Clara didn’t need to be able to see to know it was raining outside. Drips seeped through the roof, starting their descent through her home. The walls were perpetually wet, peeling wall paper flapping in the many draughts that rushed through the building. Clara sighed, pulling the woollen scarf closer about her shoulders as she hunched in her aged arm chair. Listening to the fire’s crackle in the hearth, she breathed deeply, enjoying the heady odour of the burning timber.
The thud of the key turning in the lock sent Clara further down into her chair, as the hinges creaked to admit the visitor.
“Mum?” Clara could hear distaste in the nasal tones.
“Here.” Reluctantly she answered, her voice croaking through lack of use.
“Really mum, you can’t stay like this.” Zoe wrinkled her nose as she entered the sitting room, noting immediately the tattered state of her mother’s once pink shawl, the dishevelled tangle of hair projecting from beneath her head scarf.
“Why not? This is my home.”
“Because mum, it’s not … right.”
Making her way further into the room, Zoe perched on the edge of the sofa alongside her mother, unwilling to get her pristine skirt covered in dirt.
With a sigh she studied Clara carefully. The old skin round her face was strangely translucent, contrasting sharply with the gleaming dark eyes. Long wrinkled fingers clutching the woollen shawl close to her chin ended in unkempt dirty fingernails.
“Dad wouldn’t like to see you like this mum.” Zoe hoped to ease the old woman’s resolve. “It’s time to move…”
“Tcha!” Clara snorted, her thin lips tilting into an unkind sneer. “Your father wouldn’t care a jot.”
“Then why stay, why keep yourself in this miserable place?” Zoe glanced round at the room someone had tried to furnish and make a home.
There was so much work to do; repairing the roof and stopping the rising damp were but two priority jobs. She been grateful for all she had got, but her mother was preventing it. She shivered. Despite the heat from the large fire, the room was perpetually cold.
“Who…? Oh mum, you don’t think dad’s coming back do you?”
“That pile of shit? Why in hell would I wait for him to return?! He’s never coming back.”
There was a strange gleam of certainty from her mother’s blind eyes that made Zoe shiver. It had been years since her father’s last flying visit, when he descended on the family, grovelling for forgiveness and promising never to leave again. But as previously, he had vanished. As her mother had grown colder and more isolated with his every return, Zoe had inexplicably forgiven his absences, desperate perhaps for a father figure, or sympathetic to his near crazy hate, love fixation.
Clara turned back to the fire place to stare unseeing into its red heart. She loathed these visits as much as she had despised her husband’s, but while she had finally taken the courage to do something about him, she knew she couldn’t do anything about Zoe. Not only could she not harm the product of her loin, however distasteful, she was no longer physically able. Her fading strength ensured that she remained a pitiful, lonely creature.
“So, who are you waiting for?” Zoe’s voice droned through the quiet space, slicing through Clara’s patience with the dexterity of a carving knife.
“Never you mind.” She snarled. “He is coming, I know he is. And then, and only then, will I leave! This is my home!” The fender quivered and shook. “Now, leave me in peace!”
A cold draught blasted through the room, rocking the clock on the edge of the mantelpiece.
“Please mum, just think about it?” She asked, standing. “I hate to see you like this.”
“Then stop coming round!”
“It’s not for me. You have to let the people…”
“They invade my house and expect me to accept it!” Clara shrieked, the clock crashing to the floor, inches from Zoe’s delicately clad feet.
With one last look at her wild mother, Zoe strode from the room, firmly closing the door behind her. There was no doubting that her mother was worse, and she needed to work out a way of moving her. She needed help, but didn’t know who to turn to. Her husband still didn’t believe her and refused to accompany her to visit the rotting ruin, claiming the mould did nothing for his asthma.
A week later she had her answer. Clutching the paper in her hand, she tapped firmly on the red door. It was answered by a meek looking woman who led her into her small living room. As she settled into the floral sofa, Zoe looked round, automatically noting the furniture and ornaments crammed into the room.
“You are Clara Mortense’s daughter I presume?” The old woman sat cautiously opposite Zoe.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“And you are here because…?”
“I need help, which I think you can provide.”
“I see.” The woman frowned. “What about your father? I was truly hoping to contact him.”
“I haven’t seen him for years.” Zoe shook her head sadly. “My mother is of the firm opinion that he won’t be coming back at all.”
“Your… mother? I thought that she…”
“She is.” Zoe pre-empted the woman, noting the shock on the pale face. “I’m…sensitive, and she has been causing problems….”
“She seems to be waiting for a man…and your article attracted my attention.”
The woman eyed her in silence, for a brief moment.
“I see. Would you like a cup of tea?”
“No thank you, I don’t…”
“You should dear…It’s no trouble.” Baffled, Zoe watched her disappear.
“Here we go my love.” The woman reappeared, pushing a tea trolley carefully arranged with china tea cups, tea pot and tissues.
“This is all very nice, Mrs…Um…”
“Jenny Beavers my dear.”
“Mrs Beavers, but I don’t see…”
“I’m afraid this is not an easy tale to tell.” Jenny poured the tea.
“You see, it turns out that my dear Jim …had been… having an affair with your mother for years.” A sheen of tears glinted behind the thick glasses.
“I only found out last week, when …” Jenny sobbed, pausing to reach for a tissue. “My poor Jim was knocked down, and it’s upset his mind. He was calling for your mother and raved something about your father that frightens me. I hoped that he…well, that you could …dispel my fears.”
“I could barely make it out, but it…” Jenny paused for breath, tears streaming unchecked down her fragile cheeks as she voiced her fears. “It sounded like they had consorted to …to…get rid of him.”
“I don’t know. His actual words sounded like…after we did…now he’s out the way, we just…”
Numb with shock, Zoe could only watch as the frail lady collapsed onto the arm of the chair.
Zoe recovered first, shifting to sit alongside her, pulling her into a hug.
“I’m really so sorry to have to tell you this, my dear.” Jenny sniffed, gratefully pulling away. “I can’t begin to imagine how you must be feeling, how you must hate…”
Zoe sighed, staring blindly at the wall. She didn’t know what she felt. Her heart still raced with the shock and she felt cold, but the tears she should have felt at her mother’s betrayal, and father’s demise only stuck in her throat.
Her mother had never loved her father; Zoe had recognised that even as a child. She realised she didn’t hate her mother; she didn’t feel anything for her.
“I’m alright, really. How is your husband?”
“Jim’s… not good. He’s barely conscious, and very weak. He’s lasted longer than expected.”
“I see.” Zoe mused. “Could he…does he seem to want my …?
“He might… I suppose.”
“We can help each other. I know it must hurt you to face the prospect…”
“It’s his suffering I can’t stand.” The woman declared. “And if he did that, intended…, then I’m far better off without him.”
Zoe studied the woman carefully, noting the strength in her blue eyes.
“Then I suggest your husband pays a visit to my mother.”
Two days later, Zoe let them into the house.
“What do you want now?!” Clara’s voice cut through the dank stillness.
“I’ve brought someone to meet you.”
Trembling, Jenny pushed Jim’s wheelchair silently across the room to the worn armchair as instructed.
“Clara?” Jim croaked, and Zoe watched aghast as Clara’s face lit up.
“Jimmy? You’ve come for me at last!” She reached out to the old man sitting opposite.
“You’ve been waiting…?”
“I promised I would Jim.”
“So you did.” The old man nodded, his eyes closed but his hand firmly gripping the ghost hand of his love. “Time for that to end.”
As Zoe and Jenny watched, his last breath eased from his body. With her grin of delight still firmly etched on her face, Clara faded and vanished.
My entrant for the Twisted Turnoi 07. This one took me some editing, the initial write up (saved seperately) was at just over 2000 words! The final count for this piece is 1498….just in the limit!
Minor ammendmant, thanks to a good spot by Mr McGuiness!
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