Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Memory (07/10/08)
TITLE: Visiting Time
By Stephen Paynter
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Two hearts entwined, with my and Jack’s name in the centre. Jack is my daydream boyfriend. He’s sitting across the classroom. He doesn’t know he’s my boyfriend. Not yet.
The voice is more persistent. I look up, and see a young woman. I’m shocked; her dress is at least an inch above her knees.
`Slut!’ I say.
`Now, now, Enid. I’ve brought you your afternoon tea.’
She puts a plastic beaker capped with a baby’s non-spill lid on the little table beside me.
The shaky hand from my lap moves unsteadily to the beaker. The tremor sets up mini-tidal waves. I throw it. It rolls off the table onto the floor. It was tepid. It’s always tepid.
`Oh dear, had an accident have we? Never-mind.’
`She did that on purpose. I saw her. She did it on purpose. She’s always doing it on purpose.’
I look around in surprise at the voice. There’s a poor old biddy sitting in a chair beside me. Indeed, there are poor old dears sitting all round the edge of the room. What is a young girl like me doing in a room full of old ladies? I should be in school.
`Oh look Enid, you have visitors. It’s your daughter, and she has someone with her.’
There is a care-worn middle-aged woman approaching, smiling at me. She thinks she knows me, but I’ve never seen her before.
`Hello, Mum, how are you doing?’
I turn my face away. Perhaps the stranger will depart.
`Mum … do you know who I am today?’
`No Ellen, I’ve no idea who you are.’ Even I smile at that. Where did that name come from?’
`Look who I’ve brought with me today, Mum. It’s Sally. My eldest. Your grand-daughter.’
I stare at the girl. She’s me. Why has she got my face?
`Aren’t you going to say something? It’s Sally’s fifteenth birthday today. She said she wanted to come and spend some of it visiting you.’
The pretty girl with my face takes my trembling hand, and leans over and kisses me on the cheek.
I remember when Jack first kissed my cheek. And my mouth. It was behind the bike-sheds at school.
`Grandmother, would you like it if I read to you?’
She reads something about a shepherd and lying down in a pasture.
Jack and I lay down in a pasture once. We must have been not much more than newly weds. He was always so gentle.
I smile fondly at the memory.
The reading has stopped.
`Mum, Sally is going to be baptised on Sunday.’
`Is she chapel? It is important to be chapel not church. Is she chapel?’
`Yes grandmother. We all worship at a Baptist Church.’
`Sorry, Chapel. A Baptist Chapel.’
I nod, comforted. It is important, but I don’t know why.
I don’t know much. I don’t understand. Who are these people talking to me? Why has that girl got my face? Has she stolen it?
`Visiting time is almost over. It is time for their meal soon.’ The slut is back.
The girl and the middle-aged woman stand. The girl leans over and kisses me.
`Remember, Jesus loves you,’ she whispers.
`I know my redeemer lives.’ More words that just pop out.
Whose hands are those? And why are they shaking?
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