The room was sideways. It had been sideways for a few minutes. As she lay there on the carpet, she took her free hand and straightened the bottom of the bed’s valance. Below the bed she could see a dustball. Annoying because she’d vacuumed that day. She vacuumed every day.
Turning her head she could see the dressing table. The gold on the mirror had been largely rubbed away. They’d had somewhere around twelve moves in their life together, her and Donald. How many fingers must have touched the surround of that mirror? How many shipping boxes had it sat in? It had got lost once. They’d arrived in Cardiff at Christmas, 1979, but the mirror hadn’t made it; it didn’t get there until the January of 1980. Vivian remembered how she and Donald had laughed about it being a decade late.
Below the mirror was her stool. A now-faded green velvet covered it. She remembered her mother sat there, elegantly spritzing herself with perfume. She thought of her daughter kneeling there playing with her lipsticks, and how her two grand-daughters had done the very same thing. They’d all root around in the drawers and come up triumphant with something she’d long forgotten about, then proceed to cover themselves in it. Once they were satisfied, they would dive into her wardrobe and come out balancing precariously on a pair of high heels. Her wardrobe wouldn’t dream of housing any flats.
Four generations, she thought. We’ve all sat at that dressing table and looked into that mirror. And the mirror had seen the same features reflected back at it.
She tested how much she could move. It wasn’t a lot. And too much movement was painful. I’d better call him, she thought.
“Donald.” She called, lifting her head. That hurt a little.
Downstairs, Donald was in the kitchen finishing off the crossword. He wasn’t sure about two across and 14 down, but he was sure Vivian would know. He heard her call. He knew that call. There was something wrong.
Vivian had tried to make herself sound normal, as if she were calling him to dinner. The same way she’d called him to dinner for 54 years. A sing-song call. “Do-nald.” High first, then lower.
But Donald heard her shout and thought of when he’d heard it last. She’d been in the kitchen, he was just outside the stable door. “Do-nald.” She’d sung song. He hurried in. “I’ve seen a mouse.” She said.
“Where?” He’d looked around and came to rest on the frozen profile of his wife.
She was looking at the window sill. He looked at the sill. There was the little blue jug they’d brought back from Rhodesia. He knew it was Zimbabwe, but he’d only ever known it as Rhodesia. The jug had been a leaving gift after seven years out there. They’d brought back that jug, a box full of happy photos and memories that were now fading to the same sepia. He thought how many houses they’d carried that little jug to. It had always come to rest on the kitchen window sill. He didn’t know why. But as he looked at it, he considered that this window sill would be its last resting place.
There, half-hidden behind the jug was the mouse. It was looking straight at Vivian and she was looking back.
That was the last time he’d heard her call like that. This time he started out of the kitchen and into the hall.
Upstairs, Vivian looked at the portion of room she could see. Her little gold slippers were neatly lined up with Donald’s indoor slippers. His were blue suede. This must have been their fourth or fifth pair each. They always got the same. They always put them just there. She looked to the wastepaper basket and could just see the packaging from the M&S shirt she and Donald had bought the day before. He’d gone down another size. He wasn’t unwell. We’re just getting on, she thought.
Donald was coming up the stairs; he was in his other slippers, the ones he used outdoors. He wasn’t meant to be wearing them in the kitchen. And he wasn’t meant to wear them in the hall or on the stairs. But he knew that call.
He got to the twelfth step, and on it he caught the heavy rubber sole of those outdoor slippers. He tripped and stumbled, and came down heavily on to the half-landing.
Vivian could just see his head and shoulders on the floor. She called him. No sing-song. Just “Donald!”
“I’m alright Viv.” He said.
She knew that voice.
She had broken her hip, he his collar bone and arm. They both left the house sideways that day, but only she got upright again.
by Charli Matthews