The Visit, a short story by Susan Condon
Bridie looked out the window of her terraced house. She smiled as she watched Sam pottering around in the garden, stopping to sniff the carnations.
He may not be very talkative but he never moaned at her for the occasional cigarette she enjoyed with her cup of tea. Opening the back door she called out to him. He didn’t even turn his head. It was hard to know whether he was ignoring her or going deaf. She called again and as he walked past her she looked at the sky tutting.
“It would have to rain today, Sam. I’ll be drenched by the time I get to the hospital – like a drowned rat.”
Sam just looked at her.
“Well I won’t be long,” she said, bending to kiss him on the head. She finished fastening the buttons on her shabby coat, tucked her scarf around her collar and pulled on her faded leather gloves. She gave herself a final look in the hall mirror, patted her grey hair into place, glided the end of her pink lipstick across her lips and frowned at the dark circles beneath her brown eyes. Taking an umbrella from the stand, she draped her handbag across her thin frame and pulled the front door closed, giving it a final tug.
Although it was raining she was glad to be outside. A soft day, her parents would have said, back in her native Donegal. The sky was blue, the sun was fighting to appear and there was even a hint of a rainbow.
Bridie opened the door into Cunningham’s Newsagent and queued at the counter. While everyone was talking excitedly about the millions to be won on the lotto this week, her mind wandered, thinking about what she’d cook for dinner later. Maybe as a treat she’d pick up sausages and white pudding and maybe a turnover that she could slice, toast and smother in Kerrygold butter finished off with a steaming mug of tea – something to look forward to. There were three more people in the queue in front of her.
A flash of green caught her eye, as something fell to the floor in front of her.
“I’ll get that,” she said, bending to pick it up. It was a stump of emerald green pencil with a piece of twine attached to the end.
“I’m finished with it now, love. Hold onto it for your own ticket. Bring you a bit of luck,” said the old lady turning from the counter and fixing her scarf securely on her head.
Bridie looked at the pencil in her gloved hand. Why not? Maybe it’s a lucky omen – and on my birthday too!
She was usually bored to distraction when her friends went on about the numbers they chose and why they chose them. Although, she always enjoyed the chats about what they would do if they won – at least they were interesting, gave her friends an added dimension, showing a side of them that she would never have guessed. Rose planned a year in Paris to really take up her oil painting, Margaret wanted to buy a yacht and take up sailing and Eileen wanted . . .”
“Bridie, how are you today? And himself?” smiled Mary.
Bridie, broken from her reverie, smiled back.
“All grand Mary, not a bother. And you?”
“Well to be honest, my back is at me again, I’ve been popping pills like Smarties since last week, but sure, you have to keep going. The usual?” she asked.
Bridie nodded and took her purse from her bag. Mary pulled a jar from the shelf, weighed out the usual 1/4lb on the scales, then poured the contents into a brown paper bag. Holding the bag by the top edges, she made her usual show of swinging it around three times to seal it.
As she counted out coins, Bridie spotted the €5 note she always kept folded into the small compartment of her purse – her just in case money. Feeling spontaneous, she asked for a lotto ticket. Mary arched an eyebrow.
“What numbers?” she asked.
Bridie looked flustered.
“I’ve never actually bought a lotto ticket before,” she mumbled.
Mary laughed. “You must be the only person in Ireland who can say that! Two panels, six numbers in each – your lucky numbers, birthdays, the number of your front door – whatever you like.”
“Okay, let me see,” said Bridie, taking her time. She smiled, as she carefully marked her chosen numbers, exactly as Mary showed her, with the green pencil.
She placed the paper bag into her handbag and folded the ticket, placing it carefully into the small compartment of her purse along with her change. “See you next week, Mary,” she called, as she made her way out the door and up the hill towards the hospital.
“Hello, Robert,” she said, kissing him on the lips. He was freshly shaved and smelled of Old Spice. His grey hair was combed neatly to the side. He looked, she thought, as handsome as the day they had first met. He turned his pale blue eyes towards her and held out his hands.
Bridie took the paper bag from her handbag, removing a cellophane wrapper. She pulled the two ends, releasing a white iced caramel and put it in his hand. He looked at it with wonder, turning it over before holding it to his nose. He sniffed, then, looked around furtively while he darted his tongue out and licked it.
“Put it in your mouth, sweetheart,” said Bridie, plucking it from his hand and popping it into his open mouth.
After shrugging off her damp coat she settled herself in the chair at the side of the bed and picked a pink sweet from the bag for herself. The icing melted and the caramel became sticky and chewy as they sat in companionable silence until the brown bag contained only the empty cellophane wrappers.
At three o’clock a porter came into the ward waving a brass bell – the clanging sound announcing the end of visiting time. It reminded Bridie of her first days at school when the teacher would ring an identical bell so that they would all stop playing in the yard and form orderly lines for each class. She wiped a tear from her eye. That was a long time ago now. She set about putting her damp coat back on, her scarf and finally her gloves.
“Goodbye, Robert,” she whispered, as she kissed him.
She was walking up the corridor when she remembered her umbrella which she had left beside Robert’s locker. Returning to his bedside she retrieved the umbrella. He turned his pale blue eyes towards her and held out his hands.
She kissed him once again and left.
Turning the key in her front door she was glad that Sam was there to greet her. She relied so much on him these days, she didn’t know how she could survive without him.
It was not until later, that Bridie remembered the lottery ticket. With a cup of tea and a slice of buttered turnover on the little table beside her, Bridie put down the Mills and Boon she’d borrowed from the library and rummaged through her handbag.
“Well Sam, you never know, this could be our lucky day,” she said, as she turned on the television. It was just gone eight o’clock and the fuss of pulling the numbers from the drum had finished. The winning numbers were on the screen:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7
“Oh My God, Sam, we’ve won, we’ve won!” She double-checked her numbers:
142 was the number of their house
3 was always her lucky number
And 7 and 5 were today’s date – the 7th of May – her birthday – and the only reason that she had gone a little crazy and bought the lotto ticket . . .
“It may be great to win the lotto Sam, but what use is it now? All the plans Robert and I made over the years; if we ever came into money we’d travel more, visit the kids in Australia, but . . .” As tears rolled down her face Sam walked across the room and, with a sigh, rested his golden head on his paws in front of her. He licked her slippered foot and waited for her to scratch his ears.
Susan Condon, a native of Dublin, is currently working on her second novel. She was awarded a Certificate in Creative Writing from NUI Maynooth while her short stories have won numerous awards including first prize in the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Award. Publications include My Weekly, Ireland’s Own Anthology, Flash Flood Journal, Spelk and Flash Fiction Magazine. Susan blogs at: www.susancondon.wordpress.com or you can find her on Twitter: @SusanCondon