Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Lady in White by Jeff Jones

“Please, do as I ask and get a taxi home… I’ll pay.” Satisfied that Edith was securely tucked into her bed Margaret finally looked up. Edith’s concern for her was touching. Margaret knew it was ill-advised to become emotionally attached to the residents, but Edith was a sweet old lady if a little cranky.
“Have you won the lottery then, Edith?”
“Fat chance stuck in here.”
“It’s not that bad is it?”
“You get to go home every night.”
“Well this is your home now, Edith, and…”
“Yes, yes, I know; you’re trying to change the subject. Please, if you won’t take a taxi catch the bus home.”
“What’s this all about, Edith? Why don’t you want me to get a lift with Rachel?”
Edith’s eyes narrowed as her gaze flicked about the room. “I’ve seen her again – the lady in white.”
“Not this again, Edith, we’ve talked about this,” said Margaret taking a step back, distancing herself not only from the old lady but also her dementia inspired delusions.
“I’ve seen her standing behind you and Rachel.”
“Can you see her now?”
“Well there you go. Now try to sleep. I must get going or Rachel will leave without me.”
“Good! It might save your life.”
“That’s quite enough of that, Edith thank you.”
“It’s not my fault - I didn’t ask for this gift.”
“It’s just your imagination, Edith or perhaps your medication. I’ll mention it to Doctor Richards.”
“Was it my imagination when I warned you that Dorothy was about to die or that other old biddy…”
“Yes, Phyllis – scatty old crone she was.”
“Dorothy was very old and Phyllis, bless her, had been ill for ages.”
“But I told you they were about to pass on.”
“Yes, you did, but as I said, there were good reasons and the timing of their deaths was just a coincidence. Now you really have got to stop this nonsense, you’re upsetting the other residents.”
“Inmates you mean,” interrupted Edith with a sly smile.
“No, residents. You don’t want Mr. Reynolds, moving you to another home, do you?”
“At least I’d be away from Rachel. Nasty piece of work that one. Still, if the lady in white is right, she won’t be around much longer.”
“Edith! That’s a horrible thing to say.”
Edith snorted her derision but had the good grace to avert her eyes from Margaret’s angry gaze.
“You ready, Margaret?” Rachel asked as she came bustling into the room. She didn’t bother acknowledging Edith.
“I am.”
“Excellent. I don’t want to be late for Pilates. You sure you don’t want to come?”
“No thanks. It’s been a long day.”
“Suit yourself.” Rachel turned and headed for the door.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Edith when hopefully your disposition will be a little brighter,” said Margaret.
“I wouldn’t hold your breath,” sneered Rachel.
Edith’s mumbled response never reached Rachel’s ears.
Edith waited until both women were just outside her room before deliberately knocking her bedtime drink all over her clean sheets. She then began to wail pitifully. Within seconds Margaret was back at her side. An indifferent Rachel loitered by the door.
“What’s the matter, Edith?” asked Margaret.
“I spilled my drink,” sobbed Edith pointing at the wet patch.
“How on Earth did you do that, I’ve only been gone thirty seconds?”
Edith shrugged.
“Let the night shift deal with it, Margaret. She probably did it on purpose and I’ve got to go,” called Rachel, impatiently checking her watch.
“I can’t leave her like this, Rachel; it’s not fair. Besides, they’re busy doing the meds; you know they can’t be disturbed while they’re doing that. I’ve no choice.”
“Sure you have. Our shift’s over – let her be someone else’s problem now.”
“I can’t.”
“Well I can. Sorry, Margaret I’ve got to go. It’s just a job,” and with that Rachel flounced down the hallway.
“Are you cross with me, Margaret?”
“No, Edith, I’m just disappointed. I really needed that lift home. Now I’ve got to catch two buses and face a daunting walk.”
“I’m sorry about that, but I don’t regret it.”
“Rachel was right; you did spill your drink on purpose!”
“I had to do something to protect you. Now I know you’re going to be alright because the lady in white just left with Rachel.”
“Don’t start on about that again, I’m not in the mood. I thought we were friends, Edith?”
“We are, that’s why I did it.”
“Well you’ve a funny way of showing it.”
After changing the bed Margaret said good night to Edith and left.
Margaret was one of life’s lovely people and Edith hadn’t enjoyed upsetting her, but if it saved her life, then it was worth the few days of distant behaviour she was likely to receive. She’d come around eventually. Satisfied that she had done the right thing, Edith drifted off into a deep sleep.
“Morning, Edith, it’s time to get up,” said a cheery voice.
Edith could hear somebody busying themselves in her room. She opened her eyes to see an unfamiliar face smiling down at her. Whoever it was they were far too jovial for that time of morning. “There she is. Time to get up, Edith; there’s a nice cup of tea waiting over there for you whilst I make your bed.”
“Who are you?” asked Edith brusquely.
“My name’s Maria, I’m from the Agency and I’m going to be looking after you today.”
“Where’s Margaret?” A cold dread washed over Edith. Had she been wrong? Had the lady in white been after Margaret all along? The colour drained from her face.
“I know I’m a stranger, Edith, but there’s no need to look so worried. I don’t bite.”
“Where’s Margaret?” Edith repeated.
It looked to be a real struggle for Maria to wipe the smile from her face. “I’m afraid Margaret won’t be in for a while. She’s not feeling too well,” she explained as she helped Edith into the chair.
“What’s up with her?”
Maria stopped what she was doing and turned to face Edith. “One of the other ladies who works here… well there was an accident… she was…”
“…killed,” finished Edith matter-of-factly.
“Yes. Rachel, I think they said her name was. I didn’t know her I’m afraid. Anyway, her death has hit some of her colleagues hard, and some, including Margaret, have called in sick. It’s sure to be upsetting for you residents too. Now drink your tea then we’ll get you dressed and downstairs for your breakfast.”
The home was unusually subdued that morning as the terrible news sunk in. The Agency carers who had been drafted in did their best to keep the residents’ spirits up, but nobody had the heart for interaction of any sort and eventually the staff took the hint and left the residents to their own devices, most of whom, soon nodded off.
The next few days dragged, Edith choosing to spend long periods alone in her room, Rachel’s death hitting her harder than she’d expected, draining her. She was just dozing off in her armchair one day when she became aware someone was watching her. She looked up and smiled in recognition.
“Margaret! How are you?” The dark smudges beneath her eyes were clue enough.
“I’m okay,” replied Margaret quietly. She sat on the edge of Edith’s bed and stared at the old lady.
“I’m so glad you’re alright, Margaret.”
“I don’t know how you knew something bad was going to happen, all I know is that I’ve lost a good friend, but I could have lost so much more, but didn’t, thanks to you. I will always be grateful, Edith, but please, I don’t want to hear any more premonitions. The police say an idiot tried to jump a red light and it could have happened to anybody, but you knew different, didn’t you?”
“All I know is that when the lady in white appears it means somebody is about to pass on. She tends to shadow the unfortunate soul for a while beforehand. I’d seen her around Rachel and was worried that if you went with her, she’d claim you too. Only by separating you could I be certain.”
“And now she’s gone?” asked Margaret hopefully.
“She disappeared that night… but came back yesterday.”
“Oh dear, not again. Who is she…? No… I don’t want to know.”
“I’m truly sorry about Rachel.”
“Let’s talk of this no more. I’m coming back to work Thursday, and I want you to promise me that when I do there will be no more talk of ladies in white. Deal?”
“Deal,” replied Edith.
Margaret leant forward and kissed Edith tenderly on the forehead and then left. Edith watched her leave and then slowly turned her gaze to the far corner of the bedroom.
“Is it time?”
The lady in white smiled and slowly nodded.
“I’m ready,” said Edith closing her eyes. She wondered what she would see when she opened them again.

© Jeff Jones

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