Shadows and Memories

[Fiction] Friday Challenge #159 for June 11th, 2010

Include this in your story: “I wish he’d knock on my door instead……..”

Hazel shuffled back into her solitary room, smoothing the crocheted blanket at the foot of her bed before picking the wilted heads off the flowers in the vase on the sill.  She picked up the dog eared deck of cards and laid out a hand of Solitaire.  The afternoon sun slanted across the melamine table and arthritic knuckles towards the clock on the wall.

Jason the orderly knocked four times quickly on the door before wheeling in the trolley for afternoon tea.

“Good afternoon Mrs Pendlebury.  My last stop for the day.  Would you like your usual?”

“Yes, thank you, Jason.  And do you have any of those Anzac biscuits?”

“I keep a stash just for you.”

Jason began pouring her tea and laying out the biscuits with hands that looked little more than skin and bones.

“Why do you wear that necklace?” she asked, indicating the label “Death” hanging on a silver chain.
Jason laughed to himself, “It’s the name of my favourite heavy metal band, Mrs Pendlebury.”

“It’s a little morbid, don’t you think?”

“Maybe, but I don’t let Mr Jenkins in 403 see it.  He hates being reminded of his mortality.”

“For someone so young, you have eyes that are quite deep.  What keeps you here?”

“Vampires need somewhere easy to get a fresh supply and a nursing home is just the place,” he joked.  “But I’ve seen you reading Twilight.  I kinda figured you were more of a Barbara Cartland or Danielle Steele kind of person.”

“You should have seen my Wilbur Smith and Alistair McLean collections,” said Hazel.

“See you tomorrow, Mrs Pendlebury.”

Jason exited the room and the sounds of the frail and aged became a chorus in the linoleum corridor; the voice of ghosts creeping around the doors.  The smell of disinfectant overpowered any sense of hope.  It seemed that Death wandered the corridors, knocking on the doors of the dearly departing.  Hazel checked her watch before dealing another hand.

The next afternoon after the same four sharp raps on the door, Jason prompted Hazel with a question as she sat with her back to the door, staring out the window,

“What are you thinking about, Mrs Pendlebury?”

“I was thinking about my husband, Charles.  You remember moments.  It’s a bit like a photograph, capturing a distilled emotion.  Something that gives you clarity.  Like when Charles kissed me on our wedding day after the priest had announced us as man and wife.  And I felt the little tickle of hair on the edge of his lip where he had missed shaving that morning.  During our vows Charles was so nervous that he forgot to say ‘Until death do us part,’” chuckled Hazel.  A shadow passed over her voice.

“Or the feeling of holding his hand after the birth of our first child who was stillborn.  It was like feeling solid rock in my own grief, but I knew his heart was as broken as mine.

“Charles has been gone now for near on twenty years.  You don’t spend fifty years of your life with someone and then become accustomed to living alone.  After a while, the loneliness begins to creep into your bones.

“I wish Death would come and knock on my door instead,” she said to herself.  “It would be a welcome relief.  Do you believe Death comes and takes you when you die?”

“No,” said Jason, “I think people forget that bodies age and eventually just stop.  Then Death is simply there to help to wherever they are going,” said Jason.  “It just helps people to anthropomorphise their fears.  Or should be that they personify their fears?  I was never good at poetry.”

Hazel giggled like a little girl again.  “I’m sorry that you have to listen to an old woman prattle on.”

“That’s alright, Mrs Pendlebury.  I’ll see you again soon.”

Jason looked back at Hazel.  She sat motionless, staring out the window while the steam from her cup of tea dissipated into the fading afternoon twilight.

That evening Hazel readied herself for bed, putting away her brush and reading glasses after making sure she read the last page of the novel.  She settled under the covers, drawing them up to her chin, letting her breath settle into a steady pattern.  In the early hours of the morning the sound of breathing ceased; the ghosts of the corridor whispering their lament.

Hazel stood and looked at the prone shell of her body lying on the bed before her.  There was a quiet four knocks on the door jamb.  She turned and saw Jason, dressed in a dark suit, waistcoat and pocket watch.

She stated the obvious, “I’m dead, aren’t I?  And you’re Death.  And that necklace is just a little ironic isn’t it?”

Jason smiled but bowed his head in deference to the deceased, “Yes.”

Hazel was a little perplexed, “But where is the skeleton and scythe and the black robes?”

“I come in many guises, mostly to make things easier for people.  Appearing as a skeleton tends to work only for horror freaks and weirdos, but they like the personal touch.  Now, I believe that we have a journey to take.  May I please have your arm?”

“Thank you.  Lead the way.”

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12 responses to “Shadows and Memories

  1. In recent weeks I have noticed that I have used a lot of dialogue and this week is no exception. I think that short stories allow for the dialogue to develop the character, rather than action. In the next few weeks I am aiming to add more action to my stories.
    This story has an autobiographical and a semi-autobiographical reference. And I included a Doctor Who reference – let’s see who spots it.
    I have a soft spot for the character of Death from Terry Pratchett’s Disc World novels. I took a bit of that and twisted a little for my story.

  2. That was a very touching story. I also thought about death knocking on the door but had nowhere to go with the idea that didn’t seem morbid. You did a great job pulling it all together. Very comforting.

  3. This was an interesting story. I suspected that Jason was more than he appeared. The description of bony hands conjured up the vision of an older man but the reference to heavy metal made me think he was much younger.

    I think your story flowed very well and felt natural all the way through to the end. Good work

  4. I like how Death appears in the form the person is most comfortable with.

  5. Very nicely done! The bit of foreshadowing with the necklace was especially nice. You have two turns of phrase here that I know are going to stick with me. “The smell of disinfectant overpowered any sense of hope,” and “the dearly departing.” I’m so glad I got the chance to read this.

  6. This piece has a very soothing tone. I like how you captured the real feeling of a nursing home. I’ve been to a few that feel other-worldly or surreal. Very relatable.

  7. This is very sweet. I hope Death brings me tea and biscuits before he comes to take me away 🙂

  8. I really like the bits that remind us that ‘old people’ were much more than that once. I think sometimes we behave like they’ve always been old and frail and don’t know they’re going to die soon, when most of the time it’s quite to the contratry.

  9. I really thought I’d commented on this last week – but must have deleted it.
    I did say that I like the dialogue here, it’s totally believable. I also love the line about the disinfectant, wish I’d thought of that one for a piece on a geriatric hospital ward for my writing course.

  10. So sorry it’s taken me this long to get to read this but damn, you are easily one of the most talented writers I’ve come across in a long time. Beautiful descriptions, good dialogue, excellent pacing…and I’m sure we’d all be happy when our time comes if it turns out Death is such a snappy dresser.

  11. what a beautiful take on this prompt. gentle, loving and empathic.

    visitors can see my piece at http://annieevett.blogspot.com/2010/06/leather-tack-and-tears.html

  12. Enjoyable read – calm, with a bit of humor injected into a somber subject.

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