SOMEONE ELSE’S SLIP • by Sarah Hilary

There was a greasy thumbprint on the menu card, right where it said to tick the boxes to get the lunch you fancied. Dinah didn’t want to tick any ruddy boxes. She eyed the list. “Chicken Cobbler,” she mumbled, missing her dentures, “what’s that when it’s at home?”

At home, she’d have poached a nice bit of fish with a bay leaf from the garden, or grilled a lamb chop with a sprig of rosemary. Her herb garden was dying, bound to be, with no-one to mind to the watering or the slugs. They’d gardens here at the Treetops Rest Home — bed after bed of waxy-looking roses with no scent to them. When Dinah was a girl, her mother would trim her hair and put the trimmings on the rose-beds, “To keep the deer away,” she said. There were no deer at Treetops.

“Courgettes,” Dinah read on the menu card. They didn’t have courgettes when she was a girl. Bloody silly vegetable: looking like a cucumber; tasting of nothing.

She shoved the menu card away, struggling to sit upright in the bed. They’d given her so many pillows she kept sinking and slipping all over the place. She’d told them; she’d said, “I only need one pillow and I like a hard mattress.” Her spine was turning to jelly in this bed. That was another option on the menu card: Jelly. Without her dentures, jelly was about all Dinah was fit for. She certainly couldn’t eat chicken. “Cobblers,” she muttered, glaring at the menu.

She wasn’t about to tell Laila she’d mislaid her teeth, no matter what. Laila wasn’t even a nurse; just a glorified orderly who talked to Dinah as if it was her brain broke in half when she fell down those steps, instead of her hip. “Now, Dinah, don’t make a fuss. You know you need to get dressed.”

“It’s not mine!” she wanted to say, meaning the nasty nylon half-slip the woman was trying to make her put on; only she couldn’t speak, could she, with no teeth. “I never wore a half-slip in my life,” she wanted to say, “long slips — always long slips — can’t stand elastic at my waist, biting at me.”

“There’s Mrs Webster waiting to play backgammon with you in the dayroom.” Laila snapped the elastic into place, patting the place where Dinah had flinched.

Megan Webster was a simpering old fool. Dinah had heard her telling Laila, “We’re birds and Treetops is our nest!” She reminded Dinah of the social worker who brought her to Treetops, pushing her around in the wheelchair, saying, “Look, there’s a garden — you love gardens, Dinah! And the food is scrumptious!”

Dinah eyed the menu card unkindly, its column of tick boxes still demanding her attention. If she didn’t tick something, Laila would choose the luncheon for her and she’d end up with Chicken bloody Cobbler and only her gums to eat it with.

She reached out a hand and fumbled for the pen. It leaked ink, although it was hard to see the black stains in amongst the liver spots that spoiled Dinah’s hands. She’d had lovely hands, as a girl. “Healing hands,” the RAF boys had called them, when she worked as a nurse (a proper nurse, mind, not a glorified orderly), washing and dressing their burns, hardening her heart against the sights and smells because otherwise she’d have been no use to anyone, stuck in the nurses’ station, weeping, when as Matron said there were better things to be doing.

She put a smudgy tick in the box next to Vegetable Curry. With her luck, it’d have courgettes in it. She’d have to find her dentures around here somewhere, in that hard little red box that rattled…

She looked at the bedside cabinet. Maybe the teeth were in the chocolate box with the violets on the lid, along with her photos and the spiky metal brooch with the enamel flowers. Only she was sure Laila had mixed up the boxes somewhere along the line, because Dinah kept finding photos of people she didn’t recognise. Who was the tall girl with the straw hat and the serious smile? Dinah didn’t know. And the kiddies, sitting in pairs on a patterned rug, dribbling? No-one she knew had kiddies.

Someone else’s photos, just like someone else’s slip. If she ever found her teeth, chances were they’d be someone else’s too. Without them, she whistled like one of Megan Webster’s birds.

Because she’d nothing better to do, Dinah started to weep.


Sarah Hilary’s stories have been published in The Beat, Neon, SHINE, Bewildering Stories, Every Day Fiction, LitBits, MYTHOLOG, HeavyGlow, Twisted Tongue, Kaleidotrope and the Boston Literary Magazine. Her short story, “On the line”, was published in the Daunt 2006 anthology. The Subatomic 2007 anthology features her story, “LoveFM”. She won the Litopia Contest in 2007 with “The Chaperon”. Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and young daughter.


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 average 5 stars • 2 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Frances G

    Wonderful story, Sarah! I love the hair trimmings on the rose beds and the tall girl with the straw hat and serious smile – is this Dinah herself?

    Frances

    • Thank you, Frances. I hadn't thought of the girl being Dinah but I like that interpretation very much.
  • MRB

    Poignant story with bite (unlike poor Dinah!), a style you’ve made your own.

  • Oonah V Joslin

    Pathos and bathos. So poignantly sad and so very realistic. Sarah at her best.

  • I liked the details that made Dinah’s situation come alive, made me feel as if I had become her. The last line was a surprise and yet fitting. I liked the title very much, well done, Sarah.

    • Thank you, Hasmita, I'm very glad you liked it so much.
  • Everything a piece of flash should be.
    Loved it!
    Bill

  • rumjhum

    Very sensitively written story and just as vivid. Thanks!

  • Anne-Elisabeth Moutet

    Well done for making me cry in the middle of the morning – a short story sharp like an ambush.

    • Thank you, A-E. I'm sorry to have made you cry, but I can't help delighting in your brilliant choice of words: "short sharp... like an ambush". You've made me very happy.
  • Precie

    Excellent work, Sarah! Vivid and nicely developed in such a small space.

  • jennifer walmsley

    A sad but vivid story. Poor Dinah.

  • gay degani

    Bits I love:
    “They’d gardens here at the Treetops Rest Home–bed after bed of waxy-looking roses with no scent to them.”

    “as if it was her brain broke in half”

    ““There’s Mrs Webster waiting to play backgammon with you in the dayroom.” Laila snapped the elastic into place, patting the place where Dinah had flinched.”

    and the girl in the hat which I took to be Dinah’s daughter.

    And of course, the triple duty title.

    Absolutely stunning.

  • Thanks, Gay. This was one of those stories when the title came first and the tale followed. I’m so pleased you like it so much.

  • mark dalligan

    Sad tale well told.

    Cheers

    Mark

  • Judy Caldwell

    What a truly wonderful story. Your character is so vivid I could feel her loss and confusion as her memories slipped away.

    Great ending, one sentence that took us back to:

    “when she worked as a nurse (a proper nurse, mind, not a glorified orderly), washing and dressing their burns, hardening her heart against the sights and smells because otherwise she’d have been no use to anyone, stuck in the nurses’ station, weeping, when as Matron said there were better things to be doing.”

    Did she let herself weep now because she was of no use to anyone?

    Loved it, thanks Sarah

    • Thank you, Judy, what wonderful feedback! Yes I intended the tears to be an echo back to exactly that earlier section - she couldn't weep then, as there were better things to do, but now she has an excess of time and nothing better to do, so...
  • Scary as Stephen King.

  • Sarah Carter

    This story just absolutely breaks my heart. So vivid and real that you can’t help but feel it.

  • Avis Hickman-Gibb

    Sarah – such a sad story! And so familiar in these times! Well done!

  • Very vidid story, Sarah, poor woman, I felt for her. Such an undignified place she ends up in, because she slipped. They’ve even given her someone else’s photos, that was a powerfully sharp allusion to the way we treat our elderly. I like the slip/slip pun. Great story!

    Tania

    • Thanks, Tania, I'm chuffed you read it and liked it.
  • Lindsay

    Great story, sad and moving. Was wondering at the beginning if she was starting to “slip” in more than one way, and the part about “someone else’s photos” explains this up powerfully. Well done.

  • Wow, Sarah, that’s an amazing story in many ways.

  • Great flash, Sarah. Loved it!

  • Lorna

    What makes this is Dinah’s outrage, her battle against the petty dehumanising regime. It would have been easy to write this sentimentally. You didn’t and that courage is what gives this its heart. Just brilliant.

    • Thanks, Lorna, for that lovely and generous feedback.
  • GMoney

    Very well-written with good lines throughout. Sad line to end it with, but somehow appropriate. Enjoyed it.

    • Thanks, GMoney. I felt the ending had to feel "real", but you're right, it is sad. Poor Dinah.
  • John Allen

    Lovely wriitng, Sarah! I remember this. Beautiful.

    John

  • Jason Stout

    Heartwrenching and beautiful.

    • Thanks, Jason, that's fantastic feedback and I really appreciate it.
  • Beautiful.

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