When my dad was dying he was adamant that an 'older Australian woman' - his words - was standing in the corner. If she was, we couldn't see her. That incident inspired this short story.
When Valerie Jenson walked into the back bedroom, Greta Banks was standing in the corner between the wardrobe and the floor to ceiling window. She looked at Valerie, who'd walked in carrying her tea in one hand and her book, a Stephen King, in the other. Valerie had thought she, Valerie, might sit in with her father, Ronnie, for a bit because who knew how much longer they'd have him? It would be quiet and she could catch up on her reading. Ronnie was sound asleep, both arms on top of the doona, his fingers slightly splayed. The doona was drawn up to his armpits. His pale arms were hairless, the skin smooth and somehow young looking despite Ronnie Anderson's 82 years.
In her corner, Greta wore a pale yellow high collared swing blouse over a tapered tweedy knee length skirt. Flesh-coloured nylons covered her shapely calves. On her feet were black patent pointy toed sling-back pumps. She clasped her hands just below her waist. She'd turned her head at Valerie's entrance before resuming her watch over Ronnie.
Valerie, stopped dead in the doorway. She gripped her tea and book in tense hands, aware of a tremor in the right one, which threatened to spill its tea. She swallowed, noticed a familiar adrenaline surge and goose bumps on head, neck and arms. Told herself to breathe. Eyes still on Greta, she backed out of the room, turned and carefully walked the few steps along to the bathroom. She placed her book and cup on the side of the vanity, turned on the cold tap, cupped her hands under the stream, leaned forward and splashed water into her face.
'Here we go,' she told her dripping face. 'You know you're insane.' She mouthed the words at her reflection, reaching for a towel and dabbing her face dry. This has been going on too long, she thought, looking into her dark eyes.
Two days earlier, according to a panicked phone call from Audrey, their mother, there’d been a crow in the house.
'I must have left the fly-wire open when I went out to water.' She imagined her mother, standing by the kitchen bench, phone pressed to her ear, staring across at the blue stone fire place that extended to the ceiling. Ronnie had constructed it himself when they’d built the house twenty years earlier. He’d hefted every one of those blue stone clinkers, with occasional assistance from sons and sons-in-law. They’d all expressed incredulity at the weight of each stone block.
'How did you get it out?' Valerie had her headphones in, her phone tucked in the front pocket of her apron. She lifted the glass lid on the saucepan on the stove and gave the stew a stir with a wooden spoon.
'I didn’t. I got Rod from across the road. The bloody thing was dead in the shower recess like a great black mop head but with a beak and staring eyes.' Valerie tried to picture it but kept seeing a mop rather than a dead crow. 'There’s bird lime all over the house where it’s been flying around. And all up the hall carpet. Ugh, I feel sick just thinking of it. Scared me to death.'
'Oh, mum. That must have been awful for you. Lucky Rod was there to help, eh?'
'Suppose so. I couldn’t look at it again. At least it didn’t get into your dad’s room. Ronnie would have moved it if he could.'
'I know, mum. Look, we’ll be down on Saturday. You’ll be okay. Talk tomorrow.' She’d popped her headphones out, trying not to think of the mythical association between death and wild birds getting inside. She wasn’t sure they were just old wives’ tales. Setting bowls out on the bench top, she tried to think of something else. It’s just a coincidence, she told herself. So dad’s old, infirm, maybe dying…Oh, don’t think it, don’t think it. She grabbed a handful of forks from the kitchen drawer and plonked them on the bench, walked over to the kitchen door and leaned through it. 'Dinner!' she yelled, at the top of her voice.
But this Saturday morning had been strange. Ronnie had been woken by a magpie at his bedroom window, flapping and pecking at its reflection presumably. Well, they lived at the beach on a treed block. Of course there’d be birds. But this was different. The magpie marched up and down on the brick veranda, stopping to peck at each turn. Then it sat and seemed to stare at Ronnie, peck, flap, peck, flap. 'Audrey, come and see this!' he’d shouted. It seemed funny at first. Audrey had wound the window open and clapped her hands at the bird. It had leapt backwards but then continued its strange percussive dance. Eventually, Audrey had pulled the cord and drawn the black out curtains, hoping to end the performance. They could still hear it peck-flapping outside.
Later Audrey did her own flapping. 'Get away with you!' She was outside the window in dressing gown and clogs flicking at the bird with a tea towel. It leapt and dodged and then returned to its pecking. Audrey’s white hair was blown about and tattered like a scarecrow in a windstorm. Her face was drawn and grey and she hadn’t put her teeth in. 'Sodding thing!' she cried, while Ronnie and Valerie, who’d opened the curtains, watched in increasing horror. Michelle had ended the play, taking Audrey by the hand and leading her off the set. She’d filled the kettle on the way through then guided her sobbing mother into the bathroom for a shower. 'It’s not doing any harm, mum. It’ll stop soon,' they heard her reassuring the mother, to a backdrop of peck flap at the window.
Her dad was dying and had been for a while now. Of course that would upset her mum.
For a few years she and her sister, Michelle, had been doing weekend shifts at their parents' house. They were on a roster with their older brothers, who managed to be terribly busy elsewhere when it was their turn. Most weekends it fell to Valerie and Michelle, who'd drive down to the coastal town on Saturday mornings, leaving respective kids at home with their fathers, and drive back late Saturday night. Lately, though, they'd been staying the night as it became clear that Ronnie wasn't getting out of his bed again. Weeks back, his double bed had been replaced by a hospital bed as per Occupational Health and Safety regulations. It was the only way you could get a palliative care nurse to attend. It was all sponge baths, bed pans and regular pain management now, amongst which Ronnie remained sanguine.
'How are you today, dad?' Valerie would ask.
'Worse every day, lass,' he'd say, not feeling sorry for himself; just matter of fact. Valerie used to counter with platitudes, like 'use it or lose it' as she hobbled him up the drive for a walk around the block, until it became clear that despite his efforts to exercise he was deteriorating and feeling embarrassed as well.
Another one of his lines was 'I'm sitting here waiting for the grim reaper.' Ronnie's gallows humour. It made it easier for them, well, Valerie anyway. She'd never coped well with sentiment. Seems her dad's last lesson, and there had been too many to count, was about dying with dignity. He wasn't afraid to die. His concern was for Audrey, staying behind and having to deal with a life without her husband of fifty-seven years.
Valerie's tea was getting cold. She leaned back on the side cabinet and drank it in the bathroom, wondering whether it was all clear to return to Ronnie's room or whether Greta would still be in her corner.
Valerie had been left to watch Ronnie for a few hours while Michelle took Audrey out for a bit of respite. No one was doing it harder than Audrey. She'd been caring for Ronnie since his illness had robbed him of his flexibility, his beautiful singing voice and lately his ability to simply enjoy an evening glass of whisky in front of the telly.
'Of course, you go, Michelle. Great idea. No need to hurry back,' she'd told her sister. Michelle had half carried her mother out of the house, an arm around her waist, and helped her into the passenger seat before walking around to the driver's side. Audrey had sat there, staring ahead, expressionless, hands holding the bag on her lap.
'Thanks, Val. Might take mum past the hairdressers and see if she can fit her in.' They both looked over at their mum's bedraggled former bob and back at each other.
'Good idea,' they both giggled before remembering not to. 'Yeah. Have some lunch. See you when you get back.'
'Cheers, Val.' Michelle climbed into the station-wagon, started the engine and with one arm resting behind Audrey's seat, reversed out of the drive.
Back in the house, Valerie had glanced through a collage of various bills and papers that Audrey had spread on the bench. Valerie was careful not to change their order, if you could call it that. It was Audrey's way and it worked for her. Valerie filled the sink with water, squirted a bit of detergent in and set about wiping out the fridge and then the bench tops. She moved a display of pottery jugs, the food processor, juicer, bread crock and toaster to get into the grease, grit and dead insects behind them. Poor mum, she thought, knowing what a cleanliness freak her mother had once been. After she'd given the window a quick spray and wipe while standing on a kitchen chair, she emptied the sink, thinking it was time for Ronnie's lunch. She'd made him a ham sandwich, cutting it into sixteen bite-sized squares. He'd been sitting up in bed at that stage and had accepted the plate gratefully.
'Thanks, love. Where's Audrey gone?'
'Out to Geelong with Michelle. She won't be long.' Ronnie frowned down at his sandwich, took a square, chewed it slowly and swallowed with an effortful gulp. The second piece precipitated a fit of coughing. Valerie held the plate and waited for the coughing to stop, which it usually did.
'You'll be right, dad,' she said, handing him his plate back and offering him a sip of water from a glass with a bent straw in it. He drank, swallowed again and picked up another sandwich square.
'Thanks, Val,' he murmured before resuming his fraught progress through the sandwich. The mercy was that he still enjoyed eating, despite the problems with his swallowing reflex.
She'd waited while he finished, her eyes travelling around the walls, looking at his few framed pictures, most of which had been found in the charity shop where Audrey volunteered. Audrey had a bit of an eye for it. In twin water colours, opposite Ronnie's bed where they caught the light, two men facing the ocean, backs to the room, fished companionably in the shallows, conveying a sense of peace. A framed certificate hung over Ronnie's chest of drawers. It had been presented to Ronnie, when after thirty years of sustaining the tenor line in his beloved choir, he'd been forced to retire. The commute to rehearsals was just too far. Ronnie had had a strong tenor voice and tremendous musicianship, despite being entirely self-taught. Singing in his choir had been an obsessive passion, something he did alone, Audrey not being a singer. She'd never missed one of Ronnie's concerts though, even though she'd confided to Valerie and Michelle that the modern classical stuff had given her a headache.
Valerie's pulse had slowed now, she was relieved to notice, as she tipped the cold dregs of her tea into the basin before rinsing it out. She hadn't seen Greta Banks since they'd left England a long time ago. But Valerie remembered that yellow swing blouse. Suppose it had been a maternity top, Valerie thought now. In memory, it had been covering a sizeable mound. Greta and Audrey had been young mothers together, close at one stage. Valerie remembered their endless talks at the front gate. She'd wondered how they could possibly think of so much to say, her own child's vocabulary being so slight in comparison. They'd pop in and out of each other's kitchens, which faced across a couple of concrete driveways. Their houses almost matched, mirror images of one another, being on opposite sides of two duplexes. Greta, Valerie remembered now, had a small refrigerator, a luxurious novelty in the bri-nylon early sixties. In England's north you didn't need it. Their milk was always cold and fresh, straight from the outside step in the mornings. Greta's husband wasn't there much, and Valerie found she couldn't summon him to memory now. He'd been a travelling salesman or something. Their five year old daughter, Diana, always wore pretty dresses, coats and shoes. When Greta's condition had started to show, she'd begun to wear the smocks, one of which she'd apparently been wearing a few minutes earlier in Ronnie's room, what would it be, fifty years later?
It had been at least two years since they'd had the letter from Mrs Wilkinson at number 57 across the road, informing 'my dear Audrey and Ronnie' that she thought they'd like to know that Greta Banks had sadly passed away after an illness.
Valerie raked her fingers through her wavy dark hair and gave herself a final appraisal in the mirror. She placed her hands on both cheeks and drew them back in a face lift, removing the creases from around her mouth. After a few seconds she resignedly dropped her face back into position, turned around purposefully and walked back across the hall and into Ronnie's room. She was relieved to see that Greta had melted back to wherever she'd come from. Ronnie was still asleep, head tipped back, mouth open and breathing oddly. Valerie went to straighten the doona, which was now slipping towards the floor but changed her mind, reluctant to wake Ronnie. She glanced behind her to see if she could catch her ghost by surprise but of course she was being ridiculous. Valerie's spirits had their own agendas, even if it was just crossing through to light and take a few puffs on a hand-rolled cigarette before disappearing back into the woodwork again. That ghost, frequenting her old suburban home, was somehow a comforting regular, although some of her friends told her her old Californian bungalow creeped them out and wondered how she could stand it.
Why Greta Banks? Valerie wondered. Why now?
Valerie remembered reading Nora Wilkinson's letter. It had been amongst the drifts of paper on the kitchen bench.
'Mum, you didn't tell me that Mrs Banks had died.' Audrey usually kept Valerie and her siblings apprised of the deaths of the dwindling numbers of friends and relatives 'back home'.
'I didn't think you'd be interested, love.' Audrey continued to watch the television in the corner. Ronnie closed and folded his newspaper, switched off his reading lamp and went outside to put the bins out, it being collection day next day. Valerie set off home shortly after and hadn't heard of Greta Banks since.
Some people say that on their death beds the dying claim to see a relative or friend who's passed away. A psychiatrist might dismiss this as a toxic brain causing hallucinations.
Sheesh, hope I'm not dying, thought Valerie. Nah, I'd have been dead long ago in that case. She wondered what a good shrink would make of her propensity, despite being far from her death bed, to occasionally see fully fleshed apparitions in various period costumes. Over-active imagination? Delusion? That's how Valerie lived with it; saw it as the rubbish bin of her mind. Maybe she was just a day-dreamer. Her 'ghosts' rarely said anything and didn't seem to be leading her to resolve issues they'd had during their lives, as far as she could tell. Considering it wise, she hadn't offered herself up to solve cold cases or advise the bereaved.
Shouldn't dad be the one having the vision? she wondered, sitting now at the kitchen table. Valerie shook the image of Greta's face from her mind, opened the paper and waited for Michelle and Audrey's return.
'She's been again! She won't leave me alone.' Ronnie, staring into the corner, was hugging his doona up to his chin. Audrey, in her faded cotton ankle length dressing gown had her face close to Ronnie's as first Michelle then Valerie entered the room. The red numbers on the clock blinked 2.03 am. Audrey took Ronnie's face between her hands and forced it towards her but Ronnie struggled continuing to stare into the corner. His pale blue irises in bloodshot eyes focused fearfully. They all instinctively followed his gaze.
'Who, Ronnie? What are you talking about?' asked Audrey.
'I can't remember, oh, I can't remember,' Ronnie wailed. Michelle, at the foot of the bed, patted her dad's foot through the doona. Valerie looked on helplessly.
'Never mind, Ronnie,' Audrey soothed, stroking his white hair back from his forehead. 'Try to get some sleep.'
'Look, she's back!' Ronnie shouted now and again they turned to the corner, so convinced did Ronnie seem. Of course there was no one there but the hairs bristled on Valerie's arms.
'It'll be the morphine,' said Audrey. 'He had it not long since.' Ronnie allowed Audrey to make him more comfortable. She lifted him forward while Valerie adjusted his pillows. He alternately gripped and fidgeted with the top of his doona, all the time staring into the corner. Audrey turned off his bedside lamp and they crept out. 'Let's get a cup of tea, mum,' Michelle suggested, and Valerie followed them both down the passage and into the kitchen.
The following night it was worse.
'Audrey!' he was screaming, 'Audrey, I'm sorry!' he cried. Again they all herded into his room but this time he was thrashing his head from side to side with more energy than he'd seemed capable of for a long time.
'It's Greta, Audrey. She's waiting for me. She wants me to go with her. I don't want to go,' he whimpered now.
'Really, Ronnie, don't be so daft.' Audrey's voice with its Yorkshire accent sounded kind and calm, quietly undercutting Ronnie's hysteria. 'Fancy. Greta Banks?' Again, she stroked his face and smoothed his hair as he sobbed. 'I think we might need to call palliative care.' This last was addressed to Michelle, who set off down the hall to the landline in the kitchen.
'It's the morphine,' she said to Valerie, who wasn't so sure. She couldn't quite make out the expression on Greta's face as she stood vigil, it being so dark in the shadow cast by the half open door.
Ronnie was dead when Audrey went in to him the next morning. Her scream, followed by wracking sobs woke her daughters. It was a blustery, blue autumn day and cockatoos shrieked in the ironbarks.
The family gathered for the funeral and apart from the vicar’s mobile phone going off under his cassock during the service, things went to plan, as much as that could be said about the worst day of their lives.
Audrey walked around in a bit of a bubble for the next three years, participating less enthusiastically in excursions with other neighbourhood women, some of them already widowed. She sat back at family events, smiling fondly at members of her large family, but gladly relinquishing the role of matriarch; letting her sons and daughters and their children call the shots. At home, she quietly enjoyed the peace of her garden, her friends, her books and television and the sense of a life well lived, full of grown children, and their grown children.
On a warm January day, Audrey died suddenly of heart failure. A neighbour found her lying on her side between the roses and the flowering tomatoes. Her broad brimmed hat, as she’d toppled sideways from her knees, had shaded her eyes. The fingers on her yellow and white gardening gloves were grubby with soil from her work. Her lower legs were bent under from the knees. Her bucket, in which she’d collected weeds, had fallen on its side spilling its contents. Apart from that, she looked, the neighbour had said, for all intents and purposes, like she’d lain down in her beloved garden for a little nap.
They say it’s easier when you lose your second parent. Maybe. When the first one goes you don’t think it could really happen. Oh, in theory you know it’s going to happen, but emotionally you just don’t get it until it does. So when her adored mum died, Valerie had been expecting it, given that her dad had blazed a trail.
Their appointment was at ten in the morning in the solicitor’s Cromwell suite. Her brothers, well, mostly Nigel, the oldest, had finally got involved in sorting things out after Audrey had died. Typical, Valerie thought. She and Michelle had done the hard yards and Nigel had jumped in to write a few letters and make a few phone calls when his inheritance was involved. Suppose he was being practical, thought Valerie. Outwardly it seemed the boys were coping better with their grief.
Valerie and Michelle had wept buckets as they’d gone through cupboards and drawers, sobbing over stores of useless saved paper bags and rubber bands, throwing out opened packets of flour, rice, sugar – their tops sealed with pegs - and all the other goods you keep in your kitchen cupboards. Ronnie’s shirts had elicited the most tears when Michelle had opened the wardrobe and called Valerie in to look. The shirts were still hanging there, pressed and ready for him to wear. Audrey clearly hadn’t been able to part with them. They knew she’d continued to wear his old dressing gown and had staunchly refused to put it through the wash because, as she said, it had smelled of Ronnie. Likewise, his top drawer still had all his socks, and underwear in neat piles. It was like he’d died all over again, Valerie thought, putting them all into large bags to take to the opportunity shop.
Despite its proximity to the coast, no one had wanted to keep the house. It hadn't been where they'd grown up and until the last five years or so of their parents' lives, once their own kids had grown up, visits had only been occasional, it being such a long drive after a busy working week. Anyway, Nigel and Grant were more involved with their in-laws than their parents. It was just the way it was.
Between them, Nigel and Grant had negotiated with the Cromwell solicitor, cc-ing Valerie and Michelle into correspondence. Euan Mitchell's office was in a modern blank windowed block. With Michelle, Valerie caught the lift to the first floor and announced their arrival to the receptionist, who offered them tea or coffee, which they both refused. The whole settling of the will was supposed to be seamless, according to Nigel's report after his first meeting with the solicitor.
'It's a formality,' Nigel said. 'Lots of people go through this probate thing without a solicitor. They buy a kit, apparently. DIY probate. You just have to go through the process. Should only take a few weeks,' he'd said.
'You know what, Mish? I don't even care about any money. I just want it to be over.'
'Same. I absolutely hear you.' They looked at each other and simultaneously tears welled in their eyes.
Michelle sniffed. 'Maybe life will go back to normal. I'd just like this sadness to stop.' Michelle let out a sob. 'I am not going to cry,' she said.
'Too late, sis.' At that, they managed to laugh. Valerie was sick of feeling like she was next in line for the grim reaper. Having had her parents die, taking nothing with them except others' happiness, for Valerie, life seemed more fleeting than ever. It was as though her whole life was merely a long term rental and the lease was about to expire with no chance of renewal.
Valerie sat upright now on her upholstered office chair and looked around her. What do you wear to a reading of a will? Evidently the same as you'd wear for a light lunch if Michelle was anything to go by. She was wearing a geometric patterned shirt with her bone linen drawstring pants. Valerie had gone for black narrow pants, matching brogue lace-ups, a pale blue shirt and a short denim jacket. She held her leather shoulder bag on her lap. Michelle pulled a small mirror and lipstick from a pocket in her straw bag and touched up her lips, rubbing them together before clicking the mirror shut and returning the mirror and lipstick to the bag.
Nigel and Grant arrived with a ping of the lift bell. Nigel wore a new looking blue suit, white shirt and black shoes. The front buttons of his jacket tugged, a little heartbreakingly Valerie thought, over his paunch. They were all getting old. He approached slowly, raising his eyebrows in greeting, sighing, then bending first to give Michelle and then Valerie a brief hug. He stood while Grant, in new looking black jeans and a brick red polo top gave a slight wave then hugged them both.
'Hmm. Bit strange, eh?' said Grant.
'Yeah, no. Yeah,' said Nigel. 'Hmm.' They both remained standing, shifting from foot to foot.
Valerie let them stand with their discomfort. She wondered whether she'd ever see either of them again after this was sorted. It saddened her, but she'd live with it. Avoiding talk, she studied the windowless space with its shelves stacked with arch files behind the receptionist's bench. An enormous printer sat in the corner. Concealed fluorescent light filtered down into the room through boxed slats. The carpets were olive green. The atmosphere was strained. Polished apples gleamed inedibly on their white tray on a coffee table. The receptionist focused on her screen.
Grant broke the tension when he strode to the water cooler to yank a plastic beaker from a tubular rack. He pressed a button on top of the tap and water trickled noisily into his cup while bubbles glugged in the huge plastic bottle.
'Sorry,' he shrugged, as they all watched him sipping from the tiny cup. 'Anybody else...?' He pointed at the cup. They all shook their heads.
"Euan won't be a minute.' Valerie actually jumped when the receptionist spoke. 'Just waiting until everyone gets here.' She resumed her screen time.
'What? Who else is coming? Nigel?' asked Michelle.
Valerie's brow furrowed as she looked up at Nigel. 'Nige? You're the one who's been in contact with the solicitor. What's going on?'
'Look, I don't know.' Nigel grabbed his head in both hands, screwed up his face and exhaled through his teeth. 'You know as much as I do, okay.' He pushed his hands into his pockets. 'Christ!' he said, jerking his head forward at the same time. His wavy white hair stuck out on both sides of his head until, in a practised gesture, he smoothed it down.
Grant refilled his cup, drank from it, then shivered. 'I'm cold now,' he said uselessly.
'Look, all Mitchell said was that there'd been an issue with probate and we had to come in and sort it. Hello! Why else are we all here? I told you what I knew, okay.' Despite whispering, he managed to sound belligerent. Michelle crossed her legs and bounced her foot in agitation. Normally a calm person, this unexpected announcement had her perturbed.
'Haven't we been through enough?' she wailed. She rifled through her bag for a tissue. Finding one, she blew her nose loudly.
What's enough? wondered Valerie. She looked from Michelle, checking her eyes in her mirror, to Nigel, pacing, to Grant, gawping and quietly whistling through his back teeth. Nigel had their dad's mass of wavy hair, white now and dark bags under his eyes. Grant clearly dyed his wavy locks but would never admit it. So did Valerie. She had a neat wavy style, parted at the side, cut just below her shoulders. Michelle, eschewing anything she perceived as unnatural, had salt and pepper short, hair, spiky on top; a practical style.
Another ping from the lift interrupted Valerie's thoughts. The door opened and two middle-aged women stepped into the waiting room. Greta Banks but without the style, thought Valerie immediately, standing and turning towards the two women. The older woman of the two extended her hand as she approached and Valerie automatically held out her own.
'Look,' said the woman gently, 'sorry,' she said, still holding Valerie's hand between both of her own, 'I don't expect you to remember me but we used to live next door to each other.' The older woman wore a long navy cardigan, over a summer dress. Her feet looked swollen in their black sandals. She spoke with a cultured northern English accent. She leaned into Valerie, seeming to focus on just one of the siblings to manage what was clearly a difficult situation, like, intruding on a grieving family who're about to get the shock of their lives.
'I remember you. Diana Banks,' said Valerie, gently extricating her hand and stepping back to introduce the others, who seemed stunned, except for Grant, who said, redundantly, 'Didn't you used to live next door in Eccles Road?'
'I'm amazed that you remember me.' Diana smiled at Valerie. Diana's whole face softened in that smile, her eyes creasing into half moons and dimples appearing in her cheeks. Valerie remembered they'd been of an age and were playmates for a few long childhood years. You and I could have been lifelong friends, thought Valerie in an instant, returning the smile.
'I've got a good memory for faces, ' Valerie said, deciding not to mention that Diana looked exactly like her mother, Greta, whom Valerie had mysteriously had occasion so see at Ronnie's bedside not that long ago.
'This is my sister, Veronica.' Diana turned to the taller woman who'd been a step back. Diana nodded her encouragement to her sister as if she was coaxing a nervous toddler into a pool. Veronica, a svelte woman who looked to be anywhere between forty and fifty, raised a hand. 'Hiyee,' she said, looking at each of them.
It seemed like time had paused in the small waiting room as Nigel, Grant, staring, his mouth open until he remembered to shut it, Michelle and Valerie studied Veronica, with her black wavy shoulder length hair, dark eyes, and slightly protruding teeth, exactly like their own.
'Ronnie. People call me Ronnie,' said the familiar stranger.
'Hmm. Yeah, no. Yeah,' said Nigel.
Grant sniggered. 'You're a dead ringer for the old man,' he said.
'And Val,' said Michelle, almost collapsing back into her chair.
'If you'd like to come this way,' said the receptionist, walking around from behind the bench, 'I'll bring some water through.'
Copyright. Judith Middlemarch.