‘We’ve been here before,’ said a voice Mary was sure she recognised.
With a shrug of her 89 year old shoulders, she put the receiver back and left the phone box to rejoin the outside world.
It was mid-September, when summer was working toward turning to autumn. The sun was taking a sabbatical behind a cluster of angry looking clouds and she shivered involuntarily at the unseasonably icy chill in the air. She picked up her pace, the use of a cane lending her an almost stumbling gait, and snorted as she passed a couple of teenagers dressed in mini skirts and light denim jackets. They hadn’t even bothered with any hosiery; they were blanketed in the warmth of their youth. She tried to cast her mind back to her own youth but it seemed so far away, so long ago. It was strange to think that she could ever have felt so invincible.
She shivered as another icy finger travelled up her spine. It was time to get home to a nice hot cup of tea.
Mary lived in a ground floor flat at the top of the road from where the phone box was. There was a small parade of shops by the phone box too, and the post office. She couldn’t remember why she’d gone down to use the phone. Her phone had been broken for a few months so she used the phone box. She didn’t own a mobile phone because she didn’t understand how they worked – all those buttons and flashy pictures and lights. No, it just wasn’t for her, all that malarkey just to make a simple call. The phone box was just fine, had served her just fine, and she’d gone down there today but…she shook her head. It’d come to her eventually. That’s what old age did to you, fried your brain slowly from the inside out.
She stepped over her coat as she walked into her flat and sighed. No wonder she was feeling so cold, she’d forgotten to put on her coat.
‘You’d leave your head behind if it wasn’t screwed on.’ She made to pick it up but changed her mind as her back twinged in protest.
‘Cup of tea first.’
Once the tea with one sugar and a splash of milk was made, Mary went and sat herself down in her chair in front of the television carefully with her cup in one hand and cane in the other. She didn’t bother putting the telly on. It was only all that afternoon rubbish. Watching telly was what you did in the evening. A good crossword, a read of the paper and maybe a book were the things you did in the daytime. However, Mary did quite like watching Jeremy Kyle in the mornings and Cash In The Attic in the afternoons.
Mary took a sip of her tea and grimaced. It was cold. She could have sworn she’d boiled the kettle. She contemplated making a fresh cup but decided to have a little sit down first. She was exhausted after her little walk. It was only that PG Tips stuff anyway not proper tea brewed in a pot. Tea just wasn’t the same anymore. Pauline at the post office agreed.
‘Not like the old days when tea was tea,’ Pauline would say. ‘Now you’ve got all this herbal nonsense. It’s all tea that smells like bloody perfume!’
Julie, Mary’s eldest, liked all that stuff. Ginger tea, raspberry tea and mint tea. Who wants to drink warmed up mouthwash? And Julie’s husband liked honeyed ale! Honeyed ale! If her George were still here to see all this he’d be horrified that you couldn’t just have a normal pint without having a whole beehive’s output poured into in it as well.
She didn’t see Julie much. Julie lived down in Brighton which wasn’t too far away from Mary’s flat in Essex. But Julie was a busy woman with a house and family to take care of. She visited when she could and phoned every Wednesday and Saturday night or at least she did before the phone got broken. Mary had written to her about that, gone down to the post office to send off the letter done on proper writing paper. Julie hadn’t written back though…had she? She’d check with May, her carer. May would remember.
Maybe Julie would visit soon, wasn’t she due a visit? It wasn’t like Mary could just jump on a coach or train nowadays anyway. She was too old for that and on a pension. The fares these days were bleedin’ robbery even with the pensioner discounts. And it was too exhausting. Sometimes a walk down the road to the shops did her in for that day. May, a lovely girl, who popped in two times a week to help out, didn’t like her going to the shops on her own, and said it was too dangerous. But she went anyway. It was always nice to get out and May needed to stop being so mumsy all the time. She was always fussing over her on her visits. Mary would tutt and act annoyed but she secretly loved the attention.
Mary picked up the battered paperback that was resting on the arm of her chair. May had brought it over for her to read. It wasn’t really Mary’s thing. She liked a bit of crime, some grit and blood. May’s book had too many petticoats, manly hunks and damsels in white dresses. Mary was giving ‘Love’s Burning Flame’ a go anyway.
Felicity held tightly onto the rock face, not looking down. Teasrs stained her pale cheeks.
‘I can’t do it,’ she said.
‘You can!’ said Dexter. ‘I’ll catch you.’
‘I’m too scared!’ She squeezed her eyes shut.
‘Don’t worry, its not that far too fall. Open your eyes and see. Just let go!’
Mary put the book down, leaving it open and face up. Felicity was too mousy and Dexter only had one thing on his mind. She’d have to give the book back to May really before Felicity and Dexter drove her to drink.
A picture of Simon caught her eye. Mary’s flat was cluttered and had wallpaper up from the 1970’s and furniture to match. It had lasted a long time and she was loath to get rid of it. Amid the trinkets, ornaments and family pictures displayed chaotically on the cabinet her and George had bought thirty years ago, sat the picture of her late son. He was smiling and looked his usual happy self. She didn’t often look at it. Although it was her favourite picture of him, it was hard to look at sometimes. It had been twenty years since his death. She missed him everyday and it hurt like a punch to the gut everyday too. She missed her Simon and her George. They were the two most important men in her life and now they were gone.
She looked away, wanting to look at something else and noticing a few cobwebs hanging gauzily in the corners of the room as she did. May would take care of them for her if she asked when she popped over this afternoon. May was good like that. Her eyes moved over to the cabinet again but avoided looking at the picture of Simon, instead turning her attention to a picture of her George. In that particular shot he was laughing, his eyes crinkled at the corners in a way that made her old heart flutter even after all these years. Mary frowned as she noted how dusty the picture looked.
Pauline at the post office hated dust just like she hated herbal tea. In fact, Pauline hated all mess and clutter. Mary didn’t mind clutter, gave a home its character. But she hated cobwebs and dust. She just couldn’t keep on top of it all very well anymore.
Mary had been feeling poorly lately. Her back was playing up, her arthritis was really painful and she found herself waking up at all hours of the night with a heavy, tight chest, coughing and spluttering. She wondered if it was all the rubbish still coming out of her system after giving up smoking.
Her husband George had been a heavy smoker. So had she. When George died eight years after Simon had passed, Mary gave up the fags immediately and was surprised at her lack of cravings. Surely all the rubbish had come out of her system by now?
It started to rain heavy outside.
‘Nothing wrong with a bit of rain,’ she addressed her empty flat. ‘It cleans the dog mess off the path better than the bleedin’ council.’
She stopped herself then. The last thing she wanted was to think about the council and get all worked up. They made her blood boil. They were nothing but a load of overpaid idiots who couldn’t run a marathon if they tried. The council was another hot topic down at the post office along with herbal tea, the weather and rude youngsters.
She turned her attention back to the book, anything to pass the time.
‘Open your eyes and see.’
She gently closed it. May could have it back. It really wasn’t her cup of tea.
A key rattled in the door.
Speaking of May…
‘Mary, I’m…’ May gasped and then let out a whimper.
Mary looked down, following May’s line of sight and froze. It was her, lying crumpled on the floor. She was still in her coat, flat on her face. Looking down on her body she remembered the pains in her chest, her trip to the phone booth to make an appointment with her GP.
Mary could do nothing but watch as May lent over her body. May was crying as she felt Mary’s wrist and neck for a pulse, her hands trembling as she pulled a mobile phone from her coat pocket. Pauline at the post office hated mobile phones.
‘We’ve been here before,’ the voice told Mary as she stood in the phone box again, receiver to her ear. It sounded like her Simon, and then like her George.
‘It’s time to let go now. Just let go.’ © Amos Cassidy and amoscassidy.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amos Cassidy and amoscassidy.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.