Laurie.

A short story about a girl escaping her violent home life by finding an unexpected friend at her job at a rest home.

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1. Laurie

 

Laurie

By Tori Levy

 

 ‘Not tonight Laurie, maybe tomorrow we’ll get married.’ I sighed, turning my head back to grin at Laurie. His proposal was a never ending nightly joke between us, a constant in a battle against rest home rules, and Parkinson’s disease. I buttered his Vogel’s toast and cut the crusts off, just the way he liked it. Every night I served his toast and tea with two sugars and no milk, the strong aroma of dried leaves and dead plants filling the stale room. I quickly ran to the room next door to Laurie’s to serve Jack his nightly hot chocolate. When I returned, Laurie had already finished his toast and was slurping down the last of his tea. I grabbed the pack of Holiday’s off his dresser and stuffed them into the tray under Laurie’s wheelchair.
            ‘Ready?’ I confirmed, helping the already half-way upright Laurie out of his bed and into his chair. Laurie swatted away my hand, always the independent pensioner.
            ‘I can manage.’ he muttered.

 

We peeked in at the other patients as I rolled Laurie down the hallway in his wheelchair. The majority of them were already asleep. We reached the fire exit and snuck outside. I lit up one of his cigarettes and held it to his mouth. He took a drag, his fingers shaking and incapable of holding it himself. He exhaled happily. Our nightly ritual was frowned upon by the passing nurses, but they looked the other way. We’d wave at them, ignore their chastises, blocking the fire exit whilst chattering away. Laurie would tell me stories about his life in his nicotine affected accent.  He’d tell me all about his family; enlighten me on the dynamics because he knew I never had much of a home. He’d tell me about his six marriages, because he knew that I’d lived with six different families. He’d tell me about his 23 children that never seemed to visit, because he knew that I some kind of only child. He’d propose to me each night, because he knew I was alone.

‘Marry me, and I promise I’ll get you a ring bigger than Kate Middleton’s’ he grinned cheekily at me. I rolled my eyes at him.

            ‘Maybe tomorrow. Your son, the pastor? Or was that one of your grandchildren? He can marry us at the church you supposedly built.’ I teased. Laurie feigned surprise, caught out in his stories.

Two proposals tonight, I wondered. His dementia must be worse than usual. Laurie took his last drag on the cigarette and I stamped it out for him, a whole story. I wheeled him back to his room.

 

Laurie’s room was depressing. The confining walls had been painted beige in an attempt to make the room seem happier, less morbid, even though the previous inpatient had it painted black to achieve the opposite. The curtains were a violent shade of mustard which clashed horribly with the royal blue bedspread. Laurie’s room had a self-described ‘hipster-meets-90’s decor’ charm; he was so proud when I taught him the concept of ‘hipster’. Despite the less than pleasant interior design, I would much rather sit with Laurie than Rita next door, the suicidal old woman with the Coronation Street addiction. I’d choose listening to him spin a yarn over Rita’s wailing over Richard Hillman’s guilt any day. I helped Laurie back into his bed and tucked his blue blanket over him. I arranged his concoction of medication on his dresser, closed his curtains in that weird colour that he hated, and said goodnight.

 


The yelling reached my ears before I reached the front door. I braced myself as I pushed the door open, ready to bolt for my room. I wasn’t quick enough though and he caught me. Foster father number nine, God his breath stunk. He pushed me against the wall.
            ‘Where have you been? Eh? You been sneaking off to some boy’s house? Eh? Where the fuck have you been?’ he grabbed my hair, snapping my head back. His bourbon fuelled haze had obviously made the idiot forget that I worked at the rest home before school, after school and all weekend. I managed to shake my head and free my hair. I shoved past him and ran to my room, quickly utilizing the lock. His stupid wife banged on my door.

‘Who’s the boy sweetie? Who is it? I promise I won’t tell him.’ she murmured sweetly, sickeningly. I ignored her. My suitcase lay packed under my bed, ready to run at any minute but I had nowhere to run to this time. My social worker said this was the last foster family in the area and the lying bitch had promised that they would be better. Kicking my suitcase, I hissed in frustration. For the millionth time I wondered about my real family, wondered why they’d left and where they’d gone and why they didn’t want to take me with them. When I was little I imagined a King and Queen of some foreign country coming to take me away. When I was eleven I prayed nightly for a letter to Hogwarts, hoping that my parents like Harry’s had been eliminated somehow and that’s why they left me. However now, I knew that the chances were that my conception was a teenaged one night stand, and my mother couldn’t afford her drug addiction AND me. I slumped down on my bed, the realisation that I had nobody defeating me. I let sleep take over to a lullaby of an addicted housewife’s mutterings.

            ‘Who? Who?’ she repeated. Yeah, I agreed, who?

 

In the morning I rose early to avoid seeing the foster family. I biked quickly to the rest home, preparing the breakfast for the elderly patients. Eagerly, I buttered the Vogel’s with no crusts and knocked on Laurie’s door. He had just woken up, and his face lit up when he saw me. Laurie’s face was a window to his age. Laurie’s grey eyes had seen many beautiful sights and many tragedies. Laurie’s bent nose had inhaled many delicious scents and been broken in many fights. Laurie’s ears had heard many amazing stories, and learned of the worlds catastrophes. Laurie’s mouth had told many ridiculous jokes and shouted at many lost rugby games. Laurie’s wrinkles sunk deep in his skin, laugh lines etched around his eyes and lips. His was the face of a man who had simply lived. Plopping myself down on the bed I handed Laurie a piece of toast. I was shaking almost as bad as he was, still getting over last night. Laurie’s sharp eyes didn’t miss it.

            ‘You’ll get out of here some day, I promise.’ he assured me. ‘We’ll travel the world when we’re married.’

 

The year passed, slowly. I found that if I stayed at the rest home extra late, I could avoid the foster family when I got home. Thursdays were no problem; they were out at the pub. But I stayed anyway. I finished my last year of high school. I applied to about 50 universities, and for about 50 different scholarships. My grades were good enough, surprisingly. But I guess my motivation was that each A made Laurie so proud that he’d choke on the cigarette smoke when I’d tell him. I worked full time at the rest home over the summer, waiting for responses from each university. I’d applied for a few simply because they were on the complete opposite side of the world and I could escape.

            ‘That’s all you need to do, love.’ Laurie chided. ‘You escape.’ I held the cigarette up to his lips, chewing over his words. The rest home was my escape. He knew that better than I did.
            ‘I was accepted into the University of Zurich on full scholarship today.’ I said, quietly, avoiding Laurie’s eyes. I made a funny sort of choking noise in the back of my throat.

            ‘I told you that you’d get out of here some day.’ he exhaled his cigarette calmly. I glanced at him. A smile was stretched over his face and a weight vanished inside of me.
 

I knew that by the time I returned from my eight year degree, he’d be gone. It was my last shift at the rest home and we were sitting out at the rendezvous point, the fire escape. We smoked a cigarette each. He promised that if he could we’d be pen pals but he couldn’t hold a pen. I never trusted promises. I trusted his. I stamped out our smokes and wheeled him back to his room for the millionth time. I helped him back into his bed and tucked his blue blanket over him. I arranged his concoction of medication on his dresser and closed his curtains in that stupid colour that he hated. I said goodnight, he said good luck.

 

I left the rest home early that night, so he wouldn’t see my tears. I shoved past my foster family when I got back to their house and told them I was leaving tomorrow. The lock on my door proved its worth, holding up against a full night of blows and punches. He was fortunately so drunk that he couldn’t manage to land a kick hard enough to smash the door down. I smiled, lips stretched taut over teeth, the smile of a madwoman finally freed from the mental hospital. Tomorrow I would escape.

 

I made it to Switzerland on my savings from the rest home. Once I got there and found my way to the university, I managed to track down my dorm. I set up my room, at first worried that there was no lock on my bedroom door. I grinned when I quickly realized I’d no longer need it. I sat in the living room area of my dorm and put the TV on. I couldn’t understand any of the channels but that didn’t matter, all that did was that I was able to choose. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t subjected to the misery that was Shortland Street. I pulled a pack of Holiday’s out of my bag and found a fire escape down the hallway. I smoked and cried and prepared myself for a new life.

 

Switzerland was an icy wonderland of cultures. European countries are on top of each other so I got to travel the world like Laurie promised. I learnt Swiss German. I learnt to ski. I learnt to not trust boys. I learnt how to stay warm in a mouldy flat with no heating. I learnt how to heal. I learnt. It took some time to build myself up, but the most important thing that I learnt was that I could. I didn’t hear from home very much, the letters becoming less frequent. Graduating eight years later with my degree hot in my hands, I was a different person, stronger, resilient. I silently thanked Laurie for pushing me in this direction. He knew what this would do for me. Running away to Switzerland didn’t resolve things. It made things easier.

 

I returned home the summer after I graduated because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. To be honest, I mostly just wanted to revisit the old off-white rest home and all its quirky patrons. I stood silently in the creaky doorway, surveying his room. The white letter, heavy in my pocket, was smudged so badly that I could hardly read it anymore, but I’d memorised it from reading it so many times. To The stench of dead withered plants hung heavy in the room which was so much smaller, empty now that he was gone. The ugly mustard curtains were closed, the light filtering through casting an unpleasant sickly glow to the room. Laurie’s blue bedspread had been folded up neatly and lay on the end of the bed. His favourite sheets had been stripped. His medications were gone, as was his favourite tea, and it was these small details that sent me into tears. I felt like I’d lost a grandparent. I felt like I’d lost my anchor. I had nothing left here. Resting on Laurie’s wheelchair was a packet of Holidays. I took the letter and cigarettes and went down to the fire exit and lit one up. I read the letter one last time.      

Dearest Audrey,

I know when you read this you’ll be crying and most likely smoking to try and calm yourself down. Silly girl, do you want a horrible raspy voice like me when you’re old? I know you told me you gave up in Switzerland but your letters suggest otherwise, the scent of nicotine was ever so strong when I got Louise to open the envelopes for me.

I’m sure you’ve returned a different person. The Swiss are rather lovely people, being surrounded by compassion as opposed to alcohol fuelled rage would have been a pleasant change for you I’m sure. I wish I was here to see the lovely young woman you have blossomed into, and finally hold true on my promise to marry you with a ring larger than Kate Middleton’s. I hate breaking my promises, especially to you my love, who was always promised things that never delivered. I promised we’d be pen pals.

I promise you things will be better for you.

Love always, Laurie.

After tucking away Laurie’s last words to me into the inside pocket of my wallet, I wiped away the remaining tears. I made a silent promise to make the last line of his letter come true, I will make him proud.

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