Hark the Herald Angels Trumpet.
Eric had been ill and for most of the year, he had languished in the great oak bed he had shared with Olivia. Sometimes he had been so immovable, it had been impossible to change the bedding.
‘Eric,’ she had said ‘please get up, you need to take your pills.’
‘In a minute.’
An hour would pass and returning to the bedroom with cornflakes soaked in milk, a cup of tea and his pill box, she would find him in a heap under the covers, the curtains drawn, still snoring, bearlike in appearance.
‘Come on sleepy head, stir your stumps, breakfast is served.’ she said pulling the midnight blue blinds apart. In the air dust danced and the cobwebs draped the corners in garish garlands.
‘What time is it?’ he would say, and always, after he had finished his food, he would disappear under duvet to sleep some more.
It was mid-November now and at last Eric was emerging from his malady enforced hibernation. Maybe the last-rays-of-summer short trip to Redcar, prompted by Olivia’s gentle persuasion, had helped. Maybe it had been the constant caress of water, from the sponge Olivia had used to bathe him with, across his skin. Or, just maybe, it had been a medicine that no physician is able to prescribe. Whatever it was, she didn’t care. To find him in the sitting room, when she came down the stairs each morning, was what really mattered.
‘Right Eric, I’m away to Morrisons.’
‘No talking to strangers.’ He teased, rolling the Rizla paper with both hands.
She watched his tongue lick the gummed edged and felt last night’s sensuality return to the nape of her neck. It was a sensation she had not felt for so long and afterwards she had run round the room with his underpants on her head.
‘Get back into bed you daft bugger.’ he had said and they had lain there laughing, spooning, skin on skin.
The walk to the supermarket wasn’t far but as she approached, Olivia felt the familiar fire in her hips slow her step.
‘Take a taxi.’ Eric had said, but as always the need to save money had been the driving force behind her determination to keep walking. Besides, Olivia was resolute that today would be more than just a trip to town for mundane needs. Today would be a clean sheet for both of them.
She knew the aisles well and soon, the olives, pancetta and goat cheese-the foods that Eric enjoyed most at supper time, but were reserved for celebrations-were bleeping through the checkout.
She rolled the trolley through the revolving door and a blast of cold beat her backwards into the store. This, combined with prospect of the journey home laden like a donkey, proved too much for Olivia. She tried to summon up the strength up to venture outside but the telephone by the cigarette kiosk proved too tempting.
‘Damn Cameron and his clowns.’ she muttered, just before the cab call desk answered.
‘Hey, I’m home.’ she called to Eric from the kitchen.
‘Oh, good what’s for supper?’
Smiling, Olivia still in her coat, continued to unpack the groceries and said, ‘If its. If it’s in the fridge, that’s what you’ll be having.’
Her head appeared round the sitting door to find Eric with a wry grin on his face, rolling a cigarette.
‘Going to make a cup of tea then?’ he said, motioning to his Ikea coffee can, the cold contents inside filming over.
She mirrored his smile, dumped two carrier bags on the sofa and disappeared back into the kitchen. With a satisfying squeeze of the handle, the new gas lighter chirruped like a cricket, ignited the flames on the cooker’s ring and Olivia set to work.
Into the bin clunked the tired tea, coffee and sugar caddies to be replaced with a sleek black, silver-monogramed set. Out from another carrier bag she pulled matching tall, elegant, porcelain, long- stemmed poppy design cups, to be followed by the matching tea tray. From the table she lifted the shining, still cellophane wrapped teaspoons and selected one from the packaging. The rest she spread out in a row on the knife gouged bread board. She stood for a moment, admiring her handy work and then laid the tea tray. It cost so little but now, it carried far more than tea and biscuits when she set it down on the coffee table in front of Eric.
‘There you go.’ she said running her hand through his thinning salt and pepper hair. The chemotherapy had been cruel but had spared his ducktail curls.
‘Is that roses I see over there?’ he said pointing at a corner of a something square peeking out of a bag on the sofa.’
Olivia remembered the roses he had bought her from Morrisions years ago and said, ‘No Eric, these are chrysanthemums. Did you know that they are a member of the daisy family? The Victorians regarded them as a symbol of love.’
‘Hmmm.’ he said before noticing the new cups.
‘Where did these come from?’
‘Let’s just say that a secret Santa has come early.’
Until now, Olivia had not wanted to dip into the meagre nest-egg her father had left her at the beginning of the year.
‘Because Eric, I’m sick of seeing decay all around me. Sometimes you have to live a little.’
Draining the dregs of her lipstick edged cup, she picked up the remaining bags, went upstairs, threw open the windows of the bedroom and stripped the sweat stained sheets from the mattress. She wished she could strike a match to the bundle on the floor and watch the flames kill the cancer that had come between them. But this was the bedding he had bought the day before she had first crossed his threshold. This was the bedding she had lain under alone that first night, whilst he had slept on the sofa. And this was the bedding, under which, he had made her his.
Downstairs, she found him pottering in the kitchen.
‘What the..?’ he said with his hand on a black canister.
‘Don’t you like them?’
‘Well, yes. But where are the other ones?’
‘I’ve thrown them out. Sometimes you have to let go of the past.’
‘Well, don’t go throwing the cups out.’
Olivia knew which ones Eric meant. He had purchased them on holiday with his daughter. Since then, half a decade had elapsed. It was also the last time he saw his grandchildren.
The rest of the evening passed with small talk, recalling moments that they had shared and supper served tapas-style on the poppy tray. Olivia did not mention the blonde hair strand she had found stuck to her sleeve when she had changed the sheets. Whilst she had thought it odd, she thought it could have come from the head of one of the students. It might have come from a previous occupant of the hotel room she had spent the night in two days ago. It might have even come from one of Eric’s carers. What she was sure of was that, with his arms around her, the nine weeks and three hundred miles apart had brought the man he used to be back to her.
At bedtime, Olivia went to the bathroom to clean her teeth, remove her make-up and joined Eric in the bedroom. He was standing by the lamp table in his socks, T-shirt and underpants.
‘That’s nice, is it new?’ he said, his eyes travelling along her sleek shape outlined by the floral silk shift she wore.
‘Of course it’s new, you don’t expect to me turn in looking like a tramp do you?’
‘No, I guess not.’
He turned his gaze from her figure to the bed and for a moment he stood blinking in the half light at the black sequins embroidered into the duvet. An overgrown eyebrow raised and turned his face to hers.
‘Hang on a minute. What’s this? Is this new and all?’
‘What, do you think Eric?’
‘I don’t know. What are you like?’ he answered, smiling at her.
‘Like I said, Santa has come early in this household.’
Olivia closed the window, drew the blinds, slid between the covers and pressed herself up against his bulk. His long arm encircled her waist and they lay content in the comfort of each other and the silence of the night.
She was almost asleep when she felt his stomach muscles clench.
Pretending she hadn’t heard the eruption from his anal sphincter, she stayed silent.
The mattress began to move, rhythmically, sending the shudders of his stifled laughter across her body.
‘I heard that. So, no, you didn’t get it away with that one.’ Olivia said swivelling around to face him. ‘What am I like? What are you like? You beast.’
His laughter was soft, melodic and, despite his rectum trumpeting under the sheets, was enough to placate her.
Three days later, with her suitcase packed, Olivia stepped out of the house to return to her teaching post. On the doorstep, he had to bend down to kiss her lips. Although it felt awkward, it soothed the angst she felt at leaving him.
‘Take care of yourself.’ he said.
She saw the pupils of Eric’s eyes diminish to pinpricks.
‘Oh, he’s sad too.’
But Christmas wasn’t that far away, she told herself in the taxi en-route to the station. They would see each other soon she thought, as the driver teased her about him ‘wanting rid of her.’
No, she should not feel sadness or remorse, she thought, when the train pulled away from the platform. Yes, this was a clean sheet for both of them, she told herself, when she arrived home to the tune of ‘Hark the herald angels sing’ playing through her head-phones, never doubting the real truth.
The Reason why God created Angels. – Mortimer J. Adler
Hark the Herald Angels Trumpet-Copyright Talia Hardy. 18.12.11.