All Right, I’ll write it down… by Julie Oldham
So, I’m on the stairs halfway down—or up—depending on how you see it. And I’ve just come out of the room at the top. The room is a bedroom.
And I start to walk down—and I’m looking at my hands. And they’re shaking.
And I see him. He’s half way up, or down, depending on how you see it, and he stops beside me and we look at each other. And I have to decide. Should he pass me, carry on up the stairs and go into the bedroom—or turn back? This is the moment of truth. Shall I tell him what I know, and then he’ll glance at the door, but walk back down. And what will happen after that? Will the rest be different? Because I’m trying to work it out in my head. I have to decide what to do, because Uncle James is up there watching TV, and if he goes into his uncle’s room, Uncle James will smile and say, thanks for the tea Jamie—tell your mum yes, I’d like to play Monopoly, why don’t you sit down for a minute? And when he comes back out his hands will be shaking because it hurt. That’s why he’s crying, but only inside now, because Uncle James wiped his face with that big white handkerchief, so gently, and said he’s not to say anything.
… Then he looks at me again, the boy beside me on the stairs. He doesn’t say anything. He seems to be deciding what to do. But he doesn’t know it’s all right, because Uncle James is just white bones now. Just bones. And he’s staring at the wall, but can’t see it, or the pillow anymore, because he’s stopped breathing. And then the boy’s face melts, like wax, and his face changes, and there’s a weird look in his eyes.
Sometimes I offer to swap places with him. Sometimes I don’t say anything, and wait until he comes out, and we turn back downstairs together, and I put my hand on his wobbling shoulder as he goes into the sitting room, and Mum tells him she’s glad he’s here now because they’re all about to play Monopoly, and asks, didn’t Uncle James want to play too?
And sometimes we go back upstairs together, into the bedroom, because he’s still there. Still … and old now and shriveled, but still there—after all these years—and still, still alive, despite the morphine driver in his arm. And he stares at Uncle James and picks up the pillow … and later Mum asks, how’s Uncle James? Have the nurses gone? And he says fine, because he’s frightened she’ll be cross, and that Uncle James will be cross with him too for not keeping it all a secret.
I think I should decide what happens next time.
You’re right. It does help to write it down.
But now be quiet. Stop shouting. I can’t think with you shouting.
Julie Oldham lives in Yorkshire in the UK. She writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry. Her stories have appeared in a number of publications including Bare Fiction Magazine and Artificium Journal. Her work can be read (or is forthcoming) in Open Pen Magazine, The Nottingham Review, Unbroken Journal, Fictive Dream and Spelk Fiction.