By Anne Goodwin
Liesel stamped her boots on the frosty tarmac. I pressed the doorbell and flashed her a reassuring smile. “It might be kind of weird. She didn’t even recognize me last time.”
“I’ll take her as I find her. Don’t worry about it, Steve.”
The door swung open, blasting us with tropical air. We whipped off hats and scarves and gloves as we followed the receptionist’s directions to the dining room.
The walls were hung with nineteenth-century street-scenes in nostalgic sepia. The air was whiffy with stewed brussels sprouts. Several tables dotted the room, but only one was occupied. Over by the patio doors out to the courtyard garden, Mum was playing dominoes with one of the care assistants.
His tunic was overdue an ironing. Mum appeared groomed in comparison, decked out as if for the office in a navy tailored skirt-suit over a silky white blouse. Her silvery hair was arranged in a loose bun and two spots of rouge brightened her cheeks. She tapped her tile on the table-top with a show of imperial triumph. As the care worker beckoned us over, Mum stayed intent on the game.
Up close, the fault-lines were more in evidence. Stiff white hairs sprouted from her chin and a splodge of dried-out breakfast cereal graced her lapel like a brooch. The dominoes were scattered pell-mell on the table: a three and a one abutting a double-six would never have passed muster in the game she’d taught me.
“Hi, Mum,” I said. “How’s it going?”
Mum leant across and scrambled the dominoes.
“Shall I leave you to it?” The care-worker was already sloping off towards the door.
“I’ve brought someone to meet you, Mum,” I said. “This is Liesel, my …”
“I know who she is, young man,” said Mum. “I’m not gaga!” She indicated the chair next to hers. “Sit down, Darling, I’m dying to hear your news!”
Liesel took a seat. Out in the garden, a robin nibbled at a fat-ball suspended from a bare branch. I hung my parka on the back of a chair and made to sit down.
“How dare you?” Mum snarled. “Can’t you make yourself useful and bring us some tea?”
Liesel set down the double-six in the centre of the table. Turning to me, she winked: “Tea would be lovely, thank you, waiter. No milk or sugar for me.”