The clock ticked, its beat steadily marking yet another wasted moment. Karen surveyed the room; the dusty drapes, the stained furniture, and the body that sprawled at her feet. She reached out and touched the familiar face. Cold. Icy cold, no longer supple as it had been the last time her fingers caressed it.
“Ann?” There was no reply. “Ann?"
She scrambled in her pocket for her mobile. The phone call took longer than she had anticipated; so many questions. Why didn’t they just send someone? Surely they understood that every second counted - but of course now it didn‘t.
Slumping onto the faded sofa, she averted her eyes from Ann’s body, preferring images of her as she had been yesterday. She let her mind drift back to the previous day.
“Oh, Karen, you're here. I thought you weren’t going to come. Will you put the kettle on? I‘d have done it myself, but Jarred said, you‘d do it for me.” Ann’s face beamed; there was a glint in her eye that hadn’t been there for such a long time. Maybe she was in less pain today.
“Ann, Jarred’s not here.” Karen reached out and brushed her fingers tips against Ann’s cheek,.
Ann, for a moment looked confused, then shook her head and said, with confidence, “Of course he is, dear, where else would he be?”
She opened her mouth to remind Ann that Jarred was long since dead, but thought better of it. Why take away this moment of contentment? Karen scanned the room looking for the photograph that always graced the table under the window. The curtain had knocked it over, so she stood it up again.
“Ann, your photo keeps getting knocked over by the curtains, shall I put it on the mantel-piece?
“If you would; that would be lovely.”
“You’ve been dusting, haven’t you?” Karen said, as she righted some of the ornaments. The dust had been disturbed, but only in places. She scooped up some fragments of porcelain that had once been the ear of a delicate rabbit. She turned the little ornament so that the missing ear was less noticeable.
“Jarred brought me that rabbit on our honeymoon, didn’t you, Jarred? He told me to leave it be til you came, but I wouldn‘t listen. I‘ve broken it, haven‘t I?”
“It still looks pretty, Ann. Don’t worry about it.”
“I’m not worried, Dear. Jarred’s going to get me another one to cele [cough] brate.” A spasm of coughing gripped Ann.
Karen turned to face her; maybe she should remind her about Jarred. Undecided, she said, “What would you like to drink?”
“I’d like a good stiff whiskey [cough] . . . but a cup of tea will do.” Another coughing fit shook Ann’s body.
Karen busied herself making the tea. From behind her came the sound of voices. She got out an extra cup and saucer to put on the tray.
“I thought I heard Doctor Price?” Karen said.
“No, Dear, just us. Doctor Price came first thing this morning.” Ann reached out to take her cup from the tray.
The afternoon sun streamed in through the partly drawn curtains. Motes of dust swirled in the air, twinkling like small stars in the gentle draft from the open window. Karen itched to give the place a good clean.
“Would you like me to run the vacuum round for you, Ann? “
“I won’t hear of it. They only pay you to come and talk to me.” Karen was taken aback by the sudden harshness of Ann’s voice. “Eases their consciences, and they think it will stop me from writing them out of my will. It won‘t, you know.”
“Won’t what?” Karen asked, a little uncomfortably.
“Stop me writing them out of my will. I’ve left everything to the Dogs Trust.” Ann gave a chuckle.
Karen didn’t comment, there were strict rules on discussing wills and bequests. She changed the subject.
“Would you like me to come earlier tomorrow? I could take you to the park, we can sit near the bandstand and have tea and cake, if you want to.”
“Not tomorrow, Dear. You know I‘ll be with Jarred.”
“If you change your mind, ring me. I’m sure Jarred won’t mind if you come with me instead.”
“Karen, I’m very grateful for all you do.” Ann paused. “I’ve made my decision. When you’ve finished your tea, put my pills out and you can go. I want to watch some television now. You will come tomorrow afternoon, won‘t you? You did promise.” There was no animosity in Ann’s voice, just a gentle dismissal.
A sharp rap on the door brought Karen back to the present. She stood and made her way to opened it. The paramedics hastened to where Anne lay.
“Did you find her? Are you a relative?”
“Yes, but I’m not a relative, I’m Ann’s friend. I work for the Volunteer Befriending Service.” She showed them her identification card in its plastic wallet suspended by a blue cord that hung around her neck.
The medics bent down to examine Ann. The examination was a brief one.
“Do you have a contact number for Mrs Bell’s family?”
“Yes. I’ll call them.” Karen bowed her head for a moment and felt the tears sting her eyes.
By the time she had finished speaking to Ann’s son, the medics were wheeling in a stretcher. She watched as they lifted Ann’s body and covered it with a pale yellow blanket. Something small and white tumbled from Ann’s fingers. She bent down to pick it up. The smooth porcelain felt cold in her hand, her fingers brushed over the sharp edges of the little rabbits broken ears. She moved to the mantel-piece to set it in its rightful place.
A silence pervaded the room, Karen thought she heard the neighbour’s radio, but she couldn’t quite make out the words. A breeze brushed past her cheek, as soft and gentle as a kiss. Wiping away the tears and closing her hand around the broken rabbit, she slipped it into her pocket. What harm could it do, no one else would want it, no one would even miss it. She wanted something to remember her by; something that Ann herself had loved. Overwhelmed by a strong urge to tell Ann that she was going to take it, to tell her that she would look after it, she called out to the medics. “Wait. Please wait. I want to say good bye.”
The medics look round and nodded. They stepped away from the stretcher and busied themselves with the clasps of the green bag they had brought in with them and the unused oxygen bottle.
In her pocket, her fingers stroked the little rabbit. Her conscience started to prick; it wasn’t hers to take. She sighed stood it on the mantel-piece. She stood with her back to the room, tears blurring her vision.
Karen tidied the room, then left, locking the door behind her.
The sun was still shining. She felt that it should hide its face to match her grief. In the short time that she had known Ann, she had come to care deeply for her. Was Ann a replacement for her own mother who had died last year? The image of her mother's face racked with a pain that the morphine barely touched, caused her to shudder. The pain that had filled her as she stood helpless while her mother finally succumbed to the cancer, was as raw today as it had been then. Was it selfishness that had prompted her to join the befriending service? She didn’t know, and today she didn’t want to analyse it.
Wandering through the park she found herself beside the bandstand. The band was playing a medley of 1940’s music, Ann would have enjoyed it. Not being able to face returning to her own home and its echoing emptiness, Karen settled herself at an empty table and sat listening to the music. She regretted replacing the rabbit on the shelf, but knew she had done the right thing. Sliding a hand in to her pocket, her fingers came into contact with something cold and smooth.
Opening her hand she gazed at the unblemished, porcelain rabbit that sat in her palm. A smile formed on her lips. “Thank you,” she whispered. "If only you could forgive me too, Mum.” Her words were barely audible. “They won't punish me for letting you live and die in agony, at least Ann spared herself that fate." Taking her phone out, she carefully pressed its keys.
The number rang out for a long time before it was answered.
“Officer, I want to make a confession.”
© Lindsey Chapman - http://word-weaving.blogspot.com/