Friday, October 18, 2013

George and Pat For Ever by Anne Goodwin

Pat finds herself lying on a beach, wondering how she got there; by Anne Goodwin.

A strange light appeared over the White Cliffs of Dover. Pat screamed. Or, at least, she thought she did. Her mouth was as taut as an archer's bowstring and a shrill note vibrated through her throat to her head, but she heard no sound. Not even the squawking of the seagulls over the cliffs.

"Shh, it's okay," she told herself. Shh, it's okay: the long-ago voice of her mother when summoned to banish a childhood nightmare. Was she awake now, or still dreaming?

She couldn't move - or didn't want to - but sensed a softness below her, her body held, almost floating, like she imagined a waterbed would feel. Silently, Pat laughed. George would be none too pleased. He had always insisted on a firm mattress. He said it was better for his back.

What else? Cold, but a friendly cold that might wrap itself around her like a duvet of fresh snow, pure as a line of just-washed sheets on a sparkling winter's day. And grit - not much, yet enough to notice - scratching the corners of her eyes. "That's why I can't hear anything," she reasoned. "It's the sand clogging up my ears."

And, finally, the luminosity: all-pervading white flooding the frame of her vision, bleaching the grass, the cliffs, the sky. White drawing her towards it like the hose of a turbocharged vacuum cleaner.

"Don't be scared," she said to herself. "It's just like in the films."

But why here? Why Dover and not the bathroom floor with the contents of the medicine cupboard strewn all around? And, if she were lying on the beach, why was she looking at the cliffs head on, as if from a boat out at sea? As if from the Calais ferry, coming back from the school trip. From the first time abroad, when George Turner had kept his arm around her waist the whole time, even when she vomited over the side of the boat and he had to filch a toilet roll to clean her up.

George again, familiar and comforting as watching repeats of Only Fools and Horses in her dressing gown and slippers. Childhood sweethearts - what a cliché! But fifty-seven years together must count for something. She couldn't let him go like yesterday's newspaper. Perhaps he was in that strange light up there, urging her to join him.

The Indians had suttee, although Surinder next-door dismissed it as nonsense, an archaic custom designed by men to keep women in their place. Pat couldn't imagine anyone being able to keep Surinder in her place. George used to call her the Untamed Shrew, the way she nagged him about the leylandii hedge and the smoke from the barbecue. After all that bickering, Pat had been touched by the wreath that she and Gurmeet had sent.

Voices now: her ears must have cleared. A man and a woman, breathless, as if they'd been running. "What happened? Did she fall? Did she jump?" The man, hovering above her, blocking out the light.

"Oh my God." The woman, high-pitched, hysterical. "How do you do mouth to mouth?"

"Leave me alone!" Pat thought she said. What a fuss they were making!

A sudden clash, like saucepan lids dropped on a tiled floor. The light divided into stars of red and blue and yellow and scattered in all directions. Ever-changing patterns, like fireworks, or a child's kaleidoscope. The voices faded and Pat was able to lie back and enjoy the spectacle.

And then, just before it all went black, the fragments regrouped themselves into some kind of order. They stood in line above the cliffs, as proud as the letters on the Hollywood sign. Just before everything stopped for Pat, she read the words that the colours spelt out, and thought she smiled. Like on the windscreen of their Ford Capri all those years ago, both their names in capital letters, his above the driver's seat, hers above the passenger's. GEORGE and PAT. Forever.

3 comments:

  1. Nicely done. Just enough of a shading of hints to let the reader piece it together by the end of the very descriptive story. And so sad...

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  2. "GEORGE and PAT. Forever."
    Sad, but touching, without being morbid. Nice ending.

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  3. Atmospheric without being sentimental.

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