My story, Your Last Winter, was chosen for publication in In the Depths of Winter: Better Read than Dead Winter Writing Competition 2018.
They’d say, “See you tomorrow, about seven thirty”, or “seven thirty give or take”.
One had said, “Soon as I’ve ‘ad me egg and bacon wrap and cappuccino”. He didn’t last long.
The luminous hands on the bedside clock show seven fifteen. You hear the swish of the lift doors. There’s nothing wrong with your hearing. Mentally you wriggle in anticipation. His sneakers squeak on the marble floor between the lift and the front door. You feel the inrush of air from the hall as the front door swings open and you smile when he sings out,
“Hi, Rose. Are you ready for me?”
He doesn’t expect an answer but he likes to see you smiling when he bursts into the bedroom. The carpet absorbs his footsteps and there he is, silhouetted in the doorway: broad shoulders, narrow hips, golden curly hair – a beautiful man.
It’s an effort to speak. “Hi, Adam. Aren’t you cold? Only a tee-shirt, no jacket?”
“No way. What with the heating and our bathroom shenanigans, there’s plenty to keep me warm. Ready?”
He grabs the bedclothes and pulls them back, leaving you exposed in your black negligee. Eileen, your niece, doesn’t approve of your bed-wear. She says it’s not warm enough for winter.
Adam kneels by the bed, slides one arm under your shoulders and one arm under your knees and lifts you as if you weighed no more than a doll. He carries you to the bathroom and sets you on your feet.
“Let’s get this off you,” he says.
He raises the negligee slowly, gathering the silk in his huge hands so it doesn’t scrape your skin. His bulk stops you from seeing yourself in the mirror. He has stood in front of it since the day you cried at your reflection.
“Do you want it standing or sitting down?” he asks.
He has a wicked smile.
You respond, “I’d like it standing today.”
He supports you with one hand and with the other turns on the taps.
I feel her trembling but I won’t make her sit on the plastic chair until I sense she needs to. She’s a fighter. She was a stunner too when she was young.
I can still see it. She didn’t have to show me the photos.
I’m glad the chamois works. A great solution. The niece brings gift-wrapped face washers. What kind of gift is that to a favourite and rich aunt? Once I couldn’t help myself. Suggested flowers. Eileen said they’d die straight away from the central heating. She hasn’t figured it out. Rosie now measures time in minutes. I don’t use the so-called “presents”. They made Rosie whimper when I washed her. I was polishing the BMW with a chamois one day and thought I might try one on her in the shower. Bingo! No more crying in the bathroom!
She hasn’t given up the struggle yet. My other clients gave up long before they got to her stage. They wore flannelette night sacks. Rosie’s nightgowns are silk – soft on her skin. I bring them home to wash by hand. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the niece chucking silk things into the washing machine. She’s taken to counting the nightgowns every time she visits. Trusting soul, the niece.
I finish washing Rosie just as she sags against me. I wrap her in the towel that’s warm from the heat rail and carry her to the chaise lounge where I arrange her comfortably and then strip the bed and remake it. I have to watch her in case she wants to talk. She whispers and I can’t hear unless I’m close to her. She opens her mouth.
“Mr Carmichael’s coming tomorrow.”
Of course the niece is coming tomorrow. Trying to sus out what Carmichael’s up to. Can’t stand it – he’s the one with power of attorney, not her.
“So that means you’re free to go surfing today?”
“Great! I like it when you’re sparking on all fours.”
“It’s a long time, Adam, since I’ve been on all fours.”
I smile. I don’t laugh. Laughter is too vigorous a response. It tires her. I suspect Carmichael smiles too. Smart lawyer, Carmichael. Keeps an eye on me and the niece. Makes sure there’s no undue influence. Of course, a little gift would be nice. Rosie knows I like the Brett Whitely.
After the mush that passes as breakfast, Adam dresses you in your surfing gear: track-suit, fluffy slippers, warm dressing gown and watch. You love feeling his strong arms when he carries you, but going surfing requires the wheel chair. The journey to the lift and down to the garage is more tiring than usual today. Maybe you’re moving into the next phase.
I lift her out of the chair and into the passenger seat of the BMW and tuck the mohair rug around her. She lets me keep my board in the garage. When she told Carmichael she wanted roof racks on the car, he organised it straight-away without comment. When Eileen saw them she went ballistic! Said it ruined the appearance of the car. It does. Said the car wasn’t his. It isn’t. It’s not hers either. Not yet.
You love the drive to Freshie Beach. The sky’s brilliant blue and the sun’s blazing through the windscreen. No need for Adam to put the heating on. It’s almost the end of winter. No buds yet on the non-native trees. You long to see them. You won’t see another winter, but how you’re looking forward to spring! Maybe even a bit of summer.
With the disabled sticker I can park in a no-parking area over-looking the beach. Rosie’s eyesight’s amazing. She can spot me amongst the other surfers. I get into the wet suit beside the car. She watches me. She must have watched a lot of men in her day. And I bet they liked watching her. I don’t ask her to do up the zip. She liked doing it until a month ago. Now she doesn’t have the strength. I take the watch out of her dressing gown pocket and put it in her lap. She times me. Forty-five minutes. Not much, but fantastic in a working day. The niece would have a heart attack if she knew. Does Carmichael know? Maybe.
Adam trots down to the beach. His hair glints in the sun. You can always make him out from the other surfers. You suspect he adds colour to his natural blond. Good for him! He’s parked at an angle so the sun’s not in your face. It’s very warm.
Mr. Carmichael’s coming tomorrow. He likes to check you have everything you need. Eileen always pops in after he’s gone, in case you’ve changed your will and feel like telling her about it!
It’s so cosy in the car. You haven’t felt so warm since last summer. Adam hasn’t wound the windows down. You should have asked him. Last time we came surfing, it was one of the coldest days of winter and you told him not to. You marvelled how he could go in the water. Surely a wetsuit can’t be that warm!
You can’t breathe very well. You’d like to push off the mohair rug, but you haven’t the strength. You feel clammy. When was the last time you felt damp with heat? Oh yes. You remember. But that was passion, not sunshine. What if you’re suffocating? No. That’s ridiculous! Ten minutes more. Must keep awake. If you die in the car what a mess that’d be! Eileen won’t be happy with two-thirds of the estate. She’ll contest the will. Mr. Carmichael’s reputation will be tarnished. He employed Adam and he’ll be accused of not supervising him properly. You’ve left Adam the other third of the estate and the car and the Brett Whitely. He reminds you of the best of the men you’ve loved. He’s the summer of your last winter. If you suffocate, he’ll be accused of negligence or worse. Thirsty. Feeling drowsy.
The tree across the road – green fuzz on it. Buds? Have you made it to spring? Are you seeing things? Ask Adam. What if…? No. He’s careless, not stupid. Three more minutes. Eyelids heavy.
Three more minutes. Surf’s epic. Should get back to the car. In a minute. Just one last wave.