A Good Drying Day

A Good Drying Day

Elaine and her sister have to break some tragic news to their mother


Action / Adventure


Mary Rogan (United Kingdom)

A good drying day
As they left the ward, the nurse said again: “I’m sorry.”
Short and stocky, with a freckled, pudding face and a ginger ponytail, she looked as if she should have been in school, or on the hockey pitch, not consoling two middle-aged women.
They walked out blindly, past the huddle of people waiting outside the doors, who fell back to let them through, eyes devouring them with greedy curiosity. Elaine still clutched the flowers she’d brought, already knowing, that now, as long as she lived, she would hate the scent of freesias.
Outside, in the sleepy heat of the car park, Patricia stopped.
“Oh God, how are we going to tell her?”
They drove in silence, unable to take it in. Weeks, the hospital had said. And now: “They’re just like the weather forecast,” Patricia said bitterly at last. “You can’t believe a word they say.”
Elaine, numbly driving, had no idea what she was talking about. She couldn’t ask. She didn’t know what her voice would do.
The front door was open, as it always was. Dad didn’t like it shut. He was forever pottering through from the front garden or the allotment, with arms full of leeks or whatever, and he took a closed door as a personal rejection. He liked to march straight in – no faffing about with keys or doorbells: an urgent, impetuous man, who had had no patience with his weakening body and been astonished when it finally refused to obey him.
They walked the plank along the strip of sunlight across the hall carpet, and into the neat kitchen where the ironing board stood ready, a riot of pink roses patterning the padded cover.
“Too fancy by half,” Dad used to grumble, pressing knife-sharp creases into his best trousers, using one of the newest tea-towels as a pressing cloth.
From the doorway they watched their mother taking clothes from the washing line, dropping them into a blue plastic basket. She turned as they came slowly across the lawn; her hand still unpegging a pyjama jacket.
“You’re back early. How was he?”
Then she saw the flowers, and for a fleeting moment she seemed to shrink and freeze, then she said: “It’s a good drying day. I’ll be able to give your dad these jamas tonight. He always says he can smell the wallflowers on them when they’ve dried outside.”
She folded the jacket with infinite care, holding it against her chest, stroking it into a neat square. Her voice was tight and dry.
“He hates those maroon ones. I warned him when we got them, ‘you’ve never liked that poly-cotton,’ but he wouldn’t be told. You know what he’s like.”
She caught her breath in a little laugh. “He’s always wanted silk ones, you know. I suppose you could to get him some for his birthday ...”
Patricia cast her sister an agonised look – the same look she’d given her when they were little and they’d dropped the bottle of milk, coming back from the corner shop.
“Mum ...” Elaine, usually brisk and abrasive, had never spoken so gently, but her mother’s eyes dared her to continue.
“Mind, half the time he wouldn’t wear them. I mean, if I thought he’d wear them, I’d have got him some.” She caressed the sun-warmed pyjama top with a trembling hand and spoke to her girls as if it was the most natural thing in the world for them to stand in the garden, on a glorious sunny day, their faces drenched with tears.
“Eeh, do you remember, our Patricia, the shock you got when you discovered he wore nought in bed? You were that disgusted and he laughed and laughed. I suppose you’re happy now he has a clean pair every day.”
She bent and placed the jacket gently on top of the washing. “I’ll just go and iron this. You see if the bottoms are dry, Elaine. They might still be a bit damp where the elastic is.” She cradled the basket as her eyes strayed round the garden. “Or you could get him another azalea. He loves his azaleas.”
They watched her go into the kitchen.
Through window they saw her stand uncertainly for a moment; then she plugged in the iron, and picked up the jacket.

Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1



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