The nurses huddle around their station clasping their cups, nattering quietly. In and out, the sound of her breath; still and rhythmic as her bird’s chest moves up and down. Watching and waiting. Silence descends. I hold on to every breath, willing her to take another, in and out. Her chest rises and falls, slowly pushing up again, holding on.
Round and round I go outside the washhouse at 46b Storrie Street, just below the flats, where houses are built on houses. Not like ours, where there is no sharing. The green lawn is stretched out in a square stopping from tenement to tenement, each are dark and grey. The concrete slabs in the middle of the green, away from the shadows of the trees is a perfect flat patch for riding.
“Again Rose, again, that’s it.”
“Hold the bars straight, straighten up will you or you’re going to fall.”
Even then she was old; widowed. She was on her own. She wasn’t from these parts, her pursed lips and quick words gave it away. Her wool skirt sat below her knees, she wore sensible brown court shoes, the kind grannies wear, and her Arran cardigan hugged her broad shoulders. She was stronger than any of the others. She had more secrets. Her hands grabbed the seat as she pushed me off on the path as the wind slapped my face. I steered into it, again and again. Clasping the handlebars and trying to steer, not to fall under the weight of the heavy, thick metal bars. She’d bought it from the shop. Her shop where she unpacked and re-shelved the bags left on the doorstep. The bike belonged to another. The seat was too high, but I’d get good use out of it, and the wheels, a little stiff, Dad would oil these. The colour wasn’t mine either.
“Her breathing is getting heavy, Mum.”
Long and slow, she clung on. Mum can’t hear me as she’s watching hers. Holding every breath, in and out, I follow her lead, waiting for the next exhalation. It’s slow and hard to hold on as I gasp to follow her. In and out, she slowly makes it like the one before. I’ve never listened this intently or waited this patiently. I’ve never held her. Curled in the bed, she lies to one side. Small and frail, and waiting. Her hands clasp under her head with beads entwined around her fingers. Her long limbs tucked beneath her and her broad shoulders huddle into her chest. Her hips poke from beneath the white sheets, while the monitors bleep in and out. A drip hangs from her vein and she clasps what’s hidden in her hand. She’s waiting and when I call her name, she hears me. Trying to speak, I silence her with shushes.
“Again, come on, do it again.”
“No point doing half a job, Rose. Again.”
“That’s it, steady yourself and for goodness sake, straighten yourself up.”
I leaned to the left, then quickly to the right, steadying myself.
I’m doing it, I call.
“You’re an awful one for not concentrating.”
“If you fall off and scrape your knees, your mother wouldn’t be happy. You’ve got a feis today.”
“I’ve got it, Nanny.”
“I love you, please wait.”
She’s slowing down. Her breathe is slower, shallower. I can’t hear her.
“Do you think she can hear me, mum?”
“Do you think she’s still here?”
“Gran, it’s Rose. I’m here.”