1 Tonight Alice French had more pressing concerns than her poor parking..How would Mother be tonight?
She'd certainly been getting weaker lately; in bed for the last three weeks, which must be significant, and the airless little bedroom was beginning to smell of decay or something.
But it took so long.. that was how they worked - these sophisticated, modern, odourless, tasteless poisons.
Alice had spent hours poring over medical text books at the library, and had then made up a mixture herself - a little of this, a little of that..
..and these common or garden household ingredients became a deadly cocktail. Almost impossible to detect, but they took ages to work.
Still, this was the best way she was sure, and another few days should see the end of it all. At last. At long bloody last..
She allowed herself the treat of a mild swear word, and smiled grimly through the dirty windscreen as she thought of the future. She'd sell the house of course. As soon as possible.
It was cramped, dark, damp and full of small stifling rooms that always smelt sour, even after a thorough spring cleaning.
She'd get a bright airy little flat somewhere, decorate it just as she wanted, plenty of bright colours, and indulge all the silly decorating fantasies she'd always hankered after..
..scatter cushions in deep purple and flaming reds, venetian blinds everywhere and thick-pile plum-coloured fitted carpets.
No more horrible palm-frond wallpaper, or those awful bright green plastic floor tiles that Mother had insisted on..
'No point in making cleaning work dear' she'd said rather tartly, when Miss French had gently opposed the scheme of tiling the whole of the downstairs area.
And no more garden either - definitely no more garden! Miss French had grown to hate the sodden quarter acre behind the house with a passionate intensity.
Work at it as she may, the heavy clay which lurked inches below the surface foiled all attempts to turn it into something worth looking at.
Those awful backbreaking digging sessions, which left her feeling hot and cold at the same time, and very breathless..
Flowers and shrubs all triumphantly died, despite her following the watering and feeding instructions to the very letter.
Weeds did well though, all year round! She'd never have to look at the sad, cat-infested weed-filled wasteland again!
There'd be just one bright little window-box, filled with bought plants that she'd throw away each year.
The image of this wondrous future became an almost physical ache, and she began toying with the idea (not for the first time) of increasing the dose and hurrying things along a little..
But no, that wasn't the way. It might all go wrong if she did that - kindly Dr Hamer might think it looked 'funny' and refuse to sign that vital certificate.
He might even want an autopsy or something!
Miss French grew panicky at the thought - her hands tightened on the wheel and she nearly swerved into a hedge..
'Calm yourself, Alice French!' she admonished herself sternly. Using her full name like that always worked, made her toe the line.
Since childhood she'd used little tricks like this to change her mood. Oh, it wasn't that she hated Mother particularly. Oh no, she was just in the way that was all.
Early 70s, and likely to live for years and years and years.. draining Alice's spirit, her imagination, her hopes - totally and irrevocably, just by being there.
Gently critical, gently demanding, gently opposing all her daughter's schemes, ideas, plans.. all very gentle, thorough and beastly!
Look at those smug women in the supermarket! With their bright, noisy children and successful husbands who adored them.
She could have had all that too, she was sure, but who on earth has time to cultivate meaningful relationships, fall in love, get married, live for God's sake..
..when there's a 'dependent relative'.. clinging like a genteel limpet, taking up your time, all your time, your energy, your whole being..
Oh she had to admit that Mother had never stopped her going out, she'd just given those little shrugs, those sighs of resignation, even brave smiles.. as if to say..
'Go on dear, you live your life, after all mine's not important, I'll just sit here and rot.. and maybe, just maybe, you'll have a few regrets when I've sunk into my lonely grave...Ugh!
Alice French hardened her heart.
And Mother was developing a new trait as well, possibly more unpleasant than the others. She was getting secretive.. had taken to using those off-putting phrases from Alice's childhood..
"Never you mind.." "Curiosity killed the cat.." and "You just bother about your business dear and I'll bother about mine.."
Alice hated all that.
It seemed to shut her out, and after all she was the breadwinner wasn't she?
Alright, Mother did have some money (Alice didn't know just how much - more secretiveness), but surely the whole house only ran at all because of Alice's job, her income.
Mother would be in a home if it wasn't for her wouldn't she? (Possibly better for her - less chance of getting poisoned..
..said a small distant voice which Alice quickly shouted down by repeating the mental lists of Mother's shortcomings. Critical, smothering, possessive.. and now secretive).
She wasn't going to take it any more! Like that letter from Northampton.
What on earth was Mother doing getting letters from Northampton for heaven's sake?
They didn't have any relatives there, and it wasn't a computerised address label either so it couldn't have been an advert or a circular.
Very neat handwriting it had - slightly backward sloping, and it had spelt Mother's christian name right, which was unusual - Katherine with a K instead of the usual C.
Must have been a friend.. But who?
"Never you mind" was the response to her polite query, and Mother had pointedly waited for Alice to take the tea things downstairs before opening the letter.
She hadn't thrown it away either - Alice had checked all the bins, including creeping out at night to the dustbin in the narrow dank alley next to the house.
Silly really, but she didn't like mysteries. They made her uneasy. Mother hadn't gone out for years. What were 'friends' doing, suddenly writing to her out of the blue?
And another 'funny' thing.. Mother wouldn't let her put her clothes away any more. Weak as she was, she'd got quite snappy lately when Alice went to hang her dressing-gown up in the wardrobe.
"Just leave it on the chair!" she'd said.. no, ordered.
Alice was getting closer to home now, and the familiar grey sadness was beginning to settle on her at the thought. Oh no, she must get away.. and this was the only way.
Cruel and heartless maybe, but what if Mother lived for another 20? 30 years? She, Alice, would go stark staring mad!Actually, the faint voice reminded her, she probably wouldn't at all..
she'd just carry on, sinking slowly, gently and remorselessly into a twilight 'elderliness' - uninteresting to the world about her and uninterested in her surroundings; the smell of cabbage seeping thoroughly into her very bones.
Or she could live!
Have a wonderful new life - with laughing bright-eyed friends hurrying up the warmly carpeted stairs into her cheery flat,
then fulsomely admiring the treasured possessions from her round the world cruise (another treat she'd promised herself) picked out in rosy spotlights. Freshly ground coffee bubbling a welcome..
Mother must go. It was absolutely essential. Surely anyone could see that.
2 The sky was a wonderful blue. Blue to the furthest horizon, above a sparkling sea of emerald green.
The sun was high and warm and shone like a caress on the golden sweep of the tropical island beach.
Katherine ran through the surf, feeling the warm water splashing her tanned limbs, the glorious sunshine bathing her arms and shoulders, yet the gentle breeze keeping her deliciously cool..
A tremendous love of life surged through her, a feeling that anything was possible, everything was possible, the world was the most fantastic place in which to be alive.
And she was running to meet Alex, of that she was sure. He would be cutting driftwood for a fire later, to cook a superb meal of fresh fish under the brilliant stars.
She sped on, her brown feet kicking up the spray, her heart singing a hymn of praise for the wonderful day. Across the golden sand, leaving hardly a footprint, her steps were so light.
Up into a sunlight-dappled glade. Exotic fruit filled the trees, the air was rich with their scent, and with the cries of brightly plumaged birds calling to each other in the dark green above.
Alex was just around the little clump of trees in the middle of the glade, of that she was sure, and she ran laughing to greet him.
And there he was! But he looked so funny! She laughed even more - why, it was too absurd! He was wearing a suit of armour!
Clanking and chinking as he awkwardly strutted around, piling the driftwood. She couldn't see his face, it was covered by a shiny visor.. and suddenly she felt alarmed.
Something was wrong - badly wrong.. End of Part 2