I wrote this story recently for the February Uxbridge Writers' Circle meeting. One of the words that we had to use in our word challenge story was 'valentine', so I thought this would be an appropriate time to publish it! All words that I had to use are in italics.
I hope you have a wonderful Valentine's Day filled with love and friendship.
Mabel was slumped in the wheelchair, studying her feet, which hadn’t changed from yesterday or the day before or the day before that. Her hands were clasped in her lap on a bedraggled crocheted blanket, the colours of which offended her: putrid green and dirty orange.
The next event in the day was lunch. If she was lucky, the aide who wheeled her into the dining room would say a few words before abruptly setting the wheelchair rolling, and Mabel wouldn’t be startled like she sometimes was. She would have preferred to be forgotten. The bland food didn’t incite an appetite and the atmosphere in the dining room was stuffier. The smells of decaying people and uninspired food stagnated around her.
She regretted her blatant stupidity that had led her eventually and inevitably to this place. She’d turned down an offer of marriage by Gregory about forty years previously. She’d craved freedom and independence and was obsessed with her career. Marriage didn’t seem to fit with any of that. And she thought she didn’t want children, but she watched and listened with intense envy as other residents enjoyed lively visits with their grandchildren. She learned that many women had it all—the love of family, children, grandchildren, and a career, perhaps not as all-consuming as hers, but a career, nonetheless.
And what had she got to show for all those years of commitment and dedication? A pension that was barely enough to cover the retirement home fees.
Mabel scared herself with the cold realization that she was waiting to die. She wanted to die.
The scare shook her. She reflected on what had happened to her and she muttered out-loud, as she peered at her feet, ‘ridiculous’.
Mabel had been a problem-solver, a woman of action, a leader. Sitting in a wheelchair feeling sorry for herself didn’t cut it. It was ridiculous. Something had to change.
The next day, she wheeled herself down to the activity room where the computer workshop was being held. She asked lots of questions and one of the high-school students helped her to figure out how Google worked, and how to find a telephone number.
Before she lost her courage and determination, before she could waver, she entered Gregory’s name and address, the address from all those years ago. A telephone number popped up, and she wondered if she was imagining that it looked familiar. Could it be the same number after all that time?
Her hands trembled so badly, and her lips were so dry, that she didn’t think she could make the call. In any case, she didn’t have the strength to wheel herself back to her room and her hands refused to get a grip.
The high-school student offered to push her.
She enjoyed the breeze on her face as he whisked her along the corridor. It was a delight to travel at a brisk pace. It perked her up. The shiny colourless floor and pale blank walls flashed past in a welcome blur.
By the time they’d reached her room, a spark of excitement had been lit. But it abruptly died as she stared at the telephone. Did she have the courage? What would Gregory think after all these years? Would he even remember her? There really was no point in making the call.
The high-school student (she didn’t know his name) picked up her phone, took the piece of paper, punched in the number and handed the phone to her.
“Gregory?” she asked when a croaky voice answered.
“Yes. Is this The Bay?”
“No. It’s Mabel.”
“Mabel who? From The Bay?”
“No. It’s Mabel Barts.” Mabel’s stomach churned. She moved the phone an inch away from her ear but changed her mind.
“Do you remember me, Gregory?”
“Of course I remember you. I’ve never forgotten. Did you call on Valentine’s Day after all these years as a sort of sick joke?”
“Of course not. I didn’t know it’s Valentine’s Day. Can we talk?”
“We’re talking now.”
“I know. But I’d like to see you.”
“You can come here if you like. I’m as lonely as all heck, so I won’t turn a visit down even if you’re forty years late. You stood me up. I didn’t deserve that.”
“No. no, you didn’t.”
“My career and fear of commitment.”
“That’s what you want to believe. I shouldn’t have asked. I understand why.”
“Of course I do.”
“You never said anything.”
“I didn’t know how to. I wanted to show compassion, but I didn’t know how to without sounding patronizing or condescending. I didn’t know how to do that. Too wet behind the ears. Anyway, come tomorrow. I can still make a decent cup of Earl Grey tea.”
Mabel looked up at the clothes in her tiny closet and had a conniption. Where were the smart outfits she’d worn to work? Oh, now she remembered. She’d given them all to the charity shop before she moved into this deadly place. So many mistakes.
The wheelchair taxi was late, so her legs were even more wobbly than usual as she heaved herself out of the wheelchair with the help of two sticks. She’d been delivered to the front door but there were two concrete steps to negotiate and a doorbell to push without losing her balance.
Gregory opened the door at the right moment and supported her arm. They both sat down in the sunlit living room with its colourful, eclectic décor.
Mabel learned that Gregory had hoped that one day she’d change her mind and they’d be together, but he hadn’t expected it to take forty years.
It was hard for each of them to get used to seeing grey hair and lined faces, when their memories were of much younger, fresher skin and thicker, darker hair.
Gregory says that Mabel’s call that day was life-saving. It was the best Valentine’s Day present he’d ever received. He’d hit a new low and had almost, almost, given up hope of ever seeing Mabel again. He knew she’d bought a one-way ticket in that awful retirement home.
And Mabel says the same thing of the day she plucked up the strength and courage to call Gregory. Life-saving. She doesn’t need the wheelchair anymore. She walks with a cane and even bakes a mean apple pie.
They want you all to know that you’re invited to the wedding on Saturday. It’s being held in the high school gym. Mabel’s hoping to find out the name of the young man who helped her to stand on her own two feet.
She won’t let herself or Gregory down this time.