There was an electric light next to the black glossy door. It was new. The hole by the drainpipe was crammed with newspapers. Jade rung the doorbell and stepped back and chewed her fingernails as she waited.
Mrs Fuller shuffled through the vestibule and opened the door. She was wearing her old violet cardigan, olive green skirt and clumpy brown shoes. The wrinkles above her top lip made her look like she was in her sixties. She couldn’t be. It hadn’t been that long. Had it?
“Jade, come in, come in.”
Jade stepped through the front door into the hallway and unzipped her tracksuit Jacket.
“Your sister is up there with him already.” Mrs Fuller went to take her jacket but Jade pulled it back and rested it on her arm.
“Would you like a drink?” Mrs Fuller asked, as she walked through into the kitchen and rummaged in the fridge.
“Has he got anything proper to drink?”
“Wouldn’t you like a coffee?”
Jade opened the cupboard above the kettle and toaster. There wasn’t much left. Just a bottle of baileys and a half bottle of honey rum. “Got any clean glasses?”
“I know this must be hard for you, Jade, but you have to be strong for Rosie.”
“What are you doing here anyway?” Jade said.
“I trained as a Macmillan nurse after I lost my Arthur. I’m only next door so I was the perfect choice.”
Jade started opening cupboard doors searching for a glass. She found a mug and a pint glass. They would do.
“Why hasn’t he got a proper nurse?” Jade said.
“She needed some rest.”
At the top of the stairs the photographs of Jade and Rosie had been taken down. The faded rectangles had left uneven blocks against the lemon wallpaper.
“I took the pictures of you and Rosie down. The paramedics kept knocking them off. They’re safe in the back room.” Mrs Fuller opened the door for Jade and went back downstairs.
The room was lit by a small lamp on the bedside table. Rosie was sat on the edge of the bed.
“Rosie.” Jade put the bottle and glasses down and moved over to her.
Rosie stood up and hugged Jade too tightly. She rubbed her hands up and down Jades shoulder. Jade patted her back a few times and moved away.
Their father lay on his side in bed. He’d lost most of his hair. He still had some at the sides that stuck to his head in wet curls. The powder blue cover had slid down to his waist. His hip joint was jutting out. Rosie sat back down and started stroking his hand. His breathing was quiet, his eyes closed. It wasn’t his old bed. This one had a metal base and wheels. It must have been the hospitals.
“I thought you would have come sooner. I called for you at Liam’s –” Rosie was interrupted by their fathers low, bubbling cough. She poured him a glass of water and put it to his mouth. Some of it dribbled out and darkened his night shirt.
“Can he talk?”
“He’s on a lot of diamorphine for the pain?”
“Is there any in here?”
“What?” Rosie turned, her forehead wrinkling.
“I just meant for the pain, if he gets any worse.”
Mrs Fuller knocked on the door and let herself in. She was carrying a tray of tea. She rested it on the bedside table and smiled at Rosie. “Drink some tea love.” She took Jade by the elbow. “He’s really bad, Jade. I tried to tell Rosie but she ignored me.”
“I think it’s time you left. We need some time with him, alone.”
Jade used her body to edge Mrs Fuller out the door and onto the landing.
“Don’t say anything to upset him.”
“You know what I mean, Jade. I remember.”
“I’m just going the loo. Will you sit with him for a minute?” Rosie asked. She had died her hair cranberry red and wore it loose down to her shoulders. She squeezed past Jade and left the room. She’d lost weight. It didn’t suit her.
Her father smelt of cooking apples and talc.
“Dad, it’s me, Jade.”
He whispered something. She leant forward. He thumbed at the oxygen machine at the side of the bed. Jade reached for it, and placed it over his nose and mouth. His mustard yellow hand clutched at the mask and brushed against hers. She recoiled as if burnt.
“What do you want? Do you want some water?”
He pulled the mask off and tried to talk. Instead he coughed again and clutched his stomach.
“What do you want?”
His eyes flickered for a moment then shut.
There wasn’t anything personal in his bedside table. A daughter is entitled to look anyway. There was a box of Kleenex, a few pens from the bookies and a mouldy smelling newspaper. The school picture of Rosie and Jade in their grey uniforms had been ripped and cello taped back together again. Did Miss Fuller really take the photographs of them down? Not likely.
The room was made darker by the green wallpaper and heavy curtains. She moved one of the curtains aside letting the street light shine in. He hadn’t decorated in twenty years. It was a state. The plaster had begun to peel and flake onto the carpet. The paint above the radiator had swelled and cracked.
In the yard opposite, an abandoned washing machine was propped against the fence, its door tangerine with rust. It was nice looking out of the window.
“Did he say anything?” Rosie asked as she closed the door quietly behind her.
Jade shook her head and picked up the bottle of rum.
“No, thank you.” Rosie sat back down on the bed and rubbed the sleeves of her beige jacket.
“Go on then, just a small one.”
“It’ll stop you shaking.” Jade poured two drinks out. Rosie ended up with the mug. She sipped at hers and grimaced. Jade drank three shots then opened the baileys and drank.
“Don’t you think you should slow down?”
“ OK.” Rosie rummaged in her Louis Vuitton handbag. “So, how is Liam?” The clicking she made whilst rooting in the bag was infuriating.
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Why? Have you two broken up? Shame, he seemed good for you.” She finally got a photograph out of her bag, looked at it, and smiled. “So what happened with you and him?”
“He wanted kids and I didn’t”
“Hmm right. Here’s a picture of Jake, isn’t he gorgeous?”
Jade took the photo and held it at hands length. What was so “gorgeous” about him? He was just a fat, pink bundle of flesh. “How is he?”
“Fine, fine. He misses his aunty though.”
“Yeah I’ve been busy.” She lied. “Do you want another drink?”
“No, I don’t think you should either.”
“Because imagine what daddy must think, seeing you like this. I mean really, Jade. Look here’s a brush for your hair and a lip gloss-”
“Fine. Do you mind leaving me and daddy alone for a while? We need to talk.” Rosie put her father’s hand to her lips. She kissed the top of his hand and his finger gently. She cried making ugly sobbing sounds. Jade took the bottle of rum out of the room.
She went to her old room and flicked the switch several times. Would any of her old stuff still be there? She took out her phone and used it as a torch. On top of her chest of draws was an empty bottle of Malibu, a pencil case and a silver portable CD player. She opened the CD player and took the CD out. It was All Rise by Blue. Jesus Christ? Still it was better than what Rosie listened to, or pretended to. Fucking Mozart. Who did she think she was? She held it up to the light and admired the shards of purple and green. She threw it at the wall like a Frisbee. It didn’t shatter like in films.
She moved the blue glare of her phone to the wardrobe and opened it. It was probably best to leave it shut. On its floor were mounds of sketch books, paperbacks and magazines. The magazines were mainly yellow framed National Geographic. She loved the green forests and the tigers skulking in the grass. She pulled the shortbread tin from the bottom. She blew the dust from the lid and pressed it against her chest trying to ease it off. It sprang open and crashed to the floor, the papers scattering around it. She knelt down and began sifting through the notebooks. She picked out a sketch that her first boyfriend, Luke, had given her. It was a portrait of a couple, but their faces were faded. All that was left of her diary was a blackened bronze padlock.
She had come home from school one afternoon and seen her Father in the back yard, poking at a fire.
“Eh, you, come here!” he had shouted.
She had run out and saw the diary’s plastic cover, crackling and melting into thick sludge. The words on the cream paper rapidly disappeared into ash. She went to rescue it, but her Father grabbed her hand.
“Do you think I’m a cunt, do you? How could you write that stuff about your own father?” He’d taken his cigarette and stubbed it into Jade’s forearm. She had screamed, but he had cupped his hand over her mouth. He had pushed her through the back door. She had fallen backwards over the step and lay on the floor, clutching her arm.
“Go and run it under cold water.”
Jade looked at the scar and ran her fingers over it. It felt like dried wax. In her Father’s room the smell of sick masked the talc. He looked like he was already dead. The skin beneath his sunken eyes was flecked with purple blotches. Rosie was brushing the sheets trying to smooth them out. Jade went back to the window ledge. She could hear the clink of milk bottles outside. It was still dark, but it must have been early morning.
“When are you going back to Salford?” Rosie blew her nose on a tissue and crunched it into a ball.
“I don’t know really, after the funeral I suppose.”
“Are you staying here?”
“No, I’ll find somewhere else to stay.”
Rosie passed her glass to Jade.
“Am I really that bad that you can’t stay with me?”
Jade filled her glass up with rum and passed it back.
“We’ll sort things out quickly. You need to get back to Jake.”
Rosie started crying again. It was like Jake was the trigger word to set her off. It was getting tiresome. Their father was groaning – a low growl-like sound. He leant to his side and dry retched.
“Is there anything we can give him?” Jade asked.
“Miss Fuller said she’s given him something beginning with a c, to stop the nausea.”
“I wish I had some. It fucking stinks in here. Can I open a window?”
Rosie shook her head and held their fathers hand. Jade poured herself another drink.
“At least empty that commode.”
“Why don’t you do it if you’re that bothered? Honestly, Jade.”
The only sound was when Rosie gave her father the oxygen mask. She did it regularly. The noise was so unnatural.
“What are we going to do? I can’t lose him, not now.” Rosie said.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Do you even care that he’s dying?”
“I care. It’s just hard for me. You know what he was like with me.”
“Don’t start with all that again, Jade. I mean it.”
“So what? Pretend it never happened?”
Rosie closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
“Jade you hurt daddy when you said those things. You hurt me. But that’s what you were like back then.”
Jade moved into the corner of the room and slumped down into a wicker chair. She clenched her fist and bit down on her knuckles.
“We forgave you. Can’t you try and make peace with him?”
Their Father was still, his jaw slack. Rosie touched his chest to check if there was any movement. She put her fingers against his throat. There was nothing she could do. She clasped her hands together and covered her mouth. She leant forward, hands clasped together. Frozen.
Jade tried to speak but no words came out. Her heart was beating normally. She didn’t feel sick. Her hands weren’t shaking. She tried to make herself cry, pinching her hand. She managed a few tears and smoothed them away with her little finger. She leant over her father and tried to shut his mouth. It was upsetting Rosie. It sagged open again. The smell of the body was like boiled cabbage.
“Who do we ring, to you know, come and take him.” Rosie asked.
Jade looked at her watch. It was four O’clock. Mrs Fuller was a busybody but she’d help.
“The funeral directors won’t be open for a few hours.”
“Should we call a priest?” Rosie asked.
“I don’t know.”
Was their father still a Catholic? It didn’t matter.
Jon Gale is a twenty one year old student studying Creative writing