It was late. After a hurried breakfast
I rushed next-door to Aunty’s house.
Uncle opened up. He was bleary, with
a heavy shadow of fuzz over his jowl.
I didn’t think he’d been drinking,
although he still smelt like a brewery.
I rushed upstairs to rouse Aunty.
I was surprised not to find her
bumbling about, straightening things
in the kitchen, or tidying some neglected
corner. I edged the door open, just a
small crack. Chill air and an ugly musty
smell assailed my nose. I could only see
a lump under the covers. Aunty,
I thought, seemed uncommonly still.
Uncle, satiated, was slumped asleep in
his chair. I threw a holey blanket across
his legs. Aunty and I whispered together.
We spoke silly nonsense. It was like I had
my wonderful fairy godmother back.
Eventually I told Aunty she must rest.
Evening was well established in the sky.
William was becoming restless. It was
time to retire back home. I promised
we’d come across in the morning. Aunty
pecked my cheek like she always did,
and I whispered my goodbyes. The
deadbolt thudded after us. To my ears
it sounded ominous. Outside the night
bloomed with stars. It was so magisterial,
so beautiful. Nothing, I told myself, could
possibly go askew.
The greasy food didn’t agree with my
stomach. But I took immense pleasure
watching Aunty wade into her battered
fish, like it was her first meal after a dire
catastrophe. When Aunty had finished,
I watched her fold her chip paper neatly,
and lick paws, as if she was a deeply
contented cat. I was half expecting her
to burp, but Aunty was too much of a
lady for such gross displays. William
and Uncle both digested their meals like
savage barbarians. My shameless brother
even grabbed at my leftovers. Nobody
spoke. I quietly suggested coffee. Aunty
nodded her head, and beamed. I smiled
widely too. This was fabulous.
Aunty slept for ages. We all sat patiently
downstairs while she took her siesta.
Uncle began to nod. I thought it’d be
nice to greet Aunty with a warm reviving
meal. So I went back into the kitchen, to
explore the cupboards. Things were
pretty bare. Just a few bashed-up tins of
dubious provenance. I searched for a can
opener. There was nothing. So I went
back into the lounge and shook Uncle’s
shoulder gently. He grunted sleepily. I
explained that we must get food. Uncle
yawned obscenely. I shall step out and
buy fish and chips, he announced. He
rose from his seat, scattering dust and
bad body odour. Small change jangled
in his pockets. Like a man mountain
Uncle stumbled towards the door,
lifted the latch, and was gone.
We prized open Aunty’s front door.
The smell of mould stuck in my nostrils.
The house hadn’t been lived in for some
time now. I heard little paws scurrying for
cover. It must be mice. We all moved into
the lounge. A thin layer of white dust
coated the chairs. Uncle went up to brush
away some grime and plump up a pillow,
so Aunty could sit. Natalie, go and boil
the kettle love, there’s a dear, Aunty said
shakily. I went into the kitchen and turned
on the tap. Foul brown water gushed out
and the pipes shook and groaned
alarmingly. I searched for some teabags
and milk powder. When I returned, Uncle
had gone off upstairs to turn down
Aunty’s bed. No one even sipped their
tea. Aunty was going to take a nap. I
hated to think what state her bedroom
was in. I supported Aunty under the arm
and we hobbled together to the foot of
I helped Aunty into the car. She seemed
frail, but she couldn’t stop smiling, and
nattering small talk the whole time. Uncle
drove remarkably smoothly, avoiding
every bump. The car stank as usual,
enough to make an entirely well-person
vomit. But Aunty didn’t complain. She
had a new lease of life. She watched the
grubby buildings float by like they were
miracles of engineering. Natalie, I feel
like I’ve been reborn. Everything is so
marvellous. I began to feel nervous. A
hectic flush had appeared on Aunty’s
neck. I tried not to gawp. I hoped Aunty
wasn’t having a relapse, or some crazed
religious epiphany. And then, quite
shockingly, Aunty was sleeping. With
her mouth wide, emitting little snores.
Mrs Eames has had a very close shave,
the doctor boomed, directing his humour
towards Uncle. But I see no reason why
she cannot continue her recuperation at
home. This was fabulous news. The
students hung onto their leader’s every
word, as if he was dispensing powerful
religious truths. I caught Aunty’s eyes.
They were glinting. I thought she might
suddenly bound out of her bed, and
bear-hug me. The doctor was still
speaking. Uncle was nodding his head
wisely. I will organise for Mrs Eames’
discharge. She must rest up for at least
a fortnight. No unnecessary stress. He
shook Uncle’s hand, biffed William under
the chin, ignored me entirely, and swept
out of the room, his acolytes close on his
Aunty had us pull up chairs around her
bed. I sat down woodenly, gazing lovingly
into her animated eyes. Aunty nattered
freely about life on the ward. She’d woken
the night before. The nurses were mostly
angels. The doctor hadn’t done his
rounds yet, so she was in the dark about
her recovery. Aunty couldn’t remember
much about her illness. It had crept upon
her stealthily. One moment she was
bouncing, the next she was stricken with
a high fever. After that she remembered
nothing. Aunty interrogated Uncle gently
about events. When Uncle wasn’t able to
rouse her, he’d called for an ambulance.
Aunty was rushed to intensive care
immediately. Her coma had dragged on
for over a fortnight. Aunty was quiet,
appeased. She seemed to be calculating
the days, to make sure everything tallied.
For a moment we were all silent. Then the
chief consultant and a group of young
students marched in.
The curtains were slightly drawn around
her bed. But I could see Aunty was
propped up on her pillows, spooning
strawberry yoghurt from a big pottle.
I had never felt so relieved, so joyful.
Aunty was clearly relishing this sweet
dessert, like it was something novel,
even illicit. Uncle, William and I stood
still at the end of the bed, not wishing
to disturb this special moment. I could
feel the tears welling in my eyes. Then
Uncle hemmed. Aunty suddenly looked
up and squealed. Oh my, she gasped,
dropping her yoghurt pot. I cantered
to Aunty’s bedside, and wrapped my
arms around her head. I would never
We bundled into Uncle’s smelly car
and drove. He rumbled along, crunching
the gears, jolting us slowly towards the
hospital. Despite the chill, Uncle had
changed into a garish shirt, printed with
psychedelic tropical birds. It was entirely
inappropriate. Nothing could disguise
his pungent bearish smell. After an
interminable journey, we parked up in
the hospital multi-storey. My heart was
thudding with excitement. I was even a
little nervous, scared I might break down
when I saw Aunty’s beloved face. The
three of us navigated the antiseptic
hospital corridors, until we reached the
ward. There was no sign of the amenable
nurse. A surly old matron guarded the
desk. Uncle spoke. After a sour pause,
we were given the all-clear and directed
hurriedly to Aunty’s room.