Wonderland – Short Story (No more poems today, just prose)

Wonderland

The door is open.
The sick feeling festers in her stomach. She tries breathing deeply.

In…out…in…out… in…out…

“Mum, Dad!” she calls as she enters.
From the front room she hears the television quietly entertaining itself.
“Mum?” Alice says softly. Her mother is sitting on the sofa looking out of the window.
One of these days, she thinks, I’m going to call and she’s not going to answer.

In…out…in…out…in…out…

“Why is the door open?”
Her mother doesn’t reply. Alice stands a moment watching her. Her mother looks vulnerable, childlike. The sun plays across her face, making her blue eyes paler. Her hair, punk-proud at the crown, flat elsewhere, needs perming. Apart from the slightest rise and fall of her chest she is perfectly still. Even her hands are not worrying the gold chain at her neck.
Alice sits on the arm of the sofa and lays her hand on her mother’s shoulder.
“Hello, darling, I didn’t hear you come in.” The sweetness of her mother’s smile makes her want to cry.

In…out…in…out…in…out…

“Mum, why is the back door open?”
“I don’t know. Is it? It shouldn’t be.”
“Where’s Dad?” Alice tries nonchalance.
“In bed I think, dear.”
“Have you been up to check on him since you got up?”
“No. Of course not.”
“You should, mum; it’s nearly lunch-time.”
“He always sleeps late. You know that, Alice.”
“Don’t you think you should go and check, mum?”
“No. I don’t go into his bedroom any more in the mornings.” There is something evasive in her tone, all vulnerability gone. “I haven’t since…” her voice fades.
“Why?”
“He may be dead.”
Alice doesn’t ask. She doubts anyone has the answers.
“The door’s open, mum. He could have wandered off.”
“Well, in that case he can’t be dead can he?” Reassured her mother walks into the hall.
“Jack,” she calls. “Are you getting up?”
“I’ll put the kettle on,” says Alice.

In…out…in…out…

“Did you do the crossword this week?” she asks from the kitchen as she spoons coffee into mugs. Souvenir mugs bought on holidays which her parents no longer remember.
“Yes, but the magazine has got the clues wrong again. Nothing fits in properly.”
Alice grins, “Couldn’t be your spelling could it?”
Her mother giggles as she comes back into the room; the child again.
“Possibly,” she concedes.
Alice is proud of her. Since the stroke she’s fought her way back to be able to do a Sunday crossword puzzle. She knows that when she looks, her mother will have answered every question correctly and printed them neatly on a piece of paper; all fabulously misspelled. No wonder nothing fitted!
The floorboards creak above their heads. Her mother’s eyes follow the sounds of her husband’s progress across the room above. The footsteps stop on the landing.
“Are you there, Evie?” Jack calls downstairs.
“No, I’ve gone ice skating. Why does he ask stupid questions?”
“What is it, dad?” Alice asks.
“My pants don’t fit.”
“Underpants?” shouts her mother.
“Shall I go up?” asks Alice putting down her drink.
“You never know what you’re going to find, dear,” and then louder “I said underpants or over pants?”
“I don’t know… They’re grey.”
Alice follows her mother to the door. “I’ll go up, mum.”
Her mother looks up the stairs.
“He’s decent.”
Alice finds him sitting on the floor, looking with disappointment at his clothes.
“No wonder they don’t fit. You’ve got your pyjama bottoms on as well. And you’re trying to force both of your legs down one of the trouser legs!”
“I thought something was wrong.” He appears relieved. She waves the empty leg at him and laughs.
“What are you saving this one for, dad?” And then, checking, “Have you got any underpants on under your pyjamas?”
“Oh, two pairs,” he says proudly.
She feeds his legs into the proper openings.
Alice remembers him doing the same for her when she was a child. She swallows hard and wonders when she became their parent.

Only last week, I told the woman from Social Services we can manage a little longer, she thinks, that my mother definitely wouldn’t want my father going into care. Mum can’t make decisions like that, I said, she’s not well enough. Thanks, but no thanks. We’ll cope…Only last week.

They’re all sitting around the kitchen table.
“That thing in your bag was playing, Alice.”
“It’s a phone, mum.” She checks it. “It’s only the office”
“How do they know you’re here?”
Alice looks up grinning and then down again quickly when she realises her mother isn’t.

In…out…in…out…

“Mum,” she starts, “did a woman come about dad…”
“Who’s she?” her father asks, pointing at Alice
“Alice, don’t fuss. It’s all taken care of,” her mother answers. “It’s Alice, Jack,” she tells him.
“All taken care of? You mean…”
“I mean that Social Services have arranged for dad to go to one of these places to see if he likes it, haven’t they Jack? And if he does…”
“And you’ll go, dad?”
“I don’t care who it is; she can’t just walk in off the street and drink our coffee,” Jack says. “Tell her, Evie.”
His eyes close.
“Of course he’ll go, won’t you darling?”
Her mother hasn’t heard the soft snores that tell Alice he’s asleep. She’s watching him, doesn’t see her mother’s tears.
“It’s only for a little holiday, isn’t it, Jack?”

In…out…in…out…

Alice feels her own tears welling up.
“Don’t, Alice. I’ve decided. Please don’t cry,” says her mother.
“Oh, mum. We don’t need…” her voice trails away. They do need. And the decision isn’t hers to make; it never was.

Her mother stares through the window, sipping cold coffee.
“It’ll have to be moved,” she says pointing at a Japanese maple. “It’s old and not as hardy as it used to be. Don’t want to lose it.”

Ctheeditoffice2013

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