“What?” Evelyn’s question was abrupt. Her eyes snapped to Michelle’s face momentarily before drifting back to study her hands.
“What did he do?” said Michelle. “… Mum? What did he do?.” Her tone was patient and calm but her eyes belied weariness.
Evelyn concentrated on the button on her cardigan.
“I told you.”
“I told you what he did.” said Evelyn. “He… but he was a good man… a handsome man.” Her eyes twinkled as she imagined his face. Her trembling lips straightened into a warm smile.
“Yes! He was handsome. Oh I remember how it all started. Have I told you that? That first day?” Her demeanour softened and she settled her body back in the chair. “Oh, I caught his eye, I did. He told me that. I was the one he wanted for himself, you see. None of those others. They were too flighty. Too… opinionated.” Evelyn pondered her own words.
Michelle sighed & leaned back in her chair.
“But it was me, you see. I was a looker too, you know. In those days.” Evelyn smoothed her hair behind her ear, her smile glowing.
“It was hot that day, so my dress had strappy shoulders, you see. Yes, it was hot… “
The sun dances on Evelyn’s slim and youthful bare arms. She shields her eyes from the rays and glances across the park. Rita is late, again. Evelyn settles herself back on the rug and rests her hands patiently on her lap. This would make Evelyn late again too. He would not be happy. She would have to make up an excuse or try and slip back without him noticing. The dictation he had given her this morning wasn’t due until 2pm and he’d be in a meeting until then.
“The wind must have whisked this away.” A low, husky voice interrupts her internal fretting.
She squints up at a napkin in an outstretched hand. Intense blue eyes meet hers. She smiles and focusses back on the napkin, blushing at the attention from the handsome face.
Work can wait, thinks Evelyn!
“We were inseparable in those days. Everywhere he went, I went. I gave up my job and soon Michelle, Jemma and then little Tommy came along.” Evelyn smiled as she turned her cardigan button around in her fingers.
Michelle waited patiently, watching the withered figure of her mother.
Evelyn’s demeanour darkened and a look of fear passed over her face. Her eyes closed and she let out a soft whimper.
“He never meant it! He never did. I deserved it… sometimes… most times. He couldn’t quite cope, you see. With the memories and… well… I never knew what went on. He never told me. It was my job to keep out of the way. Look after the kids and the house. That was my job. He brought in the money and that was so very difficult. Very difficult!”
Her eyes snapped open and locked onto Michelle.
“Rita never knew the half of it!”
“Half of what, mum?”
“What went on. She only saw one side of it. Its not as simple as that. I remember the worst time… Rita found me that day. All black and blue. It wasn’t my fault that day. He came home so… angry. I think he lost his job again that day.”
Evelyn cowers in the corner, one hand shielding her face. The raised hand of her husband crashes down upon her blow after blow. Evelyn doesn’t utter a sound, her face strangely impassive, her eyes automatically blinking shut with every impact.
“I told you not to go in there, you stupid woman! I told you… to… keep… out!” each blow on her body intersperses his words.
“Mum?” Michelle tried to draw her mothers attention back to her again. “Mum? Please don’t do this to yourself!”
Evelyn’s body shuddered as the memories passed. She let out a low whimper, her bottom lip quivering, her eyes dull and wet with unshed tears. Gently she laid a trembling hand on Michelle’s arm, slowly regaining her composure.
The nurse quietly walked across the room from the open door.
“Any luck today, Michelle? How is she?”
Michelle wearily turned with sadness and resignation, her head shaking slowly.
“She’s barely said a word today. Hardly a thing. Just muttering that I can’t make out & the odd sentence that doesn’t make sense.”
“But I told you.” Evelyn retorts. “I’ve answered all your questions. You’re always asking questions. Hundreds of them.”
Michelle shook her head as her resigned gaze met with the nurse. The nurse gently smoothed the blanket over Evelyn’s knees, as she gave Michelle a sympathetic smile.
“I did tell you!” snapped Evelyn. “You just don’t listen. That was always your problem.”
Michelle rose from her chair and followed the nurse to the door. Evelyn gazed into the middle distance, unshed tears welling up in her eyes.
“There are so many things I want to tell her, to ask her. I don’t know if she even knows who I am most of the time.”
“It’s hard, I know, Michelle. It’s hard for all of you. Dementia takes them from us too early.”
“Michelle?” said Evelyn.
Both women turned their focus back to Evelyn simultaneously. A fleeting look of surprise passed over Michelle’s face.
“I do know who you are, Michelle.” Her eyes met Michelle’s with an intensity and familiarity that had been long absent. “And I forgive him.”
Michelle crouched beside her mothers chair.
“I never told him that before he went. I never blamed him – for what he did. It wasn’t him, you see. It was what happened during the war. He wasn’t the same after that. I forgive him, Michelle.” Her gaze turned to the window, her bottom lip trembling with emotion, tears spilling on to her cheek.
“Oh mum!” Michelle’s voice trembled with emotion. After a lifetime of silence and unanswered questions, she suddenly understood. She laid her head on her mothers lap, desperate for the familiarity of her mothers scent and companionship, mourning the dead father she had never known.
Evelyn gently stroked her hair with fond, rhythmical strokes.
“Rita, you really need to choose. You can’t date them both.” Evelyn chuckled.
A slow, silent tear welled up and slid down Michelle’s face as her mother slipped away again.