Slave to the Memories

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Janet has a problem - although she can't see it. Until she can, no one can help.

Submitted: June 09, 2016

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Submitted: June 09, 2016

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Slave to the Memories.

Janet sat watching restlessly.  Wringing her hands in her lap, she perched on the edge of the high backed chair ready to pounce.  Her eyes darted around the room, desperately trying to remember what was missing.  What had been moved and where it was going – this was agonising.

Her daughters continued to rifle through her belongings, seemingly oblivious to their mother’s distress.  “What about this mum?” asked Claire holding aloft a small china dog whose paw had been chipped.  “Charity, skip or keep?” Claire indicated to the three piles on the small patch of threadbare carpet.

“Keep of course!” Janet snapped, she’d had enough now and could feel the beginnings of a migraine, clouding her thought process.  “I’m going to glue it,” she added, “I’ve got the broken piece somewhere.”  She scanned the room and fumbled in her dressing gown pocket, knowing full well she hadn’t a clue where the missing paw was.  Claire sighed heavily and put the ugly ornament in the ever-growing ‘keep’ pile.

“For crying out loud mum!” shouted Emma from the other side of the living room, “what’s the point of us being here?” she threw down the pile of old newspapers she was sorting, sending them scattering, their loose papers floating down like butterflies.  She too had had enough, they’d been at it for several hours now, endlessly sifting through the belongings that their mother had collected over the years.  Most of it was useless, worthless junk – broken nik naks she was going to fix, junk mail she hadn’t read yet, family heirlooms that she couldn’t bring herself to let go of.  The list was endless.

“Hey!” Janet shouted back, “I hope you’re not throwing those, I haven’t finished with them yet.” 

“Mum, some of them are over 15 years old!” Emma couldn’t hold back any more, “if you haven’t read them yet you’re hardly likely to read them in the near future!  And look!” she continued her words gushing out uncontrollably, “why the hell are you stashing pill bottles?” she kicked the bin bag that was hiding the offending plastic.

“Just get out and leave me alone!”  Janet screamed, tears stung her eyes, what was wrong with the pair of them, how could they be so cruel to their own mother?

“OK, ok, let’s stop now, everyone calm down,” Claire tried to douse the flames that threatened to create an even bigger rift between her family.  She sat on the arm of her mum’s chair and took her hand in her own, it felt cold and clammy with god knows how many months’ worth of dirt under her nails, Claire fought the urge to whip her hand away.  “Mum, I’m sorry, but this has to be done – the council are moving you out in two weeks.  If we don’t help you with this – they will, and I don’t think they’ll be quite as…kind.” 

Emma tutted loudly and stalked out, not bothering to step over the mounds of clothing and magazines, she just waded through it.

“Look, we’ll leave it for today – we have made some progress,” Claire looked doubtfully at the clutter surrounding them, this was only the first room they’d tackled and they’d been at it a week.  “Have a rest and we’ll be back tomorrow,” she gave Janet a peck on the cheek, who in return mumbled a thank you.

Once outside, Claire took several deep breaths, to calm herself down and to neutralise the stale odour from her mother’s house that had filled her nostrils.  She found Emma sitting on the low wall in front of the house and went and joined her. “Its times like these I hate her Claire, I absolutely despise her,” Emma announced sadly, Claire nodded, completely understanding where her little sister was coming from.  Although, Claire herself didn’t feel hatred, she did have a whole raft of emotions that she somehow managed to keep in check.  “We had no childhood because of her,” Emma continued, “could never have any friends around because of the shame and embarrassment. And look what happened when Johnny Cook from Peacock Street found out about our living situation – the bullying started.”  Claire remembered it well, it began with name calling, then escalated from there – eggs thrown at the windows, vile messages posted through the letter box, school bags stolen and dumped in the stream.  Claire’s throat began to tighten at the memories, she put an arm round her sister’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

 They’d had this conversation many times in the past, how their mother had neglected them and their father, valuing her treasures more than she did her family, they all knew that’s why their dad left.  He just upped and left one morning – no note no trace, no nothing. He’d obviously got to his wit’s end with his wife’s hoarding and walked, they didn’t even know if he was still alive.  It was just another slice of upset in the two girl’s very sad existence.

“Come on, I’ll give you a lift home,” Claire broke the silence. 

“I don’t know how you can be so calm about her,” Emma said as they walked to Claire’s car.  “It’s no mean feat Em,” replied Claire, “every time I go round there, I want to shake and yell at her – just to put a bit of life in her, she’s so melancholic I want to slap her.”

“Really?  I had no idea you felt like that, all these years you’ve been so placid, so sympathetic, what’s changed?” said Emma surprised.

“Nothing’s changed,” Claire said with a hint of bitterness in her voice, “I just found a way of keeping a lid on it, accepting she has a disorder, an illness that I can’t do anything about – only she can…when she finally recognises she has a problem.”  She started the engine and pulled away, they both surveyed the front garden.  That was a wreck too, their father’s old silver Cortina was parked directly under the living room window, it had probably taken root it had been stationary for so long.  Like everything else, it hadn’t been touched since he left 15 years ago.  Weeds grew out of every crack in the pavement and the Lavatera bush, despite its pretty lilac blooms, was so vast it made the whole place look dingy.  This coupled with the rusted trailer that was once used for camping trips and the various other unkempt vegetation, made the house look very uninviting.  Small wonder the local children avoided it, telling each other an old witch resided there.

“I think that’s what I find most frustrating,” Claire continued, “the fact that she doesn’t see she has a problem, she knows she’s depressed, blaming that on dad leaving; so she accepts taking the anti-depressants, but she won’t seek any other help.”  They drove in silence feeling a mutual helplessness.

 

Janet rooted through her knitting bag, searching for her Prozac, she was meant to take two every morning, but lately she’d been forgetting.  She located them and her hands trembled as she shook the two green pills into her sweaty palm.  Taking a swig of the cold tea beside her, she swallowed them down – feeling instantly at peace for doing so.

She reflected over the events of the last week, a letter from the council saying she was being ‘downsized’, her girls coming in and throwing her things away, moving in two weeks – it was all too much!  She sank back in her chair and started to weep again, why couldn’t everyone just leave her be?  All right, the house had got into a bit of a state since Tony left, but that was to be expected wasn’t it?  She was depressed, they all knew that, why did they keep saying she had other problems, what problems? 

Janet dabbed at her eyes with the stringy tissue she had up the sleeve of her cardigan, blowing her nose she carefully placed the tissue in a plastic carrier bag beside her, telling herself that it was important to collect them in such a way, so as not to ‘infect’ anyone.  She sighed heavily and looked at the little travel alarm clock beside her, it was only 8pm but she was exhausted. It didn’t register with her that she’d not had anything to eat since the girls had bought in fish and chips and lunch time.  Janet heaved herself out of the chair and made her way to the bedroom, she shuffled through the room, stepping over the bags which contained the tapes that she and Tony used to dance to and exercising some caution past the leaning tower of books.

 She reached the stairs and smiled at her collection of stuffed teddies arranged on them.  Some were as old as she was, whilst others had been picked up at boot sales or won on the claw machine at the arcade.  There were so many they had to sit at least four in a row on every step with a pile at the bottom and another mound on the landing.  Janet sometimes rotated them, so they all got a turn at being on display on the staircase.  She gripped the bannister and pulled herself over the sea of soft toys onto a very narrow stairway. 

Janet’s thoughts were transported back to the weekend away they had in Margate, when it was just her and Tony, before the girls were born.  She reminisced, as she made her ascent, on how he had spent his last few pennies on that ‘Ring the Bell’ game, just to win her a cuddly little monkey.  She failed to notice that one of her precious bears had toppled over onto the next step she was about to take.  Her socked foot slipped on the offending bears head sending Janet crashing, she bounced down the flight of stairs on her stomach, her flailing arms unsuccessfully trying to grasp the bannister, and she landed with a bang on her hip.

Shocked and dazed, Janet lay for a few moments catching her breath, she looked around, assessing the situation.  Most of the stuffed toys had joined her on the floor, as had the various articles of clothing that had decorated the bannister.  “Well it’s no good sitting here is it?” Janet said to the room.  She attempted to sit up, that was when the pain seared through her right side, she let out a deafening scream, “oh dear God!” she cried.  The air in her lungs felt like it had been sucked out, she fought to breathe normally, then the panic set in.  “Where’s the phone? Oh my – where’s the phone?”  Damn! She realised she hadn’t a clue where it was and even if she did, she wouldn’t be able to reach it anyway.  “Help!  Help me please!”  Janet wailed repeatedly, until her voice was hoarse.

 

Claire waited patiently outside Emma’s flat, she turned the engine off, her sister wasn’t the best of time keepers.  It was early though, they both wanted to get a couple of hours in at their mums before they started their respective shifts at work – Emma in the soft drink factory and Claire as a receptionist in the dentists.  Emma shuffled sleepily to the car clutching a travel mug of coffee, “morning,” she mumbled.  “I hope that coffee perks you up,” replied Claire, “we’ve got a lot of work to do today, especially as we had to cut short our visit yesterday,” she added with a sarcastic tone.

“Don’t start Claire, please,” Emma whined, “I promise to be more patient and understanding today, ok?” 

They arrived at Janet’s house, and Claire put the spare door key in the lock, she pushed against the door, but it wouldn’t open.  “Oh for crying out loud!” said Emma annoyed, “has she gone and barricaded the door, in protest of yesterday?” 

“Either that or she’s been moving stuff around in an attempt to make it looks like she’s been helping,” Claire replied.  She pushed harder on the door, “mum, mum, come and move this stuff, we can’t get in.”  There was no reply. 

“Mum!”  Emma called through the letterbox, getting all the more vexed – this was not a good start to the day. She peered through, “Oh my god Claire! It’s mum - it’s her blocking the door!”  They looked at each other, both unsure what to do for a spilt second, Claire took the lead, “Go round the back, see if anywhere is open,” she instructed.  She dug into her jeans pocket and fetched out her phone, “I’ll be calling an ambulance!” she called after Emma.

Emma scrambled round the back of the house, frantically looking for a way in.  The unruly tangle of weeds and overgrown shrubbery was even worse round this side of the house, but she managed to battle her way through to the back door.  To her surprise and relief, it was unlocked, she opened it wide and stood gaping at what was presented to her.  The entire doorway was blocked with empty cereal boxes, stacked neatly on top of one another; cornflakes, porridge, bran flakes and even kids cereal – which gave an indication of how long Janet had been collecting them.  She tiptoed to look through the grimy kitchen window and saw the boxes we at least three deep.  “Oh mum!” shouted Emma in despair, “how on earth are we going to get you out?” 

Claire sat on the damp concrete and managed to squeeze an arm through the gap, she stroked her mum’s hair and spoke soothingly.  “It’s ok mum, the ambulance is on its way, we’ll soon have you out.”  Janet made a low groaning sound, which Claire took to be a good sign, at least she was responsive.  Emma came dashing round the front, Claire looked expectantly at her sister, “any luck?”

 Emma shook her head, “I’m not even going to describe what I just saw - I’ll save that for another day.”  She crept down onto her knees to get closer to Claire, “Is she…is she ok?”  That wasn’t what she had really wanted to ask, but she was too afraid of the potential answer.

“I don’t really know,” replied Claire, her voice quivering, “she’s making groaning noises, but she hasn’t even tried to move.”  Emma saw her big, strong, sensible sister was looking very frightened and on the verge of tears, please hold it together Claire, thought Emma silently, knowing that if her sister broke down - Emma had no hope.  She tried to reassure her, “the ambulance will be here soon, they’ll know what to do.”  Probably not the most helpful statement, but she wasn’t very good at being the practical one.

Right on cue, the sirens came whining round into the cul-de-sac, drawing even more attention to their poor mother’s dire situation.  Some neighbours had made an appearance on their driveways, pretending to put the bins out or sweep the front.  No one came to offer any assistance. 

The paramedics were wonderful, this was obviously not the first time they’d dealt with this kind of predicament and they acted swiftly, all the time keeping the girls and Janet reassured.  By this time, with all the commotion, Janet became more responsive and with a lot of cajoling, they convinced her to move just a fraction, to enable one of the paramedics - a slip of a thing - entrance into the overcrowded hallway. 

 

Janet stared at the white ceiling with its harsh strip lighting.  Tears flowed easily from her tired eyes, rolling down the side of her face creating damp patches on the pillow either side of her head.  She felt wretched, desperately wretched.  She wasn’t in physical pain, the doctors had seen to that, no this was emotional pain and it was so intense.  How could things have got like this?  How could she have been so selfish?  She was so ashamed, all those years she wasted ‘collecting’.  Collecting what exactly? She asked herself.  Rubbish, that’s all.

 Janet didn’t have this epiphany from seeing a therapist, or from her time in hospital, this revelation happened when she spent a night on the cold uncarpeted floor of her hallway.  She’d seen her house for what it really was – a dump.  It hadn’t been an accident falling down the stairs, it was her fault.  Of course, she didn’t see it like that at first, blaming anyone and everyone – “if those girls hadn’t been round upsetting me and moving things about…” or “Stupid Tony, buying me all these soft toys.”

But at around 4 o’clock in the morning, when she could hear the blackbirds wakening, Janet realised she couldn’t lay blame with anyone else but herself.  She put the teddies on the stairs, she insisted they be kept and she couldn’t get to the telephone because she didn’t know where it was! 

This pity she felt produced yet more tears, accompanied with a sorrowful wail.  A nurse appeared at her side, “are you ok Mrs Loftwood?” she asked gently, “do you need more pain relief?”  Janet shook her head, pushing away any sympathy, she didn’t deserve any.She thought of her two beautiful daughters and glanced, blurry eyed at the clock above the door. They had visited dutifully, their faces full of concern, asking after her, but she couldn’t bring herself to communicate.  They begged her to talk to them, but she stared silently ahead, words failed her.  She wanted to apologise for their childhood, their dad leaving, the sheer disregard she had shown them and for the guilt she had made them feel.  She had made her problem, their problem. But she didn’t know where to start, so she didn’t say anything.

 

The girls sat in Claire’s car, waiting for visiting to begin.  They watched silently as a man was trying to buy a parking ticket.  He put a coin in – the machine spat it out, he tried again and again, each time the machine rejected his money, until eventually he gave up and walked away, presumably to get some more change.  But Claire understood the analogy, how many times would she be rejected before she gave up and walked away?  “I’m not sure how much longer I can do this,” she stated.  Emma swivelled round on the passenger seat to face her.  Claire continued, “Nothing we do is ever going to be good enough, we’ve spent a life time walking on egg shells, worrying if it’s ok to throw rubbish away, I’ve wanted to tidy up and have tried only to be screamed at for ‘messing things up’.”  Neither of them smiled at the irony.  “We didn’t even have a room, a sanctuary that was ours, a bedroom decorated in pink with posters on the wall and a fluffy rug – that horrible cow filled it with her own crap!”  Claire began to weep, tears of sadness for the childhood lost, anger at her mother for being so useless and frustration at herself for being the dutiful daughter for so long. 

She’d been the patient one, defending her mother, maintaining that it wasn’t her fault when Emma would be screeching at the woman.  She’d patiently talk to her mum about seeking help, leaving leaflets about the illness in not so discreet places, hoping that she would get the hint and look through them.  She’d even joined on line forums in a desperate bid for a miracle cure that someone had come across.  But they all said the same thing, both the ‘reformed’ hoarders and the families of hoarders – nothing will work until the hoarder accepts there is a problem.  Well if falling down the stairs because of the ridiculous amount of clutter on them and almost breaking her hip wasn’t enough of a wakeup call, then there was no hope.

Emma wrapped her arms around her big sister and began to cry too, there was no way she could look after their mother alone if Claire bailed on them. She felt so sad for her; she’d always taken the brunt of their mother’s ugly behaviour but had the ability to lock any negativity away and continue to care for unconditionally.  Emma had become indifferent to their mother for a long time now and very rarely visited her only when Claire made her on occasions.  She was glad she had made the decision to free herself of the burden, she didn’t waste energy on feeling guilty, her mother didn’t so why should she?  She knew she was sick; but if the woman wouldn’t help herself then what could they do?  Poor Claire though, she squeezed her a little tighter, these last few weeks had been so difficult for her; liaising with the council, trying to make their mother see sense, attempting and failing miserably to clear some of the house and now this; being ignored like it was their fault, how dare she! 

Emma was growing more riled by the minute, she pulled away from Claire, “enough is enough! For too long that woman has dominated our lives, her hoarding has consumed vast amounts of our freedom,” she was on a roll now, “it has been utterly soul destroying to be a part of her life and quite frankly, our needs are just as important as hers.  She needs to face the consequences of her behaviour.”

 

Janet was sat in the chair next to the bed, she’d brushed her greying hair and put on a clean nightdress, she glanced at the wall clock.  They were later than usual, but no matter, she thought, it gave her more time to rehearse what she wanted to say to them both.  She’d spent the last few hours torturing herself, reflecting over her ill treatment of her children.  She had never been violent towards them of course, and she had just about managed to keep them in clean clothes and food in their stomachs. But there hadn’t been an abundance of love and affection; it sickened her to think she had acted that way. 

She looked at the clock again, she felt an uneasiness grip her insides but pushed it away, choosing to concentrate on the speech she was going to make.  She would tell them that she was going to seek help and get treatment for this ghastly illness, but first she wanted, no, she corrected herself, needed their forgiveness.  Janet considered the plea she was to make; she would tell them that she felt utter remorse for the childhood she had inflicted on them, that she knew all the words in the world couldn’t make up for the years lost to this disorder, but she wanted to make amends. 

It was going to be difficult, she appreciated that, particularly being that she couldn’t explain her irrational behaviour.  She’d had arguments with herself before, most noticeably when Tony left.  She had tried to analyse her behaviour, with the intention to change, but was at a loss as to how to go about it. There was no one to guide her, the girls were too young to understand and there was no family; her parents had long since died.  She had visited the GP, but failed to let on about her compulsion – fearful that the girls would be taken away – so, thinking she was depressed, she was started on anti-depressants.  The situation gradually escalated, it was almost as if the doctor had given Janet an excuse, justifying her behaviour.  She was ill and needed help – but none came.

 

“What are you suggesting?” Claire said uneasily, Emma had a defiant look in her eye.

“I’m suggesting,” Emma took a deep breath, “that we move on – without her.”  Claire looked aghast, “But she won’t be able to cope, the move, the clearing out, the telephone calls, it’ll destroy her.”

“No it won’t,” Emma said firmly, “she will cope because she has to. We won’t, or more precisely, you won’t be around to do all the sorting and arranging, so she’ll have no choice.”  Claire wanted to argue, it pained her to think of their mother alone and in need, but Emma had a point – all the years of doing things for her, had allowed Janet to become complacent and not have to think or act for herself.  “I know it sounds harsh,” Emma continued, “but we’ll make sure she has the necessary support, but we’ve done all we can do, she needs professional help - what do you think?”

“I think,” Claire struggled to formulate her words, her throat constricting with emotion, “that you are absolutely right,” she gave a small smile.  “This could either go extremely well or frightfully bad, but we can’t go on like this any longer,” she sighed defeated.

 

The familiar tight feeling gripped at Janet’s stomach, although this time she didn’t set it aside, she embraced it, allowed herself to be tormented by it.  She looked at the nurse who had appeared at her side, “they’re not coming are they?” she questioned, knowing the answer but needing confirmation.  The nurse shook her head regretfully and placed a note on the bedside locker, before leaving, allowing Janet to grieve in solitude.

End.


© Copyright 2017 Nicola Macbeth. All rights reserved.

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