Waiting

 

by Sherri Turner

 

 

There ought to be a law against wishing your life away. All the things we wait for, hoping they will hurry up and arrive, or be over with. We wait for news, good or bad, or for boring things to end, or things we want to be here sooner. And all the time we are waiting, trying to speed up time, our lives are ebbing away. It should be punishable by having all our clocks and calendars confiscated and the only time available to be now. Then we would have to live in the present and just get on with things.

 

I've been trying to do that. I've succeeded in some respects, in so far as life has gone on, but I don't think I've really been living it. I've cooked meals and ironed clothes and gone to bed and got up again and from the outside I daresay I've looked like anyone else. Maybe I am. Maybe everyone is wishing and waiting.

 

There's a pile of towels upstairs. I could fold those while I wait. That would be productive and would save time later. Save time—as though you can keep it in a bucket for when you need it. Time is money, they say. But it isn't. Time is there and then it isn't, no matter how you spend it or waste it.

 

I take the clean towels out of the basket and fold them into neat little parcels. It takes no mental effort—my mind is too busy to apply it to anything else. But they won't balance on top of the ones already there. I try to place them more carefully and the whole heap falls, right down to the last towel, the one that never gets used as it is always at the bottom. It is a beach towel, worn and faded, with dolphins on it. I'd forgotten it was there.

 

When I was small, seven or eight maybe, it was my favourite towel and I took it to the beach every weekend and every holiday. The colours were brighter then and the pile more luxurious and after a swim in the always cool Cornish sea it was the perfect wrap to snuggle into as Tess and I ate our fish paste and cucumber sandwiches. Tess's towel had starfish on it, and small shells like the ones we picked from the sand and the rock pools. She was older than me, only two years, but enough to make her the one in charge and my protector.

 

"Look after Katie," my mum would say as we dashed off to our next adventure.

 

I find that the towel has lost none of its absorbency as my tears fall at the memory.

 

What time is it now? Only eleven. The towels are all folded and still I must wait.

 

I decide on a cup of tea in the garden. There is the boiling of the kettle, the brewing, the pouring, the adding of milk and, just for today, sugar. Then the walk to the patio and the drinking. That will pass some time.

 

The California lilac is looking good this year, tiny blue flowers covering its boughs like a cloud. Tess would call it its proper name, ceanothus. I think California lilac is prettier, more descriptive. Ceanothus sounds like an ancient bug to me, something fossilized.

 

"You're such a dreamer, Katie," Tess said. "If you don't call plants by their proper names then you can't distinguish the varieties."

 

"I just wanted a blue one," I said, expecting her to laugh. She didn't.

 

"It's always 'want' with you," she said, out of nowhere.

 

My tea has gone cold now, but I drink it anyway. The sun is getting higher in the sky as I turn back to the house, trying to think of something else to do, and I notice the patch of cream paint under the eaves that doesn't quite match the rest of the wall.

 

Paul did that, not long before he walked out on me. One of the many things he did that left a lasting mark.

 

I want it gone like he is. I could arrange that, while I wait. I could phone a decorator, choose new colours, make it all fresh and new. If only there was someone who could do the same for me.

 

I hadn't known at the time. If I had, I would never have done what I did and when I found out it was too late. Paul wanted me, he didn't want Tess any more. And I wanted him. What was I supposed to do?

 

I think she expected it to blow over, that neither of us would have him, but it didn't turn out like that.

 

"He's not right for you," she said. "What kind of a man would come between sisters?"

 

"You're just jealous," I replied. "Because he loves me and he never loved you."

 

Too harsh. Far too harsh.

 

I don't want those to be the last words I ever say to my sister.

 

I want to say sorry. Sorry for the wasted years, for the hurt and the waiting and wishing things were different. Sorry for the selfishness and the pride. I want to say that she was right and I was wrong. I knew it a long time ago, and should have done it then, but I needed to wait until he had gone and we could start with a clean slate. And I want to say it to her face, not just in a letter.

 

It's nearly time now. All of a sudden I feel in a rush. Time does that. It drags you down with its lumbering slowness then leaps at you when you think the waiting will never end.

 

I'm not ready. I dash upstairs then sit on the bottom step, for what I hope will be the last tiny bit of the waiting.

 

The door bell rings at twelve thirty on the dot.

 

She always was punctual.

 

I open the door, clutching the towel with the dolphins on it.

 

"Look what I found," I say.

 

                

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Sherri Turner was brought up in Cornwall in England and now lives in Surrey with her husband. She has had numerous short stories published in women's magazines and has been placed or commended in competitions for both poetry and short stories, including the Yeovil Prize, the Bristol Prize, the New Writer prize and the Writer's Bureau Short Story competition.  Her work has also appeared in a number of short story anthologies.

 

"Waiting" has been previously published in Woman's Weekly in the UK.