Just one more cuppa

‘You can’t go on hoarding forever!’ Ken scolded his wife. ‘Who’s gonna feel like sorting through all that rubbish when you’re dead?’

It was certainly not the first time Thelma had heard him holler at her on this topic. She really did want to rid herself of the clutter she’d built up over the years, but where to start? And how would she part with all of the memories?

‘I’ll be back in a few hours,’ Ken grumbled, his brow wrinkled with both age and annoyance as he opened the dilapidated door and walked into the overgrown backyard.

Thelma vowed to make a start on the huge job ahead, knowing from decades of experience, that Ken would be back in four hours rather than two, and that he would want a cuppa when he returned: white with two sugars.

She decided she felt like a cuppa herself. It may have been eight a.m, but this was her third for the day. It would give her the kick start she needed to get the house in order.

She felt incredibly alone in these moments. It was eerily quiet in the house, and it made her feel nervous, like the world was not in its right order. She turned the television set on, which was already set to a high volume. It kept her company and blocked out the starkness of her reality.

She sat on the torn green couch, and picked at the stuffing that spewed from the corner of one cushion. The white, sheer curtains blew gently in the unexpected breeze, bringing a much welcome coolness to Thelma. She stared at the moving curtains and they somehow brought sharp images to mind.

She recalled a vague, fleeting moment from years ago when her youngest, Vanessa, draped the curtain over her head and imagined herself in her wedding veil. She appeared to Thelma as an old-fashioned, virtuous child bride, proud and innocent; beautiful and naive.

Thelma was transported suddenly to the present tense, and let herself worry for Vanessa. Just a month before, she’d called up from her home in Queensland, in tears.

‘Mum. I don’t know what to do. My life is falling apart.’ She was difficult to understand amidst the wracked sobs, but Thelma listened intently.
‘I just don’t know if Geoff and I are going to split up. I don’t know if I want this life anymore!’

Vanessa spoke of leaving her husband and children, and becoming a missionary in Africa. It scared Thelma, thinking of her little girl over there, in such a dangerous place. It broke her heart to hear that Vanessa wasn’t sure if she wanted the life she had.

‘You and the kids can come and live here with us,’ was the first thing Thelma said. ‘There’s no need to go to Africa. You have a home here, whenever you need it.’

But then things seemed to go back to normal. Vanessa was chirpy again on the very next call, and insisted that she was happy now; she’d just gone crazy for a moment there – the kids had been getting on her nerves, and Geoff had been extremely busy at work.

Thelma hoped all of that was true, and smiled at the thought of Vanessa’s makeshift veil, that was forever a part of these curtains, a part of Thelma’s home.

‘Right, time to get to work,’ Thelma spoke aloud, perhaps to Kochey on the telly, perhaps to herself.

She would start on the wardrobe in the middle bedroom first. It was packed to the hilt with clothing from the last five decades. It made her sneeze, as so many of the dusty, musty areas of her home did. She shoved an elbow in to make some space, and extricated a stone wash denim jacket, paired with matching jeans. Oh, the memories!

Brendan had obviously felt like a handsome, stylish prince in these clothes. He’d saved up money from his trolleyologist job at Coles for months, to obtain the coveted double denim ensemble.

She held it up and thought of him. He did look terribly handsome, with his ducktail, his denim outfit, and of course, his beautiful smile. He was about fourteen, and he was going to his girlfriend’s house for tea. She was his first ever girl friend, and Brendan grinned uncontrollably whenever he mentioned her.

Thelma let herself think of Caleb, the baby that same girl bore fifteen years ago. Thelma hadn’t seen Caleb since he was crawling, and he had grown up to believe that Brendan was just a friend of his family’s. Caleb had a new Daddy now, along with new siblings, and a life, completely separate from Brendan, his real Daddy.

Thelma was glad for Brendan; he’d come a long way. He was too far away, being in Japan, but that was where he’d been for two years and he called it home now. Still, Thelma couldn’t deny that a huge gaping hole in her heart longed for him to think of this house as his home.

It was too difficult to throw out clothing. Thelma’s motto was ‘If you hold onto anything long enough, it will come back in fashion.’

Thelma deserted the wardrobe and moved onto a new task. She managed to build up a stack of old newspapers and magazines to sort through. She would chuck out the least interesting ones.

It seemed like the minutes and hours had sped by, because now Ken was home, and he was after his cuppa.

‘Ken, what are you doing back so early? I’ll fire up the kettle.’
‘It’s twelve-thirty Thel!’ he wiped sweat from his brow and took his white, worn vinyl seat at the dinner table.
‘What are you doing with that? I hope you’re gonna throw it out!’ he grumbled, as a Brylcreemed curl fell loose, onto his forehead.

Thelma was almost surprised to see the orange, matted teddy bear in her arms. She wasn’t going to throw out such a gorgeous bear! She placed him up on the mantelpiece.

‘I decided to put him on display!’

‘Crazy woman,’ Ken muttered under his breath.

Thelma hadn’t made much headway with throwing junk out, but she didn’t care. In her mind’s eye, she saw her son James as a toddler, dimpled and blonde, with that teddy bear held tightly in his chubby arms.

He had changed a lot over the intervening years: he grew into a moody, surly teenager, who seemed to loathe everything his mother stood for. He even pushed her once, and she’d fallen against the green, psychedelic wall in the hallway. He called her stupid, and ordered her about. She gave him all she could, hoping he would soften towards her. Instead, he fled the house on his motorbike at the age of nineteen, and never returned.

But today he was coming back. Her boy was coming back! He’d called her just minutes before, and in a deep, bored tone, he said, ‘I’m gonna come and visit. See ya in a few hours, Mum.’

Ken took a sip of his tea and released a contented sigh.

He still needed her. Ken still needed her. Jesus was still her saviour. And her beloved son was coming home. She didn’t know if he would be changed; kinder or more understanding. All she knew was that she was a mother, and she would wait, listen and hold on forever.

Hoarding, holding on tightly to her family. That’s all she could do, and she knew that the first moment she held her first-born in her arms. She was a mother, and all of her love and her illogical actions illustrated that.

Still, she turfed the newspaper and magazines without even sorting through them: James would like that.

Just one more cuppa

Michelle Rogers

Joined April 2007

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Artist's Description

Portrait of a mother

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