I just fancied writing some flash at the weekend, and found this image on DeviantArt. I loved her “wtf” expression which seems to overlay her melancholy, and I couldn’t resist ending the piece with a twist.
“Okay”, confirmed Chloe, before adding, “and you’re sure it’s okay to stay with you?”
“It’s no problem”, assured her father. “Your room is always here for you.”
Chloe grimaced down the phone. She hadn’t been near “her room” since she had acrimoniously left her childhood home six years ago. But this time, she let it slide. She was in shock. Not because her father had called – he normally left the speaking to Mum – but that he had called to break the news that Mum was in hospital. Suspected heart attack. They would be running tests over the next few days, Dad relayed. From his description, she sounded poorly, but was at least conscious. He’d caught Chloe, just coming in from work, as he himself had arrived home from spending the day with his wife.
She hastily made plans. Straight away, she contacted her supervisor, Jo. Chloe was fortunate to work in a close-knit office and Jo’s response was simply to “take as long as you need”. She spent the next part of the evening studying train times, before at last pouring a glass of crisp, cool Chablis. She deserved this.
And, remarkably clear-headed, Chloe found herself on the worn-out train, heading south, the next morning. Through Lancaster, Crewe, Birmingham she travelled in silence, all the while worrying about Mum. Finally arriving in Reading in late afternoon, she commandeered a taxi and travelled directly to the hospital. Redruth Ward, Dad had said. As she approached the entrance, she rang the intercom but was surprised when the door opened almost immediately, and even more surprised to see her father.
“Chloe”. The air froze around them, before Dad regained his composure. “Mum’s through here. I can take you to see her, but she’s asleep at the moment.” He looked noticeably older than the last time Chloe had seen him, the grey that was starting at his temples was now in full flow, and the bags under his eyes betrayed that he’d had as much sleep as she had.
“But I was just off to the restaurant to grab a sandwich. I haven’t had any lunch yet. Have you eaten? Would you like to join me? And I can tell you what happened?”
The picture Chloe received was patchy, at best, and as they returned to the ward, she had more questions than answers. Dad led her to Mum’s bedside.
“Mary? It’s James”, he breathed gently. “I have someone who’d like to see you.” Mary’s eyes fluttered gently as she roused herself from her state of doze. Her eyes focussed on Chloe’s now tear-streaked face. For the first time, Chloe saw age in her mum’s face, too.
She was still in shock ninety minutes later, when they arrived back at her parents’ house. Chloe, though exhausted, would have stayed longer, but there didn’t seem much point as Mary had been drifting in and out of consciousness. As she closed the car door, she stood straight to survey her surroundings. Apart from everything looking six years more dull, nothing had changed.
Her father opened the door, and Chloe was immediately assaulted by the large crucifix hanging in the hall. She was reminded instantly that religion had been the big problem between them: her father’s mind, so closed to anything except the scriptures, while at the same time, her own was so fertile. Even after the rows, Mum had stayed in the middle, placating both. Mum had always been far more pragmatic than ideological. Or, theological.
The pair entered the kitchen. It had been Chloe’s refuge when the rows had started, coming in here to talk to Mum, while Dad was sitting in the lounge. Like everything else, it hadn’t changed. The words between father and daughter were few and awkward, as he fixed coffee.
Chloe was glad to gain some respite from the discomfort, when James suggested she re-acquaint herself with her old room. Closing the door behind her, this, too, was unchanged. A few more boxes, perhaps, but otherwise… she might have left just last week. She even remembered buying the print hanging on the wall, Chagall’s “The Bride”, when she was fifteen.
Despondent, Chloe was not sure what she could do. She was unused to being so impotent, to being so unable to exert control. What would Mum do? she pondered and pondered. But she already knew the answer. As unfamiliar as it seemed, she knew that Mum would pray. For while Mum had been the mediator, she still practised her diluted form of religion. She could not have stayed with her dad for so long, had she not been religious.
Out of practise, Chloe kneeled, facing vaguely toward the poster, and clasped her hands. “God?”, she started, uncertain.
Ascending from nothing, Chloe thought she could hear the distant sound of a cello, which as it grew closer, sounded like Bach. Abruptly, the music stopped.
“Yes?”, uttered the goat.