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by Julie Oldham

Seaweed fingers … under my bed … her memory box … seagulls crying …

“I’m off now, Jen. I’m leaving early — the roads look icy.”

The teaspoon clinks in the saucer. A brushing kiss. Mermaid hair … Streaming … Surfacing.

“Maria’s turned her. She’s fine.”

I’ll pretend I’m still asleep, just for a while. It’s so warm here. No, I can’t. It has to begin: my day, Molly’s day. I can’t escape early because of icy roads. And today’s coffee day; I have to make the effort.

***

“Lovely flapjacks, Jen. Delicious. I don’t know how you find the time.”

“I manage — and I have Maria.”

“Oh yes, Maria. Such a treasure.”

Relief and smiles — because I have Maria, which makes everything all right. So now conversation can continue — and my ladies, friends, begin to rate their petty miseries (so wittily) with scores of one to ten. The size of mortgages is deplored — as are their thickening waists and holidays.

“Rome, yes, complete nightmare.”

And now some of them (just part-time academics, these days, for ease of conscience) award their partners As and Bs for effort and attainment.

They’re rushed off their feet, so shop online, but still make the effort, with recycling and five-a-day. They make time to read, but not their fortunes. There is (tactfully) no cheerful speculation — knowing it must be all so hard for me.

“Thanks, no more coffee, Jen.” Hands are placed on rims.

Such confident hands, the nails filed short. They’ve never painted them, or dyed their hair, or allowed their children TVs in their rooms. They’re all so confident in starry futures and their bouillabaisse.

“The twins won scholarships. Did I say?”

“Adam’s done so well. Straight As.”

***

“I’m just off to collect Molly, Mrs. Richardson.”

“Yes. Thank you, Maria.”

***

The flow of conversation stalls. Spoons clink in saucers. Molly. There’s the look, the monthly awkwardness. Molly. Such a shame.

“How’s she getting on at the new Day Centre, Jen? You’re so lucky to have found her a place and having Maria to help.”

It’s not luck. I fought so hard. I deserve an A for effort. I’m a star; everyone says so.

Sorry, but, they have to dash, but it’s all been great and for such a good cause.

I walk upstairs to paint my nails.

***

If you come home now it might be all right. But the roads are icy so you’ll be late and it’s Maria’s night off.

But I know what I have to do.

Her bedroom door’s open. She’s asleep.

There’s her black bear called Hugo, which she never looks at; there’s her box of tissues — and her hoist and chair.

She turns her head.

“Just drop your chin a little, Molly.” I wipe away the bubble of saliva. “Maria said you had a good day.”

So awkward: the way you lie there — your neck at that angle. How would they score you, love?

I walk back to my room. My nail varnish smears as I remove the box from under my bed.


Julie Oldham is a teacher. She lives in West Yorkshire and writes short fiction and poetry. Her work has appeared in a number of publications including Bare Fiction Magazine and Artificium Journal. Her short story Chiaroscuro can be read on the Open Pen website and she has pieces forthcoming in Unbroken Journal and The Nottingham Review.

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