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Mother`s Accident

by annodomini 

Posted: 26 February 2006
Word Count: 3134
Summary: Being garrulous

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Mother’s Accident

’Now, first of all, I don’t want you to panic,’ says Joyce. Elsa feels her sensory receptors closing, her sister’s voice bluntening each nerve blade. It’s not so much the word ’panic’ as the tone of its delivery, the victor announcing the terms of her treaty. Joyce triumphantly holds the floor and she is determined to keep it.
Elsa glances out of the window. The branches in the garden dip and swing towards the neglected lawn, which lifts and rolls like a settling audience, rising and bending out of time as each shuffles to their seats for the performance. Along the over-grown borders, the flowers and shrubs turn and bend in an energetic chorus line, a pre-show distraction, accompanying the rustling in the stalls, heightening their anticipation of the promised entertainment. The only immobile object in view is the garden fence, which drops like a fire curtain behind the chorus line, enticing in its blank denial, symbolising the mysteries it is designed to conceal.
’You know our brother,’ continues Joyce, oblivious to Elsa’s gentle withdrawal. The plural possessive, the drawing in, the mutual suffrage and responsibility
are not lost on Elsa, and neither is the denial of George’s name. She smiles at Joyce politely, without encouragement, and returns her gaze decisively to the drama of the garden.
’Everything always has to be so melodramatic!’ Complains Joyce. ’Nothing can ever be simple! You know me, I like openness, frank, simple statements, not this fruitless waffle, all these useless words, these endless tirades! You know what George is like, once he starts he never stops! I try and bite my tongue but I keep thinking, ’get to the point!’ Do you know, the other day he kept me on the phone so long I burnt Roger’s dinner to a crisp! We had to go out and get fish and chips! And you know, I had to laugh. I must tell you this before we get on to the serious things. Roger said we should charge George for it! He kept the receipt and even asked me to look out a little card! He was quite serious. Well, you know what Roger is like. He’s very honest and up-standing. I couldn’t have married him otherwise. I could never have married once of these flippant, flipperty-gibbet type men. And Roger loves roast chicken! Of course, George has no idea. Roger says I should just cut him off, say I’m busy, or in the middle of something. It’s alright for him of course. But George doesn’t listen to me. He doesn’t listen to anyone! And it made me laugh, because you used to say that, all those years ago! Do you remember?’
The question hangs on Joyce’s lips like a pocket of escaped gas, a tiny chemical explosion, accidental and directionless. It wobbles on her lip for two whole seconds before she snatches it back. ’You were always much wiser than me, you said he never listened to anyone, so you stopped speaking to him unless it was absolutely necessary! Why waste your breath! And so of course he always listens to you! They say the less you say the more people listen!’ Joyce laughs and glances quickly at Elsa’s profile, blindly feeling the unchallenging silence, the profile that moves like the moon to beam its tricky light on her twisting path.
The word ’panic’ filters over the tone and jars in Elsa’s mind, like a wrong note in a familiar tune. It falls like a concrete pause, burying Joyce’s rush of words with the weight of its singular significance. Familiar with the rhythm of these talks, Elsa times her nods and smiles with the swing of the branches. Everything after ’panic’ pops and rustles beside her, as trivial and undistinguished as the over-long grass. ’Panic’ rises up like the solid wooden fence. Joyce talks on and on, her words lighter than air, expanding in the enclosed space of the room until their combined force expels Elsa out of the window and into the garden, where she lies dazed for a moment in the long grass, flat on her back in the buzzing auditorium. With much exaggerated coughing and muttering, the unquiet audience re-settles around her.
The room begins to shake and tremble. Cracks appear on the outer wall of the house at first floor level, until finally it breaks away, ripping the ceiling off the room below. The room floats uncertainly above Elsa like a sceptical albatross, shakily taking flight. Through the window she can see the outline of Joyce’s head, nodding in rhythm with her moving lips, without a pause. The walls are stretched tight as a skin, reddening at the edges and bulging with contained pressure.
’’open the window..!’ Elsa tries to say, to release the gas - but the words catch on a rope trailing from the balloon basket and are knocked into the wind.
’It is rather warm,’ agrees Joyce, beside her. Elsa releases the window catch and the excess gas escapes. The walls straighten and the room sinks gently back into its foundations. They observe a brief pause.
’What is there to panic about?’ she asks, taking advantage of Joyce’s momentary distraction. Her sister’s eyes move slowly from side to side, searching for a point of reference, like a train changing points at a signal, careful not to come off the rails. Transition smoothly achieved, the linear trammelling monologue picks up speed once more.
’Well, this is what I’m saying. I don’t want you to panic, because you know what George is like,’ she begins slowly and deliberately, as if addressing a child. ’Thank you for keeping me on the point, because I do have a tendency to go off the point, and Roger gets quite annoyed! He’s says I’m ’going on’!’ She laughs. Elsa waits patiently, receiving the familiar play of her sister’s tones as one hears indifferent music, passively, without involvement, waiting for an unlikely moment of inventiveness, or an end to the song.
’Now. George phoned me yesterday, or I phoned him, probably ’ he doesn’t call unless he absolutely has to, does he! Anyway mother had an accident. Don’t panic, whatever you do. There’s no need for dramas and upsets! Quite frankly, I’m sick of them! Of course Margaret has taken charge, bossing us all about, we have to visit at this time, we can’t bring this, we mustn’t say that’ All mother wants is a bit of joy! She does love to boss people about! We’ve all got our jobs assigned, our hospital visiting rota. Of course, mother can’t see more than two of us at once; it’s too much for her.’
’What happened?’ Interrupts Elsa impatiently, alert. Now Joyce has her full attention, her mind working desperately to filter out the white noise around those words; ’accident’, ’panic’, ’hospital’, ’visiting rota’. It doesn’t sound like an overnight job, not casualty then, more like a protracted stay. An accident? Inside the home or outside? A fall? An attack? A spill? Boiling water? Oil? A fire? Is mother alright? Behind this Joyce’s voice rattles evenly on, the dull chronometer marking off their set piece.
’Now.’ A break in the timing, again the pause at the signal, the points change, the drop in speed, the renewed concentration.
’She was heating up some of that food Margaret makes, you know, we wouldn’t give it to her, you wouldn’t do it to your own mother, would you? That’s the difference. I can’t explain it. That’s just the difference and that’s all I’ll say. I’m not saying anything else. I can’t say anything to George of course, and I hope you won’t - ?’ She actually pauses and looks round at her sister for reassurance.
’Of course not,’ supplies Elsa.
’Well, mother can’t see all that well, and she didn’t realise there was no water in the pan she was using. She lit the gas alright, but she heated up a dry pan. She left it cooking and she must have forgotten about it, because it boiled dry and burnt. The number of times I’ve told them not to leave those pans dry! I’ve even left messages! Notes on the pans! Honestly, poor mother ’ ’
’Was it a fire?’ Elsa breaks in, losing patience.
’Now there you are, I knew you’d panic! I’m trying to tell you to keep calm. Breathe deeply, Elsa, you must relax.’ Her voice slows and deepens, pressing heavily on Elsa’s nerves, pounding them into tenderized submission. ’Mother let the pan burn. Then it caught fire. Of course the smoke alarm went of ’ and thank the Lord for it ’ pardon me, but I really am grateful, I’m not one to take the Lord’s name in vain but I really mean it, it could have saved her life. As it was it went off with such a loud beep it frightened her out of her wits ’ poor mother jumped up off her chair in fright, knocked her head on the standard lamp, knocked her glasses off, sat down without thinking and missed her chair. She sat with on the table with such a jolt she bit her tongue with her dentures. Her leg flew out and she stamped her foot down on her glasses, broke them and cut her foot. We think she might have knocked herself out, because she’s dizzy and disorientated, and just wants to sleep ’ ’
’What happened to her?’
’Well ’ ’
’Why does the hospital need to keep her in?’
’I’m try’ ’
’Does she need stitches?’ It’s the most Elsa has spoken since the conversation began, and a wave of desperation carries her on, breaking over the walls of Joyce’s responses like spume over rocks. She wants to cram as much into the moment as possible, as one maximises instances of silence in a penetrating excess of noise.
’Well, if you stop interrupting and let me finish a sentence then I’ll tell you!’ Says Joyce, greatly irritated. ’How can I explain about mother if you won’t let me finish a sentence? I knew you’d get upset! I asked you not to panic! Remember to keep calm. Keep taking deep breaths. Perhaps we should continue this conversation another time. No? Alright then. Mother’s glasses are so old ’ goodness knows when she had them made, they do her no good, bless her. They’re so old they actually have glass lenses, so she cut her foot quite badly when she stamped on them, and she lost quite a bit of blood. She needs stitches in her foot and in her tongue, so she can’t speak, bless her, she can hardly swallow and she has to drink through a straw. They had her on a drip at first.’
’How is she coping?’
’I haven’t seen her yet. It’s such a long way away. Of course, Roger will take me, he is so wonderful, but I don’t want him to miss out on his rugby, although ’ bless him ’ he said he could always listen to it on the radio and wait in the car while I go in. He doesn’t mind one bit. Mother wouldn’t want him to miss out on the rugby, you know that. Remember Dad and his football? She always kept that sacrosanct! I might take a picture of his team in when we go, to remind her. That should make her laugh! I was hoping we could go today, but if you’re upset ’ ’
’Good idea, let’s go.’ Says Elsa, meeting the fantasy square on with all the conviction she can muster.
’ - Only George and Margaret have been so far,’ continues Joyce, undistracted by the interruption. ’It’s easy for them, of course. They only live down the road. She’s OK, up and down, more down than up at times. She puts it on for George, of course, the jolly jolly; Margaret gets the other side. So according to George she’s fine, having a whale of a time, getting on marvellously with all the staff, making a party of the ward. According to Margaret she’s miserably depressed, she’s lonely, she doesn’t get any visitors, the food is awful, she can’t eat it anyway, she’s bored’ We need to go to find out from her what’s what!’
A burst of misty sunlit air strains through the dense cloud cover outside. For a moment, the garden stills and brightens. Elsa feels a drop in Joyce’s relentless momentum, the express train nearing its final destination, a growing bubble of calm. An unexpected pause filters between them
’I thought she couldn’t speak,’ she says, musing aloud, surprised her words have found a space for expression. The clouds stretch a little further apart, and a distinctive golden light drips like honey onto the plants and trees below, flattering the greens into their fullest shades, making the red petals warm and blush.
’I never thought of that!’ Says Joyce, and surprise lifts her words and blows them into the air like soap bubbles. Elsa feels not the slightest curiosity for her sister’s answer. She had not intended to comment aloud; she was very doubtful of George, Margaret or Joyce even noticing that their mother wasn’t speaking or participating in their one-way conversations.
’How long will she be in for?’ Says Elsa, taking advantage of Joyce’s momentary confusion.
’At least a week, the doctor told George yesterday. Give her time to heal. She needs to be fed. And the cuts and bruises on her feet are quite severe. She’ll need to be looked after when she gets out, of course. She won’t be able to sit, she’ll just lie in bed. She might need to be fed for a while. George said he’s take her for a week, if Clarissa agrees. I haven’t heard a word from her on the subject. Then Margaret will have her for another week. Then back to George again. I can’t possibly have her yet. We’ll take our turn, of course, but we can’t do anything just yet. Roger’s wonderful, he says he doesn’t mind at all having mother here. Not many men would be happy to have their mother-in-law living with them, under their roof! Mother’s lovely of course, she’d be not trouble at all. Anyway, now you’re up to date. How are you? I haven’t asked you yet, what must you think of me! Rattling on like this. Look at your wonderful garden. Isn’t it lovely. How is Tom? And the boys?’ Elsa looks back at the forgotten garden, grass swaying at calf-height, trees rough and over-grown. The wind has dropped and the movement has stopped.
’It was Tom’s birthday yesterday,’ she begins, uncertainly. ’We went for a meal with the boys, their girlfriends, and a couple of Tom’s friends from way back ’ ’
’Wonderful! How lovely, all the family together. Where did you go?’
’The Italian on Brighton Road, near the roundabout, next to the park ’ ’
’Oh yes! It’s fabulous there. I know the one. How funny! I was thinking of taking Roger there as a surprise for his birthday! You must tell me everything. How was it? The food, the service ’ was the food any good? I don’t know if we can go anywhere else after our favourite in Chestnut Drive ’ what’s it called, Trasseti? Trasvesti? Something like that. I can never remember, you know how terrible I am with names! You’re just like one of the family there ’ that’s how it feels, like family. We went there with Phillip and Sandra, Roger’s old friends from the bank.’
’Shall we talk in the car?’ Suggests Elsa quietly, in a voice of defeat. They rise, collect coats and outer garments, and move towards the door. ’Are Roger’s friends still living around here?’
’Funny you should ask that,’ Joyce’s voice lowers suggestively and conversely speeds up, slipping comfortably into optimum velocity. ’I went to the cinema with Mary last night and we went to see a Spanish film called ’Remember’, and it was about a Jewish girl who got engaged to a Palestinian. And they were Spanish. And you know what the Spanish are like, they’re so, ’ra-ra-ra!’ In your face! I love it. But I used to find it quite frightening. Roger will tell you. Anyway, the girl brings the boy home on the Sabbath. Her brother is very serious and decides to have a proper Sabbath, very formal. The mother is typical Spanish, you know, the mother doesn’t really care. Anyway she brings the boy home and they all say how wonderful it is, you’re engaged, you know. They ask him to say the grace and he declines, he says, ’you haven’t told them yet?’ So she says she’s building up to it, waiting for the right time. So of course she tells them and the mother hits the roof - you know, the typical Spanish, full of passion. Anyway why I was telling you this was because of Mary. I went to the cinema with Mary last night and I was just going out when the phone rang and it was one of the partner’s wives, from the bank, who I used to really get on with. I used to be really quite scared of entertaining them, when I was a new wife, you remember. You used to come over and help me, and I’m so grateful, even now after all these years! Her name’s Victoria. Anyway she said they were having a reunion party. I asked her how long she’d been in Oxford and she said ’Oh, about 35 years!’ She said she called Sandra and got George’s number. She didn’t have it before. I said, ’how often do you have these reunions?’ and she said, ’Oh, every four years or so’. I said I’d missed a few but I’d love to come to the next one!’ Anyway I don’t think it will be around Roger’s birthday, and I don’t think he will want to invite everyone, but some of them he will, of course Phillip and Sandra. I can’t believe they’ve never mentioned it in all these years! I said to him we must get to Oxford and see them, it’s so easy for us to get there. We’ve got time before his birthday, he probably thinks we’ve forgotten, but we’ve got plenty of time to get it arranged. Perhaps you and Tom would like to join us?’
Elsa’s mind and body are guiding the car on its route to the hospital, her ears divided between the continual hum of her sister’s voice and the buzz of the radio, applied as an essential counter-balance with the slightly opened windows, to keep the four wheels firmly on the tarmac.
’That would be lovely,’ she says calmly, and meets the counter-balance gently in song.

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