Jenny Jefferson sits in an old black armchair by an open fire and stares at the flames licking at the coals. She can hear her mother rattling cups and saucers in the kitchen, which she often did when she was annoyed about something. And her father's death was, Jenny supposes, something that her mother was annoyed about even if she herself wasn't. She sits back in the armchair and looks up at the mantelpiece where sits a few framed photographs of her father and mother and one of herself when about five years old. Innocent, Jenny says to herself, innocent of all that was to come. The black and white photograph of herself seems aged. But the memory of those years still lingers and smoulders inside her head. And as she sits back she remembers that this black armchair was his; and the mere thought of him sitting there with those hands of his on the arms of the chair makes her wipe her hands on her dark-blue skirt as if wiping away something unclean.
- I got so use to your father sitting there that it gave me quite a turn for a moment you sitting there, Mrs Joyce Jolson says as she brings in a tray of teapot, cups and saucers. Jenny turns round and looks at her mother's eyes, which are red around the rim where she had been crying. Can't get it into my head, Joyce mutters gently laying the tray down on the old brown coffee table in the center of the room, him being gone. She moves cups and saucers around and settles them as if they were chess pieces at the start of a game. I suppose you must have felt the same when your James died, Joyce says lifting the teapot and with shaking hand pours over one of the cups, though we were together longer. Makes a difference, you know. Jenny watches as tea almost reaches the rim of one of the cups and shakes her head as her mother's hand moves away just in time. Yes, she muses, we're both widows now, both alone. But she has at least become use to James not being there now after three years. And he was young and innocent, killed in a car crash by another's error. Unlike her father who was not innocent and died of an illness that, she felt, he deserved. I thought it all went well, the service yesterday, Joyce says as she pours again tea into her own cup. My George, she mutters almost to herself, placing the teapot down with a slight harmless crash. Jenny watches as her mother brings a cup and saucer of tea towards her. The hand shakes and Jenny takes hold of the cup and saucer before they slide away into her lap.
- Takes time, Mum, Jenny says as if her voice was someone else's. He's only been dead a week or so. She pauses and sips her hot tea. Her mother sits on a black sofa opposite and takes her own tea from the tray with an unsteady hand.
- He thought the world of you, Joyce says as she raises her cup to her lips and blows across the top. You were the apple of his eye. Jenny stares at her mother darkly but says nothing. She wonders if her mother really was unaware of it all. Unaware of what her father did. He was always asking after you when he was in hospital, Joyce goes on in between sips. And when your James was killed he thought you might have come home again. Jenny looks away from her mother and stares at the flames in the fire. Even then she felt her father's presence in the armchair where she sat. As if some how, some way, he was there still, listening, watching. But you never came home again, Joyce mutters quietly. Gets lonely on your own, she adds sipping staring at the floor and at the carpet, which her George had chosen and bought. Jenny half-listens, half-dreams of dark nightmares that still haunt.
- You get use to it, Mum, Jenny says without turning away from the fire. You get on with living. She pauses. The cup and saucer in her hands seem to recall her past. She sips quickly and puts them down noisily on the tray. One has to... Joyce startled by the cup and saucer crashing looks up from the floor and carpet.
- You can always come back here, Joyce says. You can have your old room back. It's clean and tidy; just as you left it. Jenny stands up from the armchair and walks to the window on the opposite wall. Joyce follows her daughter with her eyes and sighs. Two of us can live cheaply. Can keep each other company, Joyce informs pleadingly. Jenny gazes out of the window into the garden where her father, she remembers. worked and sweated. Sweated, she remembers, sweated. She can hear her mother's voice drone on behind her, but she doesn't listen now. She doesn't want to listen; doesn't want to know. An old apple tree leans to one side in the small orchard at the end of the garden. She often tried to hide there, but he always found her. Always knew where she was. Your father was hoping you'd come home again, Joyce informs distantly as if her voice had to travel miles and miles to reach her daughter's ears. Jenny shakes her head but doesn't turn round.
- You didn't know him, Jenny mutters against the windowpane.
- Didn't know whom, dear? Joyce says weakly.
- Him. My father. Your George, Jenny says coldly against the pane almost freezing it with her breath.
- Of course I knew him. I was married to him for over thirty years, Joyce replies putting her cup down clumsily on to the tray. Jenny turns round and stares at her mother and the tray.
- I knew him differently, then Jenny informs coolly turning round again and staring into the garden. Joyce watches her daughter's back and wishes she were a young child again, not such an ill-tempered young woman.
- He thought the world of you, Joyce says firmly. He was always asking after you, even when he was ill.
- I remember him differently, Jenny repeats. She feels his presence behind her as if at any moment his hands would be around her again; his hands touching; his breath against her cheek; his voice against her ear.
Joyce sits back on the sofa and closes her eyes. If only George were there, he'd talk to her about the way she was. He had a way with her. He had a way with young Jenny. - You should come home again, Jenny, Joyce says after a few minutes silence. I'd like you home again.
Jenny watches two squirrels racing at the bottom of the garden, but her mother's words distract her.
- I can't come home, Jenny says. This isn't my home anymore.
- Of course it is, Joyce says firmly. You are always welcome home. Home is where your heart is so they say. Jenny shakes her head slowly, but doesn't turn round.
- My heart was never here, Jenny says coldly. My heart was almost destroyed here, she adds bitterly.
- Jenny, Jenny, how can you say such a thing? Joyce says her voice rising and becoming high pitched. If your father could hear you say such things. Joyce pauses. Tears fill her eyes. Jenny lays her head against the windowpane so that her forehead rests on the cold glass. He loved you and wanted all the best things for you, Joyce moans on in between splutters.
- I loathed him, Jenny whispers to the glass and the glass steams up with her breath. Loathed him. His hands. His voice. His breath. And didn't she know? Was she so unaware?
- He always wanted you with him, Joyce says calmer. Took you out for days with him. She remembers it as if it were only yesterday. His waiting for her. His little girl. Our little girl, I'd say, and he'd laugh and smile and say, Yes, of course, of course. But he always considered her as his little girl. Then she up and went and married that James boy, whom her father couldn't stand and I thought not good enough for her. He thought she'd be back again after her husband was killed, but she didn't come back. She was always cool with him after that. Never spoke hardly a word to him. Funny the way children are when they grow up. Joyce opens her eyes and turns her head to look at her daughter by the window. I wish you'd come home, Joyce says quietly.
- I've met something else, Jenny says distantly. I may want to move in with them or them with me, she adds coolly. Joyce stunned stares at her daughter as if she'd said something crude.
- Who? Joyce asks. Do I know them?
- No, Jenny says, you don't know them. She says no more. Joyce stands and stares at her daughter's back and wishes George was there he'd find out who it was and such things. A silence enters the room and glides outward until all is numbed with the silence. Joyce turns away and lays her head against the back of the sofa. I seem adrift, she thinks, adrift on a large sea and no one cares or wants to know. And Joyce clings to the arm of the sofa as if it were flotsam on the sea and stares at the fire opposite. Flames lick between the coals and as she stares she imagines she sees George's face there looking out at her. George, she whispers inaudibly, George, George. But George has gone, she tells herself, closing her eyes before they leak again, but too late, they start again. She wants to say something, but what? What?
- Are you happy? Joyce asks her daughter without turning round or opening her eyes. Jenny shrugs her shoulders and stares at the flowerbeds unkempt now.
- What is happiness? Jenny asks. Depends what you mean by happiness, she adds.
- Well, with this person you've met. Do they make you happy? Joyce says still in her darkness.
- Yes, Jenny says after a few seconds thought, they do. She says no more. Joyce sighs quietly and breathes in deeply.
- What's his name? Joyce asks.
- Lear, Jenny replies after a moment's silence. Joyce nods her head in her darkness. Lear King, Jenny adds. But it's all a lie. She knows and feels the empty space beside her in bed at night. It is all lies. She knows and lies just as keenly. She'll not go home again. Never again. Not where his ghost still haunts. Not here. Not here.
- Your father would like him, I think, Joyce lies too. George didn't like new people. He didn't like James, he won't like this Lear either, she muses in her darkness. Jenny moves away from the window and goes and sits in the armchair by the fire again.
- Father never liked anyone new, Jenny says firmly. He never liked my friends I brought home. He was never at ease with new people. Joyce opens her eyes at her daughter's voice opposite and stares at her.
- He wasn't happy with strangers, Joyce says. He never trusted them. He was happy with us. His family. Just us, he'd say, that's all we need. And ... She stops and stares at Jenny who shakes her head at all she is saying.
- I thought you knew, Jenny says coolly. I thought you knew what was going on...But you don't do you? Joyce screws up her eyes and her forehead becomes lined.
- What was going on when? Joyce asks. Are you suggesting your father was having an affair? Jenny laughs nervously. She shakes her head.
- No nothing like that as far as I am aware, Jenny says tensely. She wants to tell her mother all, but the words won't come. She feels gagged as if her father had placed his hands over her mouth. She wants to say what really happened, but her mother's face seems too innocent of such things. Like a child, Jenny thinks, like a child. Joyce leans forward and reaches for her daughter's hand.
- What was going on where and when? Joyce asks. She touches her daughter's right hand and holds it. It is such a time since she held that hand, that once little hand, now grown. Jenny sighs and then smiles.
- More tea, Mum? Jenny asks, stroking her mother's hands. Joyce nods her head and taking the tray and question, leaves the room.