A Little Picture in Black and White

Slippers shuffling along the carpet creating little static charges like tiny fireflies, Agnes carried the tray containing a pot of Earl Grey tea, willow-patterned cups and saucers, a little jug of milk and two generous slices of their favourite, shop-bought, Victoria sponge towards the fireplace.

She set the tray down and then rubbed her hands together vigorously in front of the fire to coax them back to life.  They had long since stopped the central heating from warming the entire house for the duration of the winter; such was the astronomical expense these days.  It didn’t matter if they were cold for the majority of the time, as long as they remained active.  Visits to the kitchen were short and functional these days; her baking pursuits a thing of the past.  Bedtime was made more bearable by two extremely efficient hot-water-bottles in red and blue; a generous gift from her kindly neighbour.  And, of course, they had each other for warmth.  Though it seemed these days that Henry preferred a little more solitude than was usual.

He sat sprawled in the chair opposite her now, snoring gently, his glasses still perched on his nose and his newspaper fanned across his chest, the loose pages gently falling to the floor.  She smiled affectionately.  Typical, she thought!  She would make him another cup later on, of course.  Who knew what would become of his slice of the delicious sponge?

She ate her cake in silence, listening to the sound of the logs crackling and the wind in the poplar trees outside.  True, she felt a little low these days.  Empty, even.

Autumn, in times gone by, had been a beautiful season, a glorious, golden promise of the winter to come; bonfires, toffee apples, seasonal festivities with the children, snowfall, skating on the lake and the long-awaited visit from Santa.  Theirs had been a family home full of warmth and love.  Now they seemed to rattle around it, like two old coins in a shoe-box.

She shook herself from the little wave of depression that threatened to take hold of her and pull her under, got up from her chair and walked towards her tapestry table, turning on the little light as she sat down.

It was here that she found it easier to lose herself.  Her mind slowed down, as she concentrated on the simplicity of the work.  She sat quietly for maybe forty minutes, selecting an array of coloured threads, then passing the bobbin between the sheds of the warp and deftly using the bobbin-point to force down the weft as she worked.

She loved the feeling of “creativity” that the work gave her.  It had been a long time since she had felt that she had created anything worthwhile, at least not since the birth of her daughter, thirty five years ago.  These pieces that she produced, although hardly ever seen by anyone else, were proof enough to her that she was not altogether useless.  She was not yet “done”.

She thought of her daughter, Helen, and wondered what she might be doing at that moment.  A high-achiever, she flew in circles and motions that Agnes could never hope to understand.  A messy divorce had meant that she had not been able to give Agnes the gift of grandchildren that she had longed for.  She had held this hope like a torch for far too long now, a symbol of longed-for “renewal”.  Nothing would have delighted her more than rediscovering herself through blood connections.  But, unfortunately, it was not to be.

Getting up from the table to replenish the fire with another log or two, she trailed her finger along the front edge of the dresser as she shuffled along.  She tutted to herself, upon seeing the thick layer of dust that now coated her finger.  Then she relaxed a little.  Who is going to know?

After stoking the fire, she stood up and stretched a little, trying to eradicate the stiffness that had worked its way into her lumbar spine from sitting at her tapestry table for too long.

She surveyed the room.  There were abundant examples of her handiwork throughout their simply-furnished home.  The pieces tended to follow one of only a few themes; she was a creature of routine and she mainly favoured the style of William Morris, perhaps a little “Jacquard” tapestry, if she was feeling in need of a challenge.

The only piece that looked a little extraordinary; perhaps even a little “out of place” was a “kelim” that hung above the dresser; a gift from her daughter after a week-long business trip to Turkey in April of that year.  It had been the last correspondence she had received from her daughter.

It had arrived, neatly packaged in brown paper, no note attached.  This did nothing to deter her excitement.  She opened it excitedly, but found her heart sinking in dismay.

She had tried so hard to like it, but in reality she was more enamoured with its symbolism, rather than its aesthetic value.  Of course, she never dreamed of admitting this to her husband, however, in case he made her remove it from the wall completely.  Then there would be nothing left at all; no evidence to remind her that she was somebody’s Mother, other than two old photos in a broken picture frame, held together with tape, sitting precariously on the mantelpiece above the fireplace.

She would often forget herself that she was a Mother.  The visits were now non-existent and the phone calls had dwindled to the customary thrice-yearly birthday and Christmas “catch-ups”.   Her daughter had recently welcomed a new man in her life, co-Director of the company she had been with for the last five and a half years; another high achiever.  Together they explored the world’s club lounges, boardrooms and five star establishments, their feet hardly touching the ground longer than a night or two, it seemed.  A life she could not fathom.

Startled by a fluttering sound, she snapped out of her misery; once again surviving the little tsunami of negativity that threatened to engulf her once more.

Padding through to the hallway, she went to retrieve the mail from the doormat.  She sighed wearily, upon seeing a pile of brown envelopes of varying sizes; bills!  Too depressed to face the contents, she was about to place them on the hall table and return to her tapestry, when she noticed that the address on one of the smaller envelopes had been handwritten.

She permitted herself a little flourish of excitement.

She tore open the flimsy envelope and extracted a small, black and white, fuzzy picture with white digital lettering in the top right-hand corner.  She read the words to herself: “Helen T. Jacoby: 20 week scan: patient of Dr. Moss”.

Despite searching with trembling fingers, there was nothing else in the envelope.

It took several moments for the exact meaning of what she was looking at to dawn on her fully.  The picture was of something bean-shaped; only with arms and legs.  And fingers!  One of the hands was raised towards its mouth.

Time stood still.  She closed her eyes and lost herself there and then.  She felt her heart beat stronger than ever before.  It seemed to open up and fill with unstoppable warmth; like a rushing waterfall cascading into an ocean rock pool.  She felt reborn; as if willing to give and receive love once more.  A second chance!

She turned it over and read the words scrawled hurriedly on the back:

“Hi Mother! Better late than never, huh? I love you and miss you. xx”

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