‘Faith, Hope and Love’ Part 20
As I drove home I could see children and their parents laughing, holding hands, shuffling along on the pavements and waiting patiently to cross busy roads trimmed with dozens of lights. Young women queued at bus-stops for trips into town. It was Saturday, the weekend, a night for partying. It felt strange to notice other people smiling.
The breakfast dishes were still piled in the sink; and the milk carton left standing on the table reminded me that the whole day had passed in a blur. It would probably be nine o’clock before Alison dropped Elaine home and I felt a small prickle of anxiety. If I wasn’t careful, my daughter would be grown up and away before I knew it. Every day she was more independent, less willing to wait.
Gazing out of the kitchen window into the deep blue shadows broken with smearing orange street lights, I understood how fortunate I was to be living with my darling daughter in my own home, still enjoying good health and able to laugh.
I slipped out to the back garden, to stare at the darkening sky and feel the earth under my feet. As I tripped giddily over tussocks of grass, I heard blackbirds murmuring in the bushes, and saw Sylvester flitting uneasily around stalks near the fence. As he came up, I stroked his back and he arched affectionately around my ankles. “Come in, boy” I murmured, “There’s a tin for you somewhere…”
Companionably we went back to the house. I felt intensely grateful for his eyes following me around the kitchen, his patient purring and his grateful snatching of meaty chunks from the saucer. I gave him more than usual, all of which he swallowed greedily, before licking the saucer clean with his raspy tongue and chasing the dish over the kitchen tiles.
A car door slammed. Elaine was calling goodbye before I’d had a chance to get outside. I ran to the gate just in time to see Alison’s car pulling away from the pavement. I waved, not knowing whether she saw, and then she flashed her lights goodbye.
“How is Arthur, Mum?” Elaine was hoping I would not cry like I had last night.
“He’s much better, love. They moved him to another ward and he slept most of the afternoon. It was good to see him.” He smiled.
“Do you think he’ll be out of hospital soon?”
“Yes, perhaps in a week or two… He will get well as quickly as he can.”
“Good. So life can get back to normal again, hey? Mum, could we go skiing again tomorrow? Alison was wondering if you might like to come too, and then we could all go for lunch after, or something.” She looked at me with an unusual appeal in her face, so that I automatically answered, “Yes, of course I’ll come. I’d love to. I’ll text Alison to check that’s all right with her, though.”
Children are so willing to overlook neglect, for our promise that we will make it up to them. Elaine might be growing up, but I still had to be there for her. As she spoke quietly into her mobile, I promised that things would return to something like normal. It was time to do Mummy things with her again. I set the table and made pasta Bolognese as Elaine chatted happily about ski jumps, chair lifts and wet gloves sticking to her hands. We turned in early. No telephone calls, no nightmares, no worrying any more. How would that help?
As Elaine clambered into her ski kit again the next morning and fetched her other pair of gloves, I took care brushing my hair and dressed smartly. Driving through quiet streets, it felt inexpressibly wonderful to be in the car with Alison, answering questions about the weather and chatting about how terrible the traffic was, or the road-works. We made it to the slopes early and, as the girls got themselves kitted up, we went to the warm café and ordered hot chocolate. We talked about hospital, heart attacks and trips in taxis and the words came easily. I felt no guilt, no abject grief.
We were home just after six. Beside me, Elaine was removing her ski jacket, scattering clothes and hot socks around the hall. As my heart beat wildly in my chest, I checked the three new messages but none was from the hospital, and why would they be? No-one knew me there. I wasn’t next of kin.
“Hello, could you put me through to Ward 3B please?” There was a long pause, then a distracted, “Can I help you?”
“I was telephoning to check, how is Arthur Thompson?”
“He’s fine. He was awake today, took some water, and is sleeping now. We are watching him, but he’s making good progress…” I didn’t hear much else, but after she had finished speaking, I blurted out a quick, “Oh, thank you so much!” before slamming down the receiver. Feeling ridiculously happy, I tripped up the stair and knocked at Elaine’s bedroom door. She looked tired and flushed, and asked, “What’s for tea?”
What is it with kids? Every day seems to revolve around cooking, eating, clearing away meals and dishes, before the next round of “Muuum, I’m hungry…!” But I hummed as I made a simple ham and onion omelette and set the table.