This week, I’m sharing another short story with you. The Visit was published in Crannog Magazine in October. I’d love your feedback, as I finished it and sent it off without showing it to anyone.
I was wearing my new dress. It was supposed to be for Nicola’s party. But I was wearing it for William instead. I spread the dress out across the seat, to stop it from creasing. When Mummy and Daddy went to visit William, I stayed behind with my aunt Miriam. But not this time.
“Why do I have to go?” I asked, as we pulled out of the driveway.
“I told you. He’s feeling much better,” Mummy said. “It’ll do him good to see you.”
I didn’t think that was true.
The dress was yellow, with white lace on the edges and a white collar. It was the same colour as my hair, the colour of butter. Mummy gave me a white hairslide for my hair and washed it with special shampoo to make it shine, like hers.
Daddy drove the car like it was the tractor. He held the wheel tight and looked straight ahead. And all the other cars on the road passed him out. We drove past Nicola’s house. Her mother was in the garden, filling the paddling pool. She waved at us. Everyone in the class was going to the party. A hot, sour ball squeezed my throat shut. I chewed my bottom lip.
“Don’t do that, Abigail,” said Mummy. “You’ll destroy your lips.”
Mummy could see me through the mirror.
The air in the car was hot and tasted of dust. Mummy didn’t like the windows open, because the wind messed up her hair. And there was no sound, except for the engine. Mummy let me hear stories in the car, but not when Daddy was there. Daddy needed to concentrate on the road. I pretended I was splashing with the others in the paddling pool. My legs swung back and forth and hit the back of Mummy’s seat. She turned her head.
“What’s the matter now, Abigail?”
“Are we there yet?”
“In a little while.”
That was what she said every time I asked her. So I stopped asking.
The hospital didn’t look like a hospital. It looked like a house. Like our house. There was ivy all over the walls, with bits of cream paint underneath. The car made crunching sounds when it went up the avenue. I liked that. When we got out, my legs were stiff and sore. I made them go backwards and forwards until they straightened out. The sea was at the back of the hospital. The sun made little sparkles on the water.
“Can we go swimming?” I asked Mummy.
Mummy took a handkerchief out of her bag and rubbed Daddy’s suit with it.
“There, it’s gone,” she said. “Just a bit of grit from the car.”
“It’s too hot a day for this get-up.”
Daddy put his finger under the collar of his shirt.
“It won’t kill us to make the effort.”
There was a crinkle in the space between Mummy’s eyes.
“Sure, it’ll be grand, Caroline.”
“Of course it will.”
She didn’t sound like she meant it.
The door opened and two people came out. One was wearing a nurse’s uniform. The other one wore a white shirt and grey pants. His hair was the colour of sand. It was William. I forgot how tall he was. He stood right in front of me. His lips moved, but no sound came out.
“You’ll be all right now, won’t you, William?” said the nurse.
William’s head jerked up and down. Mummy clapped her hands together.
“Well, this is very nice, isn’t it? All of us together again.”
Her voice was different: slow and loud.
“Say hello, Abigail,” she said.
She pressed down on my shoulder, a bit too hard.
“Hello, Abby,” said William. “Your dress is pretty.”
He used to call me Abby. He was the only one who did. The only one who was allowed to.
“Right, we’d better get going,” said Mummy. “We’ve to have you back at four. What would you like to do, William?”
William didn’t say anything. He just looked at the ground.
“Are you deaf?” I said.
That was what Mummy said to me when I didn’t answer her.
“That’s enough, Abigail. We’ll get into the car and then we’ll decide.”
It was always Mummy who decided.
We drove away from the sea, towards the town. William pressed himself against the door. He put his hand on the handle above his head.
“Are you comfortable, William,” Mummy asked.
“We’re going to have a lovely afternoon together.”
As we drove, William’s lips started moving again.
“Who are you talking to?” I asked him.
He whipped his head around. He looked surprised that I was there.
“No one,” he said.
Mummy said William was in the hospital because of his headaches. But maybe it was because he talked to people who weren’t there.
In the village, we passed a big white building.
“Oh, there’s the hotel,” said Mummy. “We’ll have our lunch there. It’ll be nice and quiet. Then we can go for a drive later.”
“That’ll be grand,” said Daddy.
There were tables outside the hotel. They were made of iron and each one had its own umbrella. The umbrellas were yellow and white, like my dress. I bounced up and down on the seat.
“Let’s eat at the tables, Mummy?”
“It would be better if we ate inside. Not so much noise.”
“But I want to eat outside. Why can’t we eat outside?”
“Don’t whine, Abigail.”
The dining room was big and full of echoes. The floor was made of flat stones. We sat at a table in the middle. There were only a few other people in there. I sat beside William. He sat very straight; his back didn’t touch the chair. A man in a suit glided up with menus. Then he glided away again. Mummy opened a menu.
“What’ll we have?” she said.
“Bread,” I said.
“You’ll have the chicken. You’re a growing girl. And what about you, William?”
William shook his head.
“You’re not hungry?”
He said it in a whisper, in case someone might hear.
“Well, you have to eat something. You won’t be having your supper for hours. Why don’t you try the chowder?”
The waiter came back and Mummy told him what we were having.
“And to drink?” said the waiter.
“Just water, thanks,” said Mummy.
“Maybe the young lady would like some homemade lemonade?”
“Can I? Please?”
Mummy didn’t like me to have sugar.
“Oh but I want some. It’ll be like the party.”
“Ah, let her have it,” said Daddy.
Mummy looked startled. Daddy never talked unless people talked to him.
When the waiter went away, William started playing with his napkin. I played with mine too.
“Stop fidgeting, Abigail,” said Mummy.
She didn’t give out to William. I pulled a face at him. He didn’t see.
When the food came, I saw why Mummy ordered the chowder for William. It was white. William only ate white things. I remembered now. When Mummy made roast lamb for Sunday lunch, he threw it on the floor.
I took a sip of my lemonade. The lemonade was pink, with bubbles that went up my nose. William swirled his soup around, but didn’t lift the spoon up to his mouth. It rattled against the side of his bowl. All the time, he kept talking to the people who weren’t there. I chopped my chicken into little pieces. Mummy was too busy talking to eat much of her food.
“The Galvins are always asking for you.”
The Galvins were Nicola’s parents. Mummy always told them William was away playing at concerts.
“And the O’Reillys. You played so beautifully at their garden party. They have a new conservatory now. Andrea’s at university and Michael is planning to join the army. You used to play such games with him, didn’t you?”
William stared at Mummy. His eyes were round.
“You don’t remember? Oh, never mind. It was a long time ago now.”
The waiter opened the window. Mummy was right. The garden was full of noise. People were talking and laughing. And there were violins. William sat up straighter. He started to shiver, even though it was hot outside. William didn’t have a violin any more. He smashed it one night. I heard it in my sleep. When I ran to the window, it was half bright outside, so I was able to see the wood splintered all over the patio.
The chicken made me thirsty. I put my hand out towards my glass. William put his hand out at the same time. It bumped off my elbow. The glass fell out of my hand. The lemonade flew out of the glass and made a pink puddle on my dress.
“Look what you did,” I shouted at William.
“I didn’t mean…I don’t know.”
“You spoil everything. I hate you.”
William stood up so fast, his chair fell over. But he didn’t pick it up. He walked away. I waited for him to turn around, but he didn’t. He just kept going, taking little rushing stops, like he was walking on hot sand. We stayed sitting in our chairs and watched him go. I tried to dry the puddle with my napkin.
“Aren’t you going after him, Brendan?” said Mummy.
“But sure, I’ve to get the…”
“Don’t worry about it. Let me sort it out. We’ll wait for you at the car.”
“Mummy, I need to clean my dress.”
“Not now, Abigail.”
Mummy hated it when my clothes got dirty.
On the way out, I told Mummy I needed to go to the toilet.
“Fine. I’ll wait for you outside. Don’t dawdle.”
I knew where the toilets were. They were in the hall beside the dining room. There were black and white diamonds on the floor. I hopscotched across them. The door of the men’s toilets was open. There was a person crouched on the floor. It was William. Daddy was standing over him.
“Are you all right?” Daddy said.
William’s lips were moving again. This time, sounds came out of them, louder and louder. The words all ran into each other, like prayers at Mass. Daddy looked frightened. I never saw him frightened before. Not even when the bull charged at him.
“Will we bring you back, to, y’know?”
William didn’t answer, but he stopped making the sounds. Daddy reached down, put his hands under William’s armpits and lifted him up. William lifted me up when he came home from violin school. He twirled me around on his shoulders, so I could see the world. When William and Daddy walked out of the bathroom, I saw that they were the same size.
On the way home, my eyes kept opening and closing. I stretched myself out on the seat. There was a big stain on the front of my dress. But it didn’t matter any more.