There was a knock at the door, and a feminine, but somewhat husky voice answered, “come in.”
A slender, elderly man opened the door and peered his head around the gap, “Uh, hello?”
“Yes,” Bob crossed the threshold and into the room slowly. He produced a letter from the inside pocket of his jacket and said, “I woke this morning to find this letter on my bed stand.” He fluttered it with his hand theatrically before continuing, “why have you called on me?”
“Please,” the pale-skinned woman behind the desk said. She was wearing a knee-length black dress with dark tights and black gloves and accessorised with a small black clip in her dark hair. She offered her hand towards the chair situated in front of her desk, “come, sit down. Could I offer you a drink?”
Bob stepped towards the chair, placed the envelope on to the desk and sat down. “I’m dying for a cuppa,” he said. “I made my way here as quickly as I could, I didn’t think that I would have time to make myself any breakfast.”
“I apologise,” the lady said. “Please excuse the sense of urgency portrayed in the letter, it is merely an administrative oversight. My name is Edith.” She pulled her chair closer to the desk, “you take two sugars, correct?”
“That’s right, thank you.”
Edith pressed a finger onto a button on the intercom to her right “A cup of tea pleasem, milk, two sugars. A black coffee and…” she turned her attention to Bob and asked casually, “ginger nut biscuits?” he nodded with a smile, “a plate of ginger nut biscuits also, please.”
The door opened a few seconds later. A young woman, dressed similarly to Edith entered with a tray rested on her right shoulder. She placed Bob’s drink down on the desk in front of him efficiently. She did the same for Edith also, and then set the plate of biscuits in the area between them.
“Thank you,” Edith said.
The young woman bowed gracefully and exited the room without saying a word.
“Robert, should I call you Robert? Or do you prefer anything else?”
“Bob, please,” he said. “Why am I here? The letter was not very clear.”
She smiled, “it is time.”
A look of realisation appeared on Bob’s face. “Oh” he said, plainly. He sat forward in his chair and picked a biscuit from the tray. He dunked it into his cup of tea and then devoured it in two quick bites.
She smiled at him, her gloved fingers intertwined under and supporting her chin. “Do you remember our agreement?” she asked.
“The one we made on the day that you came for me? Of course,” he smiled. “I’ve woken up every morning hoping that it would be the day, but at the same time; hoping for her sake that it wouldn’t.”
“That’s sweet and completely understandable,” she took a sip of her coffee. “Do you think you are up for the task? Are you ready to assist me?”
“I think so,” he sighed. “Will it be painful? I don’t think I could handle it if it were.”
“You have my promise, she won’t feel a thing. In fact, it will feel like a dream.”
“Good, how long do we… I mean, how long does she have?”
“A couple of hours,” Edith sat back in her chair, using the arms to settle herself comfortably. “You have time to return home; shower, dress and have a nice meal.”
“Do I need to bring anything with me?”
Edith smiled and shook her head gently, blinking her eyes as she did so. “All I need is you.”
He nodded his head.
“I want to wear my blue suit,” Bob said as he opened the door to his house. “She always liked me in that,” he turned to look at Edith, “it was the last thing she saw me in. I think she would like it… Do you think she would like to see me wearing it?”
“I cannot possibly say. It was lovely, from my recollection of it at least.” She closed the door behind her.
“You remember?” Bob exclaimed, shocked.
Edith smiled, “of course I remember.”
“You know,” he said, leaning against the door frame of the front room, “I was dreading this day. I remember when I left her; it hurt. It hurt to see her like that. I was worried that we would take her kicking and screaming, but you are so calm, it’s putting me at ease, it really is, so thank you.”
“Thank you for agreeing to assist me.” Edith placed her hand on his shoulder and squeezed it gently, she glanced around the room. “It’s a lovely place you have here, similar to that of your old home?”
“Exactly the same, down to the tiniest detail,” Bob glanced through to the bathroom. “No matter what I try, the shower produces no pressure, it’s like getting washed under a broken garden hose, I have to run around underneath it just to get wet,” he laughed. “Which is fine, because I cannot remember the last time I felt this fit and healthy.”
She smiled at the elderly man, “you get yourself ready. Would you like a bacon sandwich before we leave?”
“I could murder one,” Bob said, his bottom lip juddering a little as if to illustrate resentment of what he had just stated, “in the nicest possible sense, of course.”
Edith laughed and touched his shoulder gently, she nodded towards the bathroom and said, “go on, I can handle this.”
“Thank you,” Bob turned to walk through to the bedroom but stopped and began again, “do you know how…”
“I’m sure I can figure it out, you just worry about getting yourself ready.”
“Thank you,” he tapped his finger on the wall a couple of times as if contemplating his next request.
She popped her head back through the door threshold, “extra crispy, lots of butter on the bread, ketchup and brown sauce, Bob, I already know,” she winked. “Go, get ready.”
She returned her attention to the front room, and Bob went to the bedroom to get ready.
She took a couple of moments to browse the photos on the wall, the books on his bookshelf, and the vinyl records situated next to the stereo system.
In the distance, she heard the sound of running water. She glanced up towards the ceiling and acknowledged that he had started the shower. She estimated that he would take roughly fifteen minutes to wash, dry and dress, so she made her way to the kitchen to make a start on his sandwich.
By the time that she had cooked the bacon and placed the rashers onto the freshly buttered bread, she heard the tell-tale knock as the water pressure adjusted itself, indicating to Edith that Bob had finished in the shower.
She filled the kettle and set it to boil. She squirted ketchup and brown sauce on to the bacon, placed the second slice of bread on top of the meat and then cut the sandwich into two triangles. The kettle boiled. She prepared a cup of tea for Bob. She picked it up with her left hand and then picked up the plate containing the sandwich with her right. She walked them to the table in the next room and rested them down in front of Bob’s chair.
A sulphur-crested cockatoo was perched in the corner of the room, it was watching Edith’s movements with its left eye. “Hello!” the bird squawked.
“Hello, what’s your name?” Edith asked.
“Who’s a pretty bird then?” the bird asked.
“That would be you, pretty bird,” the lady replied. She whistled a little bird-like tune and then returned to the kitchen to wash the utensils she had just used.
“Smells wonderful,” Bob said as he entered the dining room. He was wearing the blue suit he had suggested.
“You see,” Edith smiled as she looked him up and down, “that is a wonderful suit. I am positive that she will love it.”
“Thank you.” Bob sat at the table and took a bite of the sandwich. He chewed noisily, still unaccustomed to his dentures. He swallowed and said, “aw, perfect!”
She smiled, “how are you feeling?”
“A bit nervous, excited but nervous,” he said. “It was a long, long time ago when we first stepped out together. The way I am feeling right now, it’s the same as how I felt when I walked up to her door.” He exhaled deeply and placed his hands firmly on the table, on either side of the plate. “I feel like I could be sick. The butterflies inside my stomach, they’re dancing,” he smiled, “I feel silly, childish and silly.”
“Don’t be,” she smiled. “What you’re feeling; it’s the excitement of being reunited with your one true love. It’s natural and if I must say, wonderful to see.”
Bob turned to the grandfather clock and acknowledged the time. “We have fifteen minutes until we have to be there, do we have enough time?”
“Plenty,” she replied.
Bob took a sip of his tea, “if you say so.”
“Do you remember what we discussed in my office?”
“I am to hold your hand at all times, yes.”
“That is correct,” she watched him with adoration in her eyes as he finished his meal.
“Okay,” Bob placed the cup back on to the table moments later. “I need to brush my teeth.”
The pair stood holding hands in the front room of Bob’s home, his right hand in her left. “We will transcend in a moment. When I say the word; I need you to close your eyes because it can be quite disorienting if you do not,” she implored.
“Okay,” Bob answered.
“Are you ready?”
“I think so.”
“Okay,” she faced Bob head on. She looked into Bob’s eyes, blinked slowly and exhaled. “I would like you to close your eyes now, Bob. Can you do that for me please?”
Bob closed his eyes.
“I want you to keep them closed until I indicate that it is safe for you to open them once more, are we clear?”
“Crystal,” Bob replied.
The lady watched Bob’s eyes while she connected the tips of her middle finger and thumb on her right hand, forming a circle. She then added her index finger, pressing the tip of it down so that it touched both her thumb and middle finger, completing the loop.
They disappeared into a shadowy swirl of darkness.
They reappeared in another time and space, on Earth, in the kitchen of a Bungalow in Cornwall, England. Identical to the one they had just left.
There was no sound to be heard, only that of a ticking grandfather clock and the shallow breathing of the plump elderly woman. She was asleep in her favourite chair in the front room.
Edith looked at Bob and squeezed his hand gently. He opened his eyes.
Edith raised the index finger of her right hand to her lips, indicating that he was to remain quiet. Bob nodded. Together they approached the elderly woman. She was clutching a photograph of her and Bob from their wedding day in her hand, she was smiling in her slumber.
Edith squeezed Bob’s hand gently. Bob and Edith locked eyes momentarily. Edith smiled at him reassuringly and blinked her eyes slowly. He nodded.
Edith reached out her hand and placed it on the elderly woman’s shoulder, as she did so: the woman exhaled.
“It’s your turn,” Edith said reassuringly.
With a tear in his eye, Bob reached with his left hand and cupped her face gently. “Betty?” he whispered.
Betty inhaled. She sat up in her seat and then stood with the grace of a twenty-year-old version of herself. Betty opened her eyes. She looked both confused and happy at the same time. “Hello Dearie, is this a dream?” she asked.
“Oh Betty,” Bob answered, “it’s time that you came home now.”
“It is?” she smiled.
Betty glanced at the body behind her, seated and now vacant. “Then please,” she said, gripping on to Bob’s hand tightly, “I’m ready. Take me with you.”
The Collector, Edith, she connected her middle finger with her thumb and said; “close your eyes, Bob, close your eyes, Betty.”
“Let’s go home,” Edith said a moment before adding her index finger to the loop.
The trio disappeared into a shadowy swirl of darkness, and together they transcended to the Everafter.
Edith will return in ‘Almost Surely,’ October 2018.