This short story was inspired by a writing prompt in a recent ‘Writing on the Wall’ Zoom class.
“Alright Linda, girl, I nearly missed you.”
“Hiya Mel,” said Linda. Then she burst into tears.
“Ay c’mere girl. It’s alright.” He put his arm around her shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
She let out a heavy sigh and said “I just need to um… just pop to the ladies.”
Linda had lost count of how many times she’d practised the expression she would have on her face and the things she would say if she ever saw her ex-husband again. But it was too late for all that now.
A couple of minutes later, she emerged from the ladies room, with tissue in hand and freshly applied lipstick.
“Now or never,” she said and looked at Mel, but her smile didn’t reach the corners of her glistening eyes.
“We’d best get a move on, I’ve only got another 8 minutes on the car,” said Mel.
She took off her coat and gently threw it on the back seat. There was a small, slightly deflated football and an action figure toy in the seatwell.
“You got kids then?” asked Linda.
“Yeah, two grown up and three grandchildren. All boys. Me missus, Claire said she would have loved to have had a girl. You?”
There was a beat of silence and then he said, “Sorry, Lin girl, I didn’t think.”
“No it’s alright, it was a long time ago now. We were only kids ourselves then. Me and Ronnie have got just the one, Simone. She’s training to be a dental hygienist. Says she’s not having any children” said Linda.
“Can’t fault her. It’s expensive these days. Me missus Claire, says you’re married to a schoolteacher?”
“Yeah, Ronnie. He’s a Special Needs teacher. He would have come with me today but teachers can’t get time off, and he’s got Scouts tonight and I said I didn’t know what time I’d be back.”
“It’s good of you to come you know. I know you didn’t have to, but Stewart kept asking for you and then one of me lads found you on Facebook and I couldn’t just leave it like that without knowing.”
“How is he?” said Linda.
“He’s only got days left now but he’s not in any pain. One of us is up there almost all the time. They’re really good with visiting hours up there.”
“I’m sorry,” she said.
They drove the few miles through a city she’d once loved, past the old football stadium, the hospital and the park. A big Tesco now stood on the ground where her old school used to be. That dodgy council estate where she grew up in was now considered desirable real estate, with its larger than average houses and big gardens that were not found in modern builds.
There was a car already outside the house so Mel parked behind it.
She remained sitting in the car for a moment or two, breathing deeply to compose herself. She looked into the garden and watched a man she used to know, slowly move a long-handled tool up and down at the edge of the lawn. There was a small boy chasing and grabbing at bubbles as they floated away. The boy saw her, ran to the gate and peered over the top of it. She smiled at him and Mel unlatched the gate.
“Hi Dad. Hello Trouble,” said Mel, ruffling the boy’s hair. “You remember Linda, don’t you Dad?”
“Hello, Derek,” said Linda. “Still keeping a lovely garden I see. I’m sorry about your Stewart.”
“Thanks love. You look well. Janey’s inside. She’s been looking forward to seeing you,” said the man.
Mel fumbled in his pocket for his phone.
“Are you that lady who used to be married to me Grandad Stewart?” asked the boy.
“Yes, love. I am,” she said and stroked the boy’s upturned face.
The boy slipped his hand inside hers and they began to walk towards the house. Behind her, she heard the gate close. Then Mel said, “Dad, that was the hospice. He’s gone.”