Shishir (Winter) 2020 Stories - Sam Paget



By Sam Paget

Sara put her hand on her chest, while she was driving. She tried to see if she could feel a change in her pulse. The doctor had told her that part of her heart muscle had died. She’d had a heart attack, or perhaps multiple heart attacks, and not realized. She had gone to her doctor after a few light-headed spells.


She hadn’t fainted, just felt dizzy a couple times. Nothing serious, just a little unusual for her. She’d been sent for a scan, and been told that her heart was in a bad way, and part of the muscle had died, whatever that meant. Weird how the body works, she thought. You’d think you’d notice a heart attack. The doctor had told her that you didn’t always.


Those brief pains that you put down to cold air in your lungs, or a pulled muscle? Maybe that was it…Strange and scary, to be sure...While she drove to her daughter’s new apartment, she rested a hand on the left side of her chest. The pulse felt more or less normal, but maybe fainter than she remembered. Maybe that was just her mind though. She couldn’t tell.


Sara parked in a small, enclosed car park, tucked in besides a long, three-story building. The bottom floor was all shops. There was a pizza shop, a hairdresser's, an off-licence, and two derelict units. The two upper floor were all for flats, accessible by a staircase and a fire door by the car park. Sara got out of her car, her arms full of bags and boxes. She went over to the fire door and gave it a kick, then waited. The door swung open, and Sara’s daughter Judith ushered her into the stairwell beyond the door.

“Let me take these,” said Judith, taking one of the bags from Sara. “What’s this? Cleaning stuff?”


“I’ve brought over bleach, cloths, polish, and everything,” said Sara. “And some cutlery and plates. And some light bulbs and batteries. I just brought what I thought you might need.”


“How did you know I needed a light bulb?”


“I didn’t, I just guessed.”


Judith led her mother up the stairs. They came out onto a wide concrete balcony with an iron railing. The back rooms of the shops were beneath their feet. They walked past the doors to the apartments and their kitchen windows. The second floor windows looked down at them from above, mostly from the bathrooms and master bedrooms. There were a few bicycles locked up to the iron railing, and a couple dried out flowerpots standing about randomly. The two women stood and looked at the view over the railing. They could see rows of grey houses, with red roofs and green gardens.


“This place would be perfect in a zombie apocalypse,” said Sara. “You’ve got an extra door and the stairs to stop them from getting up.”


“I suppose so. In a zombie apocalypse I’d probably want to drive out to the country somewhere. I’d live there now if I could.”


“Have you said hello to any of your neighbours?”


“I chatted with a lady who lives next door but one,” said Judith. “Liz or something, her name was. She said she had a problem with her lungs, so she can’t get out much. She was smoking while she told me this.”


“Doesn’t look there’s many people in at the moment. That’s good, because it means they must be at work. Your father and I lived in a place in Walsall when we first got together, and everyone on the street was on the dole. He used to get paranoid about leaving his car there in case someone knocked the wing mirrors off with a football or whatever. I smelled weed the whole time it took me to walk from the bus stop to my front door.”


“I got a whiff of weed yesterday night, after I’d finished bringing stuff in. Don’t know who it was.”


“If you see anyone smoking, tell them to keep it away from the baby.”


“Grandma smoked around you didn’t she? Never did you any harm.”


“We’ll never know. She’d better not of smoked near you! Did she?”


“Yes, sometimes.”


“If she was still alive, I’d kill her, the witch!”


“Mom! She was my favourite.”


“I bet she was. I bet it was her that had you needing fillings when you were little, from sweets. Don’t you worry! When Erin’s older and she comes to stay with me, I’ll spoil her rotten!”


They reached one of the last apartments. Judith opened the door, and they dropped the supplies off in the kitchen.


“Now, where is she?” asked Sara, looking around.


“She’s upstairs. She’s just gotten to sleep. I’ll show you around, and then when she wakes up I’ll bring her down.”


Judith showed her mother around the apartment. It was two floors, with a bathroom and main bedroom on top, and a living room and kitchen below. To Sara, it seemed very cold, stale, and empty. There was nothing on any of the walls, except for a speckling of black mould around the living room windows. There was very little food in the cupboards, and only a two-seater and a television in the living room. Judith took one of the light bulbs her mother had brought her and replaced the one in the living room.


“That’s better,” she said, turning the light on. “Now all I need is a coffee table in here, a lamp maybe, possibly a bookshelf or something.”


“Would you like some paintings for the walls?” asked Sara. “Your father is getting back into his painting. He’s been working on a portrait of me for a couple of days. It’s shaping up nicely.”


“That’s good. Yeah, I wouldn’t mind some paintings. What do you think of this place?”


“It’ll be nice once you get it all kitted out. We need to do something about that black mould.” She pointed at the black spots beneath the windows. “This needs getting rid of. It can’t be good for the baby.”


“How do you get rid of mould?”


“I’ve got some stuff in one of the bags that’ll work. Are the windows double-glazed or single?”


“I don’t know.”


Sara inspected the window. “It’s single,” she said. “That means the surface of the window is colder, and it causes more condensation. That’ll be making the mould worse.”


They went into the kitchen, and unpacked all of the bags and boxes that Sara had brought. Judith started using and polishing, while Sara started trying to rub away the mould from the living room.


“Is there any of this upstairs?” she asked, once she had cleaned the worst of it away.


“A little bit, not as much. I’ll run upstairs and get rid of it when Erin wakes up, and you can have her.”


“Okay. Where are you going to hang clothes to dry?”


“When it’s warm I’ll hang them outside. When it’s not, I guess I’ll get a rack to put in front of the radiator in the kitchen.”


“Are you doing anything tomorrow? I can drive you Merry Hill and we can get a whole car full of stuff. You’ll need plastic tubs, saucepans, food, coasters, a coffee table, vacuum cleaner…do you even have a kettle?”


“Yes. It’s still packed away.”


“Go get it, and I’ll get some tea and sugar and milk from the shop below. I could do with a cup of tea.”




“Do you want coffee as well?”


“Yeah, might as well. Some people might want coffee I guess. Thanks.”


Sara went down to the off-licence. She got milk, coffee, tea, sugar, a loaf of bread, and several tins of beans and soup. She was only just able to carry everything in her arms on the way back up the stairs to the apartment. She dropped everything off in the kitchen. Judith had brought out a silver kettle. She made two cups of tea, and they sat in the living room. It smelled a little bit of the cleaning fluid Sara had used to wipe away the black mould, but that was better than the stale smell that had been there before.


“Tomorrow, remind us to get some incense sticks, or candles, or something else to make it smell nice,” said Judith.

“Will do,” said Sara.


“How’s dad been lately? I haven’t seen him since I brought Erin round the other week. How’s his shoulder?”


“It’s not so bad at the moment. He’s able to get things down from the top shelves in the kitchen again. He would have come today, but he’s gone out to meet some of his old friends, and have a drink.”


They sat for some time drinking their tea. They could see out onto the road that went in front of the shops. Not many cars went past. It was a quiet area. Much quieter than Judith’s last place. That had been above dry-cleaners, quite close to an indoor market. There had been buses and cars going past all day and night.


“Do you think you’ll be a bit happier here?” asked Sara.


“Yes, it should be alright. There’s that fire door closing us off from outside, which is good. Makes it more secure, doesn’t it?”


“Yes. It might get a bit cold later on in the year. Let me know if you need money for heating. I mean it. It won’t be good for Erin to be in a cold flat.”


“Okay, I will.”


“Have you spoken to Dean?”


“Yes. He’s gotten a date for his parole hearing. It’s next month.”


“So he might be out?”


“He’d be out a week or two after the hearing, if they granted him parole.”


“He’s been well behaved, hasn’t he? He should get out. He’s got a child, and he needs to get a job and everything if he’s going to get anywhere in life. No point having him in prison any longer now.”


“It’s up to them. You never know. He’s trying not to get his hopes up too much.”


They had both finished their tea. Sara took the cups into the kitchen. She had left a bottle of washing up liquid near the sink, and a washcloth, but she left the cups by the sink without washing them. She didn’t like to waste water. She went back into the living room.


“I need to get Internet sorted,” said Judith. “I’m still using the data on my phone.”


A high-pitched cry came down from the bedroom, upstairs. Judith ran upstairs, and came down a moment later with Erin cradled in her arms.


“See, I told you grandma was coming to see you,” she said. She passed the baby to Sara.


“Hello Erin!” said Sara. “Do you like your new home? Do you like it?”


The baby laughed and gurgled. She always did when she was with her grandma. Judith sat and played with her hair, and picked at her nails.


“Mom,” she said after a while, “do you think dad would ever…be okay with Dean?”


“No,” said Sara. “No, I don’t think he ever would. He loves Erin, he really does, but he just can’t be okay with Dean. Dean is a criminal, in your dad’s eyes. That’s that.”

“But can’t he forgive? People make mistakes. Everyone does. Surely dad did something stupid when he was young.”


“Yes, he did. Sure. But he’ll never respect Dean. He thinks you’d be better off with someone else, and he thinks that Dean has messed up your life, and Erin’s. I doubt he’ll ever change his mind. You have to remember, your father was brought up poor, but all of his family were working in the mines, back when a lot of people worked in the mines. Some of them were steelworkers, as well, but you know what I mean. Dealing drugs would have always been looked down on. Your dad thinks Dean only got mixed up in drugs because he can’t look after you the proper way, like a real man should. That’s how he sees it.”


“But…Dean did it because he thought he was helping us. He hasn’t had the best start in life.”


“I’ve tried telling your father that. We’ve had this conversation. I’m sorry Judith; I wish it could be different. Your father is too stubborn.”


“You like Dean don’t you?”


“Yes. He’s a nice lad. If he gets his arse into gear, he should be able to do alright by you and her.” She glanced down to indicate Erin, who was playing with the necklace that hung from Sara’s neck. “I do really want it to work out between you and him, you know. If I can do anything to help Dean, then I will. I want him to be a success story.”

“Doesn’t Dad want that as well?”


“He just can’t see it. There’s no point in trying to get people see things that they are blind to. I’ve been married to him for thirty years, and been with him for forty. I know when to give up.”


“If you say so.”


Sara played with the baby for another hour or so, and then got up to leave. She left forty pounds in the kitchen while Judith wasn’t looking, underneath a note that said ‘for takeaway tonight’. Judith walked her out onto the balcony and back down the stairs to the car park. She carried Erin in her arms.


“I’ll ring you in the morning,” said Sara. “We can take her with us to the shops, or leave her with your father for the day.”


“Lets take her with us. She likes seeing new people, and going out. We can get her a hat and gloves for winter.”


“Yeah, you’re right.” Sara opened her car door, and got in. She leaned through the open window, and kissed Erin on the forehead. “I’ll see you tomorrow Erin!” She tweaked the baby’s nose. The baby sealed and grabbed at Sara’s face.


“See you tomorrow,” said Judith. “Love you. Tell dad I love him.”


“Okay. Love you.” She started the car, and then waved at the baby. “Love you Erin. See you tomorrow!” She blew kisses at the baby, and then pulled away.

While she was driving home, Sara felt a twinge of pain in her chest. This time it was right where she thought her heart was. It ached, like her muscles had when her friend had dragged her to an exercise class where they’d used weights, and moved along to music. The next day, everything had ached. Now, as she drove from her daughter’s apartment back home, her heart ached.


Sam Paget of UK is an emerging writer. He writes contemporary, slice-of-life style fiction focused on the lives and difficulties of working class characters.


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