audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

Timeworn

 

padlock-hinge_KRiemer
KRiemer via pixabay

Listen: 

She checks the bedroom one last time, gaze sweeping around the walls, into each corner, over the floor. The desk is empty, bed stripped and bare, walls blank, almost like a prison cell.

She remembers watching some TV drama, the new inmate arriving in an ill-fitting orange jumpsuit with a small pile of possessions in her arms. There was fear in her eyes, anxiety for the future and regret for the past. But there was nowhere else to go. She had to enter, and face whatever lay ahead.

Now it is her turn to move on. She pulls the door close, without shutting it completely.

“You could stay, you know.” He stands by the window, staring out at the light rain pattering on the rose bushes outside. His hands are jammed in the pockets of his sweatpants. He never does that normally. Through the fabric she sees his fists, balled up and tense. Her stomach twists. Those hands, like that mouth with its thin upper and generous lower lip, are still capable of so many things.

“We could—”
“I’m all set to go.” She forces her mouth into a smile, huffs out a breath. She uncurls her own fist, nails dug into the soft flesh. “This is yours.”

The key sits on her palm, its gleam dulled by time and repetition. If she took her hand away, would it float there in the air between them, given but not taken?

His jaw tightens and he presses his lips together. She does not offer comfort. Her hand remains steady, not shaking, as she feared it might. She looks away from his face and down at the key, examining the tiny nicks and scratches, an unwritten history.

New objects have crisp, sharp boundaries that separate them from their environment. But over time, a thing rubs and chafes against the outside and loses its shape. Eventually the edges are so worn that its original form is forgotten under the onslaught of a thousand tiny collisions with the world. Nothing survives life intact, and no-one knows where the lost pieces go.

She steps forward and sets the key on the kitchen table. He glances at it and then directly at her. She gazes back, breathing deliberately, consciously slowing her racing pulse. Nothing stops time. It runs fast or slow, but it wears everything down.

“I’m sorry,” he says finally. She notes with detachment that his eyes are still the startling blue of a summer sky that knows no grey.
“Me too,” she replies, nodding.

She slings her bag over her shoulder and walks out, away, closing the door softly behind her.

audio, blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, short story

On Goodbye

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Skitterphoto via pixabay

 

Listen to this story: 

I never said goodbye to my mother. By the time we realised she was leaving, we found that her body remained but her soul was already on the train. Her eyes were fixed on an unknowable, distant destination. We waved when the whistle blew, but she never looked back. Worrying away at that loose thread, I believed that goodbyes are important. So when I heard that he was going into the hospice that day, I went.

It was one of many such days. Endless activity, calls to action, demands to be met. But this call was my own, and not to be deferred. He smiled when I told him that I had to come before he left. In between pauses to catch his breath, he told me how much he valued our friendship.

In turn, I thanked him for his advice, freely given and always useful. We reminisced about past times, while afternoon sun bathed the room in a warm glow and a ticking clock provided a constant rhythm in the background.

He said he didn’t want to burden his wife any more, and shushed her murmured protests. This was the right thing for both of them, he said.

She was a strong woman, and she did not cry. She watched him with love and she smiled, because he needed to see it and she had to give him whatever he needed, now that all prayers were useless. Pain would be borne later, in private. She offered tea, but I could not delay my commitments further.

He coughed and wheezed. Joked that he sounded as if he had been on twenty a day, and I responded that life just wasn’t fair sometimes. It’s never been fair, and we shook hands.

We had spoken the truth, but we ended with a lie.

“See you again,” I said.

And he replied with a smile, “I hope so.”

We parted with a final, double-handed handshake, after which I held back my sudden impulse to hug him. It would have felt like surrendering to the inevitable. When all seems lost, the tiniest shred of hope is the only thing left to us, and we cling to it lest we drown.

He was tired of fighting, and he faced his future calmly. Intangible and yet absolutely present, the word we would not say hung in the air like smoke.