At breakfast, she lays Harold’s place: toast the way he likes it, just turning brown; a jar of thick-cut marmalade. She doesn’t like how the rind gets stuck in her dentures, but it’s his favourite.
Her son, Ben, knocks on the window and waggles his hand. He’s in and out at all hours, keeping an eye on her as he puts it. That’s all very well, but sometimes she wishes he would give her a bit of peace, especially this time of the morning. He lets himself in, sits at the head of the table and helps himself to tea. When he reaches for the toast, she glares until he withdraws his hand.
“I thought it was for me.”
“You’re sitting in Harold’s chair,” she says.
He rolls his eyes. “You’re not still setting two places, are you?” he says, through a slurp.
“What’s wrong with that?”
He puts down the cup, slowly and carefully.
“Mum,” he says, in the voice you use when a six-year old is taking far too long to understand a simple sum. “It’s been weeks. You have got to move on.”
She knows Ben means well, but he’s like the rest of the family, every last one of them telling her it’s high time she stopped living in the past; reset her watch to the present. But this is nothing like adjusting the clocks forward in spring or back in the autumn. She wants to keep her life set to the time zone she lived in only a month and a half ago, when Harold was still alive.
Ben grabs a piece of toast before she can slap the back of his hand and starts on another of his favourite subjects: lecturing her how she should turn the garage into a granny flat, how the house is too big for her to manage, and wouldn’t she be happier if she sold it and went into a -.
She stops listening when he gets to this point. She is home. She was carried over the threshold in Harold’s arms, and when her time comes, she’ll be carried out. There is no other place – or time – she wants to be. She has no desire to live in Ben’s world, where all he does is fuss about needing a new car or a new sofa when there’s nothing wrong with the ones he has.
No point in arguing. There’s a glitter in his eye whenever he steers the conversation to money, and she doesn’t want to think badly of him. She considers telling him to mind his own business, in language that would make his toes curl. Working as a nurse all those years, she picked up fruity language that could turn the air blue as a pair of sailor’s trousers. Ben can take his unwanted advice and –.
She takes a patient breath and looks out of the window. She wishes Ben wouldn’t treat her as though she’s off with the fairies, putting bacon in the teapot and her slippers in the oven. She may be 82, but there’s nothing wrong with her mind.
Besides, living in the past is a matter of opinion. A scientist on the television said – time is happening all at once, so there’s no such thing as past or present. Not that she needs scientists to back her up. Life has taught her there’s more than one way to look at time, and how to pass through it. Like the holiday in New York, when she and Harold couldn’t figure out the clocks; so they got up at 4am and went to bed at 7pm. So what if they were out of rhythm with everyone else? They still got to ride the ferry and see Lady Liberty, with Harold singing The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down in his lovely baritone.
She sighs. In the garden, moles are stirring the earth into soft puddings. The longer she looks, the more she’s convinced they’re dotted across the grass in a deliberate arrangement. Ben stops pontificating and follows the line of her gaze.
“You should get rid of those moles. They’re ruining a perfectly good lawn.”
“Yes dear,” she says, trying to work out what the pattern reminds her of.
One of the moles sticks its head out of a fresh heap and waves a paw. She waves back. She could swear they’re building the constellation of Orion in mud pies. Harold will be tickled pink.
“Mum!” shouts Ben, his face going that funny colour it does when she ignores him.
He’ll storm out shortly. Then she’ll be able to get back to what she was doing, out of step with everyone else. When she hears the front door slam, she shuffles to the kitchen, makes a fresh pot of tea and slides two slices of bread into the toaster. The smell drifts up the stairs. In their bedroom, Harold will be catching a whiff of it.
“Come and see what the moles are up to,” she calls, gently.
He is sliding his tired old feet into his slippers. He moves a lot slower these days. Any minute now, he’ll be at her side.