by Bill West
And then she was gone.
It wasn’t far for George to walk home; turn left out of the hospital, down to the War Memorial, left past the cemetery, right at the traffic lights, third on the right, Moonrise Terrace. Mum had reminded him on every visit, as if he hadn’t known by now. He noticed his shoes were a bit scuffed and dirty, and he needed a shave. He avoided all the cracks between the pavements.
Every day at the same time, he returned to the hospital. The first time the bed was empty. He sat beside it anyway. Another time there was a lady in the bed who he didn’t recognise. While he sat beside the bed, his hands clasped over his paunch, she talked on and on, her mouth all floppy, but he couldn’t understand what she was saying, so he went to the cafeteria and had sausage and chips, but no beans. He put a handful of coins on the counter and the fat lady took some. After a while there were only enough for biscuits, then nothing.
The fat lady told him he smelt bad, that he should wash, put on clean clothes. So he went home.
There was a worse smell at home. But now she was gone he could watch television on the small black-and-white portable that he’d found in the cupboard under the stairs. Eastenders made him nervous, but he liked the idea of a launderette. Perhaps he could find an old lady, full of quotes from the Bible like Dot Cotton, who would clean his clothes and tell him the right things to do. He left the TV and the radio on, for company.
Then the lights went off, and the television wouldn’t work. The smell got worse and his tummy hurt, even more than when he ate beans, and he ran out of toilet paper. Then there were the rats.
Then Royston arrived. He knocked at the door, smiled and said, “You managed to slip between the cracks.” and filled in some forms. George thought he was in trouble because he let Willy, the goldfish die. Men came and cleaned up the house.
Royston took him everywhere. “We’ll soon fix you up!” He showed him how to get money, how to buy food, even got him a job, meeting and greeting outside the offices where Royston worked. That’s where he met Dorothy who was clever but couldn’t walk. She let him push her wheelchair sometimes, so long as she steered.
It’s hard to push a wheelchair when you’re trying not to step on the cracks.
Bill West lives in Shropshire. His work has appeared in Every Day Fiction, FlashQuake, Mytholog, Heavy Glow, Boston Literary Magazine, Right Hand Pointing, Shine and other places.