I am so enjoying participating in Writers Island. If you haven’t done so yet you should give it a try.
This week the prompt is CHANGED.
Here is my story…..
The first thing she noticed when she returned was that the mirrors in the house were empty. Before, Shelby had taken longer than she should when doing her hair just so she could watch her grandmother bustling around in the kitchen, pounding those sweet-smelling herbs like basil and marjoram in her mortar and pestle; smiling to herself as people do when they aren’t worried about getting through the day.
Shelby relied on that busyness. When she saw her grandmother pull the wet washing from the machine, shaking it with a snap before she hung it on the line, her misgivings slid down her throat like sugar syrup. She could begin here, at this moment, with thick slices of toast with home-made jam for breakfast, and continue through the day putting one foot in front of the other just as her grandmother had done for 80 years. She might even smile occasionally.
A guiding star, that’s what her grandmother was. She sang along to Patti Page on the oldies station on the radio.
‘If you’re fond of sand dunes with salty air, quaint little villages here and there, you’re sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod.’
It was one of the biggest regrets of Shelby’s life that she had never had the money to take her Grandma to Cape Cod, but America was half a world away. ‘I’ll get there one day,’ her Grandma was sure of it, even now at her age. ‘I’ll see Cape Cod before I go.’
Two weeks ago Shelby had sat in the grounds of the hospital under an oak tree holding her Grandma’s hands, parched as bark split by the sun. Too many others shared the grounds, their monitors and sighs of anguish distracting Shelby from what she really wanted to say. ‘You have taught me how to love this world,’ she wanted to cry out with the oak and the people and their monitors as witnesses but in the end she found she couldn’t say it aloud, it sounded too much like an epitaph, like something you say to someone you never expect to see again. And there was life in the old girl yet.
Her grandmother had been experiencing headaches for two months. She had put up with them. ‘You get lots of aches and pains at my age,’ she said. ‘You learn to live with them.’
‘It’s a tumour,’ the doctor had said, flicking through her grandmother’s file, never once looking Shelby in the eye. ‘Inoperable at her age.’
Shelby thought of her grandmother’s life. How she hand-fed the birds in the garden, speaking to them like they were little children. How she listened to Harry James when she was making sponge cakes, wiggling her hips in time to the brass stabs. How she shook her finger at the politicians on the news when they had done something reprehensible. How she burst into tears when she saw the African children on the World Vision ads, immediately pulling her pension book out of the kitchen drawer to see how much she could spare. How could this life with all its poetry and music not be one that could be saved by doctors who saved hundreds of people every day?
Shelby stayed at the hospital every night for a week, returning home one evening to make phone calls, lobbying the medical board who could force the doctors to give her grandmother the operation she needed. She was tired, sleeping all week on a camp bed, falling asleep on the couch. When she arrived back at the hospital in the morning her grandmother’s room was vacant, her possessions gone, the bed already made, neat military corners.
Shelby needed little pink pills washed down with orange juice to stop herself from dissolving into mist. She felt a terrible cleansing had begun in the world, starting with all the people who mattered.
Bring her back
Bring her back
Bring her back, she shouted in her head.
She belongs in this world with me.
In the hall, on the Queen Anne table she saw the answering machine blinking. You have 48 messages it said. Each one began with an I’m sorry of sorts. I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother. We were so sorry when we heard. So sorry you’re on your own.
The birds in the garden were breaking her heart. Mulling around in forlorn groups, heads bowed as if they knew. The washing sat rank and yellowing in the tub. The basil sat on the windowsill, brown along the edges. Shelby sat at the kitchen table, polishing the silver, following her Grandma’s work chart. Tomorrow she would air the linen. The day after that she would wash the floorboards with a dash of methylated spirits to make them sparkle. The day after that she would dust the bookshelves.
The pansies in the window boxes had begun to flower. Purple and white; blue and black. Just like always. The boy who delivered the newspapers let the gate bang twice as he walked up the path. Just like always. The blinds in the sitting room sagged in the middle, letting in fractured beams of light. Just like always. If Shelby kept busy she might be able to fool herself into thinking everything was the same, that the end of the road wasn’t visible. But the mirrors in the house were empty. So was her heart. She could not bear the weight of her body or the colours she saw when she closed her eyes or the endless, biting wordlessness. Pretending days were the same just wasn’t going to work. The air was different, the light subdued. The radio was silent. Her Grandmother’s rose bushes drooped. The pink Monsieur Tillier was losing its leaves. Shelby could not avoid its thorns any longer. The green-black leaves fell, final as minor notes, crunching underfoot like signs of autumn. Everything had changed.