Tidying Up

a short story

Tidying Up

He marched towards the anthill, broom held high above his head – he’d flatten it, get rid of those creepy-crawly invaders. How dare they set up camp on his lawn. It wasn’t his fault that it had been neglected. What was he supposed to do? He hadn’t been allowed in the house, or the garden come to that for years. Never mind, she was gone now, never to nag or threaten him again. He was free to be himself. That’s all he’d ever wanted after all.

He’d long suspected that she despised him, she resented the demands of their relationship and wanted to be on her own. She’d called him a vampire, what the hell was that supposed to mean? A soul-sucking vampire, the last thing she ever said to him, her very last words.

He threw the broom at the anthill. What did it matter now? There would be plenty of time to sort the garden out, plenty of time and plenty of money, at least she had left him that.

Angie was coming towards him across the unkempt grass. She had a can in each hand, cider for him in her right hand and lemonade for her in her left. That’s how she did it, she always put him first. She handed him the cider. He kissed her on the cheek and put his arm around her, patting her pregnant stomach. She smiled and kissed him back.

“Welcome to your new home.” He squeezed her shoulders. “Or should I say selamat datang ke rumah baru anda.”

She laughed. “You’ve been on that online translation site again haven’t you.”

“Shut up, I’ve been practising.”

“I love you Graham.” She said, kissing his cheek again. “Even though you have no idea how to speak Malay.”

“Good thing your English is so good then, isn’t it. You are perfect.” He pulled her gently towards him and kissed her again.

A cat appeared from the overgrown shrubbery at the edge of the lawn. Angie leaned towards it and held out her hand. The cat rubbed itself against her, purring blissfully. Graham reached out to the cat as well – it pulled away from him and disappeared into the bushes.

He was disappointed and a little hurt but he remembered how lucky he was, living in his proper home again, and a beautiful lovely woman at his side. He wondered what the child would be like. He’d make sure it had everything and was treated well. He would dedicate the rest of his life to ensuring that it got the attention and respect it needed.

“What was it like? When you lived here with her? What was she like?” Angie asked.

In an instant all that warm goodness he’d felt inside himself turned into a scalding, searing maelstrom. He felt the anxiety and the anger scream inside his head. He squeezed Angie’s arm – too tightly. She yanked herself away and retreated a few steps, looking at him nervously. He had to get away, get out, he had to do it now, before, before . . .

It took an hour of hard walking before he was ready to go back, this was too important to jeopardise, he had to control himself, become master of the demons inside as well as the world outside.

Angie, as usual, didn’t make an issue of his behaviour, she understood him instinctively, and always had, from the moment they had looked into each other’s eyes. It was an immediate bond and he had never doubted it since, despite the circumstances of their first meeting.

Angie cooked an amazing curry – always did – never complained about having to cook, and he just knew that she put genuine love into that food. She didn’t just rip open a few tins or massacre something in the microwave. He’d never eaten so well in his life and he knew it was doing him good.

“I don’t know how you do it Angie.” He said. “Gold star every time.”

She blushed. “You’re worth it Graham – never forget it. Besides, it’s not me, it’s nature, she is providing the raw materials – the fruits, the vegetables, the herbs and the spices, that’s the secret.”

“I wish I’d known all that before,” he said, “then maybe things wouldn’t have got to where they have.” He felt the regret rising inside him again. If only he’d taken action sooner, if only he’d known Angie then. Then it wouldn’t have ended in such a mess. He sighed.

Angie reached across the table and took his hand in hers. “It’s OK now Graham. Everything will be OK.”

And he knew she was right, after all he wouldn’t have met her if things had been different. “You’re a bloody marvel Angie – that’s what you are, if only . . .”

“Ssh Graham. What’s the point of all that. This is where we are. This is what we have to deal with.”

And so it went for the first three months. Every day he felt stronger, every day he healed a little more. He learned to deal with the scars, with the after effects. And then the baby was born, a fantastically robust boy, a boy who would need all the love Graham could muster, a boy he was determined would get every advantage possible. Angie would be a good mother. Angie would make up for everything.

– – –

Graham managed to sit up in bed and hold the baby, his beautiful boy Alfie, just 6 months old and already bursting with character. Later, in a pause between her motherly duties, Angie came into the room and sat at Graham’s bedside.

“Are you comfortable?” She asked.

Graham smiled and nodded. “Yes darling, and do you know what? I think I’m ready to forgive her. It’s all thanks to you, my Angie, my angel.”

“Oh stop it Graham. I’ve told you before.”

“Perhaps it’s seeing you with Alfie. She wasn’t always a bad mother. In a way, I’m glad she never got to know about the cancer. I can’t imagine anything worse, knowing that your child is going to die before you.”

“Well, you didn’t die.”

“I know, but I am dying now. I know it, and do you know what. It’s all right, it’s OK, it really is now. I’ve had my remission. More than that, I finally got a life.”

“Ssh Graham, you don’t really know.”

“Yes Angie, I do know, and you do, after all – that’s how we met. You know more about what’s going on inside me than I do.”

“I love you Graham. Never forget that, promise me.”

“I know Angie, and you promise me that you will go back to work as we agreed when Alfie is a year old. The world needs people like you Angie, you’ve made my life worth something and you can do it for others, and I’m not talking about our personal relationship – that’s a beautiful bonus, but you are a brilliant doctor, a true healer.”

Graham suddenly weakened. “I’m tired.” He said.

He sank into the bed smiling up at Angie. He’d done it. Everything was in place, he couldn’t do another thing that would make a difference. Ah, he’d had a good life.

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