By Anna Blue
I knock, but there’s no answer, so I let myself in.
Mum stands just to the left of the window with her back to me. All my life, Mum has stood in that position because she’s convinced that no one outside will be able to tell she’s watching them. I try not to sigh. “Morning.”
I can’t tell if she hasn’t heard me, or if she’s just too busy watching the removal van to bother replying. If I ever end up spending my days in a place like this, staring at the neighbors, I hope someone kills me. I put the shopping bags down on the table. “Ma!”
It’s hard to be louder, without sounding impatient. I am impatient. I’m literally in the room with her, and still less interesting than a van. Finally, she turns around. I feel bad straight away. Her face is always pale, but she has dark circles under her eyes. Her lipstick isn’t quite right, and her slip is showing under her skirt. She looks like every cliche of a vulnerable old woman, and for a minute I’m fooled.
“You made it then,” she says, and my sympathy evaporates.
“They didn’t have Hovis, so I bought the Tesco stuff.”
She turns back to the window. “Come and look at this. Bloody fool.”
I step nearer, though not as close as she wants. I don’t want whoever’s out there thinking I’m as batty as her. Two people unload boxes from the van. One is pretty hot. I guess you need muscles to do a job like that. My mum gives me a sharp poke in the ribs. Her elbows are so bony it’s like being prodded with a broomstick.
“Not them! Look at him!”
Obediently, I look. An elderly man is holding a tray of what looks like glasses of lemonade. He is standing still, as if he’s waiting for a polite moment to offer it.
“Bloody fool,” Mum says, again.
“I think it’s sweet,” I say.
Her mouth tightens. We watch as the removers stop what they were doing, smile at the old man, and each take a glass. They stand on the grass, chatting and sipping, and making grateful faces. I realize one of them is a woman, not much younger than me. Her legs are thick and brown under her shorts. Strong legs. She’s chatting to the old man and smiling. She smiles as if it’s easy.
“They’re thinking he’s daft,” Mum says sourly.
“It’ll be nice for you to have a new neighbor.”
“Do you think? A man who walks around waving his special homemade lemonade at everyone? Some people have no discretion.”
I don’t know if she means me. She’d got a bit shrill, like she is really upset.
“He looks lovely,” I say, as if that’s going to help.
“He’s not lovely.”
The removal woman puts her glass back on the tray and strides back to the van. The old man watches her fondly. “Maybe she’s his granddaughter,” I wonder aloud.
“She’s his daughter,” Mum snaps.
We stare at each other. I don’t know how to ask politely if she’s confused, if she’s mistaken him for someone else.
“Did you sleep last night?” I ask cautiously.
“How could I? Knowing that man was coming here?”
I look back at the man. Gray haired, slightly stooped. I don’t see anything to provoke such hatred, but that’s what Mum’s like.
I don’t know how long she’s been talking when I start listening again.
“Five years I wasted with him.”
I look at her, sitting there, lip trembling indignantly. The last time I’d seen that expression was when I had explained that she wasn’t coping and she had to come and live here.
“What? That man?”
I look at him again. He’s walking carefully back up the path. I try to imagine finding him attractive. “When he was young?”
I picture them at a coronation party together, waving flags, maybe drinking lemonade. Him wearing a cap, maybe pushing a bicycle.
She glowers at me. “No, Anna, not when he was bloody young! I would hardly recognize him now, if I’d met him seventy years ago, would I?”
I pull out a chair. “Do you want to tell me about it?”
“And it wasn’t just his lemonade he was waving at me, I can tell you.”
There is a knock at the door. Mum and I look at each other. Her eyes wide. “Pull your slip straight!” I whisper.
For once, she does as she is told. She stares at the door.
I heave myself up. “I’ll get it, shall I?”
“It’s him!” she hisses.
I roll my eyes at her and open the door. The old man is still holding his tray. The glasses rattle as his hands shake. “Moira?” he asks, peering round me.
“Don’t mind me.” I take the tray before it meets with an accident.
Mum steps towards him. “You’re a bloody fool, William Taylor.”
“I’m sorry. I really am, Moira.”
His voice is as shaky as his hands. I try not to look as they move towards each other. When he bends down to kiss her, I shut my eyes. But I can still hear. They are still at it, and I’m standing there with my eyes screwed tight; there’s another voice.
I open my eyes. It’s the girl from the removal van. She looks at them and then at me. I shrug.
We take the tray outside and sit on the grass. I drink the lemonade and she makes a daisy-chain, and then we watch the sun settle behind the houses. When Mum comes out to find us, her slip is showing again. I don’t say anything.