Grace sat for a long time beside the empty fireplace before she pulled herself to her feet and made her way upstairs to bed, passing the closed door of Evelyn’s old room as she went. She paused for a moment by the door, sighed and went on into her own neat room. She clambered into the old high bed, pulling the crisp white cotton sheets up to her neck as she rested her head on the pillow.
Thoughts raced through her mind, pushing away the more recent conversation with young Karen to the background, whilst Grace’s own worries fought for her attention.
She reached to the bedside table - took up the old photograph she kept in the silver frame and held it to her breast for a moment. A tear slid from her cheek and dripped onto the cold metal. Using the back of her hand to wipe her face, Grace looked at the picture and smiled at Evelyn’s innocent eyes staring back at her.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she whispered as she ran her finger over the unfeeling glass in the frame. After a moment she placed the picture carefully back in its place, turned off the light, and lay down to sleep with a new determination in her heart.
Evelyn was worried. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen Karen. The more she tried to work out how many days ago it was, the more muddled she became.
‘Doctors come on Monday,’ she thought. No doctor had been since she went to Fareham. ‘It wasn’t market day. That’s Monday, too.’ She wondered what day it was today. The smell of fish wafting from the ward kitchen told her it was Friday. So she hadn’t seen Karen for at least four days. She stood in the doorway of her room and tried to gather the courage to walk to the office.
The heat of the morning sunlight poured through the long windows opposite her room as she stepped into the wide gallery and tentatively made her way towards the open office door.
‘Evelyn?’ Mike was sitting at his desk. He looked up at her inquiringly.
She couldn’t find the words.
‘Come in.’ Mike patted the chair at the side of his desk. ‘Come and have a chat.’
She pushed down the fear and stepped into the office.
‘What can I do for you?’ Mike asked as she sat on the edge of the chair.
‘Karen.’ It was blurted out before she could lose her nerve.
‘She’s not here today.’ Mike smiled at her. ‘Did you want to talk to her?’
‘Can you talk to me instead?’ he asked.
‘Where is she?’ Evelyn asked.
‘She’s just taking a few days off. She’ll be back on the ward before you know it.’ He paused. ‘Do you miss her?’
Evelyn nodded again.
‘She’s a good nurse,’ Mike said.
‘I’m glad you came to the office, Evelyn,’ Mike went on. ‘I was going to ask you something.’
‘What?’ Evelyn jumped.
‘It’s alright. It’s good news.’ He paused, smiling at her. ‘You saw your mother the other day, didn’t you?’ he asked.
‘Yes. With Karen.’
‘How did it go?’ he asked.
‘Alright.’ Evelyn examined her nails. ‘She’s old.’
‘It’s been a long time since you saw her, I suppose,’ he said. ‘You were ill for a long time.’
‘Am I ill now?’ she wondered.
‘You’re better now. You’re just not used to the world outside. You’ve been cooped up in here for too long.’
‘Chickens.’ Evelyn interrupted him.
‘Chickens live in coops,’ Evelyn went on. ‘We had chickens once. The fox got them all.’
‘Oh, yes. Chickens - cooped up. I see.’ He chuckled. ‘Anyway, we’d like to get you used to going out a bit at a time, like when you went to Fareham the other day with Karen. And maybe seeing your family. Your Mum?’
‘I didn’t like it in Fareham.’ Evelyn could feel herself shaking inside. ‘Marion scared me.’
‘Well when you’re ready, maybe you could try it again,’ he said. ‘But with nurses you feel happier with.’
‘Maybe,’ Mike agreed. ‘Who else do you trust here?’
‘No, not Marion,’ he said.
‘Not Marion,’ Evelyn repeated.
‘What about your Mum visiting?’
‘I told her she could.’ Evelyn stood up and turned towards the door. ‘When’s she coming?’
‘She wants to come this Sunday,’ he said. But if you don’t want to see her yet, I can drop a note in her door on my way home tonight. What do you think?’
‘Good. This Sunday then, at two.’
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