched, the shot of adrenaline almost buckling my knees. I could hear his breath, heavy and excited from behind the sofa.

“Who’s there?” I sounded like a feeble adversary. And then I saw his eyes – huge, brown, smug and satisfied. My heart sank. “Bruno! Look what you’ve done! Oh, come here, boy. What are we going to do with all this mess?”

********************************************************************

Notes from the Inside

There she is again, just like yesterday. And the day before that. And for seventy-three consecutive days before that. Stepping off the same bus at the same time at the same street corner, like a re-run of a movie scene. Today she wears a blue scarf. Yesterday’s was green. Perhaps she is changing her scarves to try to change the pain inside. She will need many more days and many more scarves for that.

I follow her, like I always do. I know her moves. She weaves through the crowded street, head down, forging through the icy wind, feet shuffling with heaviness along the cold, grey cobbles. Her body is taking her where her mind does not want to go. She is in pain, emotional pain, from deep within her. Her face is contorted and creased like a crumpled and discarded paper bag, hollowed and darkened between the folds. Her eyes bear down on the cobbles, seeing nothing, glazed over as if she is already halfway to the next world. Her pain is etched on her face and in the uneasiness of her movements. She exudes unhappiness and looks uncomfortable in her own skin. Her every movement is rigid and forced, her body trying as it might to operate on its own steam without the help of her mind telling it where to go. She is a novice driver in her own vehicle. She’s been panel beaten all over. Though no bruises show, it is plainly obvious that she has been in a collision of some kind. Perhaps the scars on the inside are worse. They have damaged her mind, her heart, her soul. The woman has been broken. She is not fully mended, not even close. There are weak spots all over her; her eyes bear testament to that. A broken heart is visible through her glazed expression. There is still raw pain within her. Perhaps the green scarf will help her today.

Over the bridge, down the narrow street, through the wrought iron gate. She is back at her destination, her daily ritual almost complete. She stands silently, labouring for evenness in her breath. It doesn’t come. It never does, not on these occasions. Slowly she steps forward, one foot carefully after the other, precarious through the grass. Behind her are dewy footprints, proof that she was here, that she exists. Most of the time she wishes she didn’t. But her self-imposed penance is to be a life of pain. There will be no altering what destiny has in store for her. She has given herself up to fate.

Approaching the small white cross, shining as a fresh snowfall amongst the greying headstones surrounding it, a solitary tear slides down her cheek. Just as it did yesterday and the days before. The sight never loses its impact on her. It hits her in the chest, weakening her heart, hurtling her stomach into sickness. She pauses before it, closing her eyes, tears now silently streaming down her face. She makes no sound; agony is deathly silent.

Bending to lay a gentle hand on the cross, she whispers her prayers – one for the sweet soul beneath, and one for herself.

“Please God, take care of this angel. I miss her every moment. She is heavy in my heart. Let her run and skip and feel the wind in her hair like she should have here with me. I love her. Tell her how much I love her. And please God, help me get through another day without her. There is a hole in my heart and it’s shaped like her. It can never be filled. I wish I was with you and she was here on this earth. I wish I could change places with her. I would give my life to make that happen”.

Crying softly now she places a kiss on her fingertips and lowers them gently, placing them lovingly on the small white cross as if it were made of the most delicate crystal.

“Until tomorrow my angel”.

Stepping back she pauses to read the inscription, yet again, as if she needed reminding. The words, the day, the very moment are etched in her heart forever.

Angelique Lowell

Treasured and loved daughter of Elise and the late Sam

Tragically taken

12 March 2003 – 25 September 2003

An angel with her Daddy in heaven

That cruel September day had begun just as any other. Her baby girl had woken her, gurgling in her cot, the happiest wake-up call anyone could wish for. Elise had smiled as she pulled herself out of her slumber and put on her robe. Angelique meant the world to her, particularly after losing her beloved husband only months earlier to a sudden heart attack. It had knocked her sideways. At only forty-three he was far too young to have succumbed to such a fate. It made no sense to her, and with no signs leading up to it, she was totally unprepared. Angelique had helped her get through. When things seemed unbearably painful, a simple smile from her little angel would give her the fight to carry on. She had to – her first priority was her daughter.

On the fateful September morning, she had bundled her little girl up tightly in her blankets, strapping her into her car seat for the journey north to her parents. It was a trip Elise was looking forward to. She needed a break away from the house, with such haunting memories of Sam in every room. Some days she found comfort in his favourite chair, even slopping around in his old slippers. Other days the walls caved in on her and she could barely breathe. The break away would do her good and, God knows, she needed some sleep. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept more than three hours solid.

She smiled back at Angelique in the rear view mirror, her little girl cooing and babbling happily in the back seat, waving her hands in front of her face. Elise thought her heart would explode with love for her daughter. She was her little miracle, her saving grace. And while she was beaming at her baby with tear-filled eyes she failed to see the oncoming bend in the road and the sign to slow her speed. She never took that corner. Instead, that corner took her daughter’s life. The car careered off the road and hit a tree. The back left-hand side of the car was crushed. The lights were smashed in her car and the light went out of her life in that very second. Angelique was gone.

 *****

Ah yes, there she is again, just like yesterday. Today she wears a yellow scarf, as bright as the sun. But her eyes are no different. Still glazed, still dull, still mirroring her pain. I follow her, like I always do. She needs me and I will always be with her. I am her guide. I am her Conscience. If only I could be her angel.