The Secret Of Mildred by Laura E. Grey
I am sat in the kitchen waiting for Kevin to come; he’s never late. All I can hear is the tick of the garden-bird clock. I never did like that clock. Peter got it for our fortieth anniversary because I liked watching birds from the window, but I don’t like birds. Anyway, birds belong in the garden, not sitting on a clock where the numbers should be. I don’t even like Roman numerals where the numbers should be. It’s bad luck to have birds in the house anyway.
It’s a sparrow past thrush; he should be here soon.
There’s a nameless crumb on the table cloth. It might be a bit of toast from breakfast, but I did have a slice of cake yesterday, so it could be a rogue morsel of battenberg. ‘That’s what you get for eating cake, Mildred. You’re turning into a slattern,’ I say out loud, then sweep the crumb from the table into my hand.
The bin is full to the brim with the awful ready meals. He will be here soon with more and I won’t have space for them if I don’t empty it, so I pull out the bag.
The garden path is slippery from last night’s rain. Washing it was Peter’s job. I hold onto the fence with one hand and carry the bag with the other. You don’t realise how useful someone is until they’re gone.
It’s a low fence so I can see into number ten’s garden. There’s a rusty tricycle and a couple of toys on the path, next to a flower bed of weeds. The gate is still broken, and the hedge is growing over the wall at the front, like a triffid. If there’s a badly parked car, the postman has to lean right out with his heavy bag or get swallowed up.
Kevin would enjoy a garden, I think. He never married, so he lives in a flat over the shop, where I get my milk. He doesn’t have a garden. I sometimes wonder if he has anyone to hold.
I used to get my milk from the milk man, but he had to stop delivering.
‘Too many people use the supermarkets now,’ he said.
‘Terrible shame,’ I said, then thought, who will say “good morning” to me now?
I got myself a small, tartan trolley to carry the milk from the shop, but it made me look like an old lady, so I use it for storing potatoes and do without milk in my tea.
Back in the house, I check my hair in the mirror, again. I have it up in a bun, like always. Peter liked it down, but I said, ‘that’s for unmarried women, I can’t go around like that.’
Suddenly Kevin is at the door and my heart sings a beat.
‘I hope you got down the path okay, Kevin, it’s very slippery,’ I say, and let him in.
‘I’m fine, Mrs Duckett, really.’ He smiles then lowers his gaze to the floor; he can be a bit shy, like some boys are.
‘On the kitchen table, Mrs Duckett?’
‘Yes please. Are you staying for a biscuit today?’ I go over to the tin.
‘No thanks, better not, today.’ He lays the plastic containers out. ‘Lunch is lasagne, and then,’ he stops to read a label, ‘Salmon with hollandaise sauce, for supper.’ He looks at me proudly, with no idea that I intend to throw them out as soon as he is gone.
‘Sounds delicious! Thank you.’ I consider hugging him.
‘Also, a special treat for you today, Mrs Duckett. Apparently, it’s a year since you started ordering from us, so they’ve sent you a free dessert as a loyalty reward.’ He holds up the small plastic container and my heart swells with love for him.
‘Ooh, ample crumble,’ is all I can say. He is already walking towards the door and I can’t think how to get him to stay.
He turns back at the door. ‘I have some news, Mrs Duckett.’
‘Oh, yes? Did you finally adopt that cat?’
‘No, not yet, she’s still having treatment at the shelter. I have a new job. Last day delivering tomorrow. I’m staying with the Food Chain but moving to the organisational side. More money and less time outside trying to keep this bald head dry!’ He looks happy, like a puppy with a sock. I think I might cry, so I go to the shelf by the door and lift my pink china cat to inspect it underneath.
‘Ah, well, that’s lovely news, Kevin,’ I say, to the net curtain.
‘Thanks. I better be off then. See you tomorrow’
In the bedroom, I stand at the window and cry; I can’t lose him again. I scream into my hands, then march to the wardrobe and pull out the box from underneath the secret panel.
The scent of him is long-gone, but I hold the tiny lock of hair to my nose, remembering his lovely smell, and I hug the tiny, unworn hat to my chest. He was the sweetest and strangest creature I’d ever seen, my baby. I signed him away with the flick of a pen, and he was ripped from my arms, screaming.
‘Stop!’ I’d say to that fifteen-year old girl, and shake her by the shoulders, ‘The pain will never go away!’ Neither did the love.
I didn’t tell my husband; how could I? ‘Sorry, darling, I’m not the girl you married at all. And that little boy, Kevin. You know, the one with the perfect eyes and precious little cheeks, from King’s road? He’s my son. He’s the reason I sit at the window all day, I’m not looking for your birds, I’m watching for my son.’ No, it would have killed him.
I stop crying, and laugh uncontrollably, because my husband is dead.
The next day, I open the door quickly. ‘You are my son,’ I say.
About the author:
Laura E. Gray is a fiction writer who lives in Wiltshire, England. She has a degree in Classical Studies and has also studied history and creative writing.
Always feeling that she was born too late, she spent her childhood wishing she was a Georgian gentlewoman and is still most content when immersed in another period (although she no longer wears her mum’s high-heels to do it).