TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The two children were laughing as they tried to catch the red leaves raining down from the sugar maples. A cold wind brought the promise of frost by morning and she shivered as she tried to keep the children on the narrow path. A fall in the river would be dangerous this time of year. When she glanced up, she instinctively reached for the children’s hands. A man, whose untucked shirt was dripping with red, was approaching. As he got closer, he showed a toothless grin, tipped his hat politely, and said…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
She’s in my room. It’s not her room, but she’s here again. She isn’t a nurse because she’s wearing black trousers and the nurses wear blue. She’s smiling at me. I don’t smile back. I’m not fooled.
“Do you want to go to the lounge, Dad? It’s a lovely day.”
She’s holding her hand out. I’m not giving her anything.
“Come on. Have a cup of tea. That’d be nice, wouldn’t it?”
They never bring me tea here. No breakfast. Trying to starve me. But I won’t tell them anything.
“Just one cup. You can’t stay in your room all day.”
She’s fossicking through my things. Looking for what she can steal. Can’t trust any of them. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. No-one comes to help. They should tell you things. Terrible.
“Dad, where’ve you put your teeth? Pop them back in; we’ll go have that cup of tea.”
She looks a bit like my Marcia. Eyes like storm clouds, especially when she’s angry. Doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I’ll push her buttons just to see those eyes. She’ll be here soon, to take me home. Don’t know what time. Maybe this one knows.
“Don’t want tea. When’s Marcia coming? My wife. She’s coming to take me home.” The words are floppy and my tongue feels too big.
“Oh Dad.” Her eyes are shiny. Her mouth tugs down at the corners. Doesn’t suit her. “She’s not coming. She… she passed away, remember?”
Pain shoots through my chest, like shrapnel. No. That can’t be right. She’s trying to trick me so I’ll tell them what they want to know. I have to find Marcia. She could be in danger.
“Come on, let’s go to the lounge. Nevermind about your teeth, I’ll look for them later.”
A plan comes. I reach for the cup of juice on my breakfast tray and tip it with my finger. It falls, an arc of red splattering my shirt.
“Oh Dad! What happened? You’d better go to the bathroom and change. I’ll give you a hand.”
“I can manage on my own, thank you nurse.”
She looks at me a long time, and I think the game’s up, but she scrunches her mouth in a smile. “Okay. Here’s your walker. Push the bell if you need help.” She puts a metal frame in front of me. Could make a good weapon. I grab the handles.
In the corridor she turns left, and I follow the smell of the breeze towards the door. I check behind, but she’s gone. I make it to the gate with no interference – Jerry must be slacking. The gate’s locked, but a woman pushing a cart arrives and when she comes through it doesn’t click all the way shut.
I can’t see the guards so I slip out. I’ll be too exposed on the road. I push my trolley into the bush path beside the river. If they send dogs I can duck into the water to cover my tracks.
Up ahead there’s a clearing and a pair of children are laughing, grabbing at falling leaves. The wind pushes icy air through the wet patches on my shirt. Left my jacket behind. Marcia will be cross. “Forget your head,” she’ll say.
A figure emerges from the trees and my heart picks up a beat. She’s still a ways away and my eyes aren’t what they used to be, but it could be her.
“Marcia?” I call, but it comes out wrong. She looks up, and moves towards the children, grabbing their hands. Is she leaving? But I’m closer now and I can see her eyes are brown, and her face isn’t right. My stomach clenches. Still, politeness costs nothing. I put my hand to my head but I’ve forgotten my hat so I tip my hand. “Sorry,” I mumble. “Thought you were my wife.”
She relaxes a little then, and the children, a boy and girl, go back to their game. “Are you alright?” Her forehead creases. “Aren’t you cold?”
I am. “My wife has my jacket,” I say, hoping it’s true. “She’ll be here soon and we’ll go home.”
A squeal and a splash whip my head to the left. The girl’s still jumping but it’s not a game. The boy’s gone. Then I see him, head just above the riverbank, flailing in the water, and I’m there without realising I’ve moved. I thrust the metal frame at him and he grabs hold, just as the reeds he’s clinging to give way. The woman’s there, too, and she drags him out of the water, clawing her jacket off and wrapping it around the shivering boy.
Footsteps pound towards us. “Dad! Are you okay?”
The woman stands, lifting the boy up with her. “He saved my son. If he hadn’t been there with his walker, I might not have gotten to him in time.” She clasps my shoulder with one shaking hand. “Thank you.”
I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. “Fine, fine,” I say, patting her hand. I gesture to the woman behind me. “This is my daughter, Meredith. She’s come to take me home.”
Meredith has tears in her eyes, too. “Thank you,” she says.
I don’t know who she’s talking to. “Well now,” I say. “How about that cup of tea?”