My eyes closed, moments from sleep, I hear a voice. I hold my breath for a moment, my heart racing in protest.
“Bill, is that you?”
Other noises follow. I’m as still as the bed beneath me.
At last I realise it’s from the TV downstairs. I feel pinned to the bed. The thought of getting up beyond me, sleep inches away.
Oh Bill. Why did you have to leave? I forget sometimes you know.
My sleep is broken through the night. Fragments of images and faces from my dreams fade quickly becoming lost in a clump of dust, dull and knotted inside. The thoughts jagged and confused. I return to sleep. The fragments I search for in my dreams make more sense. Sometimes I clamber up into waking thoughts only to slip and slide back into confusion. When awake my first thoughts are a struggle to remember how I got here or where I’m to go.
I stop to catch my breath. The people brush past me.
Let them hurry.
I forgot to bring change for the trolley. I walk slowly willing my fingers not to uncurl their grip, dreading the bag falling to the shop floor.
I arrive at the checkout. Lines of queues in front of me, which one to join? I choose the line I think will move quickest. There’s a little boy tugging at the empty trolleys.
“Hi, “he says looking up at me. His parents are busy unpacking onto the conveyor belt.
We stare at each other for what seems an age.
Oh no. Have I forgotten again.
“Mathew, is that you?” I say quietly to him, doubting my words. This breaks his concentration and he steps away.
His mum pulls him in front of their trolley.
The boy looks at me. Any resemblance I saw to Mathew destroyed by his parent’s lack of recognition. I feel my face relax, my bags a little lighter. No harm done.
I thought of Mathew. I don’t think I know him now.
Eventually, my turn comes.
As I unpack, I study the items, struggling to remember what I picked. Some items I found I no longer want but I buy them anyway. Nobody wants a fuss.
I’ve given up on reading. Few of my books remain. My mind can no longer connect back to where I had left off, the bridge to my reading memories dissolved over time.
I pull the comb gently through the strands of blond hair, adding increments of pressure when meeting resistance against the tangled knots. I look at my reflection in the kitchen door, all the while maintaining the strokes, using touch as my guide. My face drops. My, how my cheeks look! My cheeks all bloated. My eyes glaze over.
A movement beyond my reflection catches my eye, my pupils adjusting to look beyond the misted window. The black cat from next door had jumped the wall and clung to the edge as it pulls fluttering hind legs onto the ledge.
My thoughts flash back to a recent memory returning from the school run. Seeing the same cat sprawled over the tarmacadam near the stationary shop. At least, that’s how I remembered it but here she is.
My daughter Sophie finishes her breakfast, and I complete the last stroke as she stands up. It’s time to leave. I catch my reflection again. No, this is Lisa, my granddaughter. My cheeks flush but I haven’t time to reflect on my lapse.
This can’t last. Something keeps me going. Some thought. I’m not sure what it is.
Stuck in the traffic, I latch onto the latest radio soundbite while filtering out the pedestrians around me, looking for changes in the landscape. I look at the entrance to the corner estate. The traffic line exiting the estate is stalled but the queue is small. I recognise some of the cars. Some familiar faces looking intently out the window, cocooning in their own little bubble.
I look at the place where I saw that cat run over. No trace remains. Few cats could be seen at this time. The rush hour is best avoided.
I brush off some crumbs of toast from the passenger seat. At least Sophie finished it. I look at my nails, skin peeling around the edges. The varnish is fading away. But it will do.
Uh. I only coloured them a couple of days ago.
I release the handbrake, easing past stillness, my thoughts propelling forward in time.
The smartphone is something I'll never get into. There is a barrier erected in my mind stopping me. I’m glad.
I wash my hands, food preparation out of the way. The deep rumble outside quickens my efforts. One last glance out the window to see the shadow from the sky spreading with menace, the wind shaking the trees in my garden.
I sit on the couch in the sitting room. I ignore the remote on the armrest.
I know that voice. I open my eyes. Sophie is looking down at me. Some of the hair not pulled into her clips is dangling in front of her eyes.
“Oh, I slept it out,” I say. She doesn’t say anything, and I look away from her gaze, forcing myself to my feet.
“You sit down, I’ll check on the oven,” I say.
Sophie puts her hand on my shoulder, her fingers wrapping around but I walk on, her fingers lost in the air.
In the kitchen, I recognize the smell. Our local takeaway. Different dishes blending into a complementary fragrance.
But no sign of my food. I open the oven door and inside is empty. It‘s spotless as if it had never been used. I can feel her watching me.
“This smells nice,” I say, the words sharp against my tongue.
I’ve lost touch with today’s generation. I feel dull and fragile beside them.
I look at the TV screen. It makes little sense. Sophie sits beside me entranced by the spectacle, her legs touching mine on the couch. I slump into the couch. Getting up would be an effort. My arm presses into the armrest which creaks and bends far too easily.
When would Bill be coming back?
“Maybe some tea?” I ask. I think of Bill again.
Sophie says something quietly. Slowly, she pulls her attention from the TV, frowning with a shake of the head and moves across in the chair, giving me some space. She looks at me flashing a cold-stretched smile, before slumping her back into the couch, her body becoming loose as she catches up with her TV.
On my feet, I turn one way and then the other to go to the kitchen. Where’s Bill anyway?
Inside, the chicken is covered on the table. The dishes put away. I can taste the chicken still in the corners of my mouth, and yet standing still I have to collect myself to recall eating the meal.
The kettle is safe enough. The oven scares me.
The character from the TV breaks into my nap with a sharp change of tone. There’s silence from the TV for a short while, as if aware I was watching them. It’s an old black and white film. Trying to recall the actors’ names is futile though they‘re vaguely familiar.
I reach out to my tea. Picking it up I peer closely to examine its texture. There’s no warmth coming through the cup, so I place it back down on the coffee table. The TV flickers lights around the darkened room. I stand up and go to draw the blinds.
Outside there‘s enough light from streetlamp to see that the road is deserted. Sophie has left, the driveway stripped of her Fiat Uno. I draw the blinds; the shadows creep up my hands as I do.
Turning on the light, I walk to the stairs.
“Bill. Bill. BILL!,” I shout, each shout getting louder.
“BILL!” One last time but there’s no movement. Is he asleep?
Going to the kitchen, I switch on the kettle, looking around for jobs to do. The place is spotless, no trace of the laundry I left in the washing machine. Sophie is too good.
I hear a beep from the corner of the room. A phone vibrating. I pick it up. George comes up on the phone. I answer, my mind scratching to recall who George is.
“Hello?” I say.
“Mum, it’s Sophie. Are you coming?”
“Oh,” I say. What does she mean?
There’s a pause.
“I can come for you,” she says.
“Please. I must have forgotten.”
“I’ll come now.”
“OK, dear. What about Bill?”
“It’s ok Mum, Bill doesn’t have to come tonight. It would be good to have you there. See you in a minute.”
“Uh huh. See you in a minute.”
The phone goes dead. What is all this? I suppose I should change into my nice shoes.
It’s getting harder to reconnect with my past. There are photos somewhere in the house. But a feeling inside whispers caution.
I awake stiff, looking around.
The bus is now near full and has come to a stop outside the Craggy Rock Pharmacy. Despite the sun beating off the pavement, a coldness presses down under my velvet coat.
I hope Bill will be there. Why wouldn’t he?
The bus takes off again. A man sits beside me, I hear the mumble from his earphones. I feel my throat constricting. I’m the next stop.
“Excuse me,” I say.
I nudge him with my bag, and he gets up. I catch my image in the bus mirror as I press the button. How old I look. I sigh.
I step off the bus, my hand leaning on the rail till my foot hits the ground.
I take in the scene. This isn’t the place I was expecting. The green area now a car park. With a sudden clarity, I remember this rendezvous was years passed, and Bill hadn’t been there that time and it’s impossible for him to be here now. Tears creep over my cheekbones warmed by rising embarrassment.
I can go back now. Nobody will notice.
My house is kept spotless. I have little room for clutter.
I put the key to the door. I turn with enough pressure that my fingers turn red. The lock resists just enough that I yield. I try again and this time there’s a soothing clicking sound. I look around, anticipating somebody is watching me but I’m all alone.
I step onto the soft mat and remove my shoes. I can smell coffee. I smile. It would be good to see Laura. I pause to rearrange my thoughts. Sophie I mean.
I walk towards the kitchen, the smell of coffee getting stronger.
Sophie grips her mug like she’s gaining strength from it. She’s not in good form. I better hold my tongue. I can’t give her control. Not yet.
“There you are. I’ll join you,” I say
“Mum, what happened? You missed Lisa’s play,” she says, worry creasing her forehead.
Oh no. What can I say now? Be careful now.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought…” Words tie up on my tongue as I look, head bowed, around the room.
“Mum, I’m worried,” she says sparing my struggle to rescue the situation. “You’ve been gone all day. You have to tell me what you’re doing. You remember what happened last May?”
I look at Sophie. The image of the child I remember simmering and fading around her. So serious now. What happened in May? I don’t think I have the energy to hear about it. Not while she’s wearing that expression!
“Don’t worry. Sometimes I need to get out of the house. OK, pet, I’ll talk with you later."
“Mum, we need to have another look at your phone. I need to know you have it on you at least.
What if something happened? At your age?”
I nod, my hand resting on the counter.
“OK, dear, maybe I should call Lisa.”
Look how my hands shake. Maybe they’re next to go.
BIO: Patrick Curran works in Banking. He enjoys different types of literature, including comics. He has done some animation and recently enrolled in an Immersive Technology (VR/AR) class. Patrick is married and lives with his family in Dublin.