Alice’s Room

This is a fictional piece, a short story.

Something had caused her to wake up. Through the gloom of misty, wet eyes, she saw the large red numbers on the digital clock. 4:35. It looked like it was still dark to her though, so she was unsure if it was AM, or PM. There was a tiny red dot next to the numbers that signified one or the other, but it had been years since she had been able to see that. She remembered that she had been dreaming. In the dream, she was wearing a summer dress, and putting on lipstick to go to a dance. Then the sirens had sounded, and she never did get to that dance, spending the night in a damp shelter instead.

Alice smiled as she thought hard about this. It hadn’t been a dream at all, just a memory.

She reached across to the table next to her chair, and took a crumpled tissue from a pile there. Bringing it to her eyes, she dabbed away the water, but it made nothing clearer. She shifted her weight, such as it was, on the cushion. A bony backside that no longer found comfort from the deepest sponge filling. Too long spent sitting; everything compressed beneath her, the polyester dressing gown and nightdress twisted and chafing under her legs. She was thirsty, and gently picked up the plastic beaker. Sucking on the pierced cap, the water tasting old and warm.

As she returned it to the table, it brushed the rows of pill bottles and tubes of ointment laid out, knocking one into her lap. She looked at it for a moment. A cap she could not open, a label she could no longer read, containing a tablet that she didn’t even know why she was taking. Behind the chair, the radiator began to gurgle, as the heating fired up and circulated the water inside. She nodded. It must be the afternoon still, that’s when the heating comes on again. She pushed the metal frame away from her legs so that she could stretch them out, wiggling her toes inside the slippers that fastened with velcro, and rarely came off, except when she was in bed.

She had to think for a long time about standing up. It had been like this for so long now, she could no longer remember a time when she just stood without thinking. Feet planted firmly, she dragged the frame back into place around her, gripping the plastic handles tightly. A half-push, to prepare, then with all her strength summoned, a mighty heave to a standing position. Then the wait, the necessary pause. Try to walk too soon, and she was sure to fall; even the few steps to the commode chair had to be planned carefully. Sitting on the plastic bowl, waiting for something to happen, she looked at the long window ledge, with its row of carefully placed framed photographs. She could no longer make out any detail of course, but she knew what each one was, by heart.

Between the photos, dried-out and curling cards marked moments of her life. A 90th birthday card was the newest addition, from earlier that year. The silver number covering most of the front of the cheap card was so large, even she could make it out. It was from one of the women that came in to get her up, or put her to bed. She wasn’t sure which one now, but one of them. Propped in the corner, next to her wedding picture, was a crumpled card announcing best wishes for her 40th wedding anniversary. It had been there for as long as she could remember, faded white by the sun, and hardly legible. Just thinking about it made her snort with derision. Forty years married to a brute, an unthinking oaf of a man, who showed a very different face to the world outside. They didn’t know about the shouting, the pushing, the unwanted sex on Saturday nights, him reeking of beer and tobacco, grunting his satisfaction like a hog at a trough.

Bert came back from the war a changed man. His gentleness had been beaten out of him, removed by the things that he had seen and done. She married him anyway, despite her worries. What else was she to do? They had been engaged on his last leave, before D-Day, and he didn’t come home again until the Christmas of ’45. He went back to the Docks, she carried on in the vinegar factory; two rooms upstairs in her aunt’s house, until her first pregnancy got them a Council flat. Alice was never happy for one day after that. Even when little Dennis was born, it went wrong from the start. The doctor looked solemn when he told them that their baby was unlikely to see the week out. Bert went out and got drunk, and her Mum stayed with her in the hospital. She never carried to full term after that. Too much heartache, she reckoned. She was satisfied when Bert died, pleased to see the back of him.

Standing up from the commode, she replaced the lid, and walked to the window. It was dull and grey outside, but then to her, it always was. Gripping the frame, she gazed into the distance, seeing nothing but the past. To her right was the stand with the sewing machine on it. It had stood there, unused, for more than twenty years. The plastic cover protected it from the dust, but the cable and foot pedal that dangled to the floor were thick with fluff. The cheap units against the wall held a lifetime of memorabilia. Unread books, VHS tapes no longer watched; a glass dolphin, received as a gift from someone she couldn’t remember. More framed photos; aunts, uncles, cousins, parents. All long dead. Alice shuffled back to the chair, falling into it, rather than sitting down. The TV in the corner had not been turned on for so long, she didn’t even know where the remote control was. She looked at her reflection in the large black screen. The reflection of someone she didn’t really recognise.

A noise from behind her made her jump. Someone was in the room, talking loudly, appearing from out of nowhere. She looked at the stout woman who was leaning toward her, shouting. “It’s only me, Alice”, bellowed the stranger. ” I’ve come to put you to bed. How about a nice ham sandwich first?”

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27 thoughts on “Alice’s Room

    1. You are very kind, Arlene. I hoped that it might make everyone think about what it could be like to live to an old age if you are alone. Many of us will have families or friends to help, but as we get older, we lose some, even though we might still be able to count on others.
      For so many widows, the future is something that they have to face on their own.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. Thanks, David. I enjoyed this, as a sort of ‘speed fiction’ exercise. Thought of it, wrote it, and edited it, all in around 90 minutes. I am very pleased that you liked it.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  1. Why do carers and nurses always talk loudly and patronisingly when not everyone is deaf at that age! Drives me nuts. This is moving and evocative, Pete. You have written so well about an entire life. We shall all be Alice one day.

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    1. I’ve nothing more constructive and appreciative to add about the sympathetic and disciplined quality of the writing than Sarah has already eloquently expressed – except I refuse to be Alice one day and am reminded to start collecting pills, knives, anything to escape uncaring care.

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