The Half-Light of Morning

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

"I woke in the half-light of morning to a room I didn't recognise..."

I woke in the half-light of morning to a room I did not recognise.

It was a well-kept room; it had a clean smell to it, a faint aroma of disinfectant. The floors were covered with an ugly red carpet that was in need of a vacuum, but aside from that, the whole place was pretty much spotless, if somewhat lacking in much adornment. Apart from a wardrobe in the corner, a window and a clotheshorse with a shirt and trousers neatly hanging on it, the room was pretty bare. I was lying in a large bed, a queen by the looks of it. On my right was a bedside locker upon which sat two photographs and a host of pill bottles, each about half-full, and written on them was the name Leonard Harrison. The name wasn't familiar to me, but I pitied the guy who carried it because I'd never heard a more boring name in my life.

I looked at the two photographs. The first one was old, a wedding photo of a couple in their early twenties. The photo was in black and white and looked as if it was roughly fifty years old. The second photo was clearly a more recent photo. It was a large family photo. At the centre sitting in two adjacent chairs with their arms linked, was an elderly couple who were clearly the same couple as in the old photo. Surrounding them were seven people: four women and three men; these must have been their children. Sitting on the floor were about twenty grandchildren, with ages ranging from late teens, to a tiny baby in the arms of one of the women that couldn't have been more than a few months old. They were happy photographs, and I could sense the familial love in them.

However, I still had no clue who any of them were, or how it related to where I was.

I decided I had to get out of the bed and leave. I didn't belong here; I was very sure of that. This room clearly belonged to Leonard Harrison, whoever he was. I didn't know what in the hell was going on or why I had woken up sleeping in the guy's bed but I knew that he probably wouldn't be very impressed if he found me in it whenever he returned.

I pushed off the covers and attempted to swing my legs off the edge, but found that I couldn't. In fact, now that I stopped to notice, my whole body felt heavy and stiff. Every movement seemed to take twice as long, even very basic things like leaning on my elbow. The worst feeling was in my right leg. I could still move it alright, but it was incredibly stiff. I was determined to get out of this place so, with an almost exhausting effort, I managed to swing my legs off the bed. Step one: complete. Now it was a matter of standing up and making my way out of the room. I braced myself slightly, and pushed my hands against the bed in order to lift myself to my feet. Immediately though, I fell crashing back to the bed with a loud thud. My right leg wasn't just stiff; it was almost impossible to walk on. What now then? Behind the bedside locker was a walking cane. I reached for it, and with another major effort, pushed myself to my feet, this time using the cane to steady my weakened right side.

The door opened with a creak.

I swung around quickly, almost too quickly, and would have fallen if I hadn't caught the bedside locker to steady myself.

"Well, I'm very pleased to see you're able to get out of bed today, Leo."

I looked up at the person who had just walked in. She was young and fair-haired. Not pretty in the most conventional sense, but she had a warm expression on her face, as if she knew me, and that my rising was some kind of genuine achievement for her. She was wearing a pale pink nurse's uniform, covered by a cool grey cardigan.

Who the hell was she calling Leo? Did she think I was this Harrison guy? That made no sense, he must have been forty years older than me. And what was she doing here? Was I in a hospital or something? I started with the obvious questions.

"Who's Leo?" I asked suspiciously, "And who are you? Tell me where I am."

The warm look on her face instantly died, replaced by a look of disappointment.

"Oh," she said sadly, "it's going to be one of those kind of days huh?"

"What kind of days? What in the name of Christ are you talking about, woman?"

"You don't know where you are, do you?"

I was fed up of this nonsense. "Listen sweetheart, I just woke up in some old bastard's bed and my leg is as stiff as a plank of wood and I don't know why. I'm asking you for answers and all you're offering me is more questions. So," I said, taking a step towards her with the aid of the cane, "how about you cut the shite and tell me what's going on here?"

I thought her reaction would be one of anger, but instead she just looked at me with pity.

"Leo, it's me, Annabelle. I've been your home care nurse for the past eight months."

I was perplexed. "Home care nurse? I don't need a home care nurse, I'm not some kind of invalid. Aside from the stiffness in my leg, there isn't a damn thing wrong with me. And I wouldn't need a home care nurse anyway; for Christ's sakes, I'm a twenty-nine year old man, I can look after myself. Now, how about you tell me who you really are, and why you keep calling me Leo?"

The girl was clearly getting flustered now. I could see it in her eyes; she wasn't able to handle the stress of the lies she was telling me. I needed to keep pressing until I got some straight answers out of her.

"I swear to God, Leo," she started awkwardly, "I'm not lying to you. Your name is Leonard Harrison, but when I started working here, your wife told me that you hate your name and that you preferred to be called Leo."

"My wife?" I asked, "Millie told you to say that?"

The mention of the name made her uneasy. "No Leo, not Millie. Millie was your first wife. She passed away."

This woman was starting to make me angry. She was lying through her teeth. "Is that so? Well then, who are you talking about?"

"Your second wife, Lucy. The two of you have been married for forty-four years. You have seven children."

"Listen to me, I'M TWENTY-NINE years old, you lying bitch! Who do you think you are to come in here and lie to me about who I am?"

She reached into her bag and came out with a mirror, one of the small ones that women would use to fix up their make-up. She held it out for me to take. "Look into this and see for yourself."

I snatched the mirror from her, looked at it and gasped. What had happened to me? My face was old and wrinkled. I couldn't understand this; I was a young man! How had I suddenly aged fifty years? In shock, I dropped the mirror and heard the soft thump as it landed on the ugly red carpet. I turned back to the girl, "What have you done to me?"

She started to say something, but stopped herself and stared down at her hands. That made me angry; this little idiot had gotten the soft treatment for long enough. I moved to take a step towards her, but before I could, a short, sharp pain stabbed at my right hip. I winced. The girl noticed instantly.

"Leo, have you not taken your morning pills yet? It'll help you to relax and then I'll bring your wife up to you and everything will be fine."

I looked up at her. She was smiling back at me, a menacing, sarcastic smile. Rage welled up inside me; she had drugged me. That was why I couldn't remember where I was before here. That's why I looked fifty years older when I looked into the mirror. That's why those pill bottles were sitting on the table. This little bitch and whoever else was helping her were giving me drugs.

"So that's your game is it?"

She looked confused. "What's my game?"

"Don't play dumb with me, bitch. You're feeding me drugs. You're keeping me here against my will and drugging me so you can tell me lies about my wife and trick me into thinking I've aged. Well, it won't work. Now get out of my way, I'm going to see my Millie."

I took another step forward so I was now standing over her.

"Leo, I can't let you leave this room. You're not well enough."

"I'm going to see Millie and you aren't going to stop me woman."

"You can't see Millie, she's dead Leo."

"SHUT UP!" I screamed. I'd had enough. With my free left hand, I grabbed her shoulder and pushed her away from the door. The force I used was not great, but it still caused her to collide with the clothes-horse, and she fell awkwardly on top of it, letting out a shout of pain. I immediately felt a pang a guilt, but resolved to continue leaving.

That's when I heard her say a word: "Angelique!"

I stopped. Something in the back of my mind noticed the word. It was significant somehow.

I turned back to her. She was sitting on the floor, holding her right arm in her left hand. It looked like she might have broken it. She looked up at me, panting heavily, and said, "Angelique tulips. They're Lucy's favourite flower. The day you met, you bought her an entire bouquet of tulips and asked her to run away with you. You had been sad for years after Millie's death, you told Lucy that she had saved you. She told me to tell you that when you've...forgotten, it helps you remember."

It all came flooding back.

First came Millie's car crash. We were both drunk, but I had been driving and I had veered off the road. I felt warm tears sliding down my cheeks as I remembered that last look in her eyes before she died. Then came the day I met Lucy, and the weekend we spent in Frenchpark. She had laughed as I told her someday I would take her to a REAL French city.

Next was our wedding day, where I promised to try and make her happy every day for the rest of my life, and gave her a ring inscribed with the words 'A promise is a promise'. Then came the births of our children: first Jason, then Katie, followed by Robert, Lisa, Erin and Nathan. And, lastly, little Julia, my pride and joy. Memories were flashing back faster than I could appreciate each of them and I fell to my knees and wept. I wept to think of all the happy and sad moments in my life, and how, until a minute ago, I hadn't remembered a single damn one of them.

That's when I realised what I had done. I turned to Annabelle, who had begun to stand up while nursing her injured arm. I wanted to run over and help her up, but the best I could manage was slowly stepping towards her, too late to provide her any assistance in standing. Whether it was the realisation of my wrongdoing, or the madness that had led to it, I began to cry.

"Oh my God, I'm so sorry Annabelle," I sobbed, "I'm so sorry, please, forgive me."

She hesitated for a second, then put her one free arm around me. "It's okay," she whispered softly. She mumbled something about going for a lie down. I didn't hear what she said, I just nodded in compliance. I didn't have the strength to do anything. After all, if I couldn't even remember who my own wife was, then what use was I to the world?

With the assistance of the cane, she helped me back over to the bed and lay me down, pulling the covers back over me. She looked at me, with no sadness and no pity, only affection.

"I'm going to pop down to the shop and pick up a bouquet of tulips," she said softly, "you can give them to Lucy whenever she gets back this evening."

I smiled at her as tears blurred my vision. She was a good girl, little Annabelle, such a good girl. "Thank you, dear."

She stood up and left while I turned over and tried to go back to sleep. Maybe I would dream of the night Lucy and I went to our first dance. She gave me a look that night that I swore I would never forget: a glint in her eye coupled with a smile that was a mix of love and mischief. That was when I knew, it was her. I couldn't wait to see the look on her face whenever I brought her that bouquet. A big bouquet of springtime tulips just for her.

Yes, just for her...

 

*****

I awoke in the fading light of early evening to a room I did not recognise. It was a well-kept room; it had a clean smell to it, a faint aroma of disinfectant. The floors were covered with an ugly red carpet that was in need of a hoover, but aside from that, the whole place was pretty much spotless, if somewhat lacking in much adornment. Apart from a wardrobe in the corner, a window and a clotheshorse with a shirt and trousers neatly hanging on it, the room was pretty bare. I was lying in a large bed, a double by the looks of it.

Although I didn't recognise the room, I didn't feel too ill at ease in it. The design features were akin to the spare room in Millie's parents house, where I had often spent a night before we were married.

Millie.

Fifty years on, and it still saddened me to think about her. In the early days after her death, I had done my best to blame her death on other factors: the car, the road, the weather. Ultimately though, I knew deep down that the fault was mine, and it was my mistake, my foolhardiness, that had cost Millie her life. It was probably the reason that I was still alone all these years later.

Turning to more current worries though, I still had no idea where I was. Also, I had noticed a bad stiffness in my right leg. Not especially uncommon at my age, but disconcerting all the same. I looked over to the bedside locker to my right. On top of it lay, two photographs and a host of pill bottles that I knew I should probably take, but I decided against it until I knew where I was. It was neither the pill bottles or the photographs that caught my eye though. Sitting in front of the photographs, was a large bouquet of Montreux tulips sitting in a vase of water. They were beautiful flowers, I recognised them as Montreux tulips by the ivory-yellow colour.

It took a bit of effort given the stiffness of the leg, but eventually, I managed to swivel my legs off the bed and take a closer look at them. They were definitely fresh judging by the smell and the texture of the petals; it was clear to me someone had left them in earlier today. The clear plastic still surrounded the bouquet also.

I noticed that there was a folded note left under the vase. I lifted the vase, picked the note out and opened it. The handwriting was very neat and precise. It read: "Leo, went to the store and they told me these were brand new. I know they aren't the same ones as usual but I figured Lucy wouldn't mind too much! She's home at four-thirty so be sure you're ready before then!" It was signed 'Annabelle'. I didn't know who Annabelle was, or who Lucy was for that matter. Nevertheless, I decided I had better get out of bed and get dressed anyway.

After twenty minutes, a considerable amount of awkward movements and almost falling over on my arse, I managed to get dressed into the shirt, trousers, tie and a pair of shoes that I found in the wardrobe. I didn't know who Lucy was, but it was now four twenty-five according to my wristwatch. By my reckoning, I didn't have anywhere better to be and since Annabelle, whoever she was, had gone to the trouble of buying the flowers, I figured I may as well give them to this Lucy person.

Having neatly adjusted my tie one last time, I carefully lifted the tulips out of the vase, along with the clear plastic sheet to keep them together. Then, balancing myself with the cane and carrying the tulips in the other hand, I left the room and began making my way down the stairs slowly. When I was halfway down the steps, the door opened.

In stepped the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen in my life.

She was older, a few years younger than me I estimated, maybe seventy or seventy-one. Her hair had been blonde but it had now faded to a sort of light gold with age, and it shone in the sunlight that followed her in the door. Her eyes were blue, clear and smiling. And on her lips was a smile, a mix of mischief and affection, and probably the best smile I'd ever seen in my life. She was wearing a long, flowery summer dress. It was the sort of dress that could easily look ridiculous, but she carried off with such grace that no one could deny how beautiful she looked. Simply put, she was an angel. I had never felt so nervous in my life.

As she closed the door, she looked up and saw me standing there on the stairs, open-mouthed. I hid the tulips behind my back before she could spot them. She looked surprised, "Leo, what in the name of God are you doing out of bed?" She knows my name? "Yes, I was feeling much better," I said nervously.

"What have you got hidden there?" she asked suspiciously.

"Oh, nothing," I said, hoping I sounded more convincing to her than I did to myself.

She wasn't fooled though. "Well how about you bring that nothing down here and into the kitchen and stop standing there like an old fool?" she giggled.

She turned and made her way into the kitchen, leaving me standing on the stairs still half in shock. Was this Lucy? Or was this Annabelle? I didn't give a damn, I was going to give that woman these flowers.

I made my way down the rest of the stairs, much faster this time and barely using the cane at all. I walked into the kitchen purposefully, bringing the tulips from behind my back as I entered. The woman looked shocked seeing the flowers.

"Oh my God, Leo..." she started.

"I'm sorry to spring this on you. Please just hear me out. A woman named Annabelle left these flowers for me to give to someone. I don't know whether you're Annabelle, or Lucy or whoever. All I know is that the second you walked in that door, I felt alive for the first time in forty years. I don't know if you're married, divorced, single or whatever else, but I don't think I can live with myself without asking you this."

I held out the beautiful Montreux tulips for her to take. "Would you run away with me? Actually, with this bad leg it'll be more like limping away with me, but I hope you'll do it anyway."

She laughed at that, and took the tulips from me. As she looked at the bouquet, I saw tears form in her eyes. Her mischievous smile appeared again, but this it was tinged with sadness. Before I could ask her what was wrong, she said, "Montreux tulips. I always loved these ones. Possibly even more than the Angeliques."

Angelique. Somewhere in the back of mind the word registered. However, before I could figure out what it was, she spoke again.

"You do seem like a wonderful man, Mr. Harrison, and the flowers were a very romantic touch. Sadly," she said, holding up her left hand to show me her ring, "I'm spoken for." I lowered my head, embarrassed that I hadn't seen the ring before I had made an ass out of myself.

"You see, Mr. Harrison, as much as I would love to run away with you, I made a promise to my husband on the day I married him. That promise was that the only man I'd ever run anywhere with was him. And after all..." She reached out and took my hand. She lifted it up and showed me the ring on my own hand that I hadn't noticed. She then held hers beside it. My eyesight wasn't as strong as it once was, but I make out the inscription that seemed to be common to both rings: 'A promise is a promise.'

I looked up at her, and it all came flooding back.

Lucy.

I reached out and embraced her tightly. "I love you, dear."

"I love you too," she whispered.

That evening, we talked for hours on end. We talked about old friends we had known when we were both young, and new friends that we still held dear. We talked about the children. Nathan was due to be married in a month's time. We couldn't believe it still. From the youngest age, he had been the little playboy of the house, but now, he had finally found a good woman to keep hold of him. Lisa was expecting her fourth child in October. They were hoping for a boy this time, so that the three girls would have a little brother. Erin had just been promoted at work. She always was the smartest of the family. Finally, Jason's youngest son Peter was finally going off to university in August, the last of Jason's kids to leave home. It was hard to believe that time had passed so quickly.

We talked until after midnight about memories we had shared, people we had lost, people we had gained and all of the moments in between. We went through forty-four years of shared memories together, and smiled at the knowledge that we wouldn't have wanted to share them with anyone else. It was half past one in the morning when I lay down into bed beside my wife and soon, I drifted off to sleep with memories of our first summer together running through my mind.

I woke in the half-light of morning to a room I did not recognise.


Submitted: September 02, 2019

© Copyright 2020 Andy Cornell. All rights reserved.

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