Doreen and Barbara
Some days the branches of the giant conifer tree at the end of the garden sway in the wind so hard I think the whole thing will snap. I watch from my bed every morning through the seasons, a reminder that people are out in that weather, existing, living their everyday lives.
I long for a life I never had.
If only I had more time and I’d seen more places, met more people. Women now can have high up jobs in cities, no husband. Live their life on their own terms. I overheard Mary’s grandchild, no older than twenty-five, talking about her business trip to New York City, how she went to the top of the Statue of Liberty. I’ve never been outside of Europe. Scared of going by myself, I suppose. Stan always said he didn’t see the point, that we were able to do anything that we could
do anywhere else here, in Bexhill. The problem was we never did. Stan would tell me the things that I wanted to do were pointless anyway. My little friends were too gossipy, he’d say. ‘I don’t know why you’ve got to tell them all our business, Dor. It’s not like you do anything interesting enough to talk about anyway.’ Every Sunday before my coffee catch ups with the ladies from church he’d sneer and tell me not to bother going, and I’d walk out the door anyway.
I never realised what I’d missed until I met Barbara. She moved in not long after Stan died. It started with a conversation about the bland food: they make it mushy so the old dears can munch through it with their missing teeth, and tasteless because we don’t digest spice apparently. She said the food ‘wasn’t a patch on the Hilton’. I laughed, thinking she was joking. Obviously an NHS-funded care home isn’t going to be serving Michelin Star meals, but she was deadly serious. She gets confused about where she is and forgets that we get the same dinners week after week.
I sometimes wish I could forget I was here, even just for a minute.
Barbara’s eighty years were significantly more exciting than mine; she was a dancer, her husband an actor, and they spent their best years drifting from one country to the next, making glamorous friends while wearing glamorous dresses. I could look around her room all day at the photographs of her past life, worn out jazz records. Barbara’s favourite song is Girl from Ipanema by Stan Getz, her eyes light up when the soft refrain begins, as if she’s back in Rio being serenaded by her husband. Her lips mutter along with the words while she beams from ear
to ear - ‘... tall and tan and young and lovely
the girl from Ipanema goes walking’
‘He made me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world!’ She’d exclaim while padding around her bed to the rhythm. ‘We’d dance in the moonlight and he’d hold me close and tell me he never wanted to let me go!’
I don’t think I ever felt beautiful around Stan. That was his way though; he couldn’t seem to show me he cared. If I’m honest I don’t know if I loved him enough to spend my entire life with him. You can’t love someone who treats you like an inconvenience. But I didn’t know any better. I thought that was what all marriages were like.
Barbara forgets what we’re talking about in the middle of conversations sometimes, repeats herself. She can’t remember what day of the week it is and constantly moans about the room being to cold or too hot, too noisy or too quiet. But occasionally she’ll recall how the sand felt between her toes on the beaches of Brazil the night that her husband proposed with a clarity unlike anything I could recall.
She has a daughter who comes and laughs about things that happened in her previous life and even though Barbara often can’t remember, I think they just like to see each other smile. Seeing them together makes my heart drop in my chest. I wish I had someone to worry when I get ill, to bring me my favourite flowers on my birthday. Sometimes, when I pray, I ask God why I was never able to have children. That’s the one thing that I truly regret. Not caring for a child, even adopting. I have so much love to give, and no one’s ever taken it.
But then I look up from my spongy carrots and Barbara’s watching me and making a disgusted face while letting the mashed potato drip from her fork; I feel the corners of my mouth twitching and I think maybe things aren’t so bad after all.
Laura Brampton is a third-year Media and Communications student specializing in Creative Writing, from a tiny village in Devon where she found a love for writing because there was only sheep for company. She has a website for videos she makes at: lebrampton.wixsite.com/lebrampton