Short Fiction ~ Deborah Appleton
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 12
They told me he wasn't coming home now. They would move him on to that nursing home, get him stronger after the stroke. They kept nodding at me, it was all agreed, probably a month, maybe two, keep him under observation. Would I be all right at home, they wondered? I didn't say anything, I didn’t dare say anything. They brought me back. They were worried. It’s ok, I told them. I’ve managed here for over sixty years. Well, that stopped them. They looked me up and down. They took me in with their eyes. I know what I am. I’m as strong as an ox that’s what I am. Good farm stock, never had a day in bed. We both came from that. My people were wheat farmers from Canada. Walter’s from the Nebraska, cattle people. By the time I told them that, I knew who was stronger.
But when they left I couldn’t stop shaking. The house was so quiet and I couldn’t stop shaking. I just stayed by the door there until a sound rose up out of me, an ocean sound, a wave coming in, it was glorious. I stayed by the door for a long time. I watched the light shift and shadows lower across our living room, my living room. Everything was so peaceful, so tender.
And then I got up. I went to the bathroom and washed my face. I put on some of that perfume my daughter Sharon gave me years ago, smells like lilies of the valley, still in the same box and everything. There would be Sharon to call, tomorrow, no rush. I filled the room with the fragrance, just standing there in the bedroom.
I put on the blue blouse with the small forget-me-knots at the collar. I always keep that one nice and tidy, the colour is good on me. I went into the kitchen and made a large glass of ice tea. I put in a big slice of lemon and stirred it up. Then I went out to the back porch, to Walter’s chair. I took my cushion from my chair and put it on Walter’s chair. I adjusted the chair so that I got the sunset on my face. I love that, when the heat of the day is gone. Walter’s chair is a big, roomy old wicker chair, still sturdy, comfortable. I have those sunglasses that protect my eyes from the sunspots. I breathe in the lily of the valley. Walter hates perfume. Walter hated perfume.
Walter is never coming home. I know that. They know that, but they are speaking to an old lady who has lived with her husband for over sixty years. They don't know what I am, they don’t know how I have lived. The young are so sentimental. “How many years have you been together?” They ask. “HOW many?” It means everything to them. They never ask anything else. And I would never say. I would never tell them how I learned to duck my head at certain times after dinner, learned to be busy in the kitchen on rainy weekends. Never left anything lying around on a countertop or a tabletop, any object that could be used.
A person gets tired with all that planning. A person makes mistakes, forgets and then a person gets tripped up. It comes out of nowhere, it always comes out of nowhere.
Oh, you hear about us women. They are on talk shows, there are articles in the newspapers, in the glossy magazines. Almost everyday you hear something. I would stop to read, stop to listen. But you don’t hear about the ones who stay. Sixty years, and they all smile. Don’t they see the bruises on my arms and the back of my legs?
Some of us can’t go, cant leave. I don't know why. I used to ask myself when would it be too much, until I got fed up asking myself. He got older, I moved quicker. In a dark room, I could put a chair in a different place. I could make things difficult. It got easier.
And now he’s not coming back. I shift my ice in my long, tall drink. I know what I am. I am an eighty three year old woman. I am as strong as an ox. I breathe in the lilies of the valley. Sixty years and I have been waiting. Does that make it better? I put my face into the strong heat of that setting sun.
Deborah Appleton worked for Cosmopolitan Magazine in NYC before moving to Nairobi Kenya to write travel books. She then worked on the west coast of Scotland. She currently spends most of her time in the mountains of Switzerland and is editing her first novel and finishing a second.