Chapter One; News
I’m so tired of knowing that tomorrow is simply going to be yet another tacky remake of today. Okay, perhaps “tacky” is a little harsh, what about “pleasant” or “nice”? I’ve lived in the same nice home for all of my sixteen years on this planet with my nice family and every day I tread the same nice steps to my nice school to have conversations with my nice friends that are identical to those I had with them yesterday and the day before that. Are you starting to see what I mean? Each day’s the same around here; the most exciting event to have happened this year was when poor old Mrs. Finbury’s cat, Oscar, was lost. The entire street was in absolute shock that their perfect lives should suddenly be shaken up; their carefully planned routines disrupted for the well-being of a cat, Oscar, that none of them had any particular sympathies for. Oscar seemed to have lost his popularity with the locals as he gained in age because he found it a struggle to remember which of the duplicated gardens in our street belonged to him. Consequently, every one of the gardens was used as Oscar’s very own private lavatory. The very next day, the “panic” was over as Oscar was found nestled cosily on a pile of warm ‘n’ toasty towels in Mrs. Finbury’s airing cupboard.
My parents are the notorious busy-bodies on this street, whom, despite their demanding work-hours as a teacher and a doctor, find time for everyone on this street. Everyone but me, that is. I’m not asking for your pity though, that’s not exactly what I need right now. I suppose that my friends must believe that I live the model life; a doctor for a dad, a teacher for a mum and a gorgeous baby brother. I remember overhearing Sandra and Grace, my two closest friends, telling each other about how great I thought I was with my “perfect” life just a couple of years ago. I never let them know that I’d heard them talking; it’s not as though starting an argument with them would make anything better, I just stopped telling them my private, personal secrets. The looks that I’m given by some people sometimes make me think that the tears that cut down my face that day left scars that are still visible today; I can’t stand people seeing me crying, at my most vulnerable. It was Mrs. Finbury that found me clutching onto the cool, rough bark of my tree, alone in the middle of the tall-grass-covered field. I didn’t own it so I suppose it wasn’t technically mine but that tree was my one place of true sanctuary, away from cars, shops and artificial noise. When I was up in that great, ancient oak it seemed to me as though I was standing on the edge of the world, even though I couldn’t see anything through my teary haze that day. She never told me why she was out walking on her own through the long grass but she offered me a wonderful distraction from my hideous self-pity.
Mrs Finbury was never the awful sort of condescending adult that I can’t stand; she didn’t ask that horrid question “Are you alright?” when it was obviously clear to see that I was nowhere near being “alright”. Instead, she began to tell me about how she used to ball-room dance when she was younger, that was how she’d met her late husband, Eric. Up until that day I’d never spoken to her properly but I guess we must have talked for hours that day because the sun had already slunk lazily off to bed just behind the horizon by the time I’d clambered clumsily from my branch, my left leg suffering from the ache of pins and needles. We hadn’t talked much before then but even I could tell that she simply wasn’t the same since she’d lost Eric; her eyes didn’t twinkle in the way they once had, her steps weren’t filled with a musical rhythm anymore and her warm smiles never quite reached her eyes again, it was almost as though a piece of her was missing. Maybe that’s why I bonded so closely with her, because I felt a though I too was missing a part of me that I so very desperately needed to find.
On my way home I ran what must have been over a thousand excuses as to why I was late home through my mind. I finally decided to tell my parents that I was back from school four hours late because Sandra had wanted me to come with her home on the bus because it was her first time using public transport and she was nervous. Sandra had been on that bus every day for the previous year. I’m not very keen on lying but luckily I didn’t need to lie to my parents, they just wanted me to help looking after my baby brother, Dylan, because Dad was rushing off on an emergency call to the hospital and Mum was in the middle of preparing dinner. I don’t mind Dylan, he can even be quite sweet at times it’s just that whenever I hear Mum’s stressed voice, shrilly shrieking, “Josephine, Josephine! Come and look after Dylan...now!” I become so utterly vexed, I’ve told her repeatedly that the name “Josephine” doesn’t suit me and I’d far prefer it if she called me “Joey”. I can’t see why she’s so adamant to call me by that flowery name when everyone else is comfortable with calling me “Joey”.
Dylan’s two years old now and it’s still my black plaits that he tugs on whenever he wants a hug. He’s just about old enough to go to pre-school now but it still seems as though I’m his permanent baby-sitter because Mum and Dad are forever rushing around throwing dinner parties for neighbours that they don’t like and doing good deeds such as weeding the gardens of the elderly on our street whilst I’m left to pick up the pieces of our home-life.
Since the first day that Mrs. Finbury and I spoke over two years ago, she’s been like a grandma to me. I go over to visit her whenever I just need to talk. Sandra and Grace made it clear that I could no longer feel secure talking to them and as I’ve said, Mum and Dad never seem to be stood in the same place for more than a minute. She’s such a sweet old lady, always so welcoming to me when I stop by. Once I’ve rapped out our secret knocking tune upon her door with my bare knuckles I wait patiently for her to shuffle up to the front door in her slippers. She opens the door wide and grabs at my hand to pull me inside.
“Hello there Joey, come in quickly before you go catching yourself a cold!”
I smile to myself as I close the door behind me knowing that the real reason for her wanting me to hurry is that she doesn’t want to miss the beginning of Countdown.
“Now, Joey, I’ve just baked some short-bread so help yourself, but mind you don’t leave any crumbs behind on my carpet.” She calls sweetly in her sing-song voice form the sitting room.
“Don’t worry Mrs. Finbury, I’ll just get a plate and I’ll join you in a moment.”
I walk down the potpourri scented corridor, savouring the cushion of her plush carpet inbetween my toes (sometime last year Mum and Dad coated the entire house in that awful laminate flooring stuff but the feel of this carpet takes me straight back to my childhood when laminate flooring had yet to attack the floors in my home) and into her 1960’s time-warp of a lounge and sit myself down upon the floor next to her armchair. She has two armchairs, one for her and one that once belonged to Eric. The first time I came to visit I gathered from the way she gazed sadly at the seat that it was Eric’s. She offered me that seat but I told her I’d be just as comfy on her carpet, her smile was so grateful. Oscar pads regally on his furry, ginger paws into the lounge to join us and despite his age he hops gracefully onto Mrs. Finbury’s pouffe and curls up snugly next to her fireplace. We remain sat quietly in front of the television, only speaking to compare our answers and call out the final Countdown conundrum. Once it’s finished, I turn to face Mrs. Finbury to find that she has a lone tear trickling delicately down her wrinkled cheek.
“What’s the matter?” I whisper aghast.
She swallows the lump that’s formed in her throat and after a few moments, croaks the words, “Nothing. Never let me worry you.”
“I am worried though. Please, tell me what’s wrong.” I stand and take her old hand between mine and eventually she drags her eyes away from Eric’s old recliner and lands her teary, blue gaze on me instead.
“Eric and I always used to watch these sorts of things together just after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.”
I’d heard of how Eric had died but he was eighty seven years old and I’d naively thought that Mrs. Finbury would be able to accept his death because, after all, he’d made it to such a great age. I went out to the kitchen and returned with a pot of her favourite green-tea and some more of her short bread. We sat eating and drinking in silent communication for the next half hour. Silence can be so sweet at times; we said so much without a single word even passing our lips. When the clock struck six Mrs. Finbury suggested that maybe it was time I started to head home, I asked whether she would be okay.
“Never let me worry you. I’m fine.” She repeats her earlier words.
“You’re certain?” I ask again, concerned.
She walked me to the door and as I hugged her goodbye I breathed in deeply her fragrant scent of perfume and cooking, I then kissed her powdery cheek and began my chilly walk home. Autumn is beautiful; the golden, sun-burnished leaves lay thick blankets upon the ground, it really is stunning...very cold though! I shuffle through the leaves in my already scuffed-up grey trainers; once upon a time they were white. As I carry on along my path | think about Mrs. Finbury being all alone in that house with only Eric’s haunting memory to keep her company. I’ve never really thought of myself as religious but I said a quick prayer to wish Mrs. Finbury some greatly deserved happiness...just in case there is someone or something watching over us.
Argh, why oh why oh why does my alarm insist on screaming at me quite so flaming loudly, this blinking early on a Sunday morning?! So perhaps it’s not exactly screaming as such and ten o’clock isn’t that early and okay, it’s Saturday really, but that doesn’t make my tiredness go away! I roll out of bed, throw on my dressing gown and slippers, and make a slight attempt to rescue my frizzy mop of hair from complete chaos before sleep-walking down the steps and into the kitchen to fix myself some emergency sustenance...ahem, breakfast. I crunch my way through my second slice of warm buttered toast as I contemplate all of the things I can do today; well of course I have an absolute mountain of homework to dig through but maybe I can pop around to see Mrs. Finbury, in fact, I might bake some fairy cakes and take them over to her this afternoon as a kind of “thank you” for yesterday.
I hurriedly shove my keys, purse, lip-gloss and mobile into my favourite purple suede handbag, grab the cake-filled cake tub and yell upstairs to Mum, just to let her know that I’m going out for a while.
“Hey Mum, Mum?”
“Yes, Josephine, what do you want?” It’s Joey! My name is Joey!
“Well, I’m going to make a quick visit to Mrs. Finbury and give her these fairy-cakes. I just thought I’d let you know.”
“You can’t go. Wait there and I’ll be down in a moment.”
What is she on about now? If she’s planning on making me baby-sit again I may just have to go ever so slightly insane, I mean, I love Dylan but he’s not exactly the most sweet-smelling toddler I’ve met. Mum carefully picks her way down the stairs as her vision is currently impaired by the toddler who’s clinging to her hip insisting on covering her eyes with his pudgy little hands. She sits Dylan down on his play-rug where he’s encompassed by cuddly toy animals and then comes over to me. This is odd; she actually looks serious for once. Infact, she looks as though she might cry.
“You can’t go around to Mrs. Finbury’s because she won’t be there, she passed away last night.”
My blood runs cold, like icicles through my veins, but I can still hear it pulsing in my ears, I feel dizzy and so I let myself fall back onto the sofa. Mum sits next to me and I rest my head on her lap, just like I used to when I was about three. She strokes her hand across my hair and tells me about her suicide letter:
I’m coming to see you and beyond the clouds I’ll dance with you again in heaven. When I lost you I lost a part of me too, now I’m coming to find the rest of my soul.
Mum carries on talking but I can’t hear anything she’s saying anymore, my entire body feels numb.
Eventually I got off of that sofa and walked to the front door, Mum might have called after me but I can’t really remember. I ran and ran, my feet pounding over the pavement almost as heavily as my heart was thudding in my chest, until I reached my oak tree in the huge secluded field. I’d managed to blink my tears away back at home so as Mum couldn’t see me cry, like I said, I can’t stand anyone seeing me look that weak, but as I dug my fingers onto the bark I felt hot trickles rushing down my cheeks. I remained on my branch, almost in an embrace with the tree, repeating her last words to me, “I’m fine” over and over again in my mind. At first I felt distraught but then I felt a different kind of devastation, I was angry. I was so furious at her for having left me behind,
“You’re the only person in this whole world I can really talk to and now you’ve abandoned me!” I screamed and wailed and bawled all of the pain that had built up inside of me until my throat burned and all I could do was sob.
When I found myself to be entirely cried out and head-ache ridden I walked as slowly as I could home, absolutely dreading coming into contact with anyone. Something in her letter had gotten to me though,”...find the rest of my soul”. Maybe I could have a go at doing that. She was so much like I am or rather I am so much like she was; the only difference is that she once had all of her soul and she just wanted that back, I still need to find my missing piece. That’s what I have to do now, to honour Mrs. Finbury; I’m going to find the rest of my soul.