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Only Yesterday

by Northern Life

Old lady longing for her husband, waiting for him to come home...

Carol Grant

She sat by the bay window in her bungalow. Watching waiting. Jim should have been home by now. Some days he just forgot the time when he was working on his allotment. Pulling up carrots, watering his tomatoes. It had just begun to rain maybe he was sitting in his shed rolling a ciggy thinking how clever he was in hiding his baccy tin behind the flowerpots on the shelf. He’d promised her he’d given up smoking after that health scare but they both knew he was just saying that to please her. Neither of them mentioned it again. They had a quiet understanding as most couples do who still love each other after fifty years together.

Edith’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the front door opening. She hadn’t seen anyone come up the garden path or heard the gate unlatched maybe she had dozed, she seemed to be doing that a lot lately. Night times brought little rest, daytime no comfort, forgetting things, too many things. Perhaps that was Jim now? But no he would have called out, ‘Hello Darling’. The romantic old fool. But her old fool. ‘Hello Auntie it’s only me! A middle aged woman poked her head round the lounge door.

Edith winced and hoped that she had disguised her look of distaste as Josie strode across the room, her ample bosom reaching Edith long before the Rimmel ‘hot pink’ lips pecked her cheek. Smudge saw the danger approaching and made a quick defiant scamper out of the door and into the bedroom. It wasn’t so much that Edith disliked her niece, she just didn’t think it necessary to have her call in so often even on Sundays now!
Sundays were worse.

She picked up his picture. Slowly traced her arthritic fingers over his face.

On Sundays Josie would be accompanied by that toad of a man her husband, Bill. Whilst Josie cooked the roast, fiddled around with her daft swan napkins and insisted she didn’t need any help Edith would have to sit opposite slimy Bill and listen once again to his stories of the auction room sales. Her sudden bouts of tiredness came in handy when she was in his presence though she fought hard to keep at least one eye discreetly half open. He would be chatting away to her and at the same time she noticed his eyes scanning her Capodimonte figurines of which there were 14. She counted them after every Sunday visit. It would be Sunday tomorrow.

‘You’re looking well Auntie, I’ll just pop some soup on for you and there’s some of that nice ham left in the fridge. I’ll make you a few sandwiches then you can have a couple with your lovely soup and save the rest for when you fancy them. Edith didn’t bother to argue. She knew Josie meant well. But why doesn’t she make enough for Jim also instead of making extra for me Edith wondered. Jim loves his food, he’d probably bring a couple of tomatoes back with him, nice with the ham.

A flick of the duster. Loud burst of the hoover and Josie was done. In like an unwelcome whirlwind and out with a ‘See you tomorrow Auntie. Mwah! Mwah! Don’t let your soup go cold. Then she was gone. All was quiet again. Smudge was back where he belonged. Jim wasn’t there. And it came to her in a gush of anguish. Jim was never coming home. How could she have forgotten!

She picked up his picture. Slowly traced her arthritic fingers over his face. They had been so happy. So in love even after fifty years. What was she to do now? Life without him was not a life. Not the sort of life she wanted. 

Her bed was cold. Meal times were merely food that she reluctantly prepared without any real appetite. Meals with Jim were happy times. Lively chats. Holding hands. Sharing memories. She ate alone now except on Sundays. Rather one more meal with Jim than a thousand with Josie and Bill. Slowly she made her way to the kitchen where the soup was waiting for her. Oxtail had never been her favourite so she tipped it down the sink. The sandwiches would have been tastier with a bit of pickle in them. Tomato, pickle, none of that mattered now.

The nights were drawing in faster. She drew the curtains in the lounge and went back to her chair. Television held no interest for her. She would start to watch a programme then either find her thoughts wandering or her poor old eyelids drooping. Sometimes she’d switch on radio 4 and listen to The Archers, It was Jim’s favourite radio programme and what was the other programme he loved? She couldn’t quite remember the name just now. No doubt it would come back to her at 3am.

You can’t have them just now but one day every bit of them will be yours.

At nine pm precisely she turned off the radio. Left the lounge. Switched off the light. Locked the front door and got ready for another long night. Teeth in jar on the bedside locker she climbed into her bed which she knew would feel cold and too big for her aged body. Her aching limbs reminded her just how old she was and how everything had all changed. If only it were yesterday and a million more yesterdays besides. She reached out her hand but felt only the absence of Jim’s clasp.

Farmers Weekly that was it! Jim’s favourite programme came back to her just before dawn. She didn’t want to forget anything about her dear husband it would seem disloyal. Every morning she made a promise to herself; before she did anything else she had to look at his picture on the bedside locker and tell him she wouldn’t be long. He’d know what she meant. He’d understand. Maybe it would be today? God let it not be too many tomorrows. She just needed a bit of time to get things in order.

Josie wasn’t a bad cook. Edith pushed the roast dinner around her plate taking up a small piece of meat onto her fork and pretended to enjoy the succulent beef. It wasn’t Josie’s fault. Bill was enjoying his mountain of food as always. Time he cut down a bit Edith thought but then he was a big man and like Jim he enjoyed his food. That was the only thing they had in common. At two o’ clock they sat together in the lounge. Edith making polite but meaningless conversation with Josie and Bill engrossed in the Sunday paper. Now seemed like a good time to sort a few things out.

‘Bill will you put down that paper for a few minutes I want to talk to you both’
‘I know Bill how you admire my figurines, no doubt you’ve priced up their value in your head you also know there’s fourteen of them! Well they are all very special to me. But we all know I’m an old woman and won’t be around for much longer. You can’t have them just now but one day every bit of them will be yours. That is my promise.’
‘Josie I appreciate all your help even when it wasn’t really needed. You will be provided for in my will that is another promise. Go wherever you want. Do whatever you need to do.’

Edith with a smile on her face that said it all.

Edith noticing Bill had already returned to his paper winked at her niece and they both understood each other. Of course Bill had expressed his gratitude; she could see his mind clicking over the value of his bequest with that all too familiar false smile of his. They didn’t stop for tea. Josie promised to call in early the next morning. No doubt in a hurry to discuss their good fortune as they made the journey back to their detached house with the net curtains, crazy paving and their big mortgage. Theirs wasn’t a happy marriage anyone could see that. They weren’t good enough actors.

Edith smiled to herself as she took her large glass of water into the bedroom. She then went to the bathroom cabinet and got what she needed. Next she undressed and took out her best nightie, the blue one with Irises on and lace around the collar. It was Jim’s last present to her.
She climbed into bed. Took Jim’s photo down from the locker, kissed it and placed it on his pillow. Then she suddenly remembered one last job elsewhere.

Finally she emptied some pills into her hand and with a gulp of water downed them all before emptying more into her palm and repeating the process.
By the time Josie arrived next morning Edith had accomplished her plan. There would be no more lonely tomorrows. Josie called out in her usual cheery manner but silence reigned. She went into the lounge and there on the floor were fourteen smashed figurines beyond repair.
Next she entered the bedroom. Smudge was on the bed. And in it Edith with a smile on her face that said it all.