The Short Goodbye – a short story

Eleanor folded their mother’s clothes neatly before packing them into the careworn brown leather suitcase that lay open upon the hospital bed.

Simon watched her. She looked frail and older than her years. Eleanor heard his heavy wheezing. She looked up, observed him with a cold gaze and resumed the folding and packing. “You’re late!”

“I’m sorry.”

“She asked for you.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“She asked for you!” Eleanor snarled.

“Let’s leave me and you outside,” Simon pleaded.

Eleanor stopped and locked her icy blue gaze upon him. “This isn’t about you and me. She asked for you, at the end, and you weren’t there.”

“I was busy. I’m sorry!”

“I wonder if you’ll be saying that when they read out the will.”

Simon felt the blow from that; it struck him hard, and he reeled from its impact. “This isn’t the first time she’s asked for me. We’ve been at this point before.”

“We’ve never been at this point!” Eleanor said, shaking her head with a look of disgust.

Simon winced inwardly at his inappropriate choice of phrase. “You know what I mean.”

Eleanor stepped away from the bed, towards him, her movements stiff, her face drawn tight. “You were never here.”

“Rubbish!”

Eleanor pointed an accusing finger at him. “You were never here for her!” Simon noticed her hand was shaking, he wasn’t sure if it was anger or grief.

“Jesus, Eleanor!”

Eleanor turned her back on him. “Is your time so precious that you couldn’t spare half an hour for your own mother?”

Simon shook his head. His family and his business were young; he had demands on his time that Eleanor, as their mother’s full-time carer, could never comprehend. “You wouldn’t understand,” he said.

“Really? Try me.”

“My family is young.”

“Mine’s dead,” his sister responded.

Simon winced. “My career is just taking off.”

“And mine’s just ended,” she countered.

Simon moved towards Eleanor; his attempt at breaking the ice between them. Eleanor heard his footsteps upon the vinyl flooring but didn’t turn around. She resumed her packing as calmly and methodically as it had begun. “You want to talk about time? The fruits of my time are in the mortuary,” she said coolly.

“Eleanor!”

“Keep it. Whatever it is you have to say just keep it to yourself. I don’t want to hear it.”

Simon backed away and turned towards the open doorway and the bustle of the ward outside. “When’s the funeral?”

“Well, if you can make the time, it’ll be this Friday,” Eleanor said. She had a slight smile and a vicious glint in her eyes.

He was supposed to meet his biggest client that day for a deal worth thousands of pounds. Of course, Eleanor knew this. She knew this because she had been there when he phoned their mother with the good news.

He shivered before chuckling softly.

The last words he ever said to his sister were, “I’ll have to check my diary, but I think I can make it.”

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