He wanted to write, but his hands weren’t working.
He wanted to write, but his hands weren’t working.
The empty bus pulled smoothly to a stop and the doors opened. The bus driver peered out and watched the old lady getting on with the aid of the handrail.
‘Hello, Doreen!’ he said cheerfully as he recognised her, ‘terrible evening.’
‘Oh, no, Terry!’ Doreen cried with a little wave of her walking stick, ‘it’s quiet perfect!’
She pressed her pensioner’s bus pass to the ticket machine. There was a beep and some words flashed up.
‘For ducks maybe,’ Terry muttered with a glance out of his window.
The rain was coming down heavily and the wind was whipping up into a storm.
Terry closed the bus’s door to contain some heat. Then he waited for Doreen to shuffle off and sit down at the back, like she always did. Checking she was settled, he started up the bus and smoothly drove off.
Doreen smiled and watched the rain hitting the window next to her. She turned up her hearing aids and listen to the rain splashing and the wind howling. Under her, the bus’s engine rumbled away and waves of gentle heat brushed her.
She took off her big pink flowers decorated hat which she always wore on her rainy evening bus rides and set it to dry out next to her. Doreen placed her small red handbag flat next to it, then took off her bright pink rain mac. She was wearing a huge, fluffy green jumper that she had knitted herself.
Turning back to the window, Doreen relaxed into the ride.
There’s nothing, she thought, quite like a drive in the rain to make you fall asleep.
The bell on the bus rang and with a few glances in his mirrors, the bus driver pulled up smoothly at the next stop.
I looked down the aisle and saw an elderly gentleman wearing a large brown hat and in a long, light brown coat getting to his feet with the aid of a wooden walking stick. He tottered to the hissing opening doors and looked out.
‘Wrong stop,’ he announced and hobbled back to his seat.
The bus driver with a loud sigh, closed the doors, indicted and pulled off.
The old man sit down again and looked out of the window, watching the rows of houses and small patches of green grass go by.
I returned to my open book, cursing my broken headphones as I felt the first pings of my anxiety starting up. Public transport always triggered it, even if I had taken the same journey hundreds of times. There was no stopping that strange wiggly worms sensation in my stomach and the loss of concentration on my book.
The bell rang again. The bus driver slowed and pulled over, easing the bus to a stop and opening the doors.
The same old man got up and walked over. He looked out then said loudly, ‘this isn’t my stop! This isn’t where I’m going!’
‘It’s all right. Just sit down again then,’ the driver said calmly.
Over the top of my book, I watched the elderly gentleman shuffling back to his seat again. He sat down heavily and started muttering to himself.
The engine rumbled, the indicted clicked and we were off again.
Sneakily checking out the other passengers, I saw that none of them were bothered by the elderly man’s mistakes. They all seemed to be in worlds of their own. There was a business man typing away on a small laptop, another man was reading the free newspaper and a third older man was on his phone. Of the four woman, not counting myself, one was reading a library book which I couldn’t see the cover of, two were sat at the back, heads together talking softly and the fourth woman was dozing off with a sleeping baby in her arms.
I turned my eyes back to my book and tried to get into the romantic story of an angel falling in love with a human he was banished from being with. Your typical young adult supernatural mush but I loved it. However, my mind couldn’t focus and I began to picture what would happen if the bus was suddenly to crash.
It was a reoccurring image brought on by the anxiety. I was caught up in it for a few moments, wondering what everyone would do if we became trip in the turned over bus. There’d be smoke, screaming, blood. People would die – the driver, maybe the old man and baby. Maybe even me…
I shook the thoughts away and placed down my book. My fingers still inside the closing pages. Oh, how I wished for my music! The loud beating and fast lyrics of heavy metal noise that I could fade into and forget about everything.
The bell ring and this time the man with the laptop got up. He hardly waited for the bus to stop and the doors to open, before he leaped to the pavement and hurried away.
The elderly man seemed not to have noticed the bus stopping. He was looking out of the window. He was still muttering, but I could not make out what he was saying.
The bus driver lingered for a few minutes, perhaps waiting for the old man to get off or maybe for a big enough gap in the traffic.
I looked through the open doors, feeling the cold winter breeze on my face and trying to relax. We were next to the old Jewish cemetery. The curling gates at the top of the driveway were locked but the smaller side one was half open. I could just make out the tops of the headstones. New apartments flanked both sides of the cemetery, looking out of place and making me recall an argument about the developers wanting to move the headstones and bodies to another location.
The bus doors hissed shut and with the engine sounding grumpy, the driver cut through the traffic and drove us on.
I saw the old man reach for the bell button and touch it. He got up and went to the doors as the bus pulled up only a little bit down the road. The doors opened and I really hoped, though it was so mean of me, that he was getting off this time.
‘Is this Courtly Way? No, it’s not,’ the old man began rambling, ‘I don’t know those trees there. Driver? Where are we going? You’ve taken the wrong route again! I want to go home!’
‘It’s okay,’ the driver said calmly, ‘I’ll take you home. Just go and sit down.’
The old man huffed and began hobbling back to his seat.
The bus moved off again. A car horn blaring from beside us as a car sped passed and jumped the changing traffic lights.
How could the bus driver be so calm? I wondered, surely he’s getting annoyed with all of this now?
‘Hello, Annie!’ the old man cried.
I looked and saw he was staring at me.
‘Why didn’t you tell me you were getting this bus?’ he asked.
‘I’m not Annie,’ I replied, ‘I don’t think we know each other.’
‘Of course, you’re Annie! I’d know you anywhere!’
‘No. You’ve made a mistake. My name is Eleanor.’
‘What are you taking about? We’ve been married fifty odd years, Annie!’ the old man shouted.
I shook my head, sinking back into the hard seat as my anxiety rose. My book began to tremble in my hands and my breaths started catching in my throat. Those stomach worms wiggled more, causing a dull pain to start up. Terrible thoughts came to me. The bus crashing, people dying, blood, fire, the scent of smoke, the smell of death, the whiff of leaking fumes, my book laying upwards with it’s open pages crushed against the roof as the bus land upside down.
‘Annie! Annie! What’s wrong!’ the old man was shouting, ‘Driver stop! My wife has been taken ill!’
For the first time, the bus driver slammed his brakes on at a stop. Passengers were thrown about and my head knocked into the wall of the driver’s cabin. I felt fuzzy and my ears were ringing. I shut my eyes and counted backwards as around me complaining voices rose and the baby started crying.
‘Are you alright, love? Do you want to get off?’ a new voice was asking me.
I opened my eyes and saw the bus driver looking at me.
‘He thinks I’m his wife,’ I muttered.
‘What?’ the driver asked, glancing at the old man who was hanging onto the newspaper tray.
‘He says I’m his wife,’ I repeated louder.
‘Oh. He says that to all the young pretty girls. He’s harmless,’ the bus driver added.
‘My wife?’ the old man suddenly said, ‘where is my wife?’
‘Come on now, Bert,’ the bus driver said politely, ‘sit here and be quiet now. We’re almost home.’
‘Home? Ah yes, that’s where we are going. My wife should be there. She’ll have tea on the table and wondering what’s taking so long. Get on with it, driver,’ the old man snapped and rudely waved the driver away.
The urge to question what was going on here grew but as the driver passed me I couldn’t say anything.
The bus started again and a few stops later, we slowed down and pulled up. The doors opened and the driver got out of his cabin. He walked past me and to the old man.
‘Bert, you’re home now, time to get off,’ the driver said softly.
‘Ah yes. Thank you,’ Bert replied.
The driver helped him up then off the bus. I looked out the window and saw the sign for an old people’s home in the front garden of a large building. At the bus stop, a woman dressed in dark blue trousers and a uniform looking top greeted the bus driver and Bert. I watched her link arms with Bert and take him towards the house. They were talking but I couldn’t hear the words.
The driver got back on and headed for his seat.
‘Is he okay?’ I asked.
The driver looked at me and nodded, ‘he has dementia. Some days he’s okay, other days he believes we’re in a past year and the worse days are when he forgets who he is. It’s a horrible thing and I should know! My dad had it and I had to watch him slowly forget me, everyone else and himself.’
I just nodded, not sure what to say to that.
‘Are you all right? He really didn’t mean you any harm,’ the bus driver added.
‘I’m fine…I suffer from anxiety attacks. It had nothing to do with him,’ I explained.
‘I see. You okay, now though?’ he said
I nodded, thanked him and he climbed into the driver’s cabin.
The bus started again, the seat vibrating underneath me and the voices of the disgruntled passengers muttering. My mind was far away though, reflecting on the bus driver’s words.
The Christmas tree had gone up and now the old people’s home smelled of pine. Betty stared hard at the large tree in the corner of the day room from her wheel chair. She wrinkled her nose and decided that the tree was crooked. There was too many decorations on one side, in fact there were just too many decorations all together.
‘That tree needs sorting,’ she muttered.
With a quick glance around the room, Betty slowly wheeled herself forward. Avoiding two men playing chess and the jabbering madness of Mrs Peterson, who seemed to be talking to a fairy king about the lack of flowers in the garden. Ignoring the TV and the crowd around it, Betty came to a stop before the tree.
Reaching up, she begin to take the decorations down and place them in her lap.
‘What are you doing, Betty?’ a croaking voice called out.
Betty turned to see Margo totting over with her walking frame.
‘I’m fixing the tree,’ Betty said, ‘it doesn’t look right.’
‘Oh…how you going to reach the top?’ Margo asked.
Betty followed Margo’s eyes and looked up. There was no way she could reach any further up then she had all ready gotten.
‘Ladies. What are we doing?’
Both old woman turned to see a young nurse coming towards them.
‘Nothing,’ Margo answered, ‘I was admiring the tree. So pretty and fresh smelling.’
The nurse came over and quickly saw the tree had lost half it’s decorations and that most of them where in Betty’s lap. The rest had fallen on the floor.
‘I’m fixing it,’ Betty explained, ‘it was crooked.’
‘Okay. How about we put all these back and go and make some paper chains?’ the nurse spoke out.
‘No, thanks. My soap is all most on,’ Margo said and she started shuffling away.
‘Right then. Let’s put these decorations back on the tree.’
Tutting, Betty helped the nurse put the decorations back. Soon the tree was looking well dressed again.
‘It doesn’t look any better,’ Betty said as they were nearly done.
‘It looks fine to me. Now, let’s get you busy doing something else, shall we?’ the nurse said.
She took the handles of the wheelchair and moved Betty away.
‘I’ll be back for you later Christmas tree,’ Betty whispered under her breath.
The argument had left Meg feeling bitter. She sat on the sofa, the TV on in the background and the dog whining along with it. Grabbing a cushion, she fully meant to throw it at the small, scurfy animal, before the dog’s sorrowful eyes meet her’s. She tossed the cushion in the opposite direction.
‘I should know better than to take it out on you, Fluffy,’ she mumbled.
The Yorkshire terrier bounced over to her and she scooped him up. A tiny tongue licked at her fingers and Meg fell to absent-mildly stroking the tangled fur. Fixing her eyes on the landscape painting before her, she realised she’d give anything right now to be walking amongst the trees and watching the deer drinking at the slowly winding river.
‘I wish we could escape there,’ she said, then with glance at Fluffy added, ‘I mean, just me. I wish I could escape to there. She treats you all right.’
Fluffy yapped and wiggled under her hands.
‘Well…most of the time anyway.’
Setting the dog down, Meg got up and stretched her tried limbs. Automatically, she went about her morning tasks, whilst trying hard to rid herself of the argument. The small house didn’t take long to clean, but with her mother’s illness getting worse there was a growing list of additional things to do.
Two hours later, when her mother hobbled back down the pathway, Meg was in the kitchen sorting out the washing. She heard, Fluffy yipping and the door clattering open. Sighing, she went to see out of habit and found the old woman, trying to get her walking stick, herself and the shopping trolley through the door at the same time.
I could just leave her to it, Meg thought and then noticed the sudden blast of cold air stealing all the heat from the hallway. She hurried forward, nudged the dog into the living room and reached out to aid her mother. Instead though, the walking stick slapped against her hand.
‘I can do it!’ her mother yelled.
Meg backed away, rubbing her hand behind her back and swallowing the tears that the pain was bring to her eyes, ‘of course mum. I just…thought you needed a hand.’
‘To get through my own front door? Go away, child!’
Hanging her head, Meg went back to the kitchen and buried herself in the clean and dirty washing. From the hallway, she listened to her mother cursing and yelling, before finally closing the front door. Some more clatter and swearing followed, then a puff as her mother sat in her special chair and turned the TV up.
Meg bit her lip, tasted blood and sucked it away. Hateful things filled her and she fought to push them away. Brushing tears off, she finished her task and moved on by taking the washing upstairs and starting to put it away, she listen to her mother moving about and muttering to herself. Too often the days were becoming like this and they acted as if they lived separately in the same house. It reminded Meg too much of her parents’ divorce when she was teenage. She wondered what had happened to her dad.
Finishing up and giving her mum’s room a once over before she left, she checked the bathroom and then put the washing basket in her bedroom. Sinking down onto the quilted bedspread, she thought about how different her life could have been. Smoothing out a few folders, she realised that when the inevitable happened, for of course it would do, though she half-imagined her mother beating the angel of death off with her walking stick and handbag, she would have nothing to do.
She was forty-odd and with her whole life spent caring for her mother, she had nothing else to show for it. Curling up on the bed, Meg eyed the bottle of antidepressants on her bedside table and wondered what would happen to her mother if she decided to reach the Pearly Gates before her? Mum would probably end up in the care home that she’s been fighting her whole life to stay out of, Meg thought, still though she reached for the bottle, then decided against it. She didn’t have the strength or the desperation.
Sprawling across the bed, she struggled to get back up, even when the old woman began banging and calling her name. Meg pressed her head into the pillow and pretended she couldn’t hear. However, it just didn’t work and some deeper instinct, made her get up and go downstairs.
‘What is it, mum?’ she asked coming to the doorway of the living room.
‘I didn’t make it,’ her mother announced.
Meg pulled a face, ‘really? But your potty chair is just there.’
‘I don’t like using it.’
‘Then what was the point in getting it?’ Meg snapped, ‘don’t you see the extra work I now have to do? You’re so selfish and you treat me like some kind of servant monkey. All I’ve done is looked after you my whole life and you’re just so ungrateful. I should have forced you into that care home and just left you there!’
Throwing up her hands Meg stormed out. Rattling about, she collected everything she needed and came back into the living room, where her mother was still sitting on her chair, looking almost frozen. In silence, Meg got her sorted, put her on the sofa, then cleaned the area. When she was done, she left the room and stormed back to her bedroom.
Collapsing onto the bed, she wasn’t sure what she felt. A bit relieved, a bit guilty, upset and angry. Worse though was the feeling of metamorphosing back into a teenager. Growling and sitting up again, she sorted out her hair and went down stairs again. Her mother was staring at the TV, but not actually watching it.
‘I’m sorry, okay?’ Meg said, walking over to her, ‘just, please, you must try harder. I know you’re ill, but we can’t carry on like this. I’m losing it, mum.’
With a heavy sigh, her mother turned to her, ‘maybe I should look at getting a nurse?’
‘That’d be a good start,’ Meg replied and hugged her.
From the Realm of Royal Family
-musings of a wild book dragon-
Wrangling Literary Arts for Writers: Words for People!
...moments of unexpected clarity