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Waiting For Ethel
About a man who realises something when it is too late.....
|AUTHOR'S OTHER TITLES (1)
Vanishing (Short Stories) A madman comes to terms with his madness...... [2,347 words]
Waiting For Ethel
When I got home from my morning stroll in the park, I saw Ethel yawning by the window.
You know, some folk move about a lot, and their memories get diluted in new realities. Ethel and I, we've lived in same house on High Street for 35 years, that is a lot of memories, a ruddy lot of memories.
On the mantelpiece, for which there is little need in this country, is a photograph of our son. He looks distinctively Hungarian. Thick black hair, dark skin and a slightly protruded nose. Ethel has never been to Budapest but she is confident enough to recognise a Hungarian when she sees one: ”That’s our David on his motorbike”, she’d say whenever a motorbike roars past. The photograph has a strong significance to Ethel. For it were same ruddy bike that ended David’s young life, weren’t his fault they say, the cops found the stolen van that had crashed some miles ahead.
Only twenty-two he was, David's bike had hardly a mark on it, and I expect as the poor pup lay dying he noticed that his pride and joy was still in one piece. Sometimes on a lazy Sunday morning, Ethel would pick up a photograph and stare at it- ‘her only piece of Hungary’.
Our home is a small, modest one, set in a suburb not far from the city. It is fairly populated but our street is very quiet, mostly small semi-detached retirement homes and terraces. Ethel is very house-proud in most ways, didn't like dusting, said dust were bits of those who once walked the Earth. Said we make the dust and will become the dust, dust were sacred like.
šEthel was sentimental in her ways, suppose I were too. I came back from the markets with a fish and cabbages, I put the vegies in the kitchen and walked over to the window, "Ethel me love?" I asked.
"Just thinking Joe," she sighed, "thinking of the past."
Later on as she were cooking the cabbage on the grill and the smell flooded the house, and I told her “Ethel dear, you don’t cook the cabbage on a barbeque, you grill steaks on it, meat - you know?”
“Oh I know Joe, just trying to be a little Hungarian for you”. Ethel wanted to feel she had the ethnic in her, but I knew she was more Australian than my best mate Steve. She has never been to Hungary, she couldn’t speak the language, she was only four when her parents brought her here, and to top this off she was called the most Anglo-Saxon sounding name imaginable. What could she know? But Ethel wanted to be original, she wanted to stand out, she hoped people would ask her where she came from, she hoped they would say she was Hungarian.
Ethel’s life was a kaleidoscope of melancholy, bitter memories, regrets and salt pinching paranoia. She told me she had dreams sometimes, where she saw the old life in Budapest. She spoke in Hungarian to her mother, Zelda and greeted her sisters in her native language. She saw our son, his grandmother, the house where they lived. After David’s death she was hopeful that things would get better and that she could visit her mother country one day. We sat long hours talking in the kitchen, drinking black coffee, many sleepless nights, looking at photographs of our son. At night, I watched Ethel standing by the window, looking out, as if waiting for something.
One day, we were at the fish market, and she ran off somewhere. I said “Ethel, you alright?”. She was so perplexed, out of breath, the poor thing must have ran for miles. “Where did you go off to?” I asked her. And just what a silly old bag she was. “I saw a boy that looked just like David”. Silly she was, didn’t free herself of the burdens, she mourned every day since the boy’s death.
Twelve years have passed and she was still mourning. I felt for her in ways only imaginable to a father who has lost a son, but told her not to ruin her life like that, that she should try to move on, make an effort to start a new life, recover.
I swear, Ethel had hallucinations, she imagined things. Our neighbour, Anne saw her hanging out the washing, talking to someone who wasn’t there she said, and then waving goodbye to a tree as she walked back into the house.
I wished I could have set her free, I did not know how too. I wanted her to be the Ethel I married at a small church South of Sydney, I wanted her to be the woman I loved but she didn’t let me. I just wished she would change, that Ethel would forget all the things that never mattered, I wish she would forget her country of birth, that she’d stop talking, differentiating, making fuss of life’s little irrelevancies and just get on with it.
One night she told me, how proud she was that she was Hungarian, from over there, from Europe. It made her feel special, warm like. Her home is here, her heart there. I told her “Ethel, you are mad, you never even been to the place, how’d you know any different?” She just sat there perplexed and glared at the sun with her staring eyes. Hours, days were spent on the veranda, thinking, dreaming, philosophising.
I worked at the fish markets every day and brought home food, while she sat and glared. She didn’t want to work, nor that I thought she could anyway.
It got hard with me working to pay off the house and all, and she got worse. At some point, I rang the nursing home and asked if Ethel could go there at least for a while. It was becoming too difficult to control her around the house, sometimes she would forget to switch off the gas or leave the hot water tap running. She got on my nerves and stretched my patience with her Hungary talk but no matter how much I hated it, I realised that I couldn’t let her go. Suppose I just got accustomed to her strangeness, to her blabbing about Hungary, to her odd ways. Hard to say, but despite of all this, she remained the Ethel I knew, the woman I met thirty-five years ago. I waited for her to return back to normal, I waited for Ethel to get better.
I remember that night now. Ethel was cooking parsnips in the kitchen when I heard her go upstairs.
’Strange’ I thought, and followed her up. She was bleating on the bed.
In the distance were the sound of a motorbike revving up, the only other sound were the dog snoring on bedroom mat.
"Come on luv, make you a nice cuppa." she looked at me, and lit a distant smile, "Have you forgotten what today is Joe?"
"Nah" I said "Would have been David’s birthday, I haven’t forgotten."
The motorbike roared past our house and melted into the distance, when it was gone, we could hear the birds singing on our garden tree.
"Better see dinner", Ethel said, smoke drifting up towards the ceiling, she walked downstairs, I followed her and she must have been so anxious that she tripped on a stair and rolled down with such a force that she landed right by the iron pipe on the wall, right by the entrance. I saw her fall. My heart dropped, I knew already.
I see her now standing in her apron, making a lamb stew, her hair the colour of the darkest night hanging loose over her shoulders, her eyes glaring black sparkles looking back at me with a word of caution. My heart draws to her, I feel a warmth run through my head and down towards my spine and I know how I feel about Ethel. I know how my heat soars when I see her, I know why she cried many nights when David died, I know why her heart could never heal; it was too big for her, it drained her too much. I have seen her in devastation, in agony, in utter pain. I have felt the deepest sadness right through her. I watched her standing by the old glass window in complete darkness. She waited. Now that she is gone, I wait with her, right by her, I stand with her in silence. I wait for Ethel.
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© 2003 AlexandrovaK
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