International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Fiction
As she was
heading towards the milk she paused, and stood waiting in the middle
of the aisle. An old woman was squinting at the labels of
yoghurts and mousses, lifting them one by one to be examined.
She watched the woman for a moment, then walked
quietly towards her.
mother looked up and drew back in alarm, her hands shaking. Then
she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
You startled me there, Susie love,
she said, I was off in a world of my own.
mum. Susie narrowed her eyes. You know I offered
to get your groceries for you, you dont have to
that a bottle of wine?
The old woman shifted, trying to shield the basket
with the baggy sleeves of her coat.
You know its not good for you.
I wont be having any, she said,
lifting her head proudly. She was a full foot shorter than her
Susie shook her head. She didnt want
to go through all this again.
Dont you worry about me, I can look after
myself. Now Im in a bit of a hurry, Ive lots to do
today. Come and see us next week and Ill cook for you.
Wed love to see you.
Susie nodded numbly, and watched her mother moving
slowly towards the tills. She decided to drop in unannounced in
a few days; she didnt want to put the poor woman to any bother.
She walked stiffly along the footpath, vaguely aware
of the cars speeding past on her left and the people barging past on
her right. Her eyes were fixed on the ground as she stooped slightly,
a bag of shopping weighing down each arm. She didnt mind
it, home wasnt far away and she had bought the ingredients for
John and herself to have a fabulous dinner tonight. She liked
to surprise him, although as he aged he was becoming harder to please.
He treated every little inconvenience as a personal slight these days.
He talked about Susie as if she was responsible for
all the ills of the modern world, that was the worst thing. There
were days he refused even to say her name.
None of that, she mumbled to herself,
It was a nice day. It was warm but the sun
wasnt too threatening, and there were fluffy clouds in the sky,
the kind children find pictures in.
Reaching home, she put down her bags to open the
door, pushing it slightly as the key turned. Her heart lifted
as she entered the hall that they had papered together when they first
moved in, reminding herself how hopeful they had been then. She
had been large with Susie, and so happy.
She scolded herself for wasting time reminiscing,
and leaving the bags in the hall, went to sit in the living room, where
she exchanged her shoes for her slippers. Her back ached but she
was eager to get started. There was so much to be done before
he came home.
She gripped the arms of her chair and pushed herself
upright. She would start with the dinner, then clean and tidy
while it was in the oven. Her eyes drifted to the wedding picture
on the mantelpiece. He looked so proud in that picture.
An hour later she was setting the table, almost ready.
She glanced at the clock, an ancient battered contraption which she
had never been able to part with because its ticking was so soothing.
She had plenty of time.
She looked again at the photograph, this time admiring
her dress. It was an extravagant, beautiful cream-coloured thing.
She still had it, though she no doubt wouldn't fit into it now.
She felt strangely compelled to go and get it out again. It hadnt
been touched for years.
Well, I am a sentimental old fool today, and
no mistake, she said, tutting at herself. I don't
know what has got into me.
She went through to the bedroom and opened the wardrobe.
She could see the box at the back, in which she knew her dress was folded
neatly away, with a sheet over the top.
Oh dear, she said, realising that to
get at it she would have to bend. With a hand on the bed she lowered
herself to the floor. Her knees ached with the effort, but she
took her time and focussed on her goal. She could see the box.
On top of it sat a pair of shoes. Her eyes brightened as she lifted
She pulled herself up and sat on the bed with the
shoes in her lap. They were simply shaped, flat satin shoes, with
flowers picked out in dark thread on the sides. They were in the
photograph too, just hidden under the puffed skirt of her dress.
Well I can still wear these, she chuckled,
and she discarded her slippers and pulled the shoes over her feet.
I wonder what John would say, she said,
She was about to take them off again, but stopped.
There was little point in keeping them nice now, no one was going to
be wearing them again. Susie's feet had outgrown her mother's
while she was still at school, so she would never need them. She
may as well leave them on. It was strangely thrilling to wear
them, even just around the house like this.
Where has he got to? she asked the room
in general as she went back into the kitchen. There was a time
he would have braved fire and storm to get to her on time.
Everything seemed ready, so she turned the oven off
and went to sit in her chair and wait. She sat looking down at
her shoes. Gazing at the delicately embroidered flowers she thought
she could smell perfume.
They really are lovely, she announced,
and then added, that was a lovely day.
Susie struggled to turn one key in the lock, as the
others jangled playfully against her wrist. The door creaked in
protest as she forced it to move, and she entered the dark narrow hallway.
She couldnt help noticing that the floral wallpaper was peeling
at the edges, and the faded carpet was in need of vacuuming. It
was just as well that she had come, and she felt a sour pang of guilt.
It had been a while.
Mum? It's me.
She was carrying a bag of shopping, so she went into
the kitchen and put it on the counter. She had brought a sponge
cake, some biscuits and enough cans of soup to last for weeks.
She put the kettle on and began to put her shopping away in cupboards,
which she had to explore thoroughly to find everything a home.
She was shocked at the amount of things that were out of date.
Then she noticed the saucepan on the hob. She
lifted the lid inquisitively, and dropped it back with a clang.
The pot was full of soggy potatoes, which had obviously been there for
some time. Susie frowned, and peered through the open door into
the little living room. The table was set for two, with her mothers
favourite blue Spode plates and silver cutlery. In the centre
of the table was an unopened bottle of wine, and a tall candle which
had never been lit.
Oh, mother, she sighed. It had
been years, and still the woman refused to accept that she was alone.
She turned to see her mother asleep in the chair
by the empty fireplace, where she could often be found. Susie
went to her and took her hand. It was cold.
For a moment she didnt understand. Then
she drew back, staring at the pale, wax-like face. It seemed to
be smiling. The kettle clicked suddenly in the kitchen as it turned
itself off, and Susie jumped to her feet with a cry. She felt
her face heating up and tears forming in her eyes. She couldnt
believe herself. It was no surprise; she had known that this would
happen. Surely she could stay calm.
Susie looked down at the shrunken body, wrapped in
layers of cardigan. Her mothers cold hands lay in her lap,
crisp and fragile. This is what she would have imagined.
Except for the feet. Instead of the usual slightly tatty, fluffy
slippers the old woman was wearing a pair of cream-coloured satin shoes.
They seemed to glow compared to the dark clothes her mother wore.
Susie looked around as though she expected to see an explanation, as
though an intruder might have have broken in just to change her mothers
Where did these come from?
As soon as shed spoken she wished she hadnt.
The silence swallowed her words and made the house feel big and empty.
She realised the clock wasnt ticking, and wondered how long her
mother had been waiting for her.
She looked again at the shoes. They seemed
so arrogant, interfering with the sombre scene. She wondered what
everyone would think when they saw this old woman in these fairy-tale
She turned her back and started hunting for the old
green slippers. She checked under the chairs, wrinkling her nose
at the fluff and dust she found there. She checked the kitchen
and the hall but there was no sign, so she was forced to ascend the
stairs. She remembered the troll that she had once thought tried
to catch her on those stairs, and felt a jolt of a now unfamiliar, irrational
The bedroom was tidy. Her father's old pyjamas
were laid out upon his pillow, a lace nightdress on her mothers.
The wardrobe door was open. She cast her eyes to the floor and
there they were. She grabbed them and hurried back downstairs.
We dont want people laughing now, do
we? she said, returning to her mother, making fun of a poor
Susie knelt and carefully pulled the shoes from her
mothers stiff feet, then put the slippers in their place.
They looked much more comfortable.
© Lisa Farrell August 2009
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