A couple of weeks after Vera’s death, Jack was surprised to receive a parcel in the post.
The card read:
A present from one who has passed over.
The hair on his neck and arms stood up. He had only just begun to come to terms with Vera’s absence. Was this some sort of bad joke?
Everyone had been marvellous, making sure he wasn’t on his own and that he had everything he needed. Mrs Orbison, the widow from next door, had popped in with meals most days.
“Here you are, Jack. A chicken casserole and a slice of lemon drizzle cake.”
Jack hadn’t had to cook since Vera’s death.
Miss Blackwell from up the road had invited him in for coffee, and Mrs Blixton has asked if he was interested in joining a ballroom dancing group.
“You’ve got to start doing things,” she had said, laying a hand on Jack’s arm. “Get yourself out and about. I want to learn to dance and I’d love it if you would come me. What fun it would be.” She flicked a lock of hair out of her eyes and smiled at Jack.
Jack stepped back and gave a nervous grin. Vera had liked a quiet life.
“Ballroom dancing?” he said. “I’ll think about it …”
Jack pulled at the sticky tape on the parcel and opened the box. There was a flat thing, rather like Mrs Orbison’s Ipad. It had a power cable. He frowned as he plugged it in. Vera had never been much for tech or gadgets.
The thing shuddered and Jack dropped it. Worried it was broken, he was shocked as a translucent shape appeared, hovering over the surface. It grew more substantial until a life-sized hologram of Vera sat in front of him. She was just as she had been three weeks before, with lank grey hair, unfocused eyes and the pale skin of her illness. He blinked rapidly and could feel his heart beating faster.
It was as if she had never left.
“Hello love, how are you doing?” Vera asked. Her voice was whispery, like old lace. “Have you done the shopping?”
“No junk food? I hope you’re eating properly?”
Jack scuffed at the carpet with his slippers remembering the tub of peanuts in the cupboard and the sticky toffee pudding in the fridge. He pressed his lips together but said nothing.
“Now, I bet you’ve forgotten to change the sheets on the bed.”
Heat flared across Jack’s face, reddening the tips of his ears.
“I thought so. I knew you’d never remember. It’s a nice day. You can hang the washing out. There’s so much to do, even on your own.”
After he’d changed the sheets and put the washing on, Vera found a number of other jobs for Jack to do. Things he’d forgotten because she’d always done them. Under her guidance he polished the door handles and dusted the picture frames. He was so busy he didn’t hear Mrs Orbison knock on the door with a beef pie. Nor did he notice she’d left it on the step.
The next day, when Jack came downstairs, Vera looked healthier. She was standing, something she hadn’t been able to do in the last month of her life. Her face was less pale and her voice less strained. She appeared happier. There were more jobs for Jack to do including watering the houseplants, “How do you think they survive with no water?” and cleaning the plughole in the bath.
Jack was so busy he forgot to go to coffee with Ms Blackwell.
The following day Vera’s grey hair had brown streaks. She chivvied Jack into baking a cake.
“Healthier than shop bought,” she said.
They had quite a laugh together over the outcome. It was lopsided and browned to a crisp, but it was nice with a cup of tea and reminded Jack of Vera’s home cooking. He forgot all about the ballroom dancing with Mrs Blixton and missed the first evening’s class. It was easy having Vera there. He didn’t need anyone else’s company.
Day by day Vera’s hair lost all the grey and became more luxuriant. The crows’ feet around her eyes vanished. She stood straighter too. Jack hurried down to the living room each morning to see her.
“Good morning, my love,” he said and was rewarded with a beaming smile. Then he carried his breakfast through from the kitchen so they could talk as he ate. Vera let him eat in the living room and appeared excited to see him.
One evening they had the old photos out, and Jack fell asleep on the sofa, a smile on his face as he remembered their courtship. A few weeks earlier Jack had thought he’d never laugh again.
After that it seemed silly to go upstairs each evening. He wanted to be with Vera, so he arranged to have the bed brought down.
Vera now looked like the slip of a girl she had been when he first knew her. She was shy, giggly, and slim. She got Jack to put a CD on so they could dance. Jack blushed at her suggestive shimmying. He felt young again as he jived beside her.
To make space for the bed, Jack had a tidy up. He threw out the box the machine had come in. Taking it to the bin he didn’t notice a slip of paper that fell in the mud.
Keep your partner safe from temptation
In the living room Vera smiled.
(c) Alyson Hilbourne