The stain on the arm had been there so long it was now almost part of the pattern – had it been removed, dabbed at gently with upholstery cleaner, she would have been perplexed, wondered what was missing, known that the flowery chintz was different but not able to put her finger – metaphorically or physically – on the exact spot where things had changed. She would have gazed at the arm, feeling a sense of loss without quite being able to pinpoint what had been lost.
The stain was, as most stains are, irregular in shape, blending in with the autumnal tones of the chrysanthemum heads or whatever they were that ran rampant across her three piece suite. It had been a mistake, that suite. She’d known it as soon as it had been set down in her living room, before the polythene wrapping had even been removed, before it had been arranged into position – sofa central, chairs either side, one rather more off-side than the other, an outlier, because there was not really room for all three pieces. She supposed that, these days, you could buy however many pieces you wanted to buy. Just a sofa, perhaps. Two sofas, even, each a different size. She’d seen such arrangements in programmes on T.V. And no chairs. But she liked her chair. This one was her chair, always had been. Ted had sat in the other, when he was in the house.
She rubbed her finger over the stain but the memory of how it had got there would not come. She turned her head to look out of the window. That tree was thrashing about again. She looked away, shook her head slightly to clear her eyes, and looked back out through the spaces in the blinds. The wind. Always the wind, moving things around, stirring things up, moaning at her “What is that stain?”
“That tree was green yesterday,” she said. Now, its leaves were sallow, sickly-looking. Well, those leaves that still clung on, a sparse few. How could that have happened? She looked away, rubbed her finger over the stain again. Pale. Faded. It could be coffee, she thought. But who could have spilt it? She hardly ever drank coffee. Even in the days when she’d gone into town to meet a friend, she’d more often than not ordered a pot of tea. Although sometimes she’d have a cappuccino. She liked the way they sprinkled chocolate on the top. And the froth, thick like icing on a cake. But underneath was a disappointment, the taste never quite what she’d been expecting.
She looked around again. The tree was still shaking, branches flailing. Like arms, she thought. Like someone splashing about in the sea, out of their depth. Not that she’d ever seen anyone in trouble in the sea. Not really. But she’d seen it on T.V. Someone fighting the current, swept off their feet, panicking, not able to get back to dry land.
She could hear the tree creaking. It’s going to snap, she thought. It’s going to break into pieces. A branch will fly off soon. It will hurtle towards the window, hit it, shatter the glass. She flinched and pushed her spine against the back of the chair, lifted her legs, tried to pull them up underneath her, put her arms up over her head. Hide, she thought. Hide from whatever’s heading towards you.
She could see something on the dark material of her skirt. Glinting, now reddish, now purple. She kept moving her head from side to side to catch it at different angles, to see how the light hit it and changed it. A lost hair. Shining on her knee. Iridescent, was that the word? Like a rainbow, she thought. Red orange yellow green blue indigo vi-o-let! She’d used to sing a song like that with her grandchildren – from some programme they’d watched together. One of the characters was a robot with an echoing, metallic voice – she’d sung the rainbow song.
When was the last time she’d seen a proper rainbow? Driving along the road to Redcar. The thought came to her suddenly. But had she been driving? Or had it been Ted, taking them all out for a few hours after Sunday lunch? Maybe it was more recently? Didn’t someone come in to see her now and again? Someone who took her out for a walk or even a drive? But who was it? She hated this – not being able to remember people’s names. Forgot Ted’s even, sometimes. Would look at the photo of them standing together – the one on the table next to her – and wonder who he was. Wonder who they were – the two of them, standing there, smiling out of the frame.
She looked down again at the hair. The lost hair. Picked it up between forefinger and thumb and rolled it between them. She turned her head and looked out of the window. ‘Look at that tree,’ she said out loud. ‘Look at it thrashing about. All its leaves gone. It was green yesterday.’
Ann Cuthbert writes poetry and short stories, mainly for her own amusement, although she has had pieces published both online and in print. She has recently discovered that she enjoys performing her work for a live audience.
Ann Cuthbert @lazurda
Photograph courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net