Cheyanne spooned the lukewarm pea and ham soup into her mother’s mouth, whilst simultaneously wiping the dribble from her chin. She paused for a moment to allow her mum to use her tongue to swallow, a process which most people don’t need to focus their concentration to the point of exhaustion on. Her sister, Tricia, put the brochure on mum’s lap, on top of the blanket which covered her bent body and her catheter bag.
With her left hand, Cheyanne picked up the brochure, whilst spooning and wiping with the other one.
‘She’s not a table, Trish.’
‘Please, just look at it. I liked this one–it says they have bingo on Wednesdays.’ Tricia thrust the brochure back under Cheyanne’s eyeline.
‘We both agreed. We would be the ones to take care of mum. Not send her to one of those places where she’s just another old person in a bed.’
Cheyanne wiped the last drop before setting down the soup and picking up a beaker. She poured in some water from the jug before scooping in two spoonsful of thickener.
‘Here you go, Mum, wash it down.’ She stroked her head as her mum took a tiny sip before closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep.
Tricia went out to the kitchen and Cheyanne heard the kettle start to boil as she cleaned up the tray. She thought about how it wouldn’t be much longer before mum needed a turn and then her afternoon medication as she glanced down at the brochure. Of course, the photographs looked nice, they hired someone for that, and you couldn’t smell the place with pictures.
‘Mum never liked bingo anyway,’ said Cheyanne as Tricia handed her a steaming mug. ‘She always said it was for those gossipy women who couldn’t keep their noses out of other’s business.’
Tricia placed her hand on her mum’s as she slept, ‘that was a long time ago, Cheyanne. Back when mum had a choice whether she wanted to gossip or even speak. Look, I know what we agreed back when it first happened, but that was five years ago, and we can’t carry on like this.’
‘It’s not like you do much anyway. I’m the one who sleeps here, feeds her. You just pop by with supplies.’ Cheyanne could feel the tears welling in her eyes and that made her even more angry. She could never get her point across without crying.
‘That’s not fair, one of us has to work and I’ve got the kids–they need their mum. If she could talk, she would want you to have a chance at life too. Go back to college, train at something, anything. You could even go into care work. You’re so good at it.’
Cheyanne turned away at that; a warm salty tear dripped into her mug of tea. How dare she. Yes, she was good at caring for her mother, but that was what she was supposed to do. After all, Mum had practically raised them alone, with goodness knows what sacrifice back then.
‘All I’m asking is for you to have a look at the brochure, hon. We don’t have to visit anywhere yet. Look why don’t you go and get your head down and get a rest while mum sleeps. I’ve got forty-five minutes until anyone notices I’m not at my desk.’
‘Ok, I will have a look, but no booking any visits yet, understand?’
Tricia nodded in agreement. Cheyanne looked out of the window.
‘I’m past tired today. I think I’ll go for a walk. I’ll be back before she wakes and before you have to go back to work.’ Cheyanne grabbed her coat and headed out of the door before Tricia could answer.
It was grey and cold out; a typical February day with no promise of redemption but she didn’t mind. The air on her face made her feel alive again, instead of the functioning robot she was most of the time at home. She knew Tricia was right, that she couldn’t keep her life on hold indefinitely looking after mum. It might even be that the home would look after her better; after all, they might have received some training. Then again, was there any training that could teach them what mum’s blinking meant? Or how she liked her bed socks on, but rolled down ever so slightly so they didn’t dig into her calves?
She didn’t really know where she was going; at first, she’d thought about heading to the park, but she wasn’t in the mood to face happy toddlers feeding the ducks today. She turned left instead of right at the end of the street and kept on turning the opposite way to her usual lunchtime walks. Part of her wondered if she was hoping to get lost. Then Tricia would deal with mum in her own way, likely she’d be in a home by the end of the week.
Cheyanne checked her watch; she’d been walking for thirty minutes already. She figured she had better start retracing her steps and get back in time to turn mum and see Tricia out. That hiding away wasn’t really going to solve any of her problems. As she did an about turn, she almost stumbled on the laces of her frayed trainers and used her hand against a shop window to steady herself. Looking up, she saw the male shop assistant smiling at her from inside and something stirred inside her that she hadn’t felt in a long time.
It was a charity shop, as were most shops on the high street these days, with all the chain stores closing down or morphing into Poundland. On a whim she went inside and nodded to say hello.
‘I thought you were coming through the window,’ he smiled, and his blue eyes creased around the edges.
She laughed, because she didn’t know what else to do or say and pointed at her trainers. ‘I’ve been meaning to get a new pair.’ Afterwards, she thought of a hundred funnier, wiser things to say.
‘No bother, we have everything here–new shoes and you shall go to the ball.’
Chance would be a fine thing, she thought, but as nothing clever popped into her mind she walked over to the bookshelf-cum-shoe rack that he had gestured towards. There were red high heels which she’d have loved to have tried on, but who was she kidding. That was for another lifetime. She just needed a comfortable pair of shoes. Before she knew it, he was behind her, leaning in.
‘These would be a perfect fit, so they would,’ he said, lifting up a pair of bright pink trainers which looked almost brand new.
He bent down then and took off her old, grey-around-the-edges trainer, exposing her holey sock with her toe pointing in his face. She looked away to try to hide her red-hot cheeks. Without a word, he slipped on the new trainer and gently pressed the toe, the way her mum used to do when they shopped for school shoes.
‘What did I say? Perfect.’ His smile beamed; his eyes seemed to dance as he spoke.
She walked in a half circle with the one trainer on and realised that they were, in fact, perfect; they fit snugly, and the bottom was still cushioned.
‘I’ll take them,’ she said, thinking that this was the most exciting thing that had happened to her since, well, just since.
He quickly laced up the shoe, replacing the other one as well and held up her old trainers.
‘Would you be wanting these in a carrier?’
Cheyanne shook her head. ‘No thank you, I think they’ve seen better days.’
‘No bother,’ he said dropping them politely into the waste basket next to the till.
She paid him and thanked him again and he half saluted her as she said goodbye.
‘See you again soon, love.’
Tricia was cross when she got back. Told her that she had responsibilities as well and that it was selfish to be out buying new stuff when she had to get back to the real world. Normally, Cheyanne would have spent the rest of the evening in a rage, which would end with her crying into a tub of Häagen-Dazs, but tonight, she went about her chores with her pink trainers on and the faint edge of a smile at the edges of her lips.
On Friday, Tricia was back just as Cheyanne had finished washing Mum. She placed a pillow on her left side to take the pressure off and gently rested mum’s hand on her thigh.
‘I’ve been to see Farm Lodge, the one I showed you, and it’s lovely. The staff are friendly, and they have clean uniforms. They have rooms overlooking the fields. It’s very bright there.’
‘I said I’d look at the brochure. You promised you wouldn’t book a visit yet.’ Cheyanne said as she brushed her mum’s hair as softly as she could.
‘Well, I bet you haven’t even looked at it. Besides, one of us has to get things moving. You’ll thank me for it. They have a bed. We need to sign the paperwork and then she could go as early as next week. She’ll be happier there.’
Cheyanne looked from Mum to Tricia, fighting back the tears. She knew she couldn’t speak as her voice would be wobbly and weak.
‘I’m going out,’ was all Cheyanne said as the door slammed behind her.
Before she realised, she was back at the charity shop, and he was there behind the till. She had no need of anything new this time, but something made her go in anyway.
‘Hello, nice to see you again. Still looking lovely, I see,’ he pointed to her shoes.
Cheyanne blushed. She knew she looked far from lovely. She had worn the same top for three days running, even though her usual limit was two.
‘What can I help you with today?’ he asked.
She froze for a moment; she wanted to ask if he had a magic spell to banish annoying sisters, or better yet, a spell to heal a frail sick mother?
‘Of course, we have a small selection of magic books over here under the counter. I keep them for my best customers,’ he said.
She was sure she hadn’t said anything out loud yet. She still stood by the door staring at him like a lost child.
‘Yes, magic,’ was all she managed to say.
‘This one is quite functional; it will do the thing with your sister, if that’s what you want. Or there’s this one, a bit more technical but your mum will be right as rain in no time.’ He handed her two books.
She looked from one book to the other, wondering what was happening. Magic wasn’t real; she knew that. This poor guy, despite his blue eyes and long dark-haired good looks, was completely bonkers. She was too polite to say that though, and she didn’t want him to think she was really mean, so offered him back the functional one.
‘Good choice,’ he said as he slid the book into a carrier bag. ‘Not always a good idea to banish relatives, they have a nasty habit of haunting, don’t they?’
‘Sure,’ she said as she handed over the five-pound note.’
‘Now, make sure you wait until a full moon, so the spell doesn’t rebound, okay?’
She nodded as she took the carrier from him and walked out of the shop backwards, maintaining eye contact. She wasn’t sure if she couldn’t pull away because of his good looks, or if she was afraid he was going to turn her into a frog.
Tricia was cross again about how late she was, but this time she did not care at all. If it was okay for Tricia to disregard her feelings, then it was certainly okay for Cheyanne to take a few minutes extra out of a monotonous day.
Later that night, instead of putting on the soaps while Mum napped, Cheyanne flicked through the magic book. There were spells for summoning ghosts to find lost family treasures, a spell for attracting love, which involved having a lock of hair from the love-to-be. She wondered how one would go about taking a lock of hair from someone without them noticing, but she hadn’t bought the book for love. Well, she had, but a different type of love. The healing spell promised complete rejuvenation from any illness as long as the person was still alive. It was very clear that there could be no resurrecting the dead.
The equipment she needed was right there in the house–two white candles, some oil to rub on the candles while she repeated the words, and a photograph of the person when they were at their most vibrant. She changed her mum into a fresh nightdress and gave her an extra-long, lingering kiss on the forehead before saying goodnight. In the kitchen, she set up an altar on the worktop.
The guy in the shop had said to wait for a full moon, but that was days away and she needed to do this now, before Tricia had Mum sent away forever. Cheyanne rubbed the oil on the candles as she repeated the words. She knew she wasn’t pronouncing them properly as she’d never studied Latin; she hoped that wouldn’t matter too much. Then, she placed the candles in the holders and lit them. A small gust of wind came from nowhere and extinguished one, so she lit it again cursing slightly in case it broke the spell.
Once the candles had burned themselves out, she checked back in on mum, but she was fast asleep, her stiff arms curled up to her sides. She knew it was a stupid idea in the first place. What a pathetic fool she was for thinking that she could stop the natural sequence of events now. Tricia was right, it was for the best that Mum went somewhere where people could look after her properly.
She must have dozed off in the chair because she woke up with a stiff neck and had to massage her shoulder before she could turn her head. When she did, she saw that mum’s bed was empty. Her sleepiness instantly evaporated as she jumped up, looking first under the bed in case Mum had suffered a fall, then frantically searching the whole house. Mum was nowhere to be seen. She picked up the phone to call Tricia.
‘How dare you. You didn’t even give me a chance to say goodbye. What kind of heartless bitch are you?’ She felt pleased that she had managed not to cry this time, at least.
‘Cheyanne, what are you going on about? I’ve just got to work.’
‘Mum, you had her taken to the home in the night, didn’t you?’ She felt less sure of herself now, noting the panicked tone in Tricia’s voice.
Just then, the door opened, and her mum walked in carrying a bag of groceries.
‘Hello dear, you were fast asleep, so I didn’t want to disturb you. I got your favourite–croissants and hot chocolate.’
Cheyanne folded back onto the sofa, the phone still in her hand was making incoherent chattering noises.
‘Who’s that dear?’ said Mum as she took the phone, ‘Oh hi Tricia, I don’t think Cheyanne’s very well.’
The doctor said it was a miracle. He’d never seen anything like it in his practice but that they should know that it might be a temporary reprieve. Mum dismissed him, shoving him out of the door as fast and politely as she could.
‘I’ve never felt better,’ she said as she set about rearranging the furniture. ‘We must get rid of this ghastly bed. It’s clogging up the lounge.’
Tricia’s kids played hide and seek as Cheyanne and Tricia chatted about what to do next.
‘Obviously, I’ll stay with her for now, until we know this is permanent,’ Cheyanne said.
Tricia just nodded, for once at a loss for words. It was a relief for Cheyanne to not have to follow one of her sister’s plans. Mum served a full beef roast with all the trimmings; even the kids were quiet as they ate.
‘Cheyanne dear, you look pale, are you okay?’ Mum asked.
She hadn’t realised that she’d been pushing her potatoes around in the gravy, rather than eating, ‘Oh, I’m fine. I just have a stiff neck from sleeping funny last night.’
‘You make sure you make it up to your bed tonight, young lady.’
It was a strange feeling for her mum to be looking after her again after all these years. Cheyanne had become so used to managing her mum’s care that she hadn’t thought about her own body for a long time. She realised that it wasn’t just her neck that ached; she had a gnawing headache that she now realised had been there for goodness knows how long. It was another long hour before Tricia went home and Cheyanne could take herself off to bed for a much-needed sleep.
A week later, the doctor was back but this time for Cheyanne, instead of her mum, who was still fresh and healthy. The doctor’s face was grim as he ran through his assessment.
‘I’ll have to get some tests, but I have to say my instinct is that this is very progressive and has been going on for a while. Perhaps you didn’t notice while you were caring for you mum.’
He left behind a pile of prescription medication, which just about took the edge off the pain enough for Cheyanne to walk. She tried to be brave, hiding her winces from her mum, who fussed around her.
‘You should stay in bed dear, save your energy until the doctor can find the right treatment.’
‘I need some fresh air, Mum. I won’t go far, I promise.’
Cheyanne knew that there would be no ‘right treatment,’ but perhaps there would be a spell that could reverse this disease. She willed herself to put one leg in front of the other, leaning on a garden fence or wall here and there to catch her breath. When she got to the charity shop, she was surprised to see it was boarded up, she’d never heard of charity shops closing down. Unable to continue on, she sat down on the pavement and cried so much she was surprised she wasn’t in a puddle of her own tears.
She saw his shadow before he spoke.
‘Hey girl, you’re not crying cos you wanted new shoes again, are you?’ He bent down and offered her a hand to help her up.
Her words came out in between sobs, she wasn’t quite sure whether he wound understand. ‘Spell, candles, Mum–amazing. Progressive.’
He nodded. ‘The full moon isn’t for two more days. I tried to warn you. If you try to make magic when the moon isn’t full, it’s like running a car on a dead battery. Well, it isn’t actually; it’s nothing like that. It’s more like, the spell works but it takes your life force instead. I’m so sorry.’
‘Is there anything I can do? Are there more advanced spells? Do you have any other books?’ She pleaded, but she knew from his eyes that there was nothing that could be done.
She leaned on him on the walk home, forcing one leg to move at a time, each step more painful than the last. He refused to come in, telling her that she looked too tired for any company and that it would be better to rest for now.
Her mum spooned soup as Cheyanne forced herself to try and swallow.
‘It’s a good thing we didn’t get rid of this bed,’ her mum said as she wiped Cheyanne’s chin.
She closed her eyes to indicate that she didn’t want any more food. When Mum left the room, she turned her head to the side and saw her pink trainers by the front door. She wondered if she wished she had never bought them at all.