Because She Could: Part Two

January 11, 2014 § 27 Comments

A short story: second and final part


The cold winds raced around the garden, and Isabella felt strange.

‘Best place is bed,’ said her mother, tucking her in. ‘You’re burning up.’ But Isabella got hotter. She kicked off the bedclothes and her limbs turned to ice. She made a cocoon of her duvet and her body filled with fire.  She tore off her pyjamas and thrust the cover aside. Isabella didn’t care anymore. Everything was muddled. Curling up naked on the bed, she closed her eyes and began to drift. The pain in her body floated away, and she had the oddest sensation she was losing her skin.

Then suddenly she was wide awake. Opening her eyes, she looked down and saw herself lying naked on the bed. ‘You really do look poorly,’ she said sternly. ‘And why aren’t you wearing your pyjamas?’ Isabella’s body didn’t move.  ‘Humph. Well I don’t care if you don’t answer me. It’s so nice to be flying again… only Mum said I really shouldn’t, so I suppose I…’

She stretched out her arms and aimed at her body. But like a drifting balloon, she rose higher and higher. She moved her limbs as if swimming in deep water. She paddled harder and faster. Nothing happened. ‘Help!’ she yelled. ‘I don’t want to die.’


Isabella had crashed.

Thump, thump, thump.

High above the clouds, Isabella was hitting something hard and invisible.

‘I warned you before. Come down at once!’ It was her mother. ‘If you go any further you’ll be in heaven – and then you’ll be stuck.’

Isabella looked around and started to wobble. Losing her balance, she began to fall: faster and faster, plummeting out of control. She tumbled past the stars, between the heavy, black clouds, through the cold, sharp rain. And then she saw her street. There was her house, her garden, her swing. Spreading her limbs like a bat, she slowed herself down – pulling up sharp just before she hit the ground. Swooping through the front door, she glided up the banisters, and missing the grandfather clock at the top of the stairs, swerved around the sharp corner into her bedroom. Her body lay on the bed under the duvet. Isabella held her breath, and plunged back inside.

‘You look cold and confused,’ her mother whispered, tucking her in. ‘You’d fallen asleep with no clothes on, and I couldn’t wake you up. You do look much better.’ She put the thermometer under Isabella’s tongue.

‘I’ve had a very peculiar dream.’

‘It was probably the fever,’ she smiled, taking the thermometer out of Isabella’s mouth. ‘Good. All back to normal.’

‘Were you telling me off a minute ago?’ Isabella asked.

‘I was not. I was doing the washing up.’

The hair on her parents’ heads turned silver, and the garden swing was gone. ‘You should come and see us more often,’ her father sighed.

I wish I lived closer,’ she replied. ‘Mum isn’t herself these days.’

Her mother’s mind could only hold the past. The present did not exist.’Someone’s taken Isabella’s swing,’ she complained. ‘Isn’t it time to get her from school?’

‘Sometimes she cooks for three,’ he said. ‘Then worries when you don’t come home to eat. She’s always falling asleep; and when I wake her, it’s as if she’s in a dream and can’t escape. She says she wants to go home.’

Her mother’s mind was dividing itself in two: slipping in and out of the world she knew and shared with others, and another that no one could know but her. ‘I write labels on everything,’ said her father, with a sigh. ‘But she can’t remember what the words mean any more.’

Isabella was waiting for something to happen. She couldn’t settle. She sat bolt upright in bed when the phone rang. ‘You must come now,’ said her father. ‘It’s your mother.’

She drove fast. Kissing the warm, papery cheek, her mother opened her eyes.’She’s happy you’re here,’ he said. ‘She hasn’t responded to anyone. Not even me.’ All that day her mother slipped between this world and the next. As day turned to night her chest stopped moving – then she spluttered, struggling for air. Again and again her breathing stopped for a few moments, then she took a desperate gasp of air.

‘Don’t be frightened,’ Isabella whispered. But her mother lay quiet – her eyes flickering beneath her lids.

Her father rested in the next room, and Isabella sat by the bed. Exhausted, she passed fitfully in and out of sleep. Her father came with a blanket, and Isabella began to dream. She was alone with her mother: standing close by her side facing a closed door. She took her mother’s hand. It trembled slightly beneath her touch. ‘Soon it will be time, Mum. You can leave when you’re ready.’

‘But I want to be here. And I’m afraid. What if I don’t like it on the other side?’

‘Come with me,’ Isabella whispered. ‘We’ll go together.’  She opened the door, and their bodies flooded with a clear white light. ‘Look Mum. It’s beautiful.’

Her mother’s hand became firm. ‘Yes,’ she said. Now I remember. And it is time. And do you remember too, Isabella?’

‘What should I remember?’

‘That you are staying here. I’ll come and tell you when it’s your turn.’

Her mother untangled her hand from Isabella’s grasp, and walked into the light.

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§ 27 Responses to Because She Could: Part Two

  • exiledprospero says:

    Just as Virgil guides Dante, Isabella guides her mother.

  • JessicaHof says:

    This made me cry – it is so wonderful, so sad, so beautiful xx

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Oh Jess, I know it’s a compliment, but I really don’t like making you cry. It has been sitting around in draft for a number of years waiting for the right time. As it turns out, it was very hard to rewrite – partly because the last paragraph or two is based loosely on the death of my dear mother. But it feels good to get it out there – a tiny catharsis perhaps?
      Thank you for being so appreciative. xx

      • JessicaHof says:

        Oh please don’t feel bad – good writing ought to move the reader, and I can sense the personal part – which moves me greatly, not least since I never knew my own mother. Thank you for such excellent writing 🙂 xx

  • mikesteeden says:

    You write this story as if in a dream – subliminal images mixed with actual; mystical and real; philosophical and philosophy; truth and legend and much more.

  • I’m not often moved to comment, but really, this is very fine, very fine indeed. You somehow manage to combine the ethereal experience of the young girl and liken it to the experiences of the mother – a very good comparison. The whole thing is well done and most moving; to anyone who has (as I think you must have) experience of parents with dementia, this is poignant almost beyond the bearing; high quality writing.

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thank you Geoffrey for such high praise. Indeed, I have been battling with this piece intermittently for some years. It was rather hard to write and to revise, largely because the latter part is based loosely upon my mother’s last months with dementia and subsequent death. I am humbled by your comments.

      PS. Do you look anything like J.B.Priestley?

      • My pleasure, dear lady, as I much enjoyed it. I thought that it might have that personal experience; it lent real depth and feeling.

        As to JBP, no, but it used to give me fun when I was on the Telegraph blogs, as when they ran out of silly things to say, my opponents would tell me off for smoking a pipe! GRSS

  • NEO says:

    Superb, as Geoffrey pointed out, you have captured both the ache and the hope of dementia, and yes, remembering things in my life, this story has made my monitor blurry again. Very wonderfully done, indeed.

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      And I am humbled yet again. A battle to write – until I just let it happen…
      Based loosely on the last months of my dear mother’s life. The rest springing uncontrollably from an overactive imagination!
      I hope you monitor has fully recovered.

      • NEO says:

        Pretty much, it recalled the last few years of both my Dad’s and my sister’s life. and so struck extraordinarily close to home. I can see how it must have been hard to write, I’ve tried a few times and have never made it out of the first paragraph. Very well done, my friend. 🙂

        • Rachael Charmley says:

          I think it perhaps depends how the dementia manifests. My mother’s last year was a relatively sweet, gentle time – as was she; and so was not too hard to write about. But my poor father fought every inch of the way. I doubt I’d even get as far as the first paragraph if I tried to recount it. You have my respect for getting that far.

          • NEO says:

            Thanks, it’s hard to describe how it manifested even. You’re right, of course, it depends on the person, and perhaps even more the history. Difficult to write, and am so glad that you did. A very good way of sharing it, I think.

  • And you certainly haven’t disappointed! This is simply stunning, Rachael, packed with wonderful imagery and sensitivity. This is the type of story that I would read over and over (something I rarely do), I honestly can’t say how much I enjoyed it: my tears were all good ones. Thank you for sharing this, Chris.

  • Miranda Stone says:

    Such a moving and powerful story, Rachael. I know you mentioned in the comments that it’s loosely based upon the last months of your mother’s life, but I think it’s a beautiful expression of your deep love for her.

    • Rachael Charmley says:

      Thank you for your thoughts. Interesting – yet not surprising – I was exhausted after I had finished it.

  • I needed that cyber hankie you sent me from part one..
    Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media

  • Jane Risdon says:

    Loved this. Good luck with everything, thanks for sharing. 🙂

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