Semi-Detached by the Sea

Her son is working from home – his real, original home, not his executive, one-bed rental in a converted office-block. He has swapped the capital’s suburbs for the hastily-dusted bedroom of his boyhood on the outskirts of this wind-blown, fret-soaked place which can’t decide if it is a village or a town.

Her son has slept, unrefreshed, in a warped single bed unused to taking his weight for longer than a weekend.  She bought him new linen and curtains last year, but the walls are still little-boy blue.  They always meant to spruce them up – probably something more neutral – but death got in the way.

This is the room where her son slept, the night after his sister lost her life. This is the room where her son slept, the day after the terrible news about his father. There’s still a Mouse Trap game in the cupboard. Lego. Operation.

She pops in with a mug of black coffee and a ginger choc-chip cookie. Her son is talking into his headset in low, calm tones, ironing out his accent for the benefit of his Southern colleague. He is wearing an open-necked Oxford-collar shirt, with Dress-down Friday slacks. Her son’s best teddy watches, with amazed, glassy-plastic eyes.

She wants to say “Here you are, Treasure.” She wants to touch her son on the shoulder. The proximity and the distance tantalise her. She sets the cup and plate down on the window ledge.

The street looks strange from her son’s room, too. The white Spring sun hits next-door’s conservatory at a painful angle. Their cat patrols the bare pavement, unchallenged. A muffled rumbling forces its way through the double-glazing. She hopes it is the sound of the sea and not more flaring of the stacks at the last remaining chemical plant. No tell-tale orange tinge to the sky. She catches a glimpse of choppy, steely waves between the semi-detached rooftops. The tides are still turning. The world is still turning.

She has promised her son that she will not sing during office-hours: usually, she fills superfluous domestic silence and space with her ladies’ choir harmonies. The songs have not been coming to her, anyway, of late. Everything except gnawing unease has gone.

Everything except her grown-up son, who is back in his bedroom. She would have moved to a bungalow by now, if she’d had the energy to tackle the loft, but this family-sized house almost fits again, now that her son is in it. She finds herself glad of the cocoon of the familiar, however faded.

She finds herself glad that her son picked up on her silent beseeching and called off his foreign trip. Home, instead. To her. Just in time. She feels guilty to be glad at all at a time like this but she is glad that her son got locked down here. With her.

She is sorry he didn’t redirect his mail and that his houseplants won’t survive. She is sorry he didn’t pack enough clothes for such a long stay, but she will wash and iron the ones he has without complaint. She will never complain again, as long as her son stays safe.

Please, no more loss. She knows she has no power but she will try to pay back the gods with selfless, neighbourly deeds. She is making donations to all the causes. She knows not everyone is as lucky as she is. It is a long time since she has felt like the fortunate one.

She hovers until her son hangs up. She whispers “I love you.” He winks, then turns to take another call. When all this is eventually over, she will have to let her son go, all over again.

Helen Victoria Anderson