Short Story – Mum – Part Three
Companionably, the two women worked together, Audrey staying by the wardrobe and Pamela opening the top drawer of the bedside chest. That way, they could each be together, but not so close that they fought for space. At first they gathered and sorted gently, carefully considering each item and then gradually picking up speed, so that before long, six large bags had been filled with an assortment of personal items no-one would want: old stockings and tights, underwear and tops. Lipsticks and eyeliner scooped out of the drawers went in with bits of lavender sachets, cheque stubs, old biros and scraps of paper. Gladly, Audrey would slip open a new sack and fill it with outdated shoes and worn-out boots, baggy trouser suits and warm, shabby tops that might have come from Damart circa 1975.
“It feels a bit too private, doesn’t it? Panty liners and brassieres are not really meant to be seen by anyone else, are they?” Pamela exclaimed, her cheeks pink with embarrassment. Her mother just nodded, adding, “But then, you never know when you are going to die, do you?” and before she could stop herself, she started quietly crying, big tears just leaving her eyes and rolling over her cheeks and down her neck. She wiped them away, but more came, and more, until it was too obvious she would have to leave the room and get a hanky. She glanced up, helpless with grief as Pam quietly fetched the box of Kleenex from the kitchen windowsill. “Let’s keep going, shall we?” Audrey croaked, feeling deeply self-conscious.
“Yes Mum, though I would like a cup of tea in a minute.”
Glancing at her wrist, Audrey was surprised that it was almost six o’clock. She had been half expecting to hear a key in the lock, footsteps over the threshold. The silence, unmarked by the usual noisy rituals of occupation, had slipped past her.
“Just a little more, and then I think we could stop for the day?” she agreed, but hesitantly, as if reluctant to break apart their togetherness. “Shall we come back tomorrow?” Audrey felt suddenly unsure. “There is so much still to do.”
“Whatever you like,” Pam answered automatically, then smiled to show that she had all the time in the world. “We’ll call someone to come and take away those bags.”
Suddenly both tired, they gazed around the room, straightened their backs. The roll of plastic sacks had become a couple of flat shadows, while in the hallway and living-room over a dozen carriers were piled up, filled with the remains of a life. The newer things, the unopened packets and extra items of clothes were gathered in another bag, waiting like a dog at Pamela’s heels. Since Naomi had not been shopping for many months and had been practically house bound for over a year, it was light.
Naomi’s bedroom, with its stained furniture, dusty lampshades and furry corners, looked almost exactly as it had when they had started, hours ago. It would take a week or so to tidy away the different lots, organize uplift of the more useful items of furniture and arrange for house clearance. After that, there were readings for the telephone, the gas and electric. The hospital would come and collect its equipment and then, apart from cleaning the place from top to bottom, there was nothing more to do. The Council would take possession at the end of the month, in three weeks’ time.
Naomi had left no money, no assets, nothing except a few bright, well-worn dresses. One of these, a deep turquoise, strapless summer number which had hung quietly on its hangar for twenty-five years, Audrey collected, folded and put carefully to one side.