by Jessica Bakkers
I sank into the easy chair. My bones creaked and my back screamed. Perched on the chair arm was a chipped, glass ashtray. A chewed cigarette lay in the bottom. On the other arm sat a glass of whiskey. It was ten forty a.m. It didn’t bother me, drinking in the day. I had nothing better to do. I was waiting for Hannah. I knew she’d come today. Despite having told her yesterday to piss off, I knew she’d still come. I stuck the cigarette in my mouth and sucked. I blew the smoke into the room. Hannah would be angry. She hated it when I smoked.
Keys jingled at the front door. She knocked.
The keys jingled again. Locks popped. The door cracked open and a sharp beam of light stabbed in. I winced. There was Hannah. She brought the daylight in with her; her smile was bright like fragrant flowers, her hair was liquid sunshine, her eyes the colour of blue skies. I shrank away from her cheerful brightness.
“I said go away.”
Hannah closed the door and came into my gloom. Her nose wrinkled. She visibly fortified herself. She looked at me, at the drink, at the smouldering cigarette. She tutted and crossed the carpet.
“Tom.” She turned my name into an admonishment. “I thought we talked about your smoking and drinking.”
I answered that with a pull on the whiskey and drag on the cigarette. I watched her face crumple into disappointed resignation. She brushed off the armchair opposite me. Newspapers, candy wrappers and bottles spilled to the floor. Hannah perched on the chair. She wore an ironed blouse and suit pants. Comfortable shoes peeked out from her hems. Blonde hair brushed her shoulders. It was thick and lovely.
I looked away and grunted. “Kids have been hitting their cricket balls against the house again. Kitchen tap is still dripping and my meds haven’t come.”
Hannah sighed. She dug in her handbag and pulled out a notebook. She began scribbling. Her tongue slid out between her lips the way it does when she’s concentrating. My hand trembled as I raised the glass to my lips. The whiskey took the tremble away.
Hannah looked up from the notebook and said, “How’s the pain today?”
I shrugged and sucked the cigarette. My ruined lungs protested the smoke invading them. I stifled the cough and spat a glob of blood into a handkerchief. I stuffed it into my pocket as Hannah watched. The coughing fit and the burning pain didn’t bother me.
Hannah stood up and brushed her suit pants. “How about we open some windows and air out the place?”
I shrugged and took another swallow of whiskey. Hannah flung back curtains and opened windows. The day invaded bringing with it balmy April weather and the sounds of children playing. I stared at her handbag as she busied herself. Plates clinked in the sink. The vacuum whirred. Over it all, she hummed. I could smell her perfume as she leaned over to change my ashtray. She didn’t remove the cigarette pack or the whiskey glass. She hated that I used them. But she knew I needed them.
Hannah cleaned and straightened my apartment. She let in the fresh air knowing as soon as she left I’d close the windows, close the curtains and close the door on hope. It wasn’t the fresh air or cleanliness that promised hope. It was Hannah. The hour a day she spent with me eased my pain. Her gentle touch gave me a reason to open my eyes every morning. Hannah and her sunshine hair and easy smile stopped me drinking the entire bottle with a handful of pain meds chasing it. Hannah whose presence made me shake and need a belt to steady the nerves.
It was Hannah who kept me rooted in this world of sharp pain and breathlessness. I hated her for that. I loved her for that.
She stopped beside my chair and brushed a hand through my hair. “Do you want a shower today Tom?”
My cheeks burned. I knew I smelled of old man and stale cigarettes. I sat in underwear yellowed with dried piss. I looked into her eyes. I imagined her helping me to the shower. Helping me peel off my robe. Exposing my hunched, spotted skin. It was a job to her so it shouldn’t bother her.
“Get off me.” I grumbled and jerked away. “Piss off.”
She sighed. “Tom. You need a wash. You’re a handsome fellow, you should take pride in yourself.”
My gaze snapped up. I searched for the lie in her eyes. They were wide and honest. A smile tugged her lips.
“You patronising me now girl?” A plaintive note in my voice. Damn. I had meant it harsh, cold.
Hannah’s smile warmed. “Tom. Don’t be so defensive.”
Her hand touched mine. Forbidden. Her codes of conduct didn’t allow unnecessary touching. I blinked and frowned. The years fell away for a moment. I sat in my chair easily, a man in his prime, a beautiful woman opposite. Her gentle gaze held me. Her sweet words caressed me. I dared to hope.
A line of dribble ruined it. It escaped my lower lip, ran down my chin. I snarled and snatched my hand away. Who was she trying to fool?
Hannah withdrew her hand. Her expression closed off but not before I saw something in her eyes. Hurt. She turned to her bag and started packing up. Whiskey sloshed over my hand as I raised it to my lips. The shaking was bad. The liquid touched my tongue, burned my throat. The trembling subsided. Hannah stuffed her book in her bag and straightened up. She sniffed and gazed around the room.
“Much better. I’ll be off now. See you tomorrow Tom.”
She directed one of her brilliant smiles at me. I was afraid it would be reserved, but it wasn’t. It was all warmth and kindness… and sympathy for the dying, curmudgeon sitting in his own filth.
I needed to look at her beautiful smile. I wanted her to stay. I craved to hear her compliment me again. I turned away instead. Hannah sighed again and left without a backwards glance.
She left glad to be done with the grumpy old man. She left without knowing my heart was breaking. She left without knowing how much I needed to see her again tomorrow, and how much I hated it. How much I wanted her but how much I hated her.
Hannah. My pain relief and my burning pain.
Jessica is a creative and freelance writer with over twenty years of writing experience. Jessica has ghost-written novels in the genres of fantasy / romance and paranormal / romance; however, her genre of choice when it comes to writing for herself is dark fantasy, where she loves to fully explore the anti-hero characters that pepper her stories. Jessica is currently finalising her debut novel for publication, a fantasy / horror / weird western, Guns of Perdition. If you would like to find out more, please visit her on Twitter @jessicabakkers.