Looking For A Sign
by Tess Niland Kimber
When a loss leaves us totally adrift, going back can be the best way forward
The dawn’s only just breaking; a splash of silver in the night sky over the swell of the distant downs. It’s stupid o’clock. But I had to come…
I draw up outside the bungalow, and, for a moment, all’s just as it should be; as it once, was. The purple hydrangea in the half-light is in full, greedy bloom under the dining room window. The net curtains we bought together, in that quaint little shop near the seafront, laughing with the lady as we tried to convert inches into centimetres and getting it hopelessly wrong, are as undisturbed as they were when you were living here. Even bumping over the drive to park in my old spot, shakes through my bones in the same way.
For one tantalising moment, I can pretend that this new day has brought you back to me. That the last seven weeks have been a nightmare. I’m awake now. We can laugh at this…
“Imagine – thinking I was… Oh, Jen,” you’d say, shaking your head, squeezing my hand.
With hope verging on fantasy, I step up to the porch. As I do so, I feel a terrible emptiness draped around the bungalow.
I stand on the doorstep and automatically reach up to ring the bell. You remember, how I used to ring it – over and over – as a joke to make you hurry up and greet me.
“Patience is a virtue, you know, Jen,” you’d pretend to scold.
I take a deep breath. Of course, there’s no need to ring the bell any more. You won’t answer. Not even if I ring it a thousand times… On that quarry-tiled doorstep I breath in the fresh, morning air, acutely aware there’s not even a whiff of the Lambert and Butler Gold you used to smoke.
“You trying to cremate yourself from the inside out, Mum?” I’d joke.
“Jen!” you’d say, rolling your eyes in mock outrage.
The sun’s cracking smiles through the night-wrapped clouds. I put the key in the lock. It’s time for me to step inside for the first time since… but the moment I do, emotion’s going to floor me with a left hook.
Where are you, Mum? I murmur brokenly.
The door swings open. Immediately there’s the faintest tang of you. I inhale like a sniffer dog, the closest to you I’ve felt for almost two months.
Although still in shadow, the hall with its familiar paintings and ornamental wall plates is as empty as a graveyard. And you know what’s more terrible than you not being here? That there’s no sign you ever were…
There’s no light pooling through the frosted glass of the lounge door. The television’s silent. No click, click of your slippered feet on the kitchen lino as if you had a piece of grit stuck to the sole.
I make my way to the door at the end of the hall and in the lounge it’s worse.
“Where are you, Mum?” I murmur brokenly.
And then, through my tears, I see it. On the round coffee table where you’d always have a cup of tea on the go and an ashtray with your latest cigarette, burning away, there’s a book, folded open. A pen’s clipped to the top of the page as if you’d just left the room for a moment and any time now, you’d be on your way back.
I pick up the puzzle book as if it’s made of porcelain and see your achingly familiar handwriting.
“17 down – ship of the desert?”
My eyes fly to where you’d written the answer, “CAMEL.” The page is full of your neat capitals and there’s a few, white squares left blank for the clues you hadn’t worked out.
I lift the book to my face and breathe in deeply, just as the new day slides through the clouds. Summer sunlight toasts me. This was just what I wanted to feel – a closeness and a knowledge.
You were here, then, I think, as the light splashes over me.
You truly, truly were… And no matter what, you’ll live on. In my mind, my heart and my soul.