The treasure of a life

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Mrs Budd,’ Jane called as she opened the door, ‘Its Jane Mrs Budd,’

Jane tried to keep her voice cheerful and even as she walked into the freezing cold farm kitchen....

Submitted: March 01, 2008

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Submitted: March 01, 2008

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The treasure of a life.

 

Jane dashed up the three flights of stairs and into the care support agency office. It had been a long day and it was threatening to snow. The sooner she finished her time sheet the quicker she could go home and relax before heading into town for a Christmas Eve party with her boyfriend and some of his workmates.

The care support agency’s secretary looked up from her computer. ‘Everyone O.K?’ she asked supportively. Marcia made it her business to try to understand the needs of most of their clients so she could help support them when they contacted the office.

Jane nodded, ‘Fred needed a little more time today. His son was due over to collect him for Christmas but with the bad weather…, they have put off visiting until the New Year. The warden is going to keep an eye on him so he should be fine.’ Jane pulled out his notes and quickly recorded her visit.

‘Everything alright here?’ she asked.

Marcia grimaced, ‘No one has been available to visit Florence Budd. I tried to contact Ross, she’s the senior on call today but said just to ring her and check she was alright.’

Jane looked up from her notes. ‘No one’s been out to her?’ she asked anxiously.

Marcia bit her lip, ‘No. I have tried Jane believe me but Ross said to leave it. She said she would try to get out tomorrow.’ Marcia shrugged her shoulder’s helplessly. ‘I rang Mrs Budd first thing this morning and she said she will be fine and not to worry.’

Jane felt herself getting angry and had to remind herself it wasn’t Marcia’s fault, ‘Florence Budd would say that, she won’t want to bother anyone but she can’t get out of bed without help. How does Ross think she is going to manage to get to the toilet, or find food?’ Jane’s voice rose in frustration and worry.

Marcia grimaced, ‘I tried Jane, but Ross didn’t want to know and there wasn’t anyone else to ask. If it snows I can’t even see her getting there tomorrow.’

Jane replaced the clients notes slamming the filing cabinet closed. How could some people live with themselves? ‘I think I might try to visit her on my home,’ Jane announced, knowing she had no real choice.

Marcia nodded. ‘I thought you might. Ross won’t like it; she thinks everyone will have finished work by now. I bet the ‘on call’ phone has been switched off.’ As she said this, she dialled the number and held the handset for Jane to hear.

Jane shrugged her shoulders, ‘so much for quality care,’ she muttered more to herself than to Marcia and wrapping a scarf around her neck she wished Marcia a happy Christmas and made her way down to her car.

The cold air hit her face as she headed out towards the car park. Flakes of snow had started to fall and she worried about getting through the forest if the snow started to settle.

Her journey was frustratingly slow but finally Jane parked her car at the top of a narrow gravel drive that sloped down to the old farmhouse. She knew that it would be unwise to try to drive down in such bad weather. Pulling on her hat and gloves, she slipped through the kiss-gate and made her way across the chicken field. The old chicken runs now stood empty. Jane sighed sadly, Mrs Budd had fought tooth and nail to keep her chickens, but in the end, the farmer next door had taken them, promising Mrs Budd to keep her well supplied with eggs and the occasional roasting chicken. It had been a bitter blow for Mrs Budd and after they had been taken away Mrs Budd seemed to have given up on life. The chickens had been more than eggs to sale and Sunday dinner, to her they had been her link with life. Now no one came to buy her eggs and with no reason to go out, she had quickly become a prisoner in her own home.

‘Mrs Budd,’ Jane called as she opened the door, ‘Its Jane Mrs Budd,’

Jane tried to keep her voice cheerful and even as she walked into the freezing cold farm kitchen. The old range that normally threw out a waft of welcoming warmth and the kettle that normally sat bubbling as it waited for the next pot of tea stood cold and unused. Jane felt her stomach tighten as she peered around the room that was both kitchen and bedroom for the old lady and the only room with any form of heating. The bed in the corner was empty and unmade. ‘Mrs Budd,’ she called again, anxiety ringing in her voice. It was only the slightest of movements that alerted her and swiftly moving to the far side of the bed she found Florence Budd crumpled on the floor trapped between the bed and the wall.

Mrs Budd groaned as she tried to lift her head. Jane knelt down beside her and held her hand. It was freezing cold. ‘Stay still Mrs Budd I will call for help.’

Mrs Budd gripped Jane’s hand her eyes filling with tears. ‘Please dear, don’t do that. I want to say here. If you ring for help, they will take me away.’

Jane could see the old lady was in pain, likely her hip broken by the way she was laying. ‘You need help Mrs Budd, and when you are better you will be able to come back home again.’

Mrs Budd looked up fearfully into Jane’s eyes, ‘We both know that if I leave here I will not come back. Yes, they may keep me alive for a little longer but for what reason. My memories are here Jane, please let me die here.’

Jane bit her lip as she looked around, what should she do? It was her duty of care to get help but she knew that Mrs Budd was right. She would never be allowed back home again. ‘Let’s get you warm and comfortable and then we can think a bit better,’ she offered as a way of giving herself time to work out what to do.

Carefully she pulled the bed away and helped the old lady regain some dignity by removing soiled bedding and replacing it with fresh blankets. Gently she tucked blankets around Florence’s slight frame and used pillows to prop the old lady up from the floor. Then she found her glasses and combed her hair. Once she was sure that Mrs Budd was as comfortable as she could make her and well wrapped up from the cold she went over to the range. Using wood stacked up in the old conservatory, she lit it. The range offered the only form of heating and would take time to heat up. She wondered about going up to the village half a mile away to buy some food but the snow was falling thickly in the darkness of Christmas Eve night and she had no torch. Likely the small shops would be shut anyway she told herself. She found two frozen ready meals in the freezer and put them into the oven to slowly defrost as the range heated up.

As she worked, she chattered about the weather and her day in an attempt to break the silence, but in her mind she continued to worry about what to do. If Mrs Budd was to go into hospital, she should not be given anything to eat or drink and that she should ring for an ambulance right away, but was she going to do that? Finally, she returned to the old lady with her pain killers prescribed for her arthritis. ‘These may help the pain a little,’ she offered.

Mrs Budd smiled a toothless grin, ‘Get my teeth for me my dear, I would hate for anyone to see me like this.’ Only once her teeth were in did she accept the glass of water and her medication.

A ring from Jane’s phone made them both jump. ‘My boy friend,’ she told Mrs Budd as she walked to the other side of the kitchen to answer it.

‘Hi,’ she answered,

‘Where are you babes? I’m at your flat ready to party and you aren’t here.’

‘Sorry Tim, I’m not going to make it. I’m stuck with a client and with the snow and everything I could be a while yet.’

‘Jane it is all arranged, its going to be a great party. You have to come.’

Jane could hear the irritation in his voice. ‘Sorry Tim, but this is an emergency and I’m stuck in the middle of the forest. You go and enjoy yourself.’

‘How can I do that without you babes?’ His voice now sulky.

Jane took a deep breath knowing Tim had no idea about the kind of mess she was in and he had been planning the party for ages. ‘I’m sure you will manage. Now stop sulking and be gone. Ring me later and tell me how its going.’

She knew he wasn’t happy but what else could she do? It had been a bad day from the start and she figured it wasn’t going to get any better.

Returning to Mrs Budd she sat down alongside her and pulled one of the spare blankets around her own shoulders. ‘Well now, it’s just you and me,’ she said as cheerfully as she could muster.

Mrs Budd took her hand. ‘You go off and enjoy yourself dear. I will be all right now. You are only young once. Make the most of it. You shouldn’t be stuck here with me, not on Christmas Eve.’

It’s snowing out Mrs Budd , I can’t get home and I don’t think an ambulance could get down your drive so I’m afraid we are both stuck here until the morning. The range is heating up and I have found your Christmas dinner in the freezer. What if we were to have Christmas tonight and we will worry about tomorrow when we wake in the morning.

Mrs Budd squeezed her hand and closed her eyes as tears trickled down her cheeks. ‘I would like that very much my dear,’ she whispered hoarsely. Both understood what had been left unsaid.

With the heat of the range finally warming the kitchen and with the kettle steaming Jane’s spirits rose. Mrs Budd seemed to drift in and out of consciousness but she appeared comfortable. Holding a hot mug of tea Jane watched the old lady sleep. It was going to be a long night but what else could she do?

Mrs Budd stirred and looked around, ‘Jane would you go into the top bedroom for me? In the wardrobe you will find two large cardboard boxes would you bring them down?’

Jane put her drink down and untangled herself from the blanket. ‘Top room,’ she repeated as she stood up.

Opening the door to the hall Jane fumbled for a light switch. One light bulb flickered into life, dimly illuminating the brown walled hallway. Bare wooden stairs twisted up two floors and then again to a third floor which had a single door and the top of the last step.

Jane gingerly opened it. She felt for a light switch as she stepped into the room but found nothing. Something scurried across the floor and she shivered, not wanting to think what it might be. With no light that she could find, she stood in the dark room trying to make out shapes. It seemed to be empty apart from a large cupboard on the far wall and a metal bedstead in the centre of the room.

Opening the cupboard, she was almost thankful that she could not see too much and just hoped if there was anything alive that it would not crawl on her. The boxes were easy to find and she quickly pulled them out and dragged them into the hall, glad to close the door behind her and get back downstairs.

Once back in the light and warmth of the kitchen she went to check on Mrs Budd but the old lady seemed to be sleeping peacefully so Jane decided to leave her. She looked curiously at the two boxes wondering if Mrs Budd would mind if she peeped in. Carefully she opened the first box and grinned as she found it full of Christmas decorations. In the second, she found photograph albums wrapped in clothes, old jewellery, and knickknacks. Leaving that box for later, she started to sort out the decorations. Opening out a spindly silver tinsel Christmas tree, she put it up where the old lady could easily see it. Then carefully she unrolled the fragile balls that had been neatly wrapped in old newspapers. She studied each one before hanging it on the tree. The colours were faded and sadly one had been crushed but each was different, some pointed, others concaved and others made from paper-mache and varnished. At the bottom of the box she found decorations that opened out into large coloured paper balls and bells.

 Jane had not noticed the old lady watching her until she had finished. Florence Budd smiled contentedly. ‘Each decoration reminds me of something different,’ she said wistfully, I used to buy one new thing each year. Light the candles from the kitchen drawer dear. If it is windy the light will go out, happens all the time.’ Then she closed her eyes and slipped back into sleep.

Finding the box of church candles, Jane lit several before settling down in Mrs Budd’s old rocking chair next to the range.

When Mrs Budd next woke, she seemed brighter and with the smell of food wafting from two plates keeping warm on top of the range she chuckled,

‘Christmas has really arrived.’ ‘It’s a long time since I had these decorations up.’ She moved slightly to look around but winced in pain. ‘Have you brought down the other box?’ Jane nodded, ‘Good, now in the corner of the food cupboard is a bottle of my raspberry wine. I think you should open it.’

As Mrs Budd sipped the wine she nodded to herself, ‘as good as I remember,’ she said approvingly, ‘I will only be able to have a little so you will have to drink the rest.’

Jane laughed, and sampled the wine, which indeed was very good. Mrs Budd took a few mouthfuls of food but struggled to swallow and finally lay back exhausted. Jane made her comfortable and put on the small TV while she tidied up.

A flicker from the lights and a pop from the TV preceded the final loss of electricity and Jane and Mrs Budd found themselves in the light of the candles. ‘Oh well,’ sighed Mrs Budd, ‘they lasted longer than I expected.’ Jane groaned, how would they pass the time away now?

Jane opened the range and put more wood in. The flames of the fire helped light the room and gave the kitchen a cosy feel so she left the range door open. Mrs Budd had fallen asleep again so Jane dragged the other box over to the fire and started to rummage through. She put aside two framed pictures ready to ask Mrs Budd who they were. One was a photograph of a man and a woman both in flying clothes standing alongside a small aircraft and the other was a very formal painting of a man and a woman holding a child. Jane thought they might be the same people. She looked at the sleeping lady. Could the woman in the pictures possibly be her?

Wrapped in linen she found several jewellery boxes some carved and one inlaid. In one was what looked like a piece of opaque glass. Another had gold rings and a stunning necklace. Jane held the necklace up to see it more clearly. On a heavy linked gold chain hung a light yellow stone shaped like a large teardrop and cut like a diamond. As she held it, it caught the light of the fire.

‘Do you know what that is?’ asked the old lady now awake again, her eyes more alert than Jane had seen all evening.

Jane shook her head, ‘No but it is beautiful.’

The old lady smiled, ‘It is, isn’t it? Bring my treasures here and I will tell you about them.’

Jane gave each item to her and Mrs Budd lovingly laid each in front of her. Jane saw no sadness in her eyes only great love and contentment. Once each had been carefully arranged, Jane made herself comfortable next to the old lady who was still propped up on the floor where she had fallen.

The old lady picked up the painting and held it to her chest she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. ‘These are the two loves of my life. It maybe hard for you to believe but once  I was a young air head of a girl with the name of Florence Milwall and an oxford student of ecology and I fell in love with a very handsome fellow geology student called Samuel  Budd. Together we planned to save the world and for a few years we had the most wonderful adventures. We travelled to Africa, worked in the great game reserves. We flew planes and travelled down rivers on rafts and canoes. We believed ourselves to be invincible. But in reality we weren’t and the war came.’

She sighed as she picked up the picture of them standing next to the plane. ‘That’s me,’ she said wistfully. ‘If only we could have seen into the future we may have done things differently but life isn’t like that nor should it be.’

Jane wanted to know more but Mrs Budd had closed her eyes. She studied the picture of Mrs Budd. She had been stunning. Her long thick hair simply platted. The flying jacket indicated that Mrs Budd must have flown in the plane. She looked at the frail old lady who had been left alone to fend for herself and swallowed hard. Compared to this lady she had done nothing. Apart from a holiday in Spain she had never been out of the country and apart from the coach trip to the hotel she couldn’t really say she had seen Spain. She hadn’t even seen most of England. Mrs Budd had placed a parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied with thin white string in Jane’s lap. Carefully she slipped the string off the corners and removed the brown paper. Inside she found a collection of old journals.

Several hours later snug in the warmth of the fire Jane turned the last page of Florence Budd’s final journal. In some ways she had been quite ordinary, worrying about everyday problems but in other ways she had been quite extraordinary. Florence Budd had been 28 when she had written her final journal. She had been living in Africa, her husband working as a geologist and she as a conservationist and amongst the simple routines of her life she wrote of her great love for the man she had married. She wrote about going to parties and the intrigues of other peoples lives but for Jane it was her accounts and descriptions of doing such amazing things as learning to fly over the great expanses of Africa. She described the hardship and joy of canoeing down rivers, of camping in the wild and living the hard life in African villages. Her words drew pictures of the contrast between the expatriates extravagant lifestyles and those of simple village life of the local African people. Then halfway through her last journal she wrote of her shock of war and anger and frustration of her husband’s desire to fight. His letters were in a pouch in the back of the last journal and Jane found tears in her eyes as she read them. How they had loved each other. It made her relationship and life with Tim seem shallow and boring. The last letter had been dated 15th August 1944. His letter had been full of excitement about seeing her again. Jane flipped back to the journal. Her throat tightened and her eyes burned as she realised he had never made it home and Florence’s last journal entry had been two week later had simple said ‘Planning to fly to Nairobi this afternoon hopefully Sam’s letters will be waiting for me. I can’t wait for the time we can be back together again.’

‘He was killed on the 16th August,’ Mrs Budd whispered. ‘I never loved anyone else. After the war, I left Africa and came here. I guess I have been happy here but in many ways my life ended that day.’

‘I’m so sorry,’ Jane said as she struggled to keep hold of her emotions.

‘Don’t be young lady, I have had a good life. I have loved and lived my dream. Now it is for you to do the same. Take hold of life Jane. It is so precious; make sure you live every single day to the best of your ability.’

Mrs Budd passed her hands over the items on her covers. ‘These are my memories. I see and feel each memory as if I had just lived it.’ She opened the box with the lump of opaque glass and handed it to Jane.

‘What do you think it is?’ she asked with a glint in her eye.

Jane shrugged her shoulders. ‘It doesn’t look like much.’

 Mrs Budd laughed. ‘It’s now your future Jane if you wish it to be. It’s an uncut diamond. I never needed it. Maybe it will make another necklace like the one you held up earlier.’

Jane gasped. ‘They must be very valuable Mrs Budd. You could have used the money to pay for better care.’

‘Look at us here tonight, I have all I need’ she said and closed her eyes. ‘You have a good heart. I don’t need these anymore, my memories are in my head. You take care of them for me. Just promise me you will live your dreams so when you are my age you too will have no regrets.’

Jane held her bony hand, ‘I will,’ she promised, ‘thank you.’

Mrs Budd closed her eyes, the painting of her husband under her arm.

‘Who was the child?’ Jane suddenly wondered but the old lady didn’t stir. Jane stoked the fire and settled herself down in the old rocking chair. She would ask her in the morning- but the morning will be too late and as Jane dreams of the things she will do, Florence Budd finally walks hand in hand with those she has loved but never lost.

 


© Copyright 2017 Rosie Cottier. All rights reserved.

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