Day 19: My Talent is Writing
James sits quietly in his usual deep red coloured armchair in the sitting room of the Nursing Home. The TV is blaring, and some American comedy is playing, but Jim doesn’t really see it, or even hear it. He just sits in his corner, seemingly not doing anything, but really he is quietly watching the world go by; secretly aware of everything. He spends most of his days doing this, as there isn’t much else he can do anymore. Not since his knees became so weak and the arthritis in his hands took over.
At a couple of minutes past eleven that morning, the doors to the sitting room waft open, and Amanda Lynch, the granddaughter of eighty-nine year old Gladys, sashays into the room like a breathe of fresh air. Following sullenly is her own daughter, Gladys’s great-granddaughter Britney. Jim doesn’t know where young people get their names from these days, but they appear to be getting worse. Jim smiles at the sweet little girl with her gentle brown curls that fall around her soft-features. She looks at him all innocent and unknowing, before sticking a pink tongue out at him.
Amanda reminds Jim of his daughter Emily when she was much younger, and Britney of his granddaughter Eloise, another silly modern name James always thought. Emily would be in her mid seventies now, and Eloise, in her forties. Jim thinks that Eloise attended University; she was always a bright girl, and he wouldn’t be surprised if Eloise now had a husband and family of her own. Jim doesn’t know this for certain, as he has not seen his family in years. Not since they banged him up in this mad house when his wife Miriam passed away. Not one of them ever thinks to come and visit him, too self-absorbed int heir own lives; couldn’t get rid of me quick enough, Jim thinks to himself and grumbles under his breathe.
A cool breeze whistles through Jim’s entire body, and he glances out of the double French doors on the other side of the sitting room. It is a beautiful summer’s morning, the kind that Jim remembers from many years ago…how long ago, he can’t quite remember. The years have faded away into a blur that they now seem more like mere days. He rubs his head, trying to remember when it was, but doesn’t force it, as he knows the headaches seem far worse when he does.
Jim watches as young Britney helps Gladys out into the garden, and he imagines running around the garden with his own great grandchildren. He can see them so clearly that he feels like he could touch them if he could just reach out far enough.
Without realising it, Jim is racing up the stone steps of one of the towers at Lincoln Castle; it was that very castle that Jim had taken his daughter Emily many times when she was growing up. It had been their special place, the place that they always went to when his wife had shooed them out of the house during the long summer holidays.
Jim can see himself at the top of the tallest tower with a giggling strawberry blonde haired girl; his beloved great-granddaughter, of whom he imagines will have a silly name; Paige, Crystal or something as ridiculous as that. They lean against the edge of the wall, and admire the magnificent views of Lincolnshire, through one of those big blue telescopes that forces Jim to place a twenty pence piece inside before they can use it. He doesn’t usually like wasting money on trivialities, but for Shannon or Ellie or whatever she might be called, Jim will do anything. His little angel.
“Look down there.” Bluebell giggles excitedly, pointing to the street far below. Jim moves forward, and glances down towards where Nina is pointing. But, before he can do anything, icy cold fingers clasp around his throat; he can’t breathe; the pain in his chest is excruciating; his heart pounding so hard, he thinks it could burst out of his chest at any point. Then his knees have given way beneath him, and he finds himself tumbling down. Down, over the side of the tower wall. Everything flashes before his eyes, a giggling little girl called Libby, his granddaughter Eloise at the bottom of the garden covered in mud, Emily in her graduation robes, his beautiful wife Miriam brushing her hair whilst singing some old song, Miriam loved to sing. And then he hits the ground, with an unexpectedly soon, but soft smack.
The voice seems so far away, so soothing, so gentle. Only Miriam ever calls me James, he smiles to himself, she’ll make me feel better. She’ll remind me what Eloise’s daughter is called…Paris, or Effie maybe?
“James? Are you alright?”
Jim forces his eyes open, and rather than seeing Miriam, finds himself face to face with a pretty young Care Assistant. Seeing that he is all right, she helps him back into his chair.
“Emily?” He says weakly, gripping tightly onto her hand.
“Its Jennifer,” The Care Assistant smiles cheerfully, “You remember…your Care Assistant.”
His eyes begin to focus, and he beckons her nearer so he can look at her face, and suddenly he fills with a sense of panic.
“Emily?” He yells, trying to push past Jennifer, “Where’s my Emily?”
“Emily…Emily’s not here James,” Jennifer gasps as the grip on her hand tightens into unbelievable pain. “I think you…I think you should…let go…now!”
“Where is she? What have you done with my little girl?”
“If you’ll just let me go,” Jennifer realises that she’s begging, “I’ll go get Matron…she’ll know for certain where Emily is.”
“Find my Emily.” He demanded, and it seemed so aggressive that Jennifer couldn’t help feeling scared, but she knew that she had to stay calm.
“James.” She said firmly, “You have to let go…then I can go fetch Matron.”
This seemed to get through, and Jim reluctantly loosened his grip.
Jim wiped his brow of sweat, and turned to the doorway of the garden, where young Britney was watching him.
“Emily…?” He muttered, unable to believe it.
“No James,” Matron had appeared beside him, and encouraged Gladys to take her Granddaughter back outside, “Emily isn’t here.”
“Where is she? Please, you must tell me where she is.” James pleaded.
“She’s gone James…”
This, of course, just made Jim panic even more.
“Gone? Where has she gone?” Tears streamed down his cheeks, “Bring her back. I want my Emily! You have no right keeping her away from me.”
Matron bowed her head slightly and knelt down in front of him so that she was at the same level as him.
“Emily isn’t coming back James.”
Jim looked at her confused. He didn’t understand. Why had Emily left? She wouldn’t just leave without saying goodbye. Emily wasn’t like that. She was a sweet girl, always going out of her way to help people.
“Don’t you remember James?” She remained calm, “Emily died…in a terrible accident…it was twenty years ago. You told me on the day that you arrived. It was a car crash…do you remember that? It was a head on collision with a lorry. Your Granddaughter Eloise was in the car too. They both died instantly.”
“No. No. You’re lying.”
“And why would I do that?”
“What about my Shannon?”
Matron frowned. Shannon was definitely a name that Jim had never mentioned before.
“Who’s Shannon?” Matron queried, and Jim began shaking.
“I mean Libby…or Bluebell…or…” He slammed his fist into his head, until matron forced him to stop it, “I can’t remember her name….what is it?”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about James.”
“Nina, Paige…or something. Eloise’s daughter.”
Matron smiled weakly.
“James. Eloise was eleven when she died. Do you understand me?”
Jim shook his head. He didn’t understand at all. Cass, Rena, or maybe it was Summer…Matron hadn’t said she was in the car, she must still be alive.
“Eloise didn’t have any children James,” Matron tried to explain; “She was only eleven. This Shannon, Nina or whoever you think she is, she doesn’t exist.”
“Why…why didn’t anybody tell me?” Jim muttered. “I…I could have had a funeral. If only I’d known she’d lost the baby.”
Matron shook her head, and forced him to look at her.
“Jimmy, there was no baby. Eloise was eleven. She wasn’t old enough to have a baby. I’m so sorry.” With that she turned around to Jennifer, who had been washed over with grief for Jim’s family. “Jennifer? Fetch James’ tablets will you?”
Later that night, Jim lays awake in his bed, in his petite lime coloured bedroom. Down the hall, he can hear the faint sounds of a woman screeching, seemingly in agony. He can only hear it because the door has been left slightly ajar, so that the Night Warden can check on him at regular intervals. As if on cue, Jim hears the pat, pat, pat of soft-soled shoes on the linoleum flooring in the hallway, a sound that halts outside the room, as a red-haired man in his mid-thirties pokes his head around the door. Jim waits for the footsteps to fade away into the screeching sounds, before sitting up in bed, careful not to make too much noise. He climbs out of bed, and pushes open the curtain.
It is a beautiful night, and Jim can see the stars twinkling in the dark blue skies. He sighs, and places his forehead on the pane of glass. It feels cool and refreshing, and Jim realises how hot the room is. He turns the key in the lock, and pushes the handle downwards, releasing it and shoving it forward with all of his weight.
He stands in the doorway for a little while, his eyes closed, breathing in the night air. When suddenly a shadow passes in front of him, and he’s abruptly fully alert, eyes wide, ears pricked up. He looks around, and calls out. There’s no one there. Or is there?
On the far side of garden, Jim can see a bright white glow. He steps forward for a closer look, and realises that it is in fact a small white figure in a cream coloured night dress. He watches for a little while, as the figure picks flowers. Matron will go mad when she finds out, Jim thinks, but he is glad that she has finally come to see him.
“Look Daddy,” A faint and delicate voice calls, it sounds so familiar, and it sends a cool chill down his entire body, and he can’t move. “The roses are for Mummy. Do you think she’ll like them?” The little girl giggles and races away, fading into the darkness of the garden.
Jim smiles as he watches the girl disappear. He then climbs back into bad, leaving the window open, just in case she comes back, and falls asleep thinking of the little girl that visited him.
Early the next morning, Jennifer is on breakfast duty. It’s her favourite part of the day, and she decides to take Jim his favourite of eggs and ‘dippy soldiers’, she’d loved the excitement in Jim when he’d told her how his daughter Emily called them that, and she’d become fond of the name herself. Jennifer loved all of Jim’s stories.
“I’ll take Jim’s today,” Jennifer calls to the other girl on breakfast duty, “Give him a nice treat.”
She smiles to herself, as she pushes her trolley down the hallway towards Jim’s room.
“How is he?” She asks the warden sat at his post.
“He’s sleeping.” The warden replies from behind his newspaper, taking little interest in her.
She carries on along the hallway, and finally stops outside Jim’s room. She takes his tray carefully off the trolley and pushes open the door.
“Breakfast Jim,” She calls cheerfully, “Look, I made your favourite…eggs, dippy soldiers, and I made sure Cook gave you extra pepper.”
She can see Jimmy is still in bed, and places the tray on the table beside him, before heading towards the window to open the curtains, that she’s surprised Jim hasn’t opened already. But, as one of the curtains flapped against the French doors, something jingled, and Jennifer realised that there was something hanging from the door handle of one of the doors. Looking closer Jennifer realises that it’s a child’s locket, and pulling it off the door handle squinting slightly as the sun bounces of its shimmering gold casing into her eyes. Carefully, she flicks the locket open and inside is an old photograph of a girl, no more than eleven years old.
“Is this Emily?” Jennifer beamed, turning to Jim, who was still silently lying on the bed.
“Jim?” She gasped. His eyes were wide open, yet lifeless. “Oh my gosh…”
Panicking she raced to the door, wailing for the Matron.
“What is it girl?” Matron said, bounding into the room, “What’s all the yelling about?”
“Spit it out.”
“I think he’s…dead…” Jennifer stammered, not able to take her eyes off his old body.
Jennifer watched as the coroners took Jim’s body for a post-mortem, her heart deeply saddened.
“He died peacefully in his sleep,” Matron soothed, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.
Jennifer held out her hand, “I found this on the door handle.” she explained, “I think it belonged to Jim’s daughter.”
Matron closed Jennifer’s hand around it, and smiled; “Keep it. I think he’d have wanted you to.”
Jennifer looked down at the locket, and smiled. Suddenly something caught her eye out in the garden. She thought she saw someone standing there.
“Jennifer? Is something wrong?”
She shook her head, and smiled. “No. It’s nothing.”