Still Alive Mother?

Two daughters send daily texts checking on their elderly mother

Photo by sk on Unsplash

Still Alive Mother?’ is the third story in my series of narrative monologues. The story centres around an elderly lady whose daughters send daily texts to check on her — but their mother, widowed and living in a profitable bungalow begins to smell a rat. As with my other monologues, the seed of the story is based on a true-life senario.

After some revision and editing, in March 2021 I entered ‘Still Alive Mother?’ into a Short Story competition — it was long-listed, but sadly got no further. I did however, receive a very comprehensive critique from the competition judges, which I shall study and learn from.

I hope you enjoy reading ‘Still Alive Mother?’ as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

There’s my mobile phone, pinging away again. That’ll be one of my daughters. One or the other texts me each night before bed. They thought it a good idea — now that I’m on my own. They text ‘Still alive mother?’ and I text back ‘ Still here, night-night,’ or some such. If they don’t hear back from me within half and hour or so, they said, they’ll know something’s up with me, and they’ll alert the authorities — whatever that means. What they think’s going to happen to me I’ve no clue. It’s not like I’m decrepit. I’m in good shape for my age, still driving, still getting out, pottering about the garden… looking after myself nicely, thank you. Just as well, I’d get no help from them seeing they live no-where near.

The phone used to ping all the time back along…when I worked. I ran my own business for a while. Messages, emails, diary reminders, work appointments. Then, when I retired, it was mainly Parish Council emails — I was Deputy Mayor for three years — that kept me busy. Always something to read, and answer, and do. What with Council meetings, civic do’s, parades, meetings and greetings, church services and the like — the weeks shot by. Now, the phone only pings once a day…just before bed…There it goes again. My eldest I expect. Yes, same old message: ‘Still alive mother?’ They seem to think it’s funny.

I moved here when Bert, my husband passed away (why we just can’t say died I don’t know. Folk don’t seem to like it…when you say died it seems to make them go all overish). Anyway, I fancied a nice little bungalow. Just the right size for me and my Charlie. He’s getting on a bit himself now. Such a sweet boy, a lovely companion, I love him to bits. He can be a bit barky, but I don’t mind that. If he didn’t make a racket sometimes I’d never hear another noise whilst sitting here — besides that nightly ping that is. That’ll be the youngest this time: ‘Still alive mother?’

They started doing it after their dad died. I must admit Bert dying was a shock. I wasn’t expecting it, but…when I think about it, it wasn’t as if I hadn’t warned him.

‘You need to watch what you say to folk these day, Bert,’ I said. ‘The Daily Mail says all the young’uns carry knives these days. And, the older ones aren’t much better with their road rage and sucker punches.’

I blame the male menopause — yes, blokes get it too, you know — only theirs is something to do with test-ost-er-one (I think that’s right). They get more of it, apparently. Makes them more aggressive, so they say. I’d noticed it with Bert. Always shouting at folk when we were out in the car.

‘Well, the wanker shouted at me first,’ he’d say.

I’d say, ‘Well, that’s probably because you were taking up two lanes, straddling the white lines in the middle of the road. How’s he supposed to know what you’re doing, he’s not a mind-reader.’ That didn’t go down well either, so he’d start on me.

I wasn’t with Bert when it happened. The man driving the car behind him tried to overtake him — straddling the white line, like he used to — the other driver was late for an appointment, apparently. Anyway, just as he started to overtake, Bert made up his mind about which lane he needed to be in and, well, they collided. Not too much damage to the cars, the policeman said, just a bit of paint chipped off the bumper…but Bert kicked off like he had a want to do. Called the bloke an ‘effing wanker’ or some such, and that was enough. One punch they said…that’s all. One punch sent Bert reeling backwards. He cracked the back of his head on the kerb. Apparently, it split open like a walnut.

When I got to the hospital, they told me Bert’s brain was dead. I said, ‘How do you know, how can you be so sure?’

‘We’ve done all the tests,’ they said. ‘Does he want to donate his organs?’

He does not,’ I said. ‘Besides he’s still breathing, he’s not dead yet.’

The doctor said, ‘We need to harvest the organs while your husband’s body is being kept alive by the machine. If we turn it off, the oxygen won’t circulate, his organs will be compromised. Bert’s not coming back from this Missus,’ he said. ‘But, he can save someone else’s life.’

I said, ‘Well, as far as I’m concerned, he’s not dead until his heart’s stopped beating and his lungs have stopped breathing.’

And that was that. I still haven’t got over it.

Anyway, I moved here, to this little bungalow. It had two bedrooms, a cosy sitting room, bathroom and kitchen. A lovely garden — it needed some work, but I had the time — right next to the bus-stop and post-box, the Co-op just down the road for some groceries. It still had a 70’s formica kitchen, and dated pink bathroom suite.

That’s all I was going to do — have a new bathroom with a shower, and a lovely fitted kitchen.

‘Oh,’ my girls said. ‘Why not convert the loft space, there’s room up there for two extra rooms. We can stay with you when we come down then.’ I wasn’t keen.

‘Too expensive,’ I said. ‘Anyway, the attic rooms would only be used a couple of times a year.’

‘Look on it as an investment,’ they said. ‘It’ll add value to the property.’

‘Do I need to add value to the property?’ I said. ‘I think I’d rather see the money in my bank account. I can buy myself some bits and pieces for the house when I see them.’

Anyway, they got some builder they know to call on me, the husband of some old school chum they said. He agreed with them.

‘A new kitchen and bathroom won’t add value to your property Missus,’ he said. ‘But, a roof conversion — well, it could add another £100,000.’

‘Really?’ I said. ‘I read an article in The Daily Mail that said you’d be lucky to add 10% more to the value than it costs to get done.’ They all looked at one-another and laughed.

‘Mail readers, eh?’ they said. ‘Don’t believe everything you read in the papers mother, especially The Daily Mail.’

So, £25,000 later and I’ve two extra bedrooms which need heating, and an ensuite shower room in the roof space — which, of course, nobody uses — except for a couple of times a year. The kitchen and bathroom cost me another £20,000 so, now the builder friend is better off, and I’m a bit skint.

I was moaning about it when I talked to my elder daughter on Face-time the other day. I said, ‘When are you coming down to try out the attic rooms?’

She leafs through her diary and says, ‘I’ve no spare weekends now until October.’

‘October?’, I said. ‘October? That’s five months away…why did I spend all that money again?’

She said, ‘We told you mother, it’s an investment.’

‘Not for me, it isn’t,’ I said. ‘It’s not going to do me any good.’

I’ve no intention of moving again. The only ones who are going to see any returns on my ‘investment’ are those two. I rarely get to speak to them in person these days. Everything is done on that wretched phone. There is goes again: ‘Still alive mother?’

‘Yes, sorry, I’m not dead yet.’

I reckon they’ve got the Estate Agents on speed dial.

‘Hello? Yes, mother didn’t answer our text yesterday. Nip round and give us a probate valuation will you. Yes..for the solicitor, we need to get the bungalow on the market quick sharp. Yes, four bedrooms, modern, nicely kept.’

I’m more use to them dead than alive now. They get all offended when I suggest it.

‘Now mother,’ they say. ‘Don’t be like that. You know that’s not what we think.’

‘Do I?’ I said. ‘Actions speak louder than words girls, so when are you going to visit? The only contact we have is through that damned mobile phone: ‘Still alive mother?

I think I’ll switch the phone to ‘silent’, and head off to bed without replying to their texts — that’ll set the cat amongst the pigeons — night, night Charlie, see you in the morning boy.

Anne Saddler lives in Cornwall. She is a writer, blogger, and poet. Anne is a qualified lecturer and former Adult Education Tutor.

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