Short Story – Mum – Part Two
Naomi, who had fizzed through her years with ferocious elegance, ended up eking out her last days in a small, two-roomed council house with no garden. Pretending to enjoy the cigarettes to which she was so badly addicted, she hardly ate; and as throat cancer took hold, grew and blossomed darkly inside her thin body, Audrey watched in despair. Her sisterly arms could only hold hands and wordlessly pray. Nor was there a cure to whip up from the chemist’s or the whole-food shop; no copper bangle, crystal prayer mat, scented candle or shaman’s feather would fill the void, answer the questions or deal with the thin agony of wasting illness. As she watched, Audrey’s anger kept her moving.
Now, as anger seeped away, tiredness threatened to paralyze Audrey. Though often argumentative, annoying and disagreeable with each other, Naomi and she had been in so many ways the same, understanding and knowledgeable around each other. All that familiarity lost, and where could she find it again?
Bracing her legs beneath her, Audrey stood and very carefully approached the built-in wardrobe with its full length mirrors. Long mirrors are fine when you are young, happy and expansive. Utterly demoralizing when what you see behind you in the reflection are the remains of sorrow, illness and decrepitude. Audrey slid the cupboard door ajar and something nameless whisked past her face. Moths? That would make her job easier. The smell of her sister’s perfume still held in the background, deeper than the dust, the sweat in unwashed woollens and crêpe-like silk jackets. Automatically, before she could stop to think, Audrey started hefting stuff out and throwing it behind her onto the bed. All of it: jackets, skirts, shirts, vests from the shelf, cardigans which had been fashionable decades earlier. The pace quickened until Audrey felt sweat breaking out on her forehead, running down and stinging her eyes. She ploughed on, ignoring the dust and her hair stuck to her cheeks.
“Pamela!” she called, feeling unaccountably invigorated by the mess, “Could you fetch through the roll of black bags, please?” Asking please cost such an effort. “Under the sink, I think…”
It felt good to be clearing a space, even if that meant swapping one mess for another. Her daughter crept in moments later and, with unaccustomed tact, quietly left the black plastic roll on the dressing table. In her other hand she carried a saucer and cup of tea, which clinked as it too, was placed on the table top.
“Thank you, darling.” Audrey smiled with relief. “Come and help, if you like. I could do with a hand, though most of this looks ready for landfill.” Tentatively eyeing the jumbled accumulation, wondering how long it might take to sort, she abruptly decided she hardly cared. “Grab a bag and start chucking.”