A child of the family.

Evie had woken early that day. Relaxing in the warmth of her bed and enjoying the sun streaming through her bedroom window she lay smiling. As soon as she moved she knew that her aches and pains would start clamouring for her attention but she had no need to do anything just yet.

Evie had been widowed for an incredible fourteen years now. She still missed her Ron, sometimes the longing for his presence, for one more bear hug, ate her soul. Lying alone this morning though, instead of automatically turning to the empty bed beside her, she purposefully counted her blessings.

Ron seemed very close to her today and she felt that if she turned her head she would see him smiling at her, asking where was his morning cup of tea? This feeling was so strong that she felt the crushing disappointment of the empty pillow would be unbearable so she purposefully looked straight ahead.

”Give over, darling” she spoke out loud to her absent husband. “I’m eighty two years old. If I can’t enjoy a lie in at my age, when can I?’

In spite of this Evie sighed and started the slow job of getting up, washed and dressed for the day. Carefully making her way down the stairs she thought again about how easy a bungalow would be. Her children tried frequently to persuade her to move to somewhere more sensible, but this was her home. She had moved there as a young wife, raised her children to become fine people and of course her Ron had shared her life here too. He had died in the bed she slept in still; she had woken one morning to find him cold and still, a puzzled look on his face.

Her family expected her to get rid of the bed at least, but Evie found it a comfort, she felt a strange intimacy sleeping there even now. As for the house, every room, every surface, every corner held memories for her, from the cracked tiles in the bathroom to the pretty fanlight above the front door.

“After all” she thought. “I must be running out of time to enjoy this place now, why would I want to go somewhere else at my age?”

Moving about her kitchen she made herself a breakfast of tea and toast. Once she had eaten and washed her solitary cup, saucer and tea plate, after tidying away the crockery, the butter the marmalade and the milk jug, Evie suddenly burst into tears. She was completely unprepared for the wave of grief which swept over her.

“Oh Ron” she sobbed, “why did you leave me all alone?”

She felt his comforting presence, smelled the smoke from the cigar with which he treated himself at Christmas and on his birthday.

“I never left you Love” she thought she heard him say. “Buck up, you have friends and family who love you and we will be together again; it won’t be long now.”

A light kiss on the top of her head startled Evie and she stopped crying. She looked around but of course there was nobody there. After washing her face at the kitchen sink, she repaired her makeup and put on the kettle to make a flask of tea. Evie was going out on a bus trip to the coast, her friends Mary and Dot would be picking her up shortly, all of them travelling together. The coach would take a beautiful route including breathtaking views from a road following a heavily incised cliff top. After stopping at a viewing area for people to take photographs, the coach would take them down into a small sandy town where they could buy fish and chips, candy rock, postcards and plastic mementos, either for themselves or for their families and friends.

Evie had been looking forward to this outing but felt a sudden doubt about going. Ron’s presence had felt so strong just now she felt afraid to leave the house, afraid that she would miss him if he came back to their home. Even as she considered this, her friends knocked at the door.

Feeling foolish Evie told her friends that she was calling off her trip, said she felt a bit unwell. That this was at least half true did not lessen her feelings of guilt at the obvious disappointment on the faces of Dot and Mary. She assured them that they must absolutely go without her, and bring her back a ‘kiss-me-quick’ hat or something equally cheerful and tacky. The more they twittered around her, the more firm her resolve became. She would be fine, she insisted, probably just needed to take things easy for today and they would all meet up for tea at Mary’s house in two day’s time.

Closing the door behind them, Evie sat back down at her kitchen table. She really did feel a relief at not going with them though had no idea why. She spent the day pottering around her house and garden, having a snooze after lunch and then picking up a book to read. It really was a lovely way to spend the day, she thought.

Just as she opened her book the telephone started to ring. At the same time somebody rang her doorbell and also hammered on the door with their fists. Unsure of which to answer first, Evie put down her book, her neighbour was now knocking on her window, peering through and shouting, “Evelyn; Evie, are you home?”

Waving to her neighbour she went to pick up the phone.

“Mum, you’re there, you’re ok”

She heard her daughter burst into tears then shout to someone in the background, “She’s at home, Mum’s at home, she isn’t on the bus.”

“Penny what’s up with everybody, what’s going on?” Evie asked bewildered. “Half the street is banging on my door and you ring me then sound surprised when I answer the phone. Who did you expect to pick it up, the queen?”

On the other end of the phone Penny pulled herself together. “Mum” she said, then crying again, “Oh mum, you’re okay, you really are.”

Evie went to the window to show the phone in her hand to her neighbour who was still trying to get her to come to the door, then went and sat back down.

“Come on now Penny, tell me what’s up, eh? You’re beginning to worry me here.”

Eventually her daughter calmed down enough to explain that the bus on which Evie had intended to travel had crashed through a cliff top barrier and plunged down onto the rocks below. It was believed that nobody had survived the fall and recovery of the bodies was being hampered by an incoming tide.

A wave of dizziness overcame her, had she not already been sitting she would have fallen. Her hand holding the phone fell into her lap and her head was spinning as she heard the tinny chattering from the phone, followed by the end of call signal.

She did not hear her daughter say that she was coming around to pick her up.

“No survivors “ she whispered. “It can’t be true.”

The implications filtered through the numbness and even as tears trickled unnoticed down her cheeks, tears for Dot, for Mary, for everyone who had lost their lives, the one sickening thought played over and again in her mind.

“I should have been with them. I should have been there.”

Penny arrived and let herself in, telling Evie’s neighbours that it was okay, her mum was fine but she had just had an awful shock and she, Penny, was taking her mum to stay with her for a while, Evie was still sitting trembling on the couch, the phone fallen onto the cushion beside her.

“It’s okay Mum” Penny said, wrapping a fleecy blanket around her mother. “We’re going to have a cup of tea and a biscuit and then you’re coming home with me. You’ve had horrible news and I can’t tell you how bad I feel for you, but I’m bloody glad you are still with us.”

2:

Evie stayed with Penny and her family for five days. The first day there she stayed in bed being treated like an invalid. When she got up and packed her things away ready to go back home, Penny would not hear of it.

“It’s too soon” she told her mother, “You need a little longer. It isn’t as though we see too much of you and Peter and I love having you here. We’ve talked it over and decided it would be better for you to wait until after the ceremony.”

By this Penny meant the requiem mass which was going to be held in the town for the lost inhabitants.

Evelyn agreed to this but tried to insist that she would go home immediately after the service, before being persuaded into staying for that night as well.

“After that we won’t stop you” Penny told her, “but don’t you dare try disappearing off the radar once you’re back home. We know what you are like and appreciate that you don’t like to ‘be a burden’ as you put it”. Here Penny rolled her eyes, “Just remember we nearly lost you and hate the thought of you all alone there without even your two friends popping by.”

“Besides,” she added, smiling, “don’t forget your first great grandchild will be here soon and looking forward to meeting you.”

“Your first grandchild” Evie grinned. “You won’t know what hit you. It turns your life upside down almost as much as your first child, in the nicest way, of course.”

Mother and daughter sat and chatted over the ever present cup of tea. Penny tried not to look as though she was trying to distract her mum from what had happened although of course this was the case. She was really concerned about Evie but as her husband Peter reassured her later that day, his mother-in-law was tougher than she looked; she had to be to deal with everything her life had thrown at her.

“I know you mean well Pen,” he told her, “but like it or not she is going to get through this in her own way. That doesn’t mean that you should let her think you aren’t there to help; just don’t take over. She won’t thank you for it.”

Finally back in her own home a week later, Evie walked around touching everything as though to fix it in her memory. The service had left her with a feeling of unreality, she felt even more strongly that she should have been on the bus with her friends, though she tried to push the thought away.

This coming week her grandchild Ella was going to the hospital to have her baby induced, both she and her daughter felt uneasy about this although Ella herself had said brightly that everything was fine. She had dark shadows under her eyes though and Evie thought that she was hiding her worry, unable to speak her fears in case she called them into existence.

These fears were well founded. Although the pregnancy had gone well up until now Ella’s baby struggled to be born and the doctors had to do an emergency caesarean to bring her into the world.

It was now Evie’s turn to comfort her daughter. The new child was sickly and barely responsive, soon slipping into a coma. The doctors were unable to say what the problem was but had gently told the child’s parents that they should make the most of their time with her, as baby Evelyn was not expected to survive. The child’s parents, grandparents and great grandmother all spent their time in a daze of unhappiness, trying to support each other from day to day as baby Evelyn struggled on, unresponsive but not quite ready to leave.

After five days of this, Evie went home and raged at God for letting the child suffer in such a way. It was not right that an old lady like herself should be spared for however long, actually cheating death, whilst the innocent baby was going to be taken.

When she fell asleep that night, she dreamed that Ron was there. She dreamed of him far too rarely, usually the dreams would comfort her in bad times but this time he spoke to her sadly.

“You were an accountant” he told her. “You know how it works, you have to balance the books.” He walked away from her seemingly disappointed, speaking over his shoulder.

“I miss you too Evie, I was looking forward to holding you again. Checks and balances.”

Evie woke up crying, but knew what to do. Washing herself, dressing and putting on just a spritz of perfume, she called a taxi and explained where she wanted to go and why.

The driver who picked her up was sympathetic, like everybody local he knew about Evie. He understood that while it would seem she should be happy, she was bound to want to say goodbye to her long term friends. Privately determining that he would not charge her – she looked too much like his granny, he ended up accepting a very much reduced fare in advance.

He was happy to stop and wait while she bought a wreath of flowers from a florist and helped her back into the car.

At the site of the crash they were unable to park as it was too dangerous, but the view point where she had expected to take photographs was just a little further, they could stop there her driver explained. He had brought a folding camp chair so that she could sit in privacy for a while, after which he would help her to either lay the flowers for her friends or to throw them over the wall built to keep sightseers safe.

Evie thanked him for his kindness as he helped her into the chair then thoughtfully retreated into his car.

Evie sat for a while then said, “Come on then, I can’t do this alone” and smiled as Ron stood a few feet in front of her.

“Look at this Love” he told her, “it’s the red carpet treatment for you.”

He looked so young, and as impossibly handsome as he had been when he first started courting her. Evie rose to her feet and stepped onto the red carpet.

“You won’t need that” Ron laughed, pointing at her walking cane. Laughing back she realised that she was as young again as her husband and throwing away the cane she ran to his arms.

The taxi driver would later tell the police that he had no idea how this elderly woman had managed to climb the barrier. He had looked up and ran from his car to try and stop her but she just stepped forward and disappeared over the edge. A couple of hikers confirmed this they had seen it too, and eventually the unfortunate driver was taken to the nearest hospital where he was treated for shock.

The doctor who came to talk to him before discharging him explained that it was not unusual for survivors of such a tragedy to feel such an overwhelming guilt at not dying alongside of their fellow passengers, that this kind of thing was all too common. He prescribed anti anxiety medication, told him that yes, it was a puzzle how the old lady had managed to throw herself over the cliff, but that people were very determined in such cases and he must not blame himself. He was given leaflets and the number for a telephone helpline if he found himself struggling.

In another part of the hospital where he was being treated, a paediatric nurse, smiling from ear to ear, came and woke up Ella where she was half sleeping and crying at the same time.

“Do you want to come and hold your baby?” she asked her.

As Ella, her eyes red from weeping looked numbly up at the nurse she was told,

“Baby Evelyn is awake and wants her mum.”

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