‘Faith, Hope and Love’ Part 18

Walking out of the front entrance, the light of the evening startled me. I breathed sharp, cool air deeply. Not stopping to lean on a wall, sag down onto my haunches, I finally found a taxi rank and queued, keeping my face blank. I watched others, some tottering with zimmer frames, some in pyjamas, arguing with their nearest and dearest or snatching a puff before shuffling painfully back inside. A pain stuck in the middle of my chest as I heaved myself into an empty cab.

As the taxi turned the corner and climbed the hill of our street, I was on the lookout for lights at the windows. A comforting glow reassured me that Elaine was home, watching television. Through the front door, I sank down on the bottom step of the stairs as she threw her arms around my neck and asked, “Is everything all right? You said we might have pizza tonight, so I looked in the freezer, but there’s only a very small one. Can we get a take away?”

“Yes, whatever you like, love.”

“Great! I’ll have extra ham and pineapple.”

“That’s fine.” Fetching my bank card, I telephoned Giuseppe’s. They were busy, but eventually, I placed the order, feeling as if I had climbed Mount Everest backwards, heavy, exhausted and with a headache from being up a mountain where the air was cold and thin. Shock. Waiting on the bottom stair for the front door bell, I lay my head over my crossed arms. The pizza would be here soon.

Elaine was looking at me, her head tilted sideways as if she was watching a small bird.

A surge of painful adrenalin hit me in the solar plexus and my hands shook wildly. I felt so angry. My hands started mechanically hitting, pummelling my knees before turning to the bannister, striking repeatedly, the staves of wood slapping pain into my palms. Elaine was looking to see what she could do to help. The sight of her worried face forced out the words I needed to explain. Each syllable rose over the ache in my throat. “Sorry, love, I’ve just come from the hospital. Been with Arthur, you know?” She nodded.

‘The reading Girl’ by Repin

“Is he all right, Mum?”

“Yes, well, he – he had a heart attack.”

She’d walked away, but only to fetch a glass of water and bring it like a holy offering. I drank deeply. With exaggerated care, I placed the empty plastic cup to one side before starting to howl noisily, like an animal, relieved to be in my own house, not a flimsy flat with bad sound proofing. I wept and swore blindly, while Elaine watched and waited. When I caught a bit of breath, she threw her arms around me in another warm hug, bringing on a fresh bout of weeping. What a lovely child. I rested with my head in my arms.

A plate appeared beside me with two slices of pizza on it. Elaine must have put them there, so, crying and whimpering into spicy tomato sauce and bits of ham, I did my best with it. If I could have tasted it, I would have thought it a rare treat. Elaine’s thoughtfulness brought fresh tears to my eyes, so I rose and crept to the kitchen to put things into some kind of order. Order, the placing of objects and expectations, can be the start of something less painful, calm found in a pile of pieces. Elaine was reading a book, quietly eating, as I came up behind her and held her tightly.

“It’s been a strange day” I mumbled.

“Is he going to be okay?”

“I’ve no idea, not a clue,” I answered with an attempt at lightness.

“I’m going skiing with Clare tomorrow, remember?”

Clutching the beginnings of normality, I asked, “Have you enough cash? Do you need some more?”

“No, I should be fine. I’ve got some saved up.”

“Okay, just ask if you need extra. Um, I’ll probably be at the hospital most of the day, but I can drop you off at Clare’s in the morning, if you like.”

“Yeah, that would be good. About nine o’clock?” she added, filling her mug with water from the tap.

We spent the rest of the evening watching television. Occasionally my eyes would swim with tears. Elaine watched me as much as the TV. Now and then, we would hug. After she had taken herself to bed, I rang the hospital. There a quiet voice calmly informed me that Mr. Thompson was doing as well as could be expected but they would be monitoring his condition closely overnight. I sat up late in bed, reading a book. Wilting on my pillows, I waited out the small hours. I must have dozed off, because when I woke, it was after eight and the room was light.

Had Elaine put the light off? The lamp was lying on the floor. I leapt out of bed. The bulb had smashed and there were shards of glass lying underneath the dented lampshade. Careful in my bare feet, I unplugged the flex, fetched a brush and pan from the kitchen, swept up and then vacuumed the carpet.

The sight of Elaine wearing her salopettes reminded me to hurry, a small line of normality which I clasped with manic enthusiasm. Desperate to feel normal, I threw a large jumper over yesterday’s clothes, which smelled of hospital…

Then oh, yes, Arthur. A fresh bout of tears filled my tired eyes. Propped up at the kitchen sink, I snatched a drink of water and a banana, gagging slightly on the taste, and checked that Elaine had her mobile phone, her gloves and money for a snack. We fussed a bit in the hall over details, while I stroked Elaine’s head fondly before she pulled apart. Grabbing keys, we ran up the path together and ten minutes later we arrived at Clare’s house, where she was waiting outside, twirling her skiing gloves.

“We should be back about lunchtime,” called Alison as the car revved up. I returned to a very quiet house, determined to eat breakfast, listen to the radio and forget, just for a minute or two. I managed to cram two slices of toast with peanut butter and swallow a scalding cup of tea. Then, almost running in my desperation, I sank gratefully into the hot shower as yesterday’s sorrow and my aching head started to clear. Showering off painful memories, I was suddenly aware that I was also washing away the last time Arthur had hugged me and kissed my lips, only yesterday. That made me weep some more, but at least I could rinse the ache of longing softly away with soap. He might never hold me again. Then something jolted me. Come on, girl, weeping may not be needed, after all. Pray! You prayed yesterday, didn’t you?

Prayer..? Seemed a tall order, as I stood naked with the water pelting down over my shoulders and my eyes tightly shut, pleading. But at last, from the idea that someone might be listening, a germ of calm grew, a breath, a moment of stillness.

“Dear God” said I, a lapsed atheist, “Please, help Arthur to get well. Not for my sake, but so that he may find peace and love. Please clothe Arthur in bright healing and fill him with joy. Amen.” It felt like a pretty good prayer, in the circumstances.


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