If you are enjoying reading these chapters, you can purchase the whole novel in paperback from www.completelynovel.com or www.amazon.com; www.amazon.co.uk; amazon worldwide as well as from all good bookstores. Locally it is stocked in The Book Shop at Lee-on-the-Solent, Westbury Manor Museum, Fareham, The One Tree Bookshop, Petersfield, Blackwells in Portsmouth, and Waterstones in Commercial Road, Portsmouth and Fareham.
‘I want you to take Evelyn and Florrie out to town this morning.’ Mike was giving instructions to Marion and Karen the next morning.
Karen had mixed feelings about this. The last person she wanted to spend the morning with was Marion. Mike looked at her and smiled.
‘I know you two aren’t the best of mates,’ he said. ‘But Marion’s got a lot of experience, and I think it’ll be good for you both.’
Karen blushed. ‘I don’t mind,’ she said.
‘I can teach you a thing or two about taking patients out,’ Marion smirked. ‘Just watch and learn.’
Karen smiled uncertainly at her.
‘Let’s go and give them the good news,’ laughed Marion. ‘You can have Evelyn, and I’ll take Florrie. We need to get them ready in time for the ten o’clock bus.’
‘Fine,’ Karen said.
Karen knew she was pretending everything was fine, not just at work, but in her whole life. She dreaded telling Peter she was pregnant, and in her dread, began to imagine that maybe she wasn’t. It was easy to avoid him. He was out when she got in last night. A deep exhaustion had kept her asleep all night and she hadn’t even noticed when he came in.
As soon as she had awoken this morning, she'd slipped out of bed quickly, trying to avoid the smell of alcohol and perfume that clung to him like a cloak. She'd pushed away the nausea and left the house as quietly as possible, breathing a sigh of relief as the door closed behind her.
She was looking forward to going out with the patients, although would have preferred to go with Linda or Sheila. Marion was so hard to get on with. Karen had tried to like her, and had seen a softer side to her at times. She had her favourite patients. Emily, who needed to be spoon-fed, was one she had a lot of time for, gently wiping her mouth after each spoonful. Karen remembered that Mike had said that Marion had a heart of gold underneath her hard exterior so she tried to keep an open mind as she prepared herself mentally for the outing into town.
She knocked on Evelyn’s door and entered the room. ‘We’re going to town on the bus,’ she said. ‘We need to get you ready.’
Evelyn was sitting in the chair beside her window, the sunshine casting a shaft of light across her face, dust mites floating in the air in front of her eyes. She drew her eyes away from the dust, looked up at Karen and smiled.
‘What do you think, Evelyn? Do you think it would be nice?’ She sat on the edge of the bed.
‘Am I going home?’ Evelyn frowned.
‘No. Not home,’ Karen answered. ‘Just to the shops for a look around. We could go for a cup of tea in a cafe if you like.’
‘Not home,’ Evelyn persisted.
‘No. We can’t take you home today.’ Karen felt apprehensive. Evelyn’s old home was in the middle of Fareham. There’d been no contact with Mrs. Chapman since Karen’s visit to her. She’d not told any of the staff about the visit, and still felt unsure about whether she should have gone at all.
‘Well, what do you think?’ She asked again.
‘Alright.’ Evelyn paused, frowning. She looked at Karen and smiled again. ‘You’ll look after me,’ she said.
‘Of course. We’ll go on the bus and have a cup of tea. Then come back again together.’
‘Together,’ Evelyn said. She stood up and held her hand out to Karen. ‘Come on then. I’m ready.’
Fareham was quieter than on the market day. They wandered around Woolworth, browsing through the kitchen wares - Karen felt the irony of browsing through items that neither Florrie nor Evelyn would be likely to need. They stood by the pick-and-mix sweets watching a little boy choose a bag of chocolate buttons, toffee, and jelly beans. Florrie reached out to help herself to a fistful of sweet bananas and had stuffed them into her mouth before Marion could stop her.
‘Florrie!’ she snapped. ‘You have to put them in a bag and pay for them.’ She looked at Karen. ‘Let’s get out of here,’ she said.
‘Come on Evelyn, we’re going.’ Karen took hold of Evelyn’s hand and tried not to laugh as they left the shop - hoping that the shop assistant hadn’t noticed.
‘Let’s go and get a cup of tea.’ Marion suggested. ‘There’s a place just along here. It’s a bakery with a cafe in the back.’
They wandered along the road, looking into shop windows as they went, standing for a while outside the Savoy Cinema which was showing the latest James Bond film, Live and Let Die. Evelyn stared at the photographs advertising the film, then turned and looked up at the glass doors at the top of the broad steps.
‘Are you alright, Evelyn?’ Karen asked.
‘I remember this place,’ Evelyn said. ‘I used to come here.’
‘What films did you see?’ Karen asked trying to imagine Evelyn as a young girl.
‘I don’t remember.’ Evelyn paused. ‘Red Shoes. Moira Shearer.’
‘I remember seeing that on the telly,’ Karen said. ‘It was about a ballet dancer wasn’t it?’
‘Yes,’ Evelyn smiled.
‘Come on, you two.’ Marion’s voice brought Karen back to the present. ‘We won’t have time for a drink if you don’t get a move on,’ she complained.
‘We’d better get going,’ Karen said as she pulled at Evelyn’s hand gently. They caught up with the other two as they entered the cafe.
‘You shouldn’t get so involved,’ Marion said to Karen as they sat at one of the small tables. She had placed the two ladies on the next table. Florrie was delicately picking at a cream cake, licking her fingers after each mouthful. Evelyn was sipping her tea, staring in front of her.
‘Look at her,’ Marion went on. ‘You’ve just made her worse. You don’t know what’s going on in there.’
‘Don’t talk about her like that. You shouldn’t talk about her in front of her.’
‘Why not? She doesn’t understand,’ Marion laughed.
‘I think she does,’ Karen insisted, lowering her voice. ‘Please, stop saying things like that.’
‘Don’t be stupid,’ Marion said lightly. ‘You’re as bad as her if you think there’s anything going on inside her head.’
‘You don’t know.’
‘I know more than you think. I’ve been doing this job a lot longer than you and I’ve known Evelyn for a long time. That woman can be a right bitch.’
‘Stop it, please.’ Karen looked across at Evelyn who sat with her head down, shoulders slumped, her fingers picking at a stain on the table.
‘Don’t tell me what to do,’ Marion continued. ‘You’re nothing but a kid who doesn’t know what she’s doing. Look at you,’ she sneered. ‘What would you do if she kicked off in here?’
‘Why would she?’ Karen felt a flicker of doubt.
‘You never know when they’re going to turn on you,’ Marion laughed. ‘Look.’ She reached across and gave Evelyn a prod on the arm. ‘What’s going on in there?’ she asked.
Evelyn turned to her with a puzzled look in her eyes. She said nothing.
‘What’s up, Evelyn?’ Marion asked. ‘Can’t think of anything to say?’
‘Leave her alone,’ Karen pleaded. ‘Why do you have to be so nasty to her?’
‘Don’t tell me what to do,’ Marion hissed at Karen. ‘People are looking at us.’
‘I need the toilet.’ Florrie stood up.
‘Shut up, Florrie,’ said Marion. ‘Sit down.’
‘But I need the toilet. I’ll wet my knickers,’ Florrie persisted.
‘For God’s sake, Florrie, you’ll have to wait.’ Marion glared at her.
‘I’ll take you Florrie,’ Karen said. ‘Come on, there’s a loo at the back of the cafe.’ She stood up and took Florrie by the arm, ignoring the stares of the other customers, leaving a seething Marion with Evelyn.
Five minutes later they made their way back to the table. Karen noticed with a feeling of trepidation that Marion was alone, holding a handkerchief to her face.
‘Where’s Evelyn?’ Karen asked.
‘She’s done a runner,’ Marion dabbed her face. ‘I tried to stop her, but she punched me in the face and ran out the door.’
‘Why didn’t you go after her?’ Karen was appalled.
‘Don’t be stupid,’ Marion said. ‘On my own? I told you she was dangerous.’
Karen glared back at her. ‘I don’t believe she is dangerous. What did you say to her?’
‘Nothing. She just smacked me for nothing.’
‘She wouldn’t have done that.’
‘You calling me a liar?’
‘No. I just don’t know what to think.’ Karen said. ‘What do we do now? I should go after her.’
‘You don’t know where she went. She could be anywhere. We’ll have to let the police know when we get back to the ward.’
‘She’ll be frightened. Can’t we go and look for her?’ Karen asked. ‘She can’t have gone far. Which way did she go?’
‘I don’t know. I wasn’t looking. She’d just thumped me in case you hadn’t noticed,’ Marion said indignantly.
‘You’re alright aren’t you?’ Karen asked.
‘No, I’m not. And I’m certainly not trailing all round Fareham with Florrie in tow!’ Marion was unrelenting. ‘I’m getting the next bus back to Highclere. You can do what you want.’
Karen picked up her bag. ‘I’ll see you back at the hospital then,’ she said.
‘I said you were too involved and I was right,’ Marion sneered. ‘You’re wasting your time, but it’s up to you I suppose.’
‘You’re right, it is up to me,’ Karen said. ‘And I’d like to know why Evelyn hit you. She’s not done something like that for a long time.’
‘I hope you’re not accusing me of winding her up.’ Marion paused, then sniffed. ‘You need to be careful what you say.’
Karen glared at her, smiled at Florrie, and quickly left the shop. She had an idea where Evelyn may have gone and turned towards the church at the bottom of Trinity Street. As she walked she heard the clock striking eleven. She stood for a moment at the corner, remembering her previous visit to Mrs. Chapman and wondered how Evelyn would cope with seeing her mother again after such a long time.
Marion’s words were burning in Karen’s mind - ‘You never know when they’re going to turn on you, and you never know what’s going on inside her head.’ Karen supposed that there was some truth in those words but couldn’t believe that Evelyn would hurt anyone without a good reason. On the other hand, Evelyn may feel she had a good reason to hurt her mother after being left in Highclere for twenty years and more.
Karen ran up the street, her heart thumping.