The Woman Who Mistook Her Husband for a Chip

Why is there a chip slumped in that chair?  And why is it wearing a blue peaked cap?  Ah yes!

Earlier I was at the kitchen table, working out our taxes, adding all the numbers, writing them down, checking invoices from paint shops, garages, hardware stores, hotels and oh so many restaurants, same as I’ve done every year.  Then I heard the postman and went to collect the post.  I wasn’t excited about getting anything interesting. Nobody sends letters anymore.  But today there was a bright pink envelope.  Quite bulky.  I took it to the kitchen, got a knife from the sharp knife rack next to the microwave and slit it open.  Inside I found a whole lot of photos.  Two naked people in every one.  The woman was not familiar at all, but the man I recognised immediately.

Then I saw the chip coming through the door.  I was starving, remembering all the plates of food listed on those dockets and that chip looked so tasty that I wanted to pop it into my mouth, but it was too large.  So, when it came up behind me, I took the knife and tried to cut it smaller, only to realise that it was a strange chip that contained its own tomato sauce.  A bit like those sausages with a cheese filling.  When you cut into them the cheese just squirts right out.  Delicious.  Well, I’m not partial to tomato sauce.  From an early age I’ve loved fish and chips with oodles of salt and vinegar and, maybe, a large pickled onion on the side.  So, having this particular chip stagger onto the kitchen chair, oozing tomato sauce all over the floor, was quite off-putting.

I got the mop and bucket from the cupboard under the stairs.  (So useful, that cupboard.  Amazing storage space.)  But my efforts were useless.  I was slipping and sliding all over the show and when I walked through the house and up the stairs to the hotpress to get some towels, I left red footprints all over the carpet.  Mind you, I’ve always hated those carpets.  So ugly.  If they were ruined I might be able to put in an insurance claim.  So I took off my shoes and, barefooted, slid around some more in the tomato sauce; then did a little dance around the lounge.

I was quite exhausted from all this cleaning and dancing, so I made myself a nice cup of coffee – proper coffee, not that instant stuff, and sat down at the kitchen table opposite the chip.  It had stopped oozing by this time, I’m happy to say, but I had really lost my appetite and I must have nodded off in the chair because it’s getting dark outside and I can’t think where the day has gone.

I’ll need help moving that chip.  It’s so big!  I’ll go and ask the man next door.  He’s a burly fellow, a carpenter by trade, and he should be home by now.

 

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The Woman Who Mistook Her Husband for a Chip

Moving On

The church was packed.  Upstairs on the balcony and downstairs.  Anna knew she shouldn’t be sitting where she was.  She was expected to sit upstairs, where she could be kept from causing any scenes.  She had never been much good at hiding her resentment and bitterness.  She had been married to Dave for thirty three years, probably knew him better than anyone else packed into this church on this sweltering morning.  Had prepared a eulogy, but the family would not permit her to read it.  The ‘family’.  Her son.  Her daughter.  The other woman.

Most of the people here knew her.  Some had even had a good squirm around in their seats, pretending to be searching the sea of sweaty faces for someone else.  But it was really to have a look at her, sitting at the back, the ex wife.

Images of Dave were being projected onto the wall of the church.  Dave as a boy in school uniform, in cub uniform, in scout uniform and in cadet’s uniform.  Dave in university graduation garb.  Dave playing with the kids on a beach.  Dave winning the Toastmaster’s cup.  And various others depicting the life of the man Anna had spent the best part of hers with.  Not one photo had her in it.  How could you present the life of a man and exclude someone who had been in that life with him for most of that time?  But there you had it.  He had started a new life with someone else and there was no room for Anna.

The minister spoke a bit about Dave but Anna wasn’t really listening.  A commotion had started on the balcony and she could see a young man being guided down the spiral staircase.  He looked as though he was going to pass out any minute.  The heat seemed to belch out of him.  It was the wrong sort of weather for a funeral.  It should have been raining, with dark, brooding clouds.  Hymns were sung, eulogies were read and noses were cleared.  Then it was all over.

The family followed the casket out of the church and Anna waited for them to pass before joining the procession right behind them.  Her daughter, turned to look at her with pleading eyes.  She straightened her back and followed them out without saying a word.  At the bottom of the church steps the family stood to one side to receive handshakes, hugs and words of comfort. She did not join them but walked on towards the car park.

The young man who had taken ill during the ceremony was sitting alone on a bench in a cool shady spot.  A thin fellow, with pale skin and beautiful auburn hair.  Anna nodded at him and smiled.  ‘You ok?’

‘Yes, I’m fine.  Thanks.’

She reached her car and the heat burst out when she opened the door.

‘I remember you, you know.’  He squinted against the bright sunshine.  ‘We lived around the corner from you, my mom and I.  Sometimes I came to play at your house.’

Anna could vaguely recall a skinny, freckle-faced boy.  ‘Did you used to bring a little brown suitcase?’

‘Yes.  My Ninja Turtle case.  We moved away when I was ten.’

Anna lowered herself into the car.  The steering wheel was too hot to touch.

‘Dave used to visit us often after we moved, you know.  He was a wonderful man.’

She looked harder at him.  There was something about his face, screwed up against the glare, that reminded her of her own son.

‘Can I give you a lift somewhere?’

He hesitated for a moment, shuffling his foot on the ground.  ‘Nah, I’m ok, thanks.’

As she turned out of the car-park he waved to her and she could clearly see Dave, when he was a young man.  In her rearview mirror she saw her son and daughter with ‘the other woman’.  She saw people she had known for years offering their condolences to them.  She put a Tom Waits cd into the player and, as usual, her feet started to tap to the rhythm.  It was a while before she realised they were tapping to ‘Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard’.

 

 

Moving On

Night Call

Night Call

My father was asleep in his chair, his head bowed over a book balancing on his lap.  I watched him from the doorway, watched the book sliding down his lap and crashing onto the floor.  His head jolted awake.

I watched his mouth move and the words tripped out.  ‘Brotherly love?’  He snapped.  ‘Who are you to talk about brotherly love?’  His blue eyes darted from side to side as he spoke.  Then settled as I entered the room.

‘What are you reading today, Dad?’

His hands, mottled with liver spots, shook and fidgeted on the arms of his chair.  He leaned down to retrieve his book.  ‘How should I know?’  He pointed a trembling finger at me.  ‘You’re the one who foisted it on me.’

Through the window behind him I could see an old lady.  She was dressed in an overcoat and woolly hat, and pushed a Zimmer frame as she shuffled along the pathway in her slippers, a large handbag swinging from her arm.

‘What are you doing here, anyway?’  His hands shuffled the pages in the book and his mouth made little popping sounds.

‘It’s Sunday, Dad.’

‘If it’s Sunday, why aren’t you at Mass?  You should be on your knees, begging for forgiveness.’  He looked down at his hands.  ‘Things you’ve done!’

I wondered how he could look so harmless –  a grey-haired old man with transparent blue eyes and ears too big for his head, and yet sound so hostile

‘What things have I done?’

‘What things!  Who put me in here?’

I watched the old lady as she arrived at a bench.  She backed up to it, holding firmly onto the Zimmer frame, lowered herself and plopped down onto it.

‘They look after you here, don’t they?’

‘I can look after myself!’  He threw his arms out. ‘I can look after them!’

The old lady opened her handbag and produced a large chunk of bread from which she picked off little pieces and flung them onto the lawn.

‘Those were the days, Dad.’  I folded my arms across my chest and glanced at my watch.

‘Don’t tell me about the days,’ he snapped.  ‘Your father was always saying that.’  His voice was hoarse from the effort of his indignation.

He had confused me with my mother again. ‘You’re my father’ I muttered.  I should have kept quiet.

His hands grabbed the arms of his chair.  ‘I know who I am!’  He could not push himself out of it.  ‘Do you think I don’t know my own self?’

When all the bread had been distributed the old lady dusted off her hands and sat, waiting in the cold.

‘That old lady’s going to freeze out there,’ I said to him and he turned his neck, slowly and stiffly to look out of the window.

‘Who?’  His neck craned to see her.  ‘There’s no one there.’

He turned back to me.  A snarl crept around his lips. ‘What’s the matter with you?  You need to go and see about your eyesight, you know.’

I glanced at my watch again.  Was it time to leave yet?

‘I can’t get any sleep in here, you know.’  He shook his head.  ‘No sleep at all.’

I stared at the wall beside his bed.

‘There’s a woman in the next room who keeps calling my name all the time.  “Te-rry!” she keeps shouting, “Te-rry!”  I can’t get a wink of sleep with her.’

We had been through this before.

‘She reminds me of my mother, screeching down the street like a fishwife.  Embarrassing me in front of all my friends.  What’s she calling me for?’

‘She’s not calling “Terry”, Dad.’

‘She is!  All night, just as I’m about to drop off, I hear her. “Te-rry!” “Te-rry!”

‘She’s calling for her husband, Dad.  His name was Elly.’

He glared at me with furious indignation.  ‘If she does it again tonight I’ll go in there and hit her over the head.’

Through the window I could see a nurse gently urging the old lady up from the bench.

I leaned over my father and gave him a kiss on the cheek. ‘See you next week, Dad.’

He reached up and grabbed my shoulders, pulling himself up from the chair as he did so.  His bony arms hugged me to him and he kissed me back.  ‘Goodnight, my baby, sleep well.’

The nurse and her charge were coming along the path towards the front door, as I left. Their heads were close together in quiet conversation as they pushed the Zimmer frame in through the door I held open for them.  They both looked up at me and the nurse smiled.

‘How’s your father today?’

‘He’s mixed up and angry, as usual.’

The old lady’s eyes were clouded over with cataracts, but she gazed at me and frowned.  ‘Don’t follow him’ she said, suddenly.  Her gaze penetrated me.  ‘Turn around and walk the other way.’  Then she resumed her slow walk back to her room.

******

It was past midnight when my phone lit up and vibrated for attention.

‘This is the Home.’

‘What’s happened to my father?’

‘There’s been an accident.’

‘Yes?’

‘It’s not quite what you might think.’

‘What’s happened?’

‘You’ll need to come over here.’

‘Tell me what’s happened.’

There was a brief silence on the other end of the phone.

‘Your father attacked the woman in the room next door.’

‘What!’

‘He bashed her over the head with her Zimmer frame.’

‘Is she alright?’  What a stupid question!

‘She’s been taken to hospital.  We’ve had to call the police.’

In the background I heard my father’s rasp.

‘She kept calling me.  She wouldn’t shut up.’

Night Call