Romaine Hill

Roma’s story

Roma: voicing one’s longing

June 6,2007. still here. 6yrs 14 dyssincejim died just before our 89ths. I miss him but how could his tired body keep on going? I thought I’dgosoon after him, but I’mstill here. not another day do iwant to live. am finished. oldage who’d hav it? no purpose now in living. 2 children grown. romaine with tim, the doctor – my David – with his wife. their families. they don’t need me. not a trouble to them, i try not tobe, but tired, finished, iam. terrible this old age – one day after another waiting to LEAVE MYSELF but must wait, till iam called. ‘can’t go before your time,’ mom used to say. justmehere now & phylis, but too far for us ever to meet again. first Doug went & then mom, before my stroke – & Ken in his sleep and Phyllis waiting for her tea, with him dead beside her. so unfair. Jimmy so good to me & him so sick at the end not himself atall . why Kenneth, in his sleep? ‘tis the good die young,’ Dad always said. why’s Kenneth gone then and me here, living this half life? him a troublemaker always & her always taking his part and blaming me, the eldest & a girl! hit me over the mouth for taking his reader. wht’d I want with that stupid reader – so slow, behind always – I was readers ahead. mom knew that.

Her head nodded & the old hardcover exercise book slid with a thud to the floor …

… Thump the book struck her, on her head, her mouth; ‘I didn’t do it, Mommy, she shouted. Why do you always believe Kenny? Why would I want to hide his stupid reader – I’ve got my big one for 9yr-olds.’ Her lip started to bleed. She wiped it on her sleeve, trying to stop the raw salty trickle filling her mouth, to hold back her tears.

‘Roma, don’t you cheek me,’ Mom yelled, the reading book still flying through the air. ‘Kenneth needs to practise his reading and you, his big sister, must help him, not throw his book onto the cupboard so he gets into more trouble and I have to get another letter from that Miss McGregor. What will your Father say then about his brown-eyed girl?’ She ducked the next whack, her eyes flashing, her thoughts seething, but Mother’s face was closed, her mind made up.

That Kenneth, she thought, how Mom favoured him. But she, Roma, she’d known about him always, how sly he was. Later she could stand woman to man against him & he hated her for that. There was Mom’s money that night. He hadn’t known she was sitting in the chair pulled deep under the lamp in the corner, reading. He’d crept in late and started to ferret behind Mom’s favourite picture of Mullion Cove. How could he? He’d surely not come to take the five ten-pound notes Mom kept tucked under the picture-wire.

‘Ken,’ she hissed, ‘how can you?’

‘Sis,’ he rounded on her, ‘what business have you got her, its past midnight?’

‘That’s Mom’s, Ken, her rainy-day money. It’s not for you. She scrimps and saves to put it there and it’s how she tides us all over.’

He was stuffing the notes into his inner pocket, his hand shaking, head down.

She rose, stood before him, tossing her head, eyes afire. ‘Put that money back, now. If you don’t, I’m going straight in to wake Mom and Dad, and tell them what you are up to and what you intend using Mom’s money for. Don’t think I don’t know. And Mom, so good to you always. She deserves better from you, Ken.’ And she stood there till he had relocated the money exactly, behind the picture. ‘I want your word, Ken,’ she said. ‘Or you know what the outcome will be.’

‘My word,’ he said, and looked at her, biting his lip, ‘you have it.’

.. never another mention of the money between us then or later. and he never touched it again. mom’s money sacrosanct, as it should have been. but ours – never what a brother-sister bond should be. how I think of mommy. I hear her voice in the passage coming towards me. how I want to go home now, too. iwant to go. ‘can’t you give me something,’ i ask. it’s been long enough now …

Her head nodding again, she pitched forward in the wheelchair, the thick marking pen falling from her left hand, her right, useless, clawed in her lap. Her specs sat askew, digging into the side of her face and her breathing was so low-pitched as to be almost silent. Her daughter, arriving for her afternoon visit, couldn’t be sure – was still there or had she slipped, this time, quietly away?

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