A lifetime crashed past him as he opened the door, each memory an enraged commuter in rush hour traffic. Escape was on his mind but his luck was out. The door closed behind him.
Once inside he was surprised to feel so at home. The old place seemed larger to him now. Then he realised she’d knocked through the dividing wall. New wallpaper cleverly concealed any wounds that the demolition must have exposed.
His boyhood nursery was gone. She’d probably mentioned it in one of the unopened letters piled up in his locked study drawer that collected dust and animosity over the years. They were unanswered echoes.
He stepped tentatively toward the bed. Even in this furnace of a room he felt cold and clammy. The sharp outline of her face and her striking features had melted into a Picasso in his mind over the two decades since he had last seen her. He was worried that he may not recognise his own mother.
Charles had two teenage sons of his own and a wonderful wife. Yet here in the presence of this frail woman who was rapidly spiriting away he felt abandoned.
“Hey dad, okay for me and Mike to grab a bite?” His youngest son called through the door. Craig was essentially a good kid, nearly thirteen and already taking a ride on the hormonal-coaster that is teenage life. Earlier that day he'd come downstairs wearing a tee shirt that read “CHOOSE DEATH” which he thought ironic, but his dad found tasteless under the circumstances. Now he wore one with the slogan “My Other T-shirt’s A Strait Jacket.” emblazoned across the chest.
“I’ll take your silence as a no.” Charles turned to the door ready to apologise to his son but the fading footsteps told him it was futile.
He recalled the last time he’d walked away down that beech-floored hallway outside his mother’s bedroom. His footsteps had faded into the decades, echoed across the years. Family disputes can fester for a generation like an open wound and amputation of pride is sometimes the only answer. Now he found himself standing at the foot of her bed about to do just that.
Then he noticed something in the corner of his eye. Somebody sat in the shadows in the far reaches of the room. He tried to place him. Doctor Alexander wasn’t due to arrive until eleven so it couldn’t be him. Besides this was a small person, a young boy perhaps.
“Excuse me,” he spoke softly. The room was silent save for the beeps and hums of the surgical machinery. There were so many wires and tubes stuck into his mother that she resembled an archaic cow, her life slowly milked away. “Who are you?”
The boy’s head bowed toward the floor. Charles began to walk across the room toward the corner hoping to gain a better sight of the lad. He remained seated and stoic, a youthful sentry half hidden in the shadows guarding the dying woman.
One of the machines discharged a sharp warning. Charles stopped. His mother opened her eyes. A tiny explosion detonated inside his chest. His heart pounded so hard he was sure it must audible in the room and loud enough to shake dust from the coving that ran around three quarters of the ceiling.
He dare not look into those eyes. The job that lay ahead filled him with too much terror to allow that. This thing of duty, from a loving son to his dying mother, was hypocrisy, yet he had to execute that obligation. Until then he wished to remain invisible to her.
The machine clicked and the sound abated. His mother closed her cloudy grey eyes and slept again. Charles let out a sigh weighted equally with relief and shame. Then he remembered the boy in the chair. He was gone. Well almost, he seemed to be more of the shadows than of child now. Outside a car door slammed.
He looked at his watch, five off eleven. Dr. Alexander had arrived and the clock ticked ever closer. Suddenly he felt exhausted. His legs threatened to give way beneath him. He sat on the edge of the bed as he had done so often as a child, long before the trouble. He found his mother’s hand in his. There were no apologies. This was not a time of forgiveness, just a time to forget. It all seemed so pointless now, half remembered disagreements that grew like weeds in the cracks and flowered into hatred over the years.
The machines clicked and hummed.
“Charles, good to see you here again,” the doctor had appeared like an apparition “So, are we in agreement?”
Charles gazed up at him, almost lost. This elderly doctor he had known all his life, had brought him into the world, seemed so alien to him now. He stood from the bed and nodded. Nothing more needed, a son’s duty done.
He witnessed a smile pass across his mother’s face; faint but there nonetheless. Then she was gone. The room fell silent, the machines shut down. The doctor stepped from the room lending a comforting hand upon his shoulder as he passed.He placed the daily newspapers on the silk spread. They would remain as unread as her letters. He noticed white lilies on the side cabinet, her favourite. He was shocked to discover his mother had so many cards from well-wishers too.
A tear formed but never fell. He took his mother’s hand for the final time and kissed it. A screech from the shadows broke the silence as the chair legs scraped along the floorboards and fell with a crash. The boy walked toward the space where the wall had once been and where the coving ended. He stopped, still halfway in the darkness but no longer disguised, and turned toward the dead woman. His face seemed so familiar to Charles, a face from the past. He turned an invisible handle and stepped into the long gone nursery, fading as he did so.
Charles froze. He realised that he knew that boy, had known him all his life. He went downstairs and held his two sons tightly to him, still the tears hung in his eyes. As drove away he looked in the rear-view and knew he'd said goodbye to much more than just his mother in that room upstairs, in the house he had once called home.
BIO: Anthony Cowin writes horror, dark tales and eclectic poetry. He's had work published in print anthologies, magazines and several ezines. He's currently working on his début novel with the working title, 'The Futurist. Follow his progress, find unique content and keep updated here at: http://anthonycowin.blogspot.com/