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Jane Downing

When he got home he put the easel and paints in the cupboard by the back door amongst the raincoats and boots; detritus from history and too many for the current inhabitants of the house.

‘Is that you, Patrick?’

He was tempted, in contravention of habit, to say nothing. Instead, the usual: ‘No, just a burglar come to steal your widow’s mite.’

‘Put the kettle on, on your way through.’

The kettle was still warm to the touch from her last cup. Sundays were long and the DVD player was on the blink. He’d suggest Scrabble. She used to let him win when he was a boy but it had long been an even contest.

‘Did it rain?’ she asked when he got to the lounge.

‘Not enough to matter.’ He patted her hand on her lap. Her good hand. The arthritis in the other made her wince.

‘We had winceyette nightgowns when we were kiddies. Winceyette, and ninon. All the names gone now we have that awful polyester blend.’

Patrick wondered briefly whether she did have ESP, but knew their minds simply moved down parallel tracks from the station called family.

‘And you always dressed us in cotton,’ he said.

‘It breathes.’


‘There was that dreadful year Grandma W. knitted us swimmers for Christmas. All wool. Can you imagine?’

Patrick, if he put his mind to it, could see five sisters in matching woollen one-piece swim suits, sagging into belly rolls down to their knees after a dip off the jetty. The kettle’s call saved him.

‘I should get you one that turns off automatically,’ he said.

‘No, the whistle makes me get up,’ his mother assured him. ‘When you’re not here.’

As he set the tray with cups and sugar and a few arrowroots spread with butter, he could hear his mother in the next room inhaling her last words. When you’re not here. Unsaying them. Her attempts to make him not feel guilty, made him feel guilty. 

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