In this new series, we invite our Crime Cymru authors to showcase an excerpt from one of their books. This week, Judith Barrow gives us a suspense-filled glimpse of The Memory, a gripping and powerful story of family tension.
The Memory runs on two time lines: A short section, written in present tense and covering a twenty four hours period, is set before each chapter which tells the story in present tense of the protagonist’s life from the age of eight, when her sister, Rose, a Downs Syndrome child, is born, to the end of those final twenty four hours..
Irene is carer for her mother, Lilian, who has dementia. The two women have had a difficult relationship for a long time. The inherent love and compassion Irene has for Lilian vies with the animosity and resentment she feels for something she saw many years before. In the following excerpt the short present tense sections show Irene’s struggles in her care for her mother. The chapters that follow lead up to her seeing the one thing that changes her life forever.
Chapter Twenty-Six 2001: The Day Before: 12.55 a.m.
Sam did get up the next time but now he’s asleep so I stumble downstairs to warm some milk for her and pour a tablespoon of brandy into it.
‘Let’s get you pissed, Mother,’ I murmur to myself. ‘Then we can both get some sleep.’
Back upstairs. ‘Come on, Mum,’ I say, sliding my arm around her shoulder and sitting her up a bit more, ‘drink your milk.’ She closes her mouth tight. ‘I’ve put a drop of brandy in it,’ I coax.’ Now she purses her lips and, encouraged, I lift the Sippy- beaker higher. ‘That’s it.’
She finishes the lot, smacking her lips in between each slurp. Her eyes fixed on me.
Sam is awake and watching me.
I nod. I lie without saying a word.
At last I managed to get on a bus. But it moved so slowly; caught up in the evening traffic. Stop, start. Stop, start. My legs jiggled with the impatience that made my skin tingle. Come on, come on. The words went round and round in my head. Each time we set off I let go of the breath I’d been holding in my chest, only to take in another stuttering intake of air when we slowed to a crawl.
Finally shops gave way to the houses of the roads leading to Grove Street.
For a few minutes the bus picked up speed. Sitting in a window seat I stared through the smears of rain at my pale hazy reflection in the glass.
I couldn’t get rid of the unease that had tormented me all day. Be with you soon, Rose. Be with you soon. I gazed at my image in the bus window and blinked; it was my sister’s face I was looking at. And, as I watched, her expressions changed one after the other, copying all her emotions in rapid succession, one moment thoughtful, even sad, the next gleeful, laughing; in the sudden way she reacted to everything and everyone around her.
Then it seemed as though her eyes met mine and we were in a world of our own.
Be with you soon, Rose. Be with you soon…
Chapter Twenty-Seven 2001: The Day: 1.20 a.m.
Mum’s yelling and coughing, flailing her arms around because, somehow, she’s tangled up in the duvet and she’s panicking. By the time I’ve settled her down again it’s turned two in the morning, my back’s aching and my head’s still pounding. I throw two more paracetamol down my throat.
There was a time when, if I wasn’t careful to keep the door locked, she would wander off and I’d chase around the streets looking for her. But at least, then, she’d tire herself out and sleep for hours at a time. At least then I’d get a decent rest.
At least then we didn’t have the thumping on the wall from the next door neighbour.
‘Rose?’ Rose’s dark eyes looked into mine. We held one another’s gaze in the rain- streaked window of the bus. She smiled. I loved the way her eyes sloped up at the outer corners; it always made her look so happy.
She tilted her head as if to ask me a question in the way she did when she was puzzled about something.
It’s all right; I’ll be with you in a few minutes. I tried to push the words out from my mind to hers. I’m almost home.
But the bus keeps stopping; people getting off, more getting on. Laughing and talking about the bloody weather to the driver, to the conductor. Taking their time to sit down, to settle in their damp rustling raincoats, arrange their bags, umbrellas, kids. Hurry up. Hurry up. Move. Move
I’m sorry I left you this morning, Rose. But it will be okay, I’ll be there in a few minutes. I thought I saw her nod her head slightly. Still she kept her eyes on mine. The rumbling engine of the bus, the clicking of the indicator as the vehicle turned onto a road, the chatter of the other passengers, all faded away.
Chapter Twenty-Eight 2001: The Day: 2.10 .a.m.
Sam’s snoring. I’ve left the landing light on and, in the subdued glow I can see him lying in his favourite position; one arm folded under his head. I lie on my side of the bed. It’s cold. I slide across until I feel the warmth of him; put my feet on his legs. Wonderful! And he doesn’t wake.
I lifted my hand towards the window then let it drop as I saw tears hover on her lower lids and then spill over. ‘Rose.’ I spoke her name aloud. The guilt stabbed, icily cold, in my stomach. ‘I’m sorry, love, I’m sorry…’
I couldn’t take my eyes away from her image. Slowly the tears slid down her cheeks and her lips turned downwards. I couldn’t stand it; I felt my own tears slip unbidden from my eyes as well. ‘Don’t, Rose. Don’t cry.’
The bus ground to a halt again. I looked at my watch, grabbed hold of the back of the seat in front of me and peered through the window at the front. A tractor trundled along, two warning light flickering above the cab. The road was too narrow to overtake. I tried to see where we were, if there was anything I could recognise. Wondered if it would be quicker to get off, to run home?
We moved, inched along. Too slow.
Read more about Judith Barrow
To discover more of Judith’s books, follow the link here to her Amazon page