A short story to fill in the gap – waiting for inspiration for my next serial.
Stop the Car
“Stop, Paul, stop the car!”
“For Pete’s sake Sammy, what are you doing? you’ll have us in the gutter. Let go, let go of my arm you idiot.”
“But stop, I’ve just seen Mum!”
“Mum, what the heck. Oh not again. God, just a minute, hang on there’s a lay-by here.” Ignoring the hooting horns and the angry gestures of the other drivers Paul swung his car into a bus stop. “Hang on Sammy, you can’t just jump out. Wait a bit.”
“No, no I saw her, I saw her it was Mum.” The young woman leapt from the car. Leaving the door hanging on its hinges she ran across the pavement. Her auburn hair swung back and forth whipping her face and sticking to the desperate tears streaming from her eyes. Frantically searching amongst the Saturday shoppers she bumped and thudded against the other bodies. Oblivious to the grunts and grumbles she ran desperately on glancing in the shop windows as she scurried past “Mum. Oh please let it be Mum.”
By the time she reached the junction Paul had managed to find a place for the car. He ran to join her, slaloming between the strolling teens and harassed mothers dragging bored and fractious toddlers. “Sammy, Sammy wait just wait!”
“I’m sure Paul, I’m sure it was Mum!” She dashed the tears away impatiently with shaking fingers, “I can’t see her anywhere, she’s gone.” Paul wrapped his arms around her and held her to him as she sobbed, “She’s gone, I saw her and she’s gone.”
“Sammy, the chances are pretty slim you know. After two years, what are the odds we’d see her here out of the blue. Come on love. Don’t cry, come on.”
She raised her desperate face to his and it scalded his heart to see such pain. How could a parent do this to their child, he had never understood. How could a mother just walk out, disappear one day with no explanation, no goodbye, nothing.
He persuaded her back to the car where he sat cradling her head against his shoulder. As she sobbed he let the grief run its course, they had been down this road so many times in the last two years. Over and over his darling Sammy imagined she saw her mum only to be devastated when it turned out to be someone of the same build or with the same hair style and a similar walk. He sighed, would they ever get past this?
Until the surreal day two years ago he would have described them as an ordinary family. He and Sammy had moved in together six months previously and life was good. They had their fledgling business, great friends and their funky flat.
Sammy called to see her mum on Friday evening as she had been doing for weeks. Everything inside the little semi appeared neat, clean and normal. The heating had been programmed to come on in the late afternoon, the fridge was stocked with food and a vase of flowers sat on the table. Everything usual and expected, except it wasn’t. Sammy had waited and waited for her mum and by ten at night had rung him in a dreadful state. “Mum hasn’t come in Paul. I’ve been sitting here for hours, there’s no note, nothing. I’ve tried her mobile but it just goes to voice mail.” She burst into tears, the first of rivers and floods of weeping. For desperate days they waited for news, scoured the town, called the Police who couldn’t do much more than fill in forms. They contacted Accident and Emergency departments and every friend or acquaintance they could think of but of Molly Sumpter they found nothing. She had vanished like snow in the rain, melted away leaving no sign.
As the weeks passed they resumed a sort of normality but there was a fault in the foundations of their lives. Every day Sammy’s eyes scoured the passing crowd and searched in every shopping centre Molly had ever used until in the end he simply avoided going with her. He knew she went alone spending hours walking familiar roads and Malls, searching always searching but he couldn’t do it, couldn’t bear to watch her tearing herself apart.
They had been close, Sammy was an only child and Molly a single mum. It made it so much more inexplicable the way she had vanished. He knew it was shallow to feel resentful but when she left she took part of their lives, part of their joy and he had never been able to fill the void.
Now here they were on a buying trip for their interior design business and the wound had opened up as fresh and raw as the day it had happened. He turned Sammy’s tear stained face towards him. “Sweetheart, it probably wasn’t her you know.” In his heart of hearts he thought Molly must be dead, there was no other explanation but he couldn’t bring himself to voice it. It would be a betrayal of Sammy and her absolute conviction her mum was still alive and one day they would be back together.
“I’m sorry Paul, I really thought it was her,” Sammy turned to peer through the rear window as if wanting it to be so would conjure up her mum from the melee in the town centre. “I really thought it was her. Shit, come on we’re going to be late, we’d better go.”
He indicated and pulled into the stream of traffic but the day was spoiled yet again by Molly’s phantom. He didn’t want to feel bitter but it was very hard, very hard indeed.
In the corner of a tiny café the middle aged woman lowered her head and sobbed her heartbreak into her hands. She was shaking with shock. Laying a hand on her shoulder the waitress asked, “Excuse me, are you okay? Are you ill?” She could have bitten out her tongue as she realised what she had said. The bandana tied tightly around the woman’s head covering the baldness was answer enough. “Oh, I’m sorry what I mean is, can I bring you a glass of water, anything.”
“Would you? You’re very kind, thank you.” …
A couple of hours later Sammy and Paul walked hand in hand from the kitchen suppliers office. “It went well I thought,” Paul kept his voice upbeat trying to lift their spirits. “We haggled well, you were brilliant as always.” He turned to kiss her and took her hand. “Oh, Sammy what are we going to do? You can’t go on like this you know.”
“What else can I do, I can’t help it. All the time it’s there in the back of my mind, I’ve tried I really have. I just keep looking for her all the time, everywhere I go. I just believe one day she’ll be there. It’s stupid isn’t it?” She tried to smile but it was wavering and it tore at his heart.
“No, it’s not stupid, of course not but I hate to see you like this and it’s so hard for me that I can’t help you” He threw his arms around her and held her, “Come on let’s go and get a drink we deserve it.”
Their hotel was small but luxurious. Now the business was doing better they had moved on from the basic bed and breakfasts to more sumptuous lodgings for their buying trips and they sat in the dimly lit bar sipping gin and tonic and studying the dinner menu. “Mmm Venison for me I think, what about you Sam?”
“Nope I’m going with fish. I love this hotel don’t you?”
“Yeah, I like this whole place actually. You know I’ve been wondering, what d’you think about a move. You know a house move. We could probably afford somewhere bigger and well, it might be a good thing for us, a new start.
“I don’t know, I don’t think I can. I just feel when Mum comes back we need to be where she can find us you know.”
“But Sammy,” He rubbed his palms down his face. How could he say this? “Do you think we should just stay in the flat for ever then?” He watched as more of the endless tears welled against her eyelids. “Oh forget it, forget I said anything, just leave it.” He knew he sounded impatient but couldn’t keep the frustration bottled up, ”Come on let’s go through.” They made their way to the dining room but they both knew the evening would be a sham, they would try to chat, try to enjoy the meal but like a spectre Molly would be there simply by not being there…
The next morning Sammy tried to ignore the sun which had found a gap in the curtains and teased at her eyelids forcing her to acknowledge the new day. She groaned lifting her fuzzy head from the pillow and swinging her legs from under the covers. In a futile attempt to pretend they were celebrating their good deal they had drunk too much with the result that they had gone to bed feeling fractious and unhappy. Turning his back to her Paul feigned sleep as he had on so many occasions lately and Sammy wept hopeless tears into the pillow. She knew of course it was her fault but try as she might she couldn’t shake it. She simply couldn’t accept Mum was gone. Surely if she was then she would know deep down inside and the conviction just wasn’t there. She would have to do something though, things had to change.
She walked over to the window and pulled the curtains apart. Her heart leapt to her throat, she couldn’t breath as the room tilted and spun. By the gates at the main road stood a woman staring at the entrance to the hotel and she knew, she knew with absolute certainty it was her mum. Grabbing her jogging top and throwing it over her pyjamas she flew from the room, scuttled down the stairs and through the front door. As she stepped out onto the path the woman turned, her hands by her sides her head high and her back straight.
A gasp tore from Sammy’s throat becoming a sob as the all too familiar tears streamed down her face. She took a couple of paces away from the stone steps, the woman was still there and she raised her arms and smiled. In a trance Sammy moved towards her. Incredulity and wonder blotted out everything but the vision she had wished for so many times over the long months. She tried to speak but her voice had lost itself in the emotion.
“Sammy, oh Sammy.” Molly reached for her daughter and they fell into each others arms.
“Mum.” It was all she could manage, one word carrying with it the heartache, the hope and the despair of all the past days. Clinging to the other woman Sammy searched the face she had visualised in her waking moments and seen in her dreams over and over. “Where have you been? why, why did you go? What did I do?” As she spoke Sammy shook her head, this was an impossible dream, here on the pavement outside an hotel in the morning sunshine. “You’ve lost weight,” as she said it the reality seeped in through the wonder “Oh Mum, oh no.” By now she had taken in the thin face and the bandana and the truth struck her like a fist in the stomach and yet more tears flowed from the endless well.
“It’s alright sweetheart, truly it’s alright. Oh Sammy, I couldn’t believe it when I saw you yesterday. I’m sorry I ran but I was afraid. I couldn’t face you. Look at you, you’re lovely. I like your hair long.” As she spoke the woman stroked her daughter’s auburn locks running the strands through her fingers.
“Mum, your hair? You’re sick aren’t you?”
“Well, you know what, it seems at last I’m not sick at all.” Molly beamed. “I got the all clear last week.”
“Come in, come in, see Paul. He won’t believe it, I don’t believe it. Why though, why Mum. Have you any idea how hard it’s been?” Pulling at her mother’s arm she dragged her forward and into the lobby of the hotel where they found a quiet corner and sat together on a love seat.
“I didn’t know what to do sweetheart. I went off to the hospital never thinking what they would tell me. I imagined it would all turn out to be nothing but it wasn’t. When they said I had cancer, I just didn’t know what to do. All I could think was you were so happy, you and Paul and I was going to spoil it all. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t work out a way to tell you, didn’t want to see you worry and I didn’t want to be less to you than I had been. I’m Mum, it’s my job to care for you and there was no way I could bear to think about you caring for me, maybe watching me – well, fade away. So I just didn’t go home. I stayed in an hotel until the hospital appointment, and then after the treatments I went into a nursing home.” A hiccup of a laugh escaped her. “I’ve spent all the money from your Granny and Grandpops, sorry.”
“Oh Mum, how could you think we’re so shallow, how could you. It’s been horrible, all these months searching for you. But now, did you say now you’re well. Your hair? and you’re so thin.”
“I know, I know but my hair is growing back a bit already and I had the all clear on my last appointment. I’ll have to go for checks for a couple of years but they think I’m going to be fine. I couldn’t believe it when I saw you yesterday, I’d already made my mind up to come back but then there you were running up the high street and I just couldn’t face you. Anyway I rang your workshops and the girl there told me I’d find you here.”
“What just out of the blue. Hmm, so much for security.”
“No, don’t be cross with her, I told her I’d found your brief case and wanted to return it.”
“Oh Mum I don’t know what to think, I still can’t believe it after all this time. I can’t wait to tell Paul.”
“I don’t know whether I can face him.”
“I think after what you have been through in the last couple of years you can face anything, and anyway we’ll do it together. Promise me Mum, promise me in future we face things together.”