Dressed and Ready To Go
‘I don’t think so,’ she said.
Her husband said nothing. Instead, he watched the platform manager check his watch and whistle. A crowd of young people boarded the train just before the deadline. The manager gave them a stern look and they giggled. The two of them were not like the young people boarding the train. They were old and mirthless. He stood on the platform while she waited in the doorway to the carriage.
‘We always have these arguments when I’m going somewhere,’ she said.
‘You go somewhere often.’
‘All you ever do is work.’
‘Publishing has tight deadlines.’
‘What am I supposed to do?’
‘I don’t like being alone in the house on Halloween,’ he said.
‘Is this the new you, timid and nervous?’
‘My mother died on Halloween.’
She was silent. The platform manager checked his watch again.
‘You forgot,’ he said.
‘You’ve never said anything in the past,’ she said.
‘’I’ve not spent it alone before.’
The doors to the carriages closed slowly but she said nothing more. The two of them merely nodded goodbye.
He waited with the platform manager and watched the long London train leave the station.
He walked to his car and drove home. The weather was wind and rain. The windscreen wipers pushed the rain to the side but more came. He switched off the radio and thought about his mother. She had died eleven years before. He had visited her hours earlier that evening and spent an hour with his mother while she slept. Half way through the visit his mother had woken and, confusing him with his father, had told him that she loved him. He had been reluctant to impersonate his father and had answered briefly.
‘And your family loves you.’
‘They’re good kids. Will you ask Anne to come in later so we can have a chat?’
These were the last words from his mother.
His sister rang him with the news after eleven that night. He waited with his sister and brother in a separate small room while the staff in the care home tidied around his mother. After viewing the body they talked to a care assistant. They stood outside in the car park. The winter weather was unusually dry. The assistant was very tall and smoked a strong cigarette.
‘I was glad she made a friend,’ said his sister.
‘Who was that,’ said the assistant.
‘My mother asked to see Anne. They were her last words. ‘
The care assistant looked at the three of them as if they were all strange.
‘We don’t have an Anne,’ she said.
‘I think she meant one of the patients,’ said his sister.
‘There is no Anne, staff or patients,’ said the assistant.
The care assistant took a deep drag on her cigarette and brushed away some ash from her uniform.
She smiled strangely and said, ‘There was an Anne. She had the same room as your mother.’
‘They must have met then,’ said his sister.
‘Oh, no,’ said the assistant. ‘She died two days before your mother arrived.’
His brother, who was a quiet man, laughed nervously. They talked some more in the dry early morning air before they all said goodbye.
Since then the winters had been mainly English wet.
He switched off the windscreen wipers and walked into his home. He made tea and worked on the next book, editing and finding irritating errors. He finished at ten o’clock in the evening. He had a special schedule for Halloween. She had criticised him often for how he regimented his leisure which was why he realised and understood that his wife preferred to relax with people other than him. The thoughts about the death of his mother had made him anxious but he was too stubborn not to honour his plan. He read a short horror story by Henry James and watched the film based on ‘The Turn Of The Screw’. He had hoped to spend the evening reading a book by James but his work had meant it was not possible so he settled for the film and Deborah Kerr.
Later, he lay in bed unable to sleep. He thought about his mother and the last year of her life and the effects of the dementia and how easily she confused him with his father.
‘They’re good kids.’
At the time he had assumed fate was being kind to his mother, giving her a consoling thought to help her face death. Now he wondered if fate had already abandoned his mother to confusion, and had used the moment to help her provide consolation for her son when he became old.
The phone rang. He walked downstairs, switched off the burglar alarm and answered the caller.
‘It’s two in the morning,’ he said.
‘Sorry I’m late,’ said the man on the phone. ‘Can I speak to mother?’
‘My mother’s dead,’ he said.
‘Oh, I’m sorry mate. What’s your number?’
He gave the number to the man on the phone.
‘Honest, I don’t know how I did that. I’m really sorry. I’ve had a bit too much to drink. Your number is nothing like. We’ve had a Halloween party.’
They had talked long enough to be almost friendly.
‘Can I ask a question?’ he said. ‘What’s the name of your mother?’
The man on the phone was drunk and friendly. ‘Anne,’ he said. ‘Why?’
‘It doesn’t matter. It’s two in the morning.’
‘Yeah, I’m really sorry mate.’
He put the phone down and walked back up the stairs. The disturbing phone call meant it would be impossible to sleep. He walked into his study and did something he should have done earlier. He found the book by Henry James. He put on a CD and listened to some music on his headphones. The first line of the book read, ‘The story had held us round the fire, sufficiently breathless…’ He did not finish the sentence. For no reason that ever made sense to any neighbours or friends, he died.
His wife found the body the next day. She had returned home early after she had argued with her sister at the airport. Her sister had said her husband was strange and selfish and, whilst she probably agreed, she was not having her sister tell her so.
While she waited for the police and the ambulance to arrive she looked at the body of her dead husband and imagined her sister apologising. He looked like a stranger. She knew, though, that there was something else beside the effect of death. The headphones had not fallen to the floor which she would have expected but were placed neatly on top of some books. His appearance was also strange. He wore shoes which he hardly ever did inside the house and the laces were tied in neat bows. His socks were also pulled up tight on his calves instead of being wrinkled like normal. All the buttons on his cardigan were fastened whereas he never fastened every button. And he used to laugh that he had never combed his hair in thirty years and no one had ever noticed. But his hair was combed now and there was even a hint of an old fashioned parting at the side. She thought about Halloween and the coincidental death of his mother. The door-bell rang and she suddenly had a fear of opening the door.
She looked at him again and whispered quietly so no one could hear. ‘He looks just like someone who has been dressed by his mother.’
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