C J RICHARDSON WRITER - HISTORICAL FICTION
I put the mobile back in my apron pocket. I should know better. No matter what time Andrew says he will be here, he’s always late. Now everything’s spoiled, and I’m ravenous. What an inconsiderate person my child is. Those children will be hungry too. Jack always claims that daddy won’t let them eat anything on the journey over here. It invariably makes me laugh when Jack struggles to make his voice sound deep, like his daddy’s, wagging his finger at Phoebe and frowning as he speaks. “Your Grandma hasn’t slaved away all morning to make the best Sunday lunch in the world for you to say you’re not hungry.” Phoebe squeals and giggles from her high chair, making Jack perform to her all over again. Sofia says Phoebe is such a poor eater, but she always wolfs down what I place in front of her. She likes tasty, natural food, not that junk in jars that Sofia force feeds her.
Glancing out of the window again, I see my friend Sylvia, from three doors up, smiling and waving as she passes. She raises her eyebrows and rolls her eyes in understanding, knowing who I’m waiting for, before going on up the street. Her Labrador, Brandy, is a reluctant companion as usual on their post-lunch exercise, and Sylvia has to tug at the lead to force him to waddle on further. Goodness! It must be three o’clock. I peer at my wristwatch to confirm the time. This is the latest ever. They should have been here at one-thirty. They’ve never been this late before. Swallowing hard, I force down the anxious feeling in my chest; the feeling I seem to get more and more these days. I can’t even ring him while he’s driving. Fishing in my apron pocket for the umpteenth time, I pull out the mobile phone again. Nothing. Andrew bought it for me at Christmas last year. He’d said it was so I could ring him from anywhere in the house and even out in the garden. Even from the supermarket, if I needed.
‘Why on earth would I wish to ring you from the garden or the supermarket?’ I had asked. I could hear his patronising response even now.
‘In case you have an accident or felt unwell,’ he’d replied. ‘There are lots of reasons at your age.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous! I’ve managed all these years without.’
It had taken me an absolute age to work out how to use it and I can only manage a phone call and a text even now. I stare at the house phone, still sitting in its cradle, willing it to ring. Picking it up, I check for a dial tone and put it down again immediately. He could ring me at precisely this second and get the engaged tone. I pull the mobile out again. My reflection peers back at me from the glossy black screen.
Going through to the kitchen, the smell of boiled cabbage overpowers everything. I’d plated it up ages ago; the chicken alongside cold roast potatoes, carrots, cabbage, parsnips. The Yorkshire puddings have ended up a shade darker than the toast I burned at breakfast. It’s looking congealed. I look at my wristwatch yet again. 3.20 pm. I can soon warm it up when they arrive. The gravy is still in the pan, a skin now formed on top as it waits for me to warm it up before I serve the food. Sofia will turn her nose up, but she’ll have to jolly well put up with it. It suddenly dawns on me I have Sofia’s number on my mobile. I could ring her. She won’t be driving. She wasn’t great at speaking English when I first met her, and I found it challenging to interpret her strong accent. Andrew always talked to her in Hungarian instead of making her use English. It wouldn’t encourage her to try if he did that all the time, I would suggest, but Andrew said it was her choice and we shouldn’t foist our own language on her.
‘How am I expected to communicate with her if she won’t try?’ I had asked.
‘How about you learn a few phrases of Hungarian? Try to make her feel accepted?’ he had snapped back at me.
‘I’m in my own country. I shouldn’t have to speak foreign in my own country.’ Well, I shouldn’t, should I? Andrew had stormed out that day.
It’s okay now, though. Sofia and I understand each other. We muddle along the best we can. She can speak a bit of pidgin English, and Jack is bilingual, so he translates for me. Five years old. Fancy that! He’s so clever. I go back to the window. Nothing. Where are they? I can hear my heart thudding in my chest. It’s not surprising, really. I’ll just sit down again. Catch my breath.
I can’t relax and get up again. Better to ring her than sit here worrying. I pull out the mobile and scroll down until I find her name. It doesn’t ring, going straight to that automatic voice. ‘The person you are ringing cannot take your call at the moment. Please leave a message after the tone.’
‘Sofia. It’s Pat. Is everything alright? You should have all been here over an hour ago. Has something happened?’ I hear the sob in my voice and take a deep breath before adding, ‘Please let me know you are all safe.’
Dropping back onto the sofa, I know something’s dreadfully wrong. There must have been an accident; otherwise, they’d be here by now. They’ve been stuck in traffic jams on the motorway before, but he always sends me a text if that happens.
The sharp pain takes my breath away, and I bring my hand to my chest, rubbing the spot in the centre of my breastbone. It’s difficult to breathe as the pain shoots down my arm; allI grit my teeth as the ring of steel squeezed harder and stronger. Closing my eyes, I cry out. ‘Please, God, let them be safe.’
Is that someone hammering at the door? Thank Goodness, I must get up. ‘I… I’m… com… ing…’ There’s someone at the window. I can see a dim shadow ... Andrew? Is that you? Why is he wearing a uniform? Andrew?...
Safety in Numbers by Carole Richardson
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