Novel in Progress
“You can talk about it, you know,” Mrs Patters held my hand as I sat on the squeaky bed.
“Oh yes, I know.” I said quite cheerfully, not knowing where to look. The door behind her seemed a good point to focus on. “But really, it’s nothing to do with that, I just think I’ve got a bit of a temperature, that’s all.” All I wanted was a quick snooze - it had been nearly midnight when I'd got in last night. "I think I might have the 'flu coming on."
She looked at me with unconcealed doubt, oozing kindness and understanding. I shuffled on the rickety bed. Perhaps it hadn’t been such a good idea skiving off to sickbay after all. Everyone else was doing it all the time and as soon as I played sick this happened.
“Nobody understands, do they?” She squeezed my hand tightly.
I was supposed to break down here, I was sure of it but the tears wouldn’t come. The barrel was dry and I couldn’t stop noticing her upper lip. It had been fixed up into a permanent grimace since she'd had her stroke and we'd all sniggered at it. It didn’t seem funny anymore. I hung my head down and tugged on the corner of my skirt with my free hand. Perhaps she would think I was crying.
“I understand what you’re going through.”
Yes she did. She'd lost her mother, I'd lost mine. The same. She wasn’t even my teacher but as soon as word had got around she'd hunted me out as if we were the only foreigners in the school speaking the same language. How she suffered every day! How she felt her loss even six months on! Yes, it was hard, I'd mumbled.
“You can talk about it - it’ll help.”
“Uhm, well...” Maybe I should have just bunked off into town. In all my years at school this was the first time I'd laid eyes on the sickbay and I hadn't been missing out on much. Mrs Patters took my other hand as I sat cramped in the corner of the bottom bunk and pulled her chair closer.
“There’s not much to say really," I shrugged. "It’s over now anyway.”
“It’s never over, dear.” Tears welled in her eyes and her voice broke as she shook her head. “It’s never over.”
I couldn’t disappoint her now - she was crying in front of me, for goodness sake, I owed it to her. A few tears came, I sniffed and freed my hand momentarily to brush them away.
“Tell me what happened,” she said hungrily. My hand was back in the lock.
I looked down at my skirt. “Nothing really,” my voice squeaked cheerfulness. "She wasn’t ill very long - that was a blessing.” Grandma’s voice. Where had that come from?
“And you can’t talk about it at home, can you?” She stroked my hand. “You can’t talk to anybody. I know. I know.”
“Well...” I admitted. “I talk about her to my brothers sometimes, they don't mind. My Grandma talks about her a lot too, so does my Dad...well, I mean he did." I paused. "I mean he still does..." Just not to me anymore. "It’s not the same as having her there of course, but, what can you do?"
“We have to go on...” Mrs Patters face was streaked with tears, “even though it’s difficult.”
The bed creaked as I shuffled. Of course, she was right. She must know. My stomach stirred inside me. Oh no, not now!
"You can let it out." Mrs Patters was stroking my hair. "It's ok to cry."
I blinked out more tears, stifling my stomach as I did. She smiled with gentle satisfaction - the distant rumble had slipped her notice, thank goodness. "You've had to bottle it up for so long."
"Well, I cry sometimes at home," I said earnestly. "Everyone has their moments, when their alone..." Grandma's voice again. "And I cried a bit at the funeral too."
"Oh!" She shook her head sadly. "It must have been awful for you! Such an ordeal!"
"Oh no!" I said, cheerfully. "It was quite good fun! All our family came over from Birmingham. We hadn't seen some of them for years. And there was lots to eat..." My stomach gargled. "It really wasn't as bad as I thought."
She looked at me, shaking her head. "You're very brave. Of course, we have to try to go on the best we can." She sighed heavily. "And of course it's even more of a burden at the moment, isn't it?"
I nodded slowly. Oh yes, yes. It was. Why?
"You feel it even more at these times, don't you?"
I nodded again, looking down at my skirt. Was it Mother's Day already? Surely that had been and gone? Mum never cared much for it anyway.
"With your GCSEs coming up," she nodded, knowing the answer had been on the tip of my tongue. Ah, yes. That was it. "You want her to be there, to get you through those difficult moments, comfort you when you're nervous..." She shook her head sadly. "I know, I understand what you're going through."
"Oh, but I'm all right with exams really," I admitted. "I don't get too nervous..." I rolled my eyes, "luckily!" I added with an awkward smile.
She looked at me, gripping my hand. "Those moments of joy and pride, when it's all over, disappointment or whatever - you wish she was there to share in it all."
I nodded meekly. "She was there for my mocks," I said quietly. "At least that." Although she wouldn't be missing out on much with my finals - the way things were going there wasn't going to be much celebrating to do.
"We must try to look on the bright side, mustn't we?" she sighed.
The thudding of steps above and shouts from the corridors reached my ears. Lunchtime!
“Um, maybe I feel a bit better now,” I ventured. Monday! That meant pizza! Perhaps I could ask Fliss to queue up for me. I had been a bit snappy with her that morning but she'd be all right if I asked her nicely.
“You should rest, dear,” said Mrs Patters, still gripping my hand “Grief is a terrible thing. You can lie down here as long as you like, I won’t let anyone disturb you.”
I mumbled a thanks. No pizza for me today then. She let me out of her grip and the mattress squeaked as I lay down. Light flooded through the window as girls' laughter and chatter drifted in from the distance. They'd probably got the first slices of pizza. Mrs Patters got up to close the window, snapping shut the curtains.
“It’s hard dear, I know,” she said as she went to the door. Her voice was breaking again, “but I’m here for you. I know what you're going through.”
I smiled feebly up at her.