How different Mother’s room looked. The big bed had crowded it. The dusty carpets, the heavy curtains and that hideous wallpaper!
She used to bang her stick on the floor: BANG BANG.
Now there were bare floorboards, bare walls too, open windows: light and air chasing away cigarette ash and the scent of gardenia. That scent! It clung to the walls.
I closed the bedroom door on a weekend’s hard work. With the funeral behind me, the days waited like unopened gifts. Where to go? I was unused to the act of choosing. So many years spent waiting for the summons from Mother’s room.
I stopped. Had I really heard that? The imperious rhythm was unmistakable. I returned, re-opened the door, expecting to find a wounded bird or adventurous cat making this racket. The room was as empty as before, though the scent of gardenia was stronger.
A strong tea calmed my nerves, which were shredded after Mother’s long illness and many demands. It was time to leave, to get out.
I was detained at the front door.
An impossible knocking from upstairs. Surely it was noisy pipes. Subsidence. Shrinking timbers. I set off down the crunching gravel path.
BANG BANG from the upstairs window overlooking the gate. Then again, but with fury:
My keys fumbled in the lock and my feet pounded on the stairs.
BANG BANG from behind the bedroom door.
The bare room waited – sweet air shivering in the growing shadows. The day was slipping away.
The night drew on too soon.
BANG BANG. Roused from half-dreams of Mother’s sobs, her pain, her drugs.
BANG BANG. Hurried from the shower, from the untasted meal, the unread book. The scent of gardenia on my clothes.
They can be demanding, the ill, but we mustn’t grumble. We must not complain. There will be other times to go away. It upsets her, to be left alone, all alone in this house, this empty house.
Phone off the hook. Letters unopened. Food untasted.
Waiting for the summons from Mother’s room.
I wrote this story while my students completed a test. It was fun to read aloud to them with the BANG BANG effects. One student wondered if the narrator was going to commit suicide. I think being confined to your home, at the beck and call of a tyrannical ghost invalid, is more upsetting.