Worse Than Murder


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Worse Than



Copyright © 2017 B.P. Franklin

All rights reserved.


B.P. Franklin

It all began on that March day when sun and wind had dried Marion’s washing by ten in the morning. She enjoyed the fresh smell of her washing as she gathered it lightly in her basket, ready to flip and fold and press flat, for ironing. With the pile of washing across her chest, she couldn’t see the rake that had fallen in the wind. Bang! she went down on the paving, the washing basket had flown out of her hands and ahead not breaking the fall as it might have done. Lying there she could see blood that seeped from her head. She tried to push herself up, but there seemed to be no power in her limbs.

‘This is nonsense,’ she thought. ‘I’m pretty fit for my age. Why can’t I move?’

Then, not believing it could be her, she cried like a child. Howled was more like it. What to do? There was no one about, the street gate was locked. She would just have to get herself into the house and phone Michael. He wouldn’t like it, at work, but what else could she do? Marion did manage, in great pain, to drag her body into her kitchen where she phoned her son. Michael would be over within half an hour.

Marion managed a chuckle at the odd sight of her upside down kitchen area, though lying on the kitchen floor wasn’t really amusing. From the crawling position, she rolled on to her back for at least a little comfort. The big white tiles were hard and she regretted not wet-mopping them after cooking dinner last night … she’d slopped a little sauce on the floor and run a sponge over it with her foot; she could see toast crumbs near the bench.

She fiddled nervously with the collar of her white linen shirt and noticed that the top button had come undone, as it did often, and showed her lacy red bra. A lacy red bra at my age, she thought; I always liked pretty bras; but plain briefs. Well, people might glimpse the bra, but not the briefs. She liked her kitchen, even viewed from the floor. Wide benches and easy-rolling drawers. And she loved the white timber louvered shutters on the windows allowing her to control light and sun. If she were about to go to a hospital, she’d like to clean her teeth and brush her hair. And, worst and most embarrassing of all, she needed to have a wee. Damn. She couldn’t bring herself to ask Michael to take her to the loo - they’d always been so private about bodies; she couldn’t have even asked Harold to seat her on the loo. She’d have to hang on and see to it in hospital where there would be ‘impersonal’ people to help.

On the bench she could just see a bowl of cherry tomatoes, the phone bill, an unopened letter, half a banana, the gate key on a long black cord, last night’s wine glass. And in the sink, the washing up yet to be done. It was a kitchen with many memories, more home to her than any room in the house really. She so desperately didn’t want to leave it right now, perhaps afraid she might not come back.

Aside from her passion for cooking and feeding people, there was her art. She had book illustrations due at the publishers next month. Oh dear, better not think about that now. Just get fixed what needs fixing.

And to that end, Michael arrived, bouncing into the house in his impulsive way, eager to sort things, brush aside anything that got in the way.

‘Well Mum, we’ll have to get you to hospital and check out the damage. Could have broken some bones you know.’

‘I hate going to hospital, but I suppose you’re right. My ribs are hurting like the devil and my leg feels funny. I don’t think I could walk on it.’

As he bent over to gather his mother from the floor, with his face close to hers, Marion noticed how closely his nose resembled his father’s. A large and narrow nose, which didn’t detract from his handsome face. He grew more like Harold with the years, except that Michael was taller and leaner than his father. Or was she forgetting that Harold had been leaner at this age and stouter as he grew older? And then of course, Michael had straight dark hair, where Harold’s had been wavy and in the end quite gray.

Michael carried his mother to the car and drove the short distance to the hospital where he found a short-term parking space near the door.

‘Stay there for a minute Mum. I’ll organize things at reception and we’ll bring a wheelchair. Are you OK for the moment?’

Although she was in pain, Marion nodded; she had full confidence in her son and felt a warmth, a security, in having him take over. She was very independent by nature, but right now she was dependent. How terrible it must be for those who have no one to take care of them when things like this happen, she thought. She watched him with pride as he strode briskly along the corridor. How smart he looked in his suit and blue striped shirt, red tie. Snappy, she thought.

Throbbing with pain and feeling a little terrified, Marion was wheeled to a cubicle for initial examination. Two nurses lifted her gently to the bed and within fifteen minutes a doctor arrived to examine and assess. Several broken ribs, a damaged hip and ankle, right forearm. Her gashed head required stitches.

Trapped, she thought. Trapped in hospital for goodness knows how long.

‘Don’t worry about a thing, Mum. Jan and I will move into the house and take care of everything for you. Water the garden and pay the bills, and hey, we might do a bit of remodeling, maybe re-do the kitchen. Fix things up that you’ve been meaning to do for years.’

Reassuring for Marion, who was very fond of her home.

‘Michael, you get on back to work dear, I’ll be all right now.’

‘I’ll be back to see you right after work then Mum. You’re in good hands here, so I’ll pop along.’

He kissed his mother and squeezed her hand and was gone.

Now she was ‘in the system’. Although Michael would have already delivered information and filled in forms and signed and so on, there were more forms and details to be filled in. Doctor Indira - Marion noticed the name pinned to his gown - held and felt her arms, legs, ankles, ribs, and a nurse wrote down his comments, saying to Marion during the examination, ‘Does that hurt?’ ‘Can you move your arm?’ and finally ‘Well Mrs Middleton, first we must stitch up that gash in your head and then we’ll do some X-rays. Nurse, take our patient to her room ... I presume we have allocated by now.’

The nurse wheeled the portable examination bed along the corridor, into a lift, up several floors, along a corridor and into a two-bed ward, where she helped Marion to the toilet and then lifted her on to a fresh bed and pulled the curtains around.

‘Can I have the curtains back nurse? I like to see what’s going on.’

Lying there, looking at the sky through the window, Marion cursed her carelessness. Just one fall and your life changes, perhaps forever. Suddenly helpless. That’s what she didn’t like. She’d always been capable, active, healthy. Admired for it, at her age. For the second time that day, she cried. Quietly, this time. She just wanted to be back home. Her precious home.

The news wasn’t good. X-rays showed a fractured hipbone and broken toes in her right leg; broken right forearm; three broken ribs on the right side. Fell on my right side and copped it all the way, head to toe.

And how long was all this mending going to take? Months. And more months hobbling around at home. Think of it, she wouldn’t be able to weed the garden. Walking anywhere would be out. Even driving would be difficult - her heart skipped, would this affect her licence renewal? And drawing and painting? How long before she’d be able to use her arm and fingers?

Think of positive things, she told herself. The bones will mend. Just a matter of time. And she still reckoned on having a fair whack of life left. Could get someone in to help. Definitely must tee that up before I go home.

Ah, one thing she forgot. Her mobile phone. Perhaps Michael will think of it and bring it in tonight.

The hospital dinner was better than expected: chicken fillet in cream sauce with rice. Though she didn’t usually have a dessert, she ate the little apple sponge on the tray and decided she could improve on it. She thought of her kitchen and how many happy times she’d spent there. Cooking was a pleasure in her life.

Michael was quite breezy when he came just after her dinner, which was served at five, on his way home from work.

‘I’ve brought your mobile phone and the charger. Now don’t you fret about anything Mum. I’ve got it all under control.’ Michael liked to be in control. He’d cultivated a voice for the purpose, deep and strong.

‘I’m not worrying. Really I’m not. I just want to get these bones mended and be in my own home as soon as I can.’

Michael squeezed his lips together and looked out the window. He didn’t respond.

‘How long do you think I’ll be here?’

‘Um ... well, it could be some time Mum. There’ll be the hip to deal with. That can take some time to settle. The arm and ribs will mend along the way. Then you have to spend some time in rehab. So ... could be a while. But we’ll be looking after everything; we’ll stay at your place to make it easier. Don’t worry. The kids will be excited about moving in to Gran’s place. A decent room each instead of the pokey rooms at our place. And of course, you don’t mind if Jan and I have your room. Jan can bring round our own linen and pillows and so on and we’ll store yours.’

‘Goodness, you’re pretty quick about it. When do you plan to move in?’

‘I haven’t told Jan about your fall yet. I’ve come straight from work to see you. Jan won’t be home for an hour or so yet. I think we’d better get there a.s.a.p. It’s a big house and you’ve lots of valuables there. Don’t want to leave it empty for long. Lots of burglaries around there you know.’

Marion felt a little uneasy without knowing why. She got along well enough with Jan and she loved James and Kate, though wasn’t blind to their faults, mainly due to spoiling. She liked a little distance when it came to family.

When Michael left, Marion felt close to sleep. Michael always had a tendency to rush into things, but she could rest easy, she decided. Michael had power of attorney over her affairs and she trusted him. He was her son, after all.

Michael drove straight from the hospital to his home in Glen Waverley. An average house amongst average houses in a suburban street, each with its driveway to the garage adjoining the house. Each with its stretch of lawn from path to house. Each with its motor-mower cutting on quiet Sunday mornings. Dreary, he thought. His spirits lifted when he thought of living in his mother’s spacious house in the tree-lined street in Armadale. Driving to work would be a pleasure compared with the drag from Glen Waverley bumper to bumper. Yes, the whole family was going to love living in Armadale. He couldn’t wait.

He parked his car in the driveway. The boring driveway, like the boring driveways all the way along the boring street. Inside was silence. The kids had been and gone. James meeting mates no doubt, and Kate visiting a girlfriend’s place. James’s canvas shoes were beside the living room chair where he’d probably been watching TV. He noticed Kate’s comb, with strands of hair, lying on the kitchen bar. Hair strands near food areas annoyed Michael.

He poured a glass of red wine and fell back in the chair, kicking James’s shoes out of the way. Well, things are going to be different from now on, he thought.

He jumped up when he heard Jan’s key in the lock. Putting the glass on the side table he rushed to the door.

‘Hi darling. I have some news.’

‘What? What?’

‘We’re going to move into Mum’s house.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Ah well, I should start at the beginning. Mum had a fall. A bad fall. And she’s in hospital with a broken hip, ribs, arm and goodness knows what else. She’ll be there for months - I mean including rehab. Anyway, we are moving into her place.’

You sound almost pleased about it - I mean about her fall.’

‘I don’t mean to be. But, well, you know, how often we’ve talked about eventually moving to Armadale. Getting out of this little box. I’ve told Mum we’ll move in and look after the place, pay the bills, and she was quite happy about it.’

‘Pour me a drink Michael. I feel like celebrating. Oh I shouldn’t say that should I? But I can’t help thinking that the place is yours by rights. I mean you will inherit the place so why should we have to wait. Hang on though. What about your mother? I don’t think I could stand having her live with us.’

‘Look, that’s what I’ve been thinking about. Mum should be downsizing anyway. Maybe a unit in a retirement village.’

‘She’d hate that. Always says so. You couldn’t make her do that.’

‘I have power of attorney over her affairs, don’t forget.’

‘But you couldn’t force her ... unless ...’

‘Unless. That’s right. Unless she was unable to cope on her own. That’s what I was thinking. Of course she’s bound to say she can get someone in to help. But I’m sure I can talk sense into her. Make her see that she’d be better in a smaller place.’

Michael was trying to convince himself, and Jan, that he was the caring son, wanting only the best for his mother. But it was a thin, false cover for his grasping greed to get possession of the family home.

‘And let’s not forget, that at her age, there’s the issue of dementia. Very persuasive as far as moving into a caring situation. I’ve noticed that Mum does forget things sometimes.’

Jan was quick to back up this impression. ‘Oh quite often. I noticed it too. You ask her about something she’s watched on television and she can’t remember the name of the main character. Why, last week when we had dinner with her she couldn’t think of the name of a sauce she made. Mmm. Perhaps you’re right about that.’

‘We’ll sort all that out later. Meantime, I propose we start packing. I’ll be selling this place of course.’

‘Hooray. Never liked living in this crummy area. Too far from everything. And it’s dead. No decent restaurants. I’ll drink to leaving it all behind.’

Michael went to the fridge and opened it.

‘Let’s have a fillet steak and salad as a celebration. Lucky I bought that steak from Ray on Monday. I’ll light the barbecue and you knock up a salad eh? The kids are out for dinner aren’t they?’

‘Both sleeping over actually.’ Jan drained her glass and poured another. ‘Oh boy. At last. I really thought we’d be here another ten years or more, your mother is so hearty. Not right that she would go on rattling around in that big house while we’re cramped in this dump.’

‘Ah come on, it’s not a dump darling. But granted it’s not up to our standard,’ he called from the deck as he lifted the lid on the barbecue. ‘Yeah - I’ll get a decent barbecue when we more. A Weber. They’re Portsea style.’

‘Get the biggest one Mike. They tend to be small. But I agree, they have style. Those enormous aluminum things are ostentatiously vulgar I think. Like the one the O’Brien’s down the road have.’

‘They would, wouldn’t they. I mean large and cheap looking. Not that they’re cheap for god’s sake. I saw one in Bunnings at two-and-a-half grand. We don’t belong in suburbia, that’s for sure.’

‘I feel we’ve left here already.’ Jan came out and threw a cloth over the timber table and set out two plates and knives and forks and the salad. ‘I’ll toss that when the steaks are done.’

It was a warm evening. The smell of steak and the taste of the tender cut sent their spirits high. This was the interlude to enjoy before the task of packing and leaving. Future glowing ahead.

‘We can move some of our stuff to Mum’s and settle in right away. Like, this week.’

‘This week! Michael, you must be joking.’

‘No. No. I mean get some basics moved to Armadale and sleep there. Take possession if you like. We can sort the rest out between then and the sale of our place.’

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David Levy

Beverley I'm trying to contact you since finding a copy of your magazine amongst my Aunt's belongings. David (Montague Levy!)


A nurse woke Marion indecently early.

‘Due for a little painkiller,’ she said briskly. ‘Sleep all right?’ she added and didn’t wait for a reply before jabbing Marion’s arm.

‘Doctor’s due around eleven to tell you what’s to be done. Probably an op tomorrow, which means, eat up breakfast and lunch because you’ll have to fast after that for the op. Not a big deal, so don’t fret about it.’ She smiled and left.

After breakfast Marion reached for her mobile phone and pressed in a number.

‘Hullo, Patti.’

‘Marion. I was about to ring you. Thought I’d pop over for coffee about eleven. Will you be there?’

‘Patti - guess where I am? Go on, guess.’

‘Not home? No. No I can’t guess. With a mobile phone you could be anywhere. Supermarket?’

‘No damn it. I’m in hospital.’

‘In hospital. What’s happened?’

‘I fell near the clothesline yesterday. Broke all sorts of bones, even my hip. Managed to drag myself inside and phoned Michael. And here I am.’

‘Oh Marion, what a bugger. Which hospital? I’ll come and see you.’

‘The Santé. Yes, do come. Don’t worry about visiting hours. Just come up to fourth floor, room sixteen.’

Marion lay back and thought about Patti, a friend of forty years. They’d been neighbors in Hampton for twenty of those years and had met at least once a week after Marion and Harold moved to Armadale. Their friendship meant even more to them after Harold died and Patti’s husband shortly after; they knew just about everything there was to know about each other. Patti, or Geoff (they never did find out which), couldn’t have children, so they had become like aunt and uncle to Michael.

Marion felt almost guilty about her good fortune in having a child, but at the same time she appreciated the affection her neighbors held for Michael. Lucky boy, she thought. And lucky me, to have a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.

Patti hadn’t had her body pushed out of shape with childbearing and still had a good figure. She’d had the spare cash for clothes and hairdressing and luxury holidays with Geoff. At seventy-seven she looked more like a woman of sixty. She had an accommodating nature which accepted Marion’s obsession with redecorating her home every few years, and redecorating herself with anything she regarded as pretty. Patti restrained herself when shopping with Marion, who snapped up a garment because it was a pretty color but unsuitable for her figure. Her wardrobe was stuffed with clothes she wore once or twice and never again, so that she filled charity bags regularly. Patti realized her friend was self-centered and possessive of her husband and son, but she responded to Marion’s lively warmth which contrasted to her own restraint. Patti might never admit it, but she felt a little self-righteous when she observed Marion’s display of selfishness. The further her friend would go in display of selfishness, the greater was the enjoyment of self-satisfaction in Patti.

And thus the friendship endured. Marion needed an audience for her display; Patti needed to judge that display.

Despite her injuries, Marion felt secure and optimistic. How good it was to have a loving son when things like this happen.

‘Well, you’re looking pretty good I must say,’ Patti said as she swept in, glistening in the tame ward with golden earrings and red lipstick, heels clicking. With her neat proportions, around five feet four, small hands and feet, she seemed to glide about, in close harmony with the earth. Her hair stayed in place without spray, a well-cut bob, blonde tips lifting the soft, hardly noticeable gray that was once as dark as her eyebrows were now. Her navy-blue eyes were clear and alert.

‘That’s a pretty nighty. Lucky you had it. I suppose you’re not allowed to wear pajamas in hospital.’

‘It’s one my dear old Auntie Molly gave me long ago. I hadn’t worn it, but luckily I kept it. Michael brought it in last night. Of course, I was in hospital garb at first, having come straight from the fall to emergency.’

‘Gee I suppose you’ll be laid up for a while.’

‘Depends on the hip business. Might be just fracture, so could be pins and things. Waiting on X-rays for that.’

‘I’ll come in most days. Nothing much to do, so it’ll be an outing for me. I’ll bring you one of those croissants from the French bakery now and then. How’s the food so far?’

‘Not bad. But of course, I miss my own kitchen, moving about and so on.’

‘Itching to get home and you’ve only been here a day.’

‘I know. I know. But you know how I love my home.’

‘I suppose Michael will keep an eye on it for you.’

‘Well, actually, he and Jan plan to move in and look after everything.’

‘Kids too, no doubt.’

‘Of course. He reckons they’ll be thrilled to have those big bedrooms; they really love the space when they stay with me now and then. And Michael and Jan will use my bedroom.’

‘Was this your idea or his?’

‘Michael’s. He said it right away when he brought me here.’

‘But what about when you go home again? Can’t imagine you and Jan working in the same kitchen. I mean, I like her well enough, but she’s ...’

‘I know, bossy and ambitious. Well naturally, they’ll go back to their place when I go home. I’ll manage. I might hobble for a while, but I’ll soon be right. You know me.’

‘I wouldn’t have any doubt about that. You can always get someone to come in and do things you can’t manage.’

‘Of course.’

The two friends gazed out of the hospital window at trees in the park in comfortable silence. They were both thinking about growing old and what might be in store.

Patti turned to her friend. ‘I can’t believe being old has arrived. I mean I don’t feel any different from when I was a teenager, facing life. And here I am looking back on it. Anyway, the one thing I have paid attention to is how I plan to spend the remaining years. And that is, stay in my home until the end, no matter what it costs.’

‘Yes. Yes. I agree. Same for me. I’ve set my affairs in order ... the will and that sort of thing. But with only one child that was pretty easy. When it came to choosing power of attorney, well, couldn’t go past my Michael. Who would I trust more than my own son? So I’m feeling content about seeing out my days at home. Of course, Michael mentions now and then that I might like to downsize as they say. No way, I tell him. I like my space. And I couldn’t bear selling my dear old home that has so many memories. Oh, he says, you needn’t sell, couldn’t think of anything dearer to me than moving back home. We could sell our place and use that money to pay for a unit in a retirement village. But I pounced on him right away. I’ve always told you how much I dislike those places, I said. Imagine moving into a tiny space shoulder to shoulder with elderly people.’

‘Not to mention the way the staff controls you. Practically lock you up.’

‘They do lock some of them up. But you know, eating my meals at a table of people I don’t know, and a lot of them incompetent, well, why should I do that?’

‘Thank goodness we’ve set ourselves up as we want to be while we’re still active.’ Patti sighed contentedly, smiled at Marion and stood up. ‘Must go m’dear. I’ll be in tomorrow. I guess they’ll let me see you even if you’re a bit woozy after the op. Good luck with that. Now anything I can bring you?’

‘No dear heart. Your company would be better than anything I could imagine. ‘Bye Patti.’

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X-rays showed that Marion had not broken her hip. It was fractured and would need pins. That would need full knockout and theatre, whence she was wheeled after early morning injections. She had strong bones, so with setting of arm and rib breaks, it was just a matter of time.

Feeling optimistic and secure, Marion lay back on the pillow and thought of Michael. He was a good son, she thought with satisfaction. Satisfaction at the way she’d brought him up. Thinking back to his childhood she saw him, sturdily walking up to her from the bottom of the garden with a handful of worms he’d dug up. She’d explained how worms were good for the soil, made little tunnels for the air and food to get through to the plants. He looked at the wriggling worms with wonder. She thought he might grow up to be a scientist. But his path turned instead to the making of money, and the pleasures to be had from having lots of it. He’d done moderately well as a stockbroker, at least well enough to buy a modest house and raise his family. Oh, she was aware he was restless, eager to have a better home, see his children married well. Perhaps it was that last phase in the working man’s life when he took a leap to a higher place.

And of course there was Jan. Marion liked her daughter-in-law reasonably well. Reasonably. She tried to push aside the things she didn’t like about her for one main reason: the marriage endured and that was something indeed, these days, with so many divorces. Michael clearly loved Jan and she loved him. She was … Marion struggled to say ‘good’ …a good mother to their two children - perhaps she was, and Marion refused to see it.

But she was aware of Jan’s dissatisfaction with their little home, lack of space. Living ‘way out’ in Glen Waverley. The way she walked about Marion’s home, picking up ornaments, peering at framed photographs, examining the curtain fabric - as though she was ready to rip it down and replace with her choice. She even mentions time passing and wonders why Marion wants such a big place to look after. Well I’m staying put, Marion would say to herself; don’t get ideas about shoving me out young lady. Why do offspring believe they have a right to their parents’ possessions? It’s not a right, it’s a decision of the parents. A gift if you like

By mid-week, Michael and Jan were having dinner at a five-star restaurant in the city. People might have regarded Jan as ‘the trophy wife’, good figure, soft brown hair with a kick at the end, high cheekbones, lively eyes, nice lips. She knew how to dress up her natural assets and spent a heap on clothes, splashy but stunning jewellery with the occasional genuine piece, designer handbags; steeple heels for occasions and stylish flats. And she was sexy. It wasn’t only the way she moved her hips when she walked; there was a certain glow that caught every man’s eye and the scorn of women, whose jealousy isolated her to a great extent. She didn’t have close women friends. She had Michael. They were of a kind. Co-ops, co-conspirators. Loyal in their aspirations.

Tonight she wore a long necklace of giant clear glass loops that swung from side to side across a simple black dress, low cut, peachy cleavage.

‘I’m having lobster, how about you darling?’ He raised his glass of champagne.

‘The same. Suits our future.’ She raised her glass of champagne. ‘And here’s to it.’

‘I’ll have a word with Jerry White about selling Glen Waverley. Reckon we’ll get around seven hundred grand for it. Not bad eh? when you consider what we paid. Even in Glen Waverley! Think what Mum’s - er our new home - is worth. A few million.’

‘With seven hundred grand, you’ll be able to set your mum up well enough and have a fair bit over wouldn’t you think?’

Michael drained his glass and gave the waiter a nod for a refill.

‘Haven’t had a chance to look into that yet. But I reckon max four hundred would do it. Anyway, first thing is - we’re going to have to get cracking on packing and selling our place. Auction maybe, or private sale. Meantime’ - he stretched his arm across the table and took her hand - ‘meantime, let’s enjoy our dinner.’

The waiter bent over his notepad, eyebrows and pen raised.

‘Let’s have a serve of that paté, we’ll share that. Then we’re both having the lobster, side salad, thanks.’

‘Now one thing I haven’t asked you is: how does your mother feel about all this?’

‘I haven’t mentioned the details yet of course. She’s only been in hospital a few days. But I told her we’d move in and she said, something like: oh well, it’ll be your home by rights when I go.’

‘But did you say anything about her moving into a retirement unit or something?’

‘Well ... not yet. Hardly had time. But she’ll see the sense of it. Why would she want us to wait ... she might last for years and the best of ours will have gone.’

‘If she doesn’t … doesn’t want to hand over to us, well, what will you do?’

‘Look, let’s face that when we meet it eh? She could be months in hospital and rehab and handicapped a bit after that, so she’ll be keen to be in caring hands.’

‘I don’t know Michael. I’m a bit uneasy. She could be difficult. I mean, I really think it’s selfish of her to keep that big house from us when we really need it. It’s virtually yours after all.’

‘Virtually? Well I suppose it is when you think about it. Dad certainly considered it mine, when the time came. It’s not as though I’m planning to just dump Mum. No. I’m going to set her up in comfort for her last phase. She’ll come round, wait and see. After all, she’d do anything for me.’

‘She’d die for you.’ Jan giggled. ‘Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean that.’

Marion could feel herself flying down from a great height in an airplane of open woodwork, like the models her brother made when they were children. She wanted to stay there, flying around a very high ceiling, a delightful feeling. Was she in heaven? Down, down, down. She landed softly and felt the cool sheets, half opened her eyes. All blurry, she closed them. Slowly she became aware of her body. How weary, so tired. Pain. Pain.

‘Mum. Mum? It’s me. Michael. How are you feeling? Not the best I’ll bet.’ He took her hand and squeezed it gently. Right that moment he felt guilty. Could he love her if he was planning to take over her home, take over her future? She’s so fragile, lying there. But he snapped back to reality: yes, she was fragile, she needed to be placed in care, he needed to look after the family home. Did she truly love him, he wondered? Maybe she’d loved his father more than she loved her son. After all, he’d spent many a time in his room, out of the way, while Marion had entertained her friends. Sent off to bed early. To be out of the way. Out of the way. Yes, he came second that’s for sure, he decided.

Of course, she’d sung his praises to all who’d listen: ‘my Mikey’, ‘my clever boy’. But were they more about her … her son, her production? He knew in his heart he was looking for reasons, justification for his actions. And he convinced himself.

Marion heard his voice coming from down a long tunnel. She forced her eyes open and saw him standing beside her. She squeezed his hand and smiled without parting her lips.

‘Yes, not the best. I want to go home.’

‘Just saying welcome back Mum. I won’t stay because you’ll need to sleep. I’ll come in first thing in the morning. The kids send their love. Uh, so does Jan of course.’ That sounded lame. Jan. Well, it seemed dishonest to over-do Jan. He tiptoed away as Marion drifted back to sleep.

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