Unfinished Business

Once more around the yard she went. Once more searching every nook and cranny between the big brown cobbles worn by the constant passage of her family’s feet over them. In between the big half barrel planters she looked and amongst the flowers that grew there. Over the crumbling red brick wall, next doors washing flapped in the breeze whilst hers lay piled on the bathroom floor – untouched and purposefully forgotten. She knew what was in there and it was best left where it was…for now.

Over in the corner by the coal bunker, where the sun created a pleasant sun trap on better days than this, sat a bench plain and simple in its lines.  The three of them used to sit there in summer, soaking up the warmth pretending they were the only ones on a tropical beach in some far flung corner of the local travel agents brochure.

Except today there was no sun.  Only grey clouds and a gusty wind that delighted in tearing them apart before putting them back together again badly.

Some things cannot be repaired…

A few spots of rain fell.  The cold touch of them landed on her wasted forearms.  She looked up and breathed what was meant to be a cleansing sigh.  That sigh became a hastily swallowed sob, more painful than any angina or child birth pain she had ever experienced in all her fifty three years.   Her knees trembled as she pulled the bench away from the wall.   Maybe it had fallen underneath or had gotten trapped behind one of its thick wooden legs?

Curse him!   I want him out of my head…

Underneath it she found weeds that had pushed their blanched roots upwards only to find their way to sunlight barred.  In the depressions left by the bench’s feet beetles and woodlice scuttled away from her just like the neighbours had ever since the bomb shell had dropped out of nowhere.  She ignored them and fell to her knees scouring every inch of the ground and the wall roundabout.

It must be here somewhere…

But it wasn’t.  And her daughter Amy was due home from school any time now.  She had so desperately wanted this sorted before she got here.  She wanted to be composed so that she didn’t have to put her through any more pain.  The poor girl had been through enough already.  They all had.  At this thought guilt pierced her.  What they had been through was nothing in comparison to what her niece had suffered.

Images flashed through her head.  Horrendous ones.  Ones that made her sick to her stomach.

“Why?” she roared, standing up suddenly.  “Why?”

Why had she trusted him?  Why had any of them?

In a flash of manic rage she gripped the bench in scrawny hands and overturned it splitting the well-worn back rest on the cobbles.  Bile erupted in her throat.  Her meagre breakfast of a double vodka and toast soon followed suit, where it joined the splinters and dislodged screws that rolled in mindless circles on the ground.

“Mrs Chisholm?” a voice inquired politely.

At the bottom of the yard the postman peered cautiously around the door.

“Don’t call me that,” she muttered wiping her mouth.  She looked down at the carnage that she had wrought in shame.

His thin fingers tapped the edge of the door as though he was thinking about leaving.  Yet he didn’t.

“Well, Clare then,” he said looking down at one of the letters in his hand for inspiration.  “I have some letters for you and the er…family.”

“Just put them over there,” she told him, pointing to the windowsill nearest the backdoor.

He’d seen the news that morning and he wanted to say something useful.  As he crossed the yard he almost spoke a couple of times but none of the words he had rehearsed seemed good enough.  In spite of the media frenzy this was obviously a very private matter and he was still a stranger really.  Yes, he’d delivered letters and parcels to the Chisholm family for fourteen years but that did not make him a friend.  It was not his place to speak up about her problems.  She must surely have her own friends who were supporting her, he told himself.  He set the letters down and glanced through the dirty window.

“Clare?”

“Yes?” she said without looking up.

“I’m assuming this is yours.”

He came and crouched beside her holding up a gold wedding band that winked in the light as he turned it this way and that.

“I found it on the windowsill.”

She looked up and nodded.  He was a thoughtful man.  She offered him a fractured smile for his efforts.

“This must be very difficult,” he said simply.

She pursed her lips and looked away as tears trickled scalding alleys down her face and neck.

Damn.  That was the wrong thing to say.

He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder in apology.

“If there’s anything I can do, you’ll let me know, won’t you?”

His kindness was crushing.  She covered her mottled face with both hands so that she could crawl inside her cave of darkness and weep till she turned to dust.  Lost for words the postman set the ring down beside her and made to leave, thinking it was what she wanted.

As he reached the gate she called out.

“Wait.”

His hand fell from the unopened latch.

“You’re wondering how it got there…,” she said.  “The ring I mean.”

She dragged the tissue across her swollen eyes.  Something in them goaded him on.

“I can guess.”

“Well I did it.  I threw it out here.  When I found out what he’d done, I chucked it out here with every ounce of strength I had like the piece of filthy rubbish that it is.  Stupid I know.  But I couldn’t help it.  The thought that he might have been wearing his wedding band when he did what he did was too much.  I couldn’t bear it.  Then as the trial approached I regretted it.  I realised that I needed some sort of closure and I couldn’t do it with his ring still floating about in the back yard somewhere.  I had to find it so that I could shut him out properly.”

“But now you have.”

“Yes,” she said slowly.  “Now I have.  But I still have unfinished business.  Will you help me?”

“You mean you want to send it to him?”

“Yes.”

“Sure.”

Once inside the kitchen he stood and blinked for a few seconds trying to take in what he saw.  It was definitely worse now that he was standing on the inside.  Half eaten food, empty bottles, cans and plates lay everywhere – on every available sticky, cola stained surface.  Cigarette stubs and mouldy bread crusts floated in a bowl of greasy water over in the sink.  He tried to resist wrinkling his nose.  The smell was unapologetically rank.  This woman had been running on empty for a while, he thought to himself.

He guessed the half eaten meals had probably been consumed by her teenage daughter Amy who used to wait on the door step for him to deliver letters from her pen pal in Canada back when she was in second year.  Clare herself didn’t look as though she ate anything to speak of.  And who could blame her?  The table in front of them was littered with newspapers.  Most of the headlines were about Mr Chisholm.  Some were lying open, some were not.  It was enough to ruin anyone’s appetite.

‘MASSIVE PROTESTS AS LOCAL MAN IS JAILED FOR SIXTEEN YEARS FOR ABUSING HIS BLIND NIECE.’

Clare looked up and noticed him reading the disturbing headline.

“It’s a pity they don’t lock people like him up and throw away the key like they used to do isn’t it?  But life isn’t what it used to be,” she said in a disconnected voice.

George the postman simply nodded.

“This will do,” she said holding up one of the front pages.  “When he gets this he will know…”

She took the gold ring and carefully folded it again and again inside the front page then stuffed it into a waiting envelope.  It bulged so much that the gum had trouble sticking but she didn’t care.  Now that she had George she knew that it would get there no matter what.  It was his job.

“Here, take this to him and tell him that this is THE END.  In my mind, he’s the man who never was.  There’s no room for him in my head anymore.”

From within her clenched fist the letter dropped – all rumpled, damp and dishevelled.  It was too important to be put with all the others.  So he put it inside his jacket until the time came to honour her trust.

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