The Top Drawer….a short story

It seemed somehow wrong to be sitting on the bed. He couldn’t remember the last time he sat on his mother’s bed. It was probably when he was a boy, and even then it wouldn’t have been encouraged. His parent’s bedroom door was always closed and it was only on the rare occasion that he woke up panicked after a nightmare that he would have padded his way across the landing and quietly opened the door so not to wake his father. His mother though was a light sleeper and would have woken the moment he had turned the door handle. Quietly she would pat the edge of the bed inviting him to sit on it so that she could whisper in his ear that everything was ok and for him to go back to bed.

That was a lifetime ago. He considered himself old now, although his wife would disagree with him there. “ Listen to yourself” she would say when he moaned about only having a handful of years left on the planet “ you are sixty three not ninety three. You are still middle aged and I’m stuck with you for years yet! ” He glanced in the dressing table mirror and the man that looked back with the grey thinning hair, slacking jowls and deep lines across his forehead from years of scowling told him that even if chronologically he wasn’t considered old, he definitely looked it.

His trouser belt was digging into his abdomen. He hadn’t worn his suit since attending his uncle’s funeral a few years ago and the months of working from home during the pandemic had taken its toll. It was too easy to dip into packets of biscuits and crisps whilst working at his desk and his girth had thickened over time. His wife who was trying to be “good” and refused to buy snacks, cakes or biscuits but his daily walk took him past the local Tesco Express and he could never resist the urge to pop in and stock up on boxes of Jaffa Cakes and grab bag size packets of cheese and onion crisps. The snacking needed to stop. After today he would make a real effort to get back into shape. It would be easier to do so after today. Everything would be easier from tomorrow.

He stood up and loosened his belt a notch. Maybe he should go downstairs and join the others who were waiting outside but he wasn’t ready yet and besides his wife had said that she would text him when he needed to be there. Smoothing the ruffled quilted bedspread he sat down again at the top of the bed. It must have been the side that his mother slept on as lying on the top of the bedside chest of drawers was a paperback copy of some sort of women’s romantic fiction. He picked it up and a bookmark slipped out. For the briefest of moments he panicked that he’d lost the page and his mother wouldn’t know where to read from next time she wanted to read. Placing it back on the chest, it occurred to him that it might be a library book and would need to be returned with no doubt a fine to pay. Were libraries open and lending out books? He really had no idea.

The top drawer was slightly open. He went to close it but something compelled him to look inside instead. Curiosity perhaps?

His mother came from a wartime generation when nothing was thrown away. She would often say to him when he teased her about stowing away paper serviettes and sugar sachets into her handbag when he took her to cafes, that you never knew when things would come in handy. He discovered the reason why it wouldn’t close properly was because it was stuffed with a whole mish-mash of bits and bobs. He had to smile and shake his head when he picked out the hammer that was wedged into one side of the drawer and five brass curtain rings. Why were they there when all of the curtains in the house were on tracks?

He took out a trinket box and opened it. It was full of tangled necklace chains and colourful earrings of semi-precious and glass stones. His mother had never liked displays of ostentatiousness and would dress for purpose rather than for show. She never wore make up or had her hair permed, or as she often described it as being messed about with. She did however love her pretty earrings and necklaces and always appreciated being given a matching set for birthdays and Christmas. He took out a stud earring that held a green stone. He held it between his fingers and rotated it. The sunlight momentarily caught the stone and the green turned to a beautiful purple reddish colour. He turned it this way and that, captivated by the way it changed colour in the light. Had he ever noticed his mother wearing them?

Replacing the earring into the box, he closed the lid and returned it to the drawer. He noticed perfume boxes still with their cellophane wrappers intact. Apart from gifts of jewellery, they had struggled to know else what to buy his mother so had often bought her perfume. It was obvious now that they were put in the drawer as soon as she got them.

Old receipts and takeaway flyers for local kebab and pizza shops took up a lot of space. Some of the receipts had faded so much that he was unable to read them. He could understand why she had kept the receipts, but keeping the flyers puzzled him. As far as he could remember his mother hadn’t had a takeaway in years. Fish and chips at the seaside perhaps, but certainly never a kebab. She often referred to anything other than British dishes as foreign rubbish.

Half hidden under a flyer something caught his eye. Pulling it out he discovered that it was an old black and white photo. In the photo was a smiling and care-free looking young couple standing arm in arm on what looked like a prom at the seaside. It must have been breezy as the young woman’s floral dress had been caught by the wind and you could see the hem of her petticoat. Her free hand appeared to be pulling back her blonde hair to stop it from blowing across her face. The man next to her was tall and skinny. He was wearing baggy trousers, a sleeveless jumper and a shirt with the sleeves rolled up. A section of neatly cut hair which had almost certainly been smoothed down with a generous application of Brylocream was flopping over his forehead. His smile was big and toothy. He’d rarely seen his father smile so broadly at anyone other than his mother. He’d been gone for over ten years and he knew that she’d missed him terribly. He turned over the photograph and read the faded spidery handwriting.

Me and the prettiest girl in the world. Blackpool August 1952

The man carefully replaced the photo and wiped the tear away that was rolling down his cheek with his finger.

He was about to close the drawer when he spotted what appeared to be a letter right at the back. He knew that his mother filed any letters so was surprised to see it there. He read it and discovered that it was a reminder for her to get her Covid vaccination. It dawned on him that she had hidden the letter. Out of sight, out of mind.

Oh mother, why on earth would you do that!

He heard his phone beep and put the letter down. He didn’t need to look at the text. He knew what it would say.

He stood up and straightened his tie. Looking out of the window he saw that his mother had come home and was about to embark on her final journey.

He looked around her bedroom one last time and quietly closing the door behind him went to join the others.

In loving memory of Joyce Ravenscroft 1928-2021