My short story, Mother’s Gone, was published in Shadows New Writing VI in 2017. The story is about a daughter coming to terms with her Mother’s Dementia. The young woman returns home to find life at home has moved on without her and her arrival threatens the equilibrium the family has created.
Here’s the story:
It was an egg yolk yellow morning on a day in July. The town outside my parent’s doorstep had begun to hum its daily tune. Shutters whirring awake, dogs barking as they took their morning stroll, shopkeepers sweeping the dust from under their feet.
Inside Number 57 Nelson Terrace life was stirring. As I sat in the kitchen drinking my first cup of tea I heard my mother walk towards the hall table and stop to look in the mirror. I pictured her applying a touch of No.23 Dusk Rose to her lips, plumping her hair before reaching for her favourite floppy straw hat.
“Just popping out to get some veg,” she called to no-one in particular. Mum turned the lock on the front door and stepped outside, leaving the door open. I guess the bright daylight must have confused her for a moment because she waited for a second inside the front gate to get her bearings.
I heard my father run across the hallway.
“Nice hat, Jean,” the postman called as he cycled past. My mother was stark naked, wearing nothing but her hat and a smile, which she aimed at the postie as he cycled past.
“Jean, Jean, oh my God…. come inside love,” my father cajoled as he too stepped outside the front door. “Sarah, bring a dressing gown… SARAH,” he shouted twisting round so his voice carried through to the kitchen.
“What the hell…..,” I had come to stay for the weekend. My life wasn’t here any longer, it was in London. My sister had told me I needed to see for myself what was going on. I rushed upstairs to get Mum’s dressing gown which I passed to my father and stood in silence, watching him trying to cover up her nakedness. Once dressed in her long silk, blue damask gown, she still insisted on going to the shop. “For goodness sake John, what’s wrong with you? I’m only going down the road.”
“You can’t let her go like that,” I said, but Dad just took her hand.
“OK love, let me just get my wallet and we’ll go together. It’ll be nice to stroll through the park, such a lovely morning.”
And that’s what they did. I looked on as the odd couple took the long way into town, walking hand in hand like they’d always done. I guess Dad was hoping she’d change her mind before they reached the grocers.
I turned slowly and walked towards the kitchen, I needed a drink – a cup of tea would have to do, it was too early for anything else. I clicked on the kettle and sat at the old pine kitchen table, smoothing my hand across its surface. We’d had this table for ever. We’d been chivvied over breakfast to ‘get a move on or you’ll be late for school’ round it, sung Happy Birthday in front of caterpillar cake, princess castle cake, chocolate cake; been told off for eating too fast, not eating enough, not doing homework, coming home too late. We’d watched Mum bake at it, been consoled and loved round it. I put my head in my hands.
“Hellooo, anyone in?” My sister breezed in to the kitchen just as the kettle boiled. She moved towards me, putting down a full shopping bag. “You’re here…. it’s so good to see you, how is everything?” I stood up and we hugged each other tightly. I hadn’t seen her in almost 2 years. She looked tired and thin, but she always was slimmer than me.
“You won’t believe what’s just happened,” I said as she walked towards the kitchen dresser.
“Want a cup?” she asked as she took down two cups and calmly began making tea for both of us. “How have things been in the big City?”
“Beth, for God’s sake, why didn’t you tell me how bad it was?”
Beth continued to make the tea, she walked towards the fridge and took out a plastic bottle of milk and smelt it. She left it on the side, closed the fridge door and took out a new bottle from her shopping bag.
I could hear the teaspoon chiming against the side of the cup. She had her back to me and stood, stirring tea and looking out of the kitchen window.
“I thought I had…. Where are they?”
“She’s gone out, absolutely stark fucking naked!”
“On her own?” Beth turned round sharply.
“No, Dad’s with her…. she’s not naked now, she was, standing on the bloody doorstep for all to see! She’s wearing her dressing gown!” Beth look relieved and came over to the table, passing me my cup and sitting down opposite me.
“Just another day in the madhouse.”
“For God’s sake how often does this happen?”
“Going out naked? Couple of times now I think.”
I let out a sigh and ran my hand through my hair, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Really? I don’t think you ever rang me and said Sarah, Mum’s gone shopping with no clothes on. I think I’d remember that!”
Beth took a sip of tea. “Maybe you weren’t listening….” She stood up and started to unpack the bag for life she’d brought with her. Bread, tea bags, butter.
“We’re back,” shouted Dad from the hallway and we heard the heavy clunk of the front door closing. Beth put her finger to her mouth and made a sshhing sound. “We’re in the kitchen…. want a cuppa?”
“Super, thanks love,” he said as he walked in.
“Where’s Mum?” I asked
“She’s gone upstairs to get dressed, it’s chilly for such a beautiful morning.”
“Shame she didn’t think of that earlier,” I commented. Dad sighed.
“Sarah, you don’t understa…..”
“Oh yes I do. Mum’s lost her marbles and you let her wander around half naked. Why the hell isn’t the front door locked so she can’t get out?”
“You want me to keep her locked up?”
“Sarah, calm down, it’s not that bad,” said my sister.
“Not that bad…. what the hell’s wrong with you both?” I stood up “anything could have happened.” Beth and Dad looked at each other.
“We’re managing,” said Dad.
“Yeah, I can see,” and with that I walked out of the kitchen towards the staircase.
“I knew it was a bad idea to ask her to come,” I heard Dad mumble to Beth as I climbed the stairs to find Mum. That hurt. I stopped on the stairs for a moment.
“I’m here for Mum,” I said to myself and continued walking up the stairs, looked down upon by framed memories of days out, Christmases, birthdays – the happiness of our lives captured for all to see.
Mum was in her bedroom, sitting at her dressing table, staring in the mirror. She’d changed into a black cotton dress. The walk had put colour into her cheeks and she looked radiant. I stood behind her and picked up the hair brush which lay in front of her. As I looked at her through the mirror, the reflection of my 8-year-old self looked back.
Mum was getting ready to go out for dinner. I was sitting on their massive double bed surrounded by velvet cushions, sinking into duck down pillows. “What do you think Sarah?” she said as she put the finishing touches to her make up, “Will I do?” I swung my legs over the side of the bed. It was close enough to be able to put my face next to hers, and we both smiled into the mirror. “Beautiful Mummy.” She laughed and said “not quite yet,” and reached forward to the tangle of pearls, that hung over the side of the mirror, draping them around her neck. “There!” she said and playfully touched the tip of my nose with her make-up brush.
“Hello love, I didn’t know you were here?” Mum’s voice brought me back. The pearls still hung in their place and my gaze moved to them for a moment.
“I arrived late last night Mum, you were asleep.” I started gently brushing her hair. “I’m sorry….. I’m so sorry I haven’t been here. I should have been here more….” Mum smiled at me gently in the mirror and put her hand to her shoulder, I put mine over the top of hers and for a moment we both just looked at each other, lost in the moment.
“Don’t be silly darling,” she said. “I see you every day.”
For a few seconds time stood still. I placed the hairbrush back on the dressing table and bent down to kiss the top of her head. “I’ll see you downstairs in a minute,” I said as I turned to leave. I didn’t want her to see my tears. I tried to keep in the sound, the one you make when emotion is twisting your insides into your throat and I managed to, until I reached the safety of my bedroom.
It was a pain I’d never felt before. I’d been through break ups, pets dying, savage arguments, disappointments, but none of those had prepared me for this physical hurt that wrapped itself around every part of me. I sat on the end of my old bed and wept as quietly as I could, not wanting Mum to hear.
“Sarah, are you in here?” A soft knocking sound came from outside my bedroom door. I didn’t answer, I couldn’t. “Sarah, can I come in?” Beth slowly pushed the door open. She walked into the room and sat on the bed next to me, just sitting, saying nothing. I began wiping my tears away with my hand. “I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just….”
“I know, I know,” said Beth. She put her arm around my shoulder pulling me towards her. I didn’t stop her, I needed her comfort.
My room was dark, the curtains still drawn from the night before, the sun trying hard to peek through, but failing. All my old books had long been removed, leaving the room empty and unloved – and we just sat there, in the gloom.
“She doesn’t know who I am.”
“She does. Of course she does.”
“Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?”
“You didn’t.” I felt Beth tense. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean…” her shoulders softened.
“You set your heart on something and you do it. You’ve always done it…. that’s what Mum loves about you the most, you couldn’t stay here….. you’re so much like her.”
I pulled away and turned to face her. “I’m sorry I haven’t been here for you. You’ve had all this to deal with….”
Beth stood up, “Come on, come downstairs, you can help me with lunch.”
“What about Dad?”
“He’s hurting too Sarah.”
I nodded slowly and stood up, “Just give me a minute.”
Beth turned and walked out of the room, I could hear her talking to Mum and the creak of the stairs. I waited until I heard them both walking across the hall before I wandered into the bathroom to splash cold water onto my face. I slowly patted it dry with one of the white hand-towels. As I cradled my face in the soft whiteness I remembered a conversation I’d had with Mum a few years ago. It had been lightly snowing and we were wrapped up, walking arm in arm across the park, taking a stroll after Sunday lunch, talking about my life in London and how much I loved it.
“I’ll always regret never having done anything with my life,” she said. “You just don’t realise. One moment you’re full of plans and dreams, and the next….. it all goes so quickly.”
I remember feeling shocked, I always thought Mum loved her life. “Don’t be silly,” I said. Look what you’ve done, the beautiful home you’ve made for us all, the love you’ve given us, how can you say you’ve achieved nothing?” She just smiled and tucked her arm tighter into mine.
I folded the towel back onto the rail, checked my face in the mirror and walked down stairs.
As I stood outside the kitchen I could hear Mum and Dad chatting about what needed doing in the garden, the faint tones of something playing on the radio, I took a breath and walked in. Beth was standing at the sink, washing lettuce and putting it into a large blue bowl decorated with sunflowers. The sun was filtering through the window, dancing across the pine table where Mum and Dad sat side by side. Mum was pulling the green stalks off a punnet of strawberries and Dad chopped them in half, placing them in a silver colander ready for washing. They both stopped what they were doing and looked up as I walked in.
“Darling!” Mum’s eyes filled with tears as she pushed her chair back and rushed towards me. “How lovely, why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” Dad and Beth both looked at me, waiting.
“I… I just wanted to surprise you Mum,” I said, hugging her. I’ve got so much news to tell you.”