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Norah Jansen | Lakshmy Mathur

A loud noise startled Emily awake. She felt her heart race with fright and annoyance and then gasped in pain as she pulled a muscle in her calf. When her heart had calmed down enough for her brain to take over she remembered that the For Sale sign was going up today.

Agitation propelled her out of bed and she was dressed to face the day by the time the agent had finished and was admiring his handiwork. Her sharply pressed black trousers were in sharp contrast to the embroidered kaftan and running shoes she wore with it, a mismatched look that Emily cultivated.

The red on white sign looked gaudy to Emily but that was the point, according to Maggie, her daughter with a marketing degree. It had to be noticed. Joan, her other daughter, agreed but she was married to the real estate agent and wanted to make sure his name was seen. She sighed deeply when she saw her son in law’s assistant making his way towards the house, but a smile was pasted in place as she answered the door.

“The sign is up and looking good Emily.”

Emily’s smile became even more forced as he hopped from one foot to the other on her step.

“That’s nice Jason. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” Emily’s voice trailed off as she half turned from him, but he hovered.

“We haven’t discussed viewing arrangements yet Emily. Open homes on Saturdays and Sundays, and two hours during the week should be enough, Tommy says.”

Anger flared through Emily but she only nodded in reply and then firmly closed the door. The girls had told her she wasn’t to rock the boat. That didn’t mean she had to like her son-in-law as well.

She knew the house was too big for her and she knew that she wasn’t well enough to look after herself for much longer. Those were the things she knew.

What she didn’t know was how she was going to bear to live in Joan’s house.

She felt a pang as she thought that it might not be so bad if it was Maggie’s. At least she didn’t have a lazy slob of a husband who never lifted a hand around the house because he earned so much money. Emily’s top lip curled automatically every time she thought of Tommy’s job.

Emily shook her head in dismay. This wasn’t like her at all; she was always so positive and optimistic. She was finding lately though that It was hard to be positive and optimistic when you felt you were losing control of your life. If only Martin was still with her, in body as well as in spirit. Her eyes strayed to the cupboard holding her husband’s ashes.

Emily knew tears weren’t far away so she busied herself making a proper pot of coffee; the actions of measuring and pouring distracting her from her fears. They came back as soon as she sat down again. Joan had been adamant from the start that she would have her mother come to live with her, and had told Emily that as soon as her sale money came through she could add a little guest suite onto their house.

“It’s only my legs that are bad Joan,” Emily had said, “there’s nothing wrong with my brain. Do you honestly think I don’t know that a guest suite would benefit you as much as it would me?”

Joan had huffed and puffed and eventually Emily let her off the hook.

“It’s a nice thought Joan and I could do that.”

“Oh good,” Joan agreed gratefully. “I mean, imagine if you had to go into an old folk’s home?”

That last sentence had resonated with Emily ever since. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like. She knew she should be grateful to Joan and to Maggie too. The cynic in her said it was to make sure of their inheritance but she knew there were lots of people who never saw their children, and her girls made sure they called to see her at least once a week.

There were many times over the following weeks when Emily had to remind herself that she was lucky, and the closer her sale got to being finalized, the more she imagined what it would be like if she had to go into an old folks home. What it would be like if her daughter hadn’t asked her to live with them. What it would be like if she had to pack her little car up with her most precious possessions and go to live in a place surrounded by people she didn’t know.

Settlement date for the sale of her house was arranged and she had two weeks to move. Joan was on the phone to her almost every day and it seemed to Emily that the rest of her life was mapped out in little trips to the supermarket and Ikea and aerobics for Senior Citizens; whether she wanted them or not. She wished Joan’s excitement was contagious but all she could feel was terror as moving day grew ever closer.

She was going to lose her independence and while she might not be Speedy Gonzales, she did like to get around under her own steam. She kept waiting for the upside but all she could think of was “……imagine if you had to go into an old folk’s home”.

The morning of the move dawned bright and clear and Emily felt a frisson of excitement as she packed her things into her car.

She dropped the spare keys on the kitchen counter and slowly took in her surroundings. The new owners would replace the worn floor coverings and the cabinets needed new doors, but Emily loved it as it was. She’d lived here for thirty years and the kitchen had known happiness and heartbreak, and through it all had remained the heart of this home. What would Martin think of what she was doing she wondered, not for the first time. She sighed deeply, patting the counter absentmindedly; it was time to go.

It was just after twelve when she arrived at her new home and she smiled in delight as she parked outside the little cottage. Emily had been imagining a life in the Bayside Home for the Elderly ever since Joan first tried to scare her with it and now she had to imagine no longer. She reached into the back of the car for the box containing Martin’s ashes and she giggled as she whispered to it.

“I’ll carry you over the threshold this time darling.”

About Norah Jansen

Norah is originally from Ireland and, via The Netherlands and London, now lives in Auckland, New Zealand with her Kiwi husband. When she's not writing she's reading, or thinking about writing, and her secretarial job is a necessary evil. 'Imagine' is her third short story publication in the past year.

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