The New Dress

by J Adamthwaite

Let me show you my outfit, Mum said eagerly.

It was giving her a new lease of life, all this planning. She’d been at it ever since the diagnosis.

I followed her upstairs, stopping midway for her to catch her breath, hand firmly gripping the banister. Her hair was thinning. It was the first time I’d noticed it through the tight grey curls.

There, she said, beaming, gesturing at the black sequined dress that hung on the wardrobe door. I thought maybe I’d have a red scarf with it. What do you think?

I shrugged. What was I supposed to think? You’ll look lovely, I said.

I know I’ll lose weight, she said. So I bought it a size smaller.

I stared at the dress.

Cup of tea? she asked, shuffling out of the bedroom.

Her kitchen was – always had been – spotless. Everything in its place and a place for everything, she liked to say. I sat at the table and watched her squoosh teabags in bone china mugs.

Let’s have a biscuit, she said, waving her hand at the tin on the table. The biscuit tin was a wedding present. It had a gold handle like a doorknob on the lid and pictures of fruit painted round the barrel. Dad tried to count the apples once when he was high on morphine. He got distressed because he couldn’t remember where he’d started. She told him there were 27 and took him to bed. We know cancer well in this house.

There you are, love, she said, setting a mug in front of me and pushing the biscuit tin across the table. I stirred a sugar cube into my tea. She used to tut at sweet tea. When did she stop doing that?

You like the dress then? she asked suddenly, half way through a custard cream. It’s not too dressy?

It’s fine, I said.

She looked at me sternly. You’ll remember which one it is?

I nodded.

She looked satisfied.

I was thinking I might look into ordering the coffin as well, she said. Save you a bit of trouble, won’t it? Anyway, it’ll be nice to see what I’m going in.

She took a long sip of tea.

I watched her silently as the afternoon shadows trickled across the kitchen floor.

-

J Adamthwaite writes fiction of varying lengths and is currently working on a novel.

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