'Lavender and Lemons' by Lee Hamblin

She smells of crushed lavender flowers and synthetic lemons. Her skin is icy-cold and oak-tree gnarly – plump veins in a blue that’s too blue bulge from emaciated, slate-grey arms. Not many tomorrows left for you to endure, I whisper, as I take her hand. She wakes, seeing me as if for the first time; asks if it’s Tuesday and have I come to do her hair. She calls me dear; asks if I’m married, children. I answer No, today’s Friday and your hair looks as beautiful as always – and yes, well, I was once, and that I have two children; two girls: Elizabeth and Catherine. Catherine has children of her own now, I tell her. They’re rather old-fashioned names, she says, and her carefree chuckle changes into a cough: a dry, empty-throated hack that kills me. I take a tissue and wipe spittle from her chin; then drip-feed room-warm water from a plastic beaker. This, at least, is something I can do. They are her names: Catherine Elizabeth. She closes her eyes and floats upstream. She wakes asking about Tom, though it’s a Tom I don’t remember, a Tom before he was my father. She talks of stolen moments, jive dances, missed curfews, and little white lies. She talks of sneaked kisses, pencil moustaches, (which makes me smile) and of long goodbyes. She asks if he’s come back yet – that she’s frightened, all alone. I tell her, Soon, my dear – he promised he wouldn’t be long.

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