Angela Tripps had lived long enough. Or so she told herself at 7:05am that Tuesday morning. The heavy lidded eyes that snapped open at the same time each morning, blinked once, twice, and then eased shut. She groaned; a deep, almost masculine sound that spoke to the weariness she felt each time she woke to “another bloody day”. She threw back the blanket swinging veiny legs to the floor, her toes shrieking at the violent change in temperature as they made first contact with the floorboards. Her twelve month old hips made the elementary act of walking to the window a reluctantly acknowledged pleasure and she uttered an “mmph” to assuage the internal conflict she felt. A leathery hand yanked at a cord, sending Roman blinds up in a flutter, grudgingly giving the early morning sun permission to bathe her tired face.
Her voice cracked and she pinched her arm in remonstration, as she remembered. Sighing at her addled memory, she shuffled into the hallway, grasping at a faded bathrobe flung over the bedroom door.
“Here, puss-puss. Here, you mangy wee cat.”
Passing the reception room, she cast her gaze over the well worn sofa, the empty recliner. Dust motes hung suspended above the groove of the leather seat, illuminated by the undressed window. She stared at the chair, willing Frank to appear – a shimmering apparition of dust and morning’s light.
Walking into the small kitchen, she spied the slumbering form of Thompson. The scraggly rust coloured cat was curled languorously around the Aga, attempting to absorb its dwindling warmth through the tiles beneath.
“There you are, you lazy cretin.”
Thompson cracked one golden eye, decided his stomach was sufficiently empty to warrant a state of wakefulness and rolled into a stretch.
“Cup of tea? Yes, I think so.”
Angela had long since given up on coffee – one of life’s purest pleasures, she recalled – in favour of a mild breakfast blend. Her good for nothing doctor had blamed caffeine for the blinding headaches she had been waking to and had ordered an immediate halt on all caffeine related pursuits. Bloody doctors. Angela had resentfully done as directed, but refused to give up tea. Harmless, she had retorted. And nice. With that particular battle won, Angela had promptly declared her intention to avoid doctors of all forms unless she was on the verge of death. On the two occasions since, her granddaughter had been the one to intervene.
She smiled as she set the kettle on the stove. Lucy. The only sunshine – well, maybe not the only, she thought, glancing down at Thompson – that remained to shine on her dull existence. Pulling up a chair, she wedged herself between flaky wallpaper and a fold-out table. After Frank had died ten long years ago, her children had flocked, where once they had not. She had told them (in no uncertain terms), that she was all right. “Be going now, you have your own to care for.” It had taken several months for her son and daughter to realise she meant it. And so they left her – as she had asked. The phone calls came still, but dwindled from weekly to monthly, the visits becoming an annual affair; fast and frenetic, in which a years’ worth of achievements, changed hair-do’s and growing children were fussed over. Angela wanted it that way. There was definitely love, but it was a Frank-less love. An altered reality in which Angela was marooned in empty space, with nothing but some old memories and her cat.
But then there was Lucy. The child had grown from a shy doe-eyed girl, to a striking and somewhat intimidating woman. She reminded Angela of herself. Lucy was her last refuge – her anchor to this life. If her first thoughts upon waking weren’t of Frank, they were of the Amazonian beauty who took no prisoners, her grandmother included.
Chuckling to herself, she looked at the clock above the sink. Lucy wouldn’t arrive until 11:30 on the dot, as she did every Tuesday. Her weekly visits were as precious to Angela as Frank’s gold wedding band, screwed tightly above her own, folds of aged flesh securing it on her finger. They would talk of Lucy’s work, her latest ‘take-down’ (or boyfriend, when she was feeling generous), the obligatory report on family activity and then they would open a bottle of Bailey’s, clinking crystal sherry glasses. After sandwiches and fruit, they would hit the kitchen, cooking up a storm. Big cast iron pots full of Irish Stew, tray’s of lasagne and Angela’s favourite Chunky Chicken Soup; a melee of aroma’s to accompany their conversation. Lucy wanted her grandmother to “eat right”, so portions of lovingly created meals were packed into thirty year-old Tupperware and frozen. Always enough, but never too much, so that Lucy ‘had’ to make the trip each week.
The screech of the kettle jolted Angela from her thoughts. Getting up to make her tea, she felt a sudden sharp twang in her chest.
Thompson appeared like a mirage at her feet, rubbing against her legs, purring in anxious enquiry. Taking a deep breath and then exhaling with exaggerated purpose, Angela waited a moment for the pain to recede.
“It’s OK, my puss. Just a … skerrick of the nerves.”
She nudged the cat out the way and made her tea, strangely aware of every cell in her body.
“Nothing to be worried about.” She reassured him.
Tea in hand she made her way into the reception room, heading for the recliner rather than her usual spot on the sofa. She sat in the groove, worn in by her husband of fifty-five years, feeling the shape of him, as real as if he were there – her in his arms.
“Such a lovely bottom, had Frank.” She mused. “Always cut a fine figure in his uniform.”
Thompson yawned his agreement and melded into the rug at her feet. She sighed.
“Won’t be too much longer, I expect … although I do know I’ll miss Lucy. And you, puss.”
She sipped tea through a faint smile, hands wrapped around the cup, a slight tremor making ripples in the tea. She gazed out the window at the oak near the mail-box, remembering the day Frank had planted it for her; its full crown turning burnished orange, sporadic patches of brilliant green refusing to conform to autumn’s expectations. She let her thoughts drift towards Lucy. If it wasn’t for that girl, Angela would have given up the ghost long ago. Lucy had saved her from herself, at a time when Angela refused to be saved. She had never crowded her grandmother. She had just been there when Angela had needed it the most. She had given her the gift of life again and promised to share it.
That was why Angela was going to call in a favour. She knew her granddaughter would arrive soon, which was the reason she had to hurry. She picked up the phone, sitting neglected on a coffee table beside the recliner. Having never enjoyed speaking to someone through a machine, the ‘contraption’ was seldom used. She dialled.
“Lucy, dear! I’m so glad I caught you before you left.”
“Gran? What’s wrong? You’re using the phone! You hate the phone …”
“I know, it’s a damned nuisance – but that’s not what I called about. I need you to do something for me.”
“Are you OK? You’ve never called me before! I was about to leave – the traffic is ridiculous but if I leave now, I can get there earlier -”
“Child, be quiet a moment. I’m going to be busy today, so there is no need to visit. I have a few things that need to be done around here, and frankly, you’ll distract me.”
“Well geez, thanks Gran! I love you too! What kind of things?”
Angela caught the tone in Lucy’s voice. She had to reassure her – and fast. There was a slight fluttering in her chest and her right arm was tingling.
“I wanted to go through some of your granddad’s things. It’s nothing to worry about, I would just rather do it on my own, you see. You can come tomorrow and we’ll cook extra.”
Angela could hear the cogs turning over, the ‘click’ as Lucy made the connection.
“Oh. Oh god Gran. You’re not. Please – not now.”
“Now, Lucy. We’ve talked about this. A dozen times! You said you would support me. Now is the time I need you to do that. I love you, child. You saved me. Now I need to go and you need to let me.”
Angela felt the tingles change in intensity. Hot streaks of pain raced up her arm, culminating in a vice like grip around her heart. Lucy had promised to understand and just be there, when the time came. Now the time was here and her granddaughter was falling apart.
“Gran! Gran are you there? I’m so sorry – I’m here! Like I promised – I’m here. I love you. I’ll love you forever!”
The phone slipped from Angela’s grasp, as her hands came involuntarily up to her heart, clutching at the pain. She could hear her granddaughter telling her she loved her and that she was there – still there. Angela turned to look at the oak with tears in her eyes, welcoming the pain as it took her, at last, to Frank.