Lemon Drops on Sundays

A short story about a young girl who grows up very quickly :)

**Sorry about the funny formatting, that's Movellas' fault, not mine!**

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2. Autumn

“But Sa-am,” I whined down the phone.

            “I told you, I’m not coming! Look outside, Jen.” I did, and anything past the river was obscured by sheets of persistently falling rain. It had been like this for three days, and I was becoming restless.

            “It’s not that bad…”

            “Says you! I’m not leaving the house.”

            “I’m only across the road, come on Sam, I’m worried.”

            “Why? She’s a witch, she can’t die or anything.”

            “Can too.”

            “Can not, Jen I’m not getting soaked to save a witch.”

            “It’ll take two seconds, wear a coat.”

            “Lost it.”

            “Sa-am.”

            “What?” I glanced around the kitchen, turning so many times in my hunt for a bribe that the phone wire was soon wrapped around my waist.

            “I’ll give you a cookie.” There was a pause at the end of the line.

            “MUM! I’m going to Jen’s!

            “In this weather?”

            “Yup! See you soon, Je-” The line cut in his haste to race over, and I smiled to myself as I reached for the biscuit tin.

            Three minutes later, Sam and I were standing on the banks of the stream donning wellys, pack-a-macs and waterproof hats, feeling like Paddington Bears as we nibbled on our biscuits and squinted through the rain at the Old Lady’s home.

            “The light’s always on.”

            “So?”

            “I don’t know.”

            I had planned some remarkable escapade to save the Old Lady from whatever demon was causing her illness, but Sam was carrying on with the witch business, and I was no longer certain.

            “Just come anyway, Sam, I’ll give you another cookie when we get back,” I said, tugging his sleeve. He grinned with an almost full set of baby teeth.

            “How do we get over?”

            The river seemed monstrous to us back then, deep as any respectable chasm, wide as twenty oceans strung together.  We resolved to make a bridge out of the spare wood in dad’s garage, but the planks were too heavy, and we were forbidden to go in the garage, anyway. In the end, with considerable effort, we dragged a garden bench that had been stored away for the winter right up to the bank and pushed it in.

We were able to walk across with the water barely wetting the ankles of our wellingtons, and were transported in to a land where the grass reached our waists and nettles lay in waiting, the tiniest brush causing thatches of red bumps to riddle our exposed hands.

I shied away when we came face to face with the gaping mouth of the house. I looked at Sam, his nose and chin dripping with rain. He raised his eyebrows at me.

“Well?”

I wanted to say that I didn’t wwaannnaaa, but instead I raised my tiny fist and knocked upon the door, dark and swollen with damp and age, it rang almost noiselessly. Sam pushed, and at length, the door gradually eased open enough for us to squeeze through.

“Shall we go in?” I whispered, and Sam led the way.

The house was worse on the inside. Vines had curled their way through the dust clouded windows and up damp ridden walls. Light fittings dangled on uninsulated wires and not one had even a flickering bulb at its end. We wandered in to a cavernous hall with no less than three doors on either side. The silence was punctuated with the smattering of rain upon the roof.

“There’s a light on under that door,” I said, pointing. Neither of us moved. My feet felt weighted, as if I’d fall through the floor if I stood still much longer.

“Go on then,” Sam said, and pushed me forwards. I stumbled.

“You go!” I said.

“No, you.”

“You’re the boy.”

“And you’re the girl. Go.”

I conceded with bitter mumblings, it had been my idea, after all. I thought about calling the Old Lady to see if she was okay without having to face her, but I realised, at that moment, that I didn’t know her name. I’d never thought to ask, and had not an inkling of what it could be. To me, she was just Old Lady.

I knocked upon the door, unlike before it rang loud enough to make my knees tremble. There was no answer.

“Miss?” I called, and knocked again, harder this time.

“Maybe she’s out?” Sam said.

“Nuh-uh, never seen her go further than the stream, not once. Hasn’t got it in her.” I grasped the ornate wooden handle and turned it. This house could have been fantastic, once.

I pushed at the door and it inched open. Sam and I had to push with all our might until a gap that we could just slide through was formed.

I went through first, and though my memory is sometimes foggy, I’ll never forget that room. Its image is seared into my brain.

The smell was the first thing that struck me; a dull stench that assaulted the senses, the reek of poor health, emphasized by claustrophobic conditions. I thought she must have been keeping chickens in there.

It was almost bare, that room, white walls stained grey, a lone tea table that sat in the middle and a yellowed sofa, laden with blankets pressed up against the back wall facing a window framed by frayed and faded daisy pattered curtains that fluttered gently with a breeze that seeped through the cracks.

You could see right in to our back garden from that window.

The blankets stirred, as if a creature that had lain dormant for years had awoken. I backed up against the door as Sam shuffled through, he wrapped his hand around mine.

I tiptoed further in to the room, but couldn’t move far due to Sam’s grip, far enough, though, for a new perspective. I reeled.

The Old Lady was gazing up at me through a gap in her cocoon of quilts with eyes of what could have been brightest blue but were clouded and milky with cataracts. Her face was ridden with liver spots and her hollow cheeks pink with clusters of burst blood vessels. Folds of papery skin partially veiled her eyes and looked as if it had been draped haphazardly over a makeshift skull, tufts of wiry grey hair tumbled around her head.

A while I stood there, transfixed by this woman’s stare as she breathed, until her eyelids fluttered, and were closed.

“Um… hello?” I said. Upon there being no response I reached out a tentative arm and gently shook the covers. “Do you think she’s dead?” I asked Sam. He shrugged and released my hand to begin clapping a tune in her face.

“Oi!” I shouted, pushing Sam away, he scowled at me. “I’m going to get mum and dad. Stay here.”

“Why should I stay here?”

“I’m a faster runner than you,” I said, and stuck out my tongue before racing out of the room, out of the house and in to the fresh air. I paused for a second to appreciate it, breathing it deeply, filling my lungs with it, and I was off again, a feeling of dread began to creep upon me.

It wasn’t so far from house to house, really, but when your legs are short and the ground is slippery with mud, running takes its toll.

The nettles whipped and stung my hands as I sprinted through the garden. Just before I reached the crude bridge I slipped on the back and skidded in to the river.

The chill water swallowed me immediately, I could barely stand. The water almost reached my shoulders and the current was dragging me backwards. With all my effort, I lunged for the bench and wrapped my arms around one of the slats, hauling myself up.

I may have been swimming before, but I still maintain that I have never been more drenched in my life. My coat streamed waterfalls, my feet were encased in some sort of miniature wellington pond, and my plaits were plastered to the side of my face.

I continued to run, pausing for seconds only when I slipped, once again, in the liquefied dirt. As soon as I was in range of the house, I began to shout. The rain drowned me out even as it lashed my face.

I wrenched open the back door and fell inside. My mother was stricken, almost comically so, to see her daughter soaked, chilled to the bone and spattered head to toe with mud.

“Jenny! What have-”

“Mummy, the Old Lady’s not a witch, I swear,” I gasped, feeling the need to explain.

“I’ve always said so, now what-”

“She’s not waking up! Me and Sam went over and she’s all wrapped up. I think she’s dead!”

Mum hesitated, gazing at me with a kind of sceptical suspicion, as if I might have been The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Then, she grabbed her purse and ran out of the door without a word.

I followed desperately, unable to keep up with my running mother as she skipped over rabbit holes and hurdled the Twenty Oceans, ignoring the bench altogether.

When I finally arrived, Sam had been herded out of the room and was sitting with his back against the wall in the hallway. I poked my head through the door.

“Is she dead?” I asked of my mother, who was kneeling beside the Old Lady, her phone on her lap.

“No, honey, she’s not dead, just tired. You should go home.” I nodded, but didn’t leave. I sat in the hall with Sam until the house lit up with flashing lights.

Two men and a woman burst through the door, and mum directed them to the Old Lady.

After much kerfuffle, the Old Lady was rolled away on a large metal contraption, a mass wrapped in foil that did not stir. I called out to a man in a blue cap.

“Is she dead?” I asked. She certainly looked dead, sleeping people aren’t quite so still.

“Naw, she’s just fine,” said the man, with a suspiciously winning smile, as he followed the Old Lady out.

“Cause she’s a witch,” came a whisper in my ear.

I turned to Sam and pushed him right over.

“Jennifer!” Mum cried, and picked me up just as I was swinging my arm for a well-aimed right hook. “We’re going home. Right now.”

“But what about Miss Wasserface? Can I see her?”

“Her name is Ms Dean,” mum said, “and I think she’d appreciated it if there weren’t bickering children at her bedside.”

“But mu-um.”

“No means no, come on now.”

As she hoisted me up, I wrapped my arms around her neck, buried my face in her shoulder and wept. My hat had fallen off and my sodden hair fell between my trembling lips along with a cocktail of rain and salty tears. I wasn’t sure why I was crying, but I couldn’t stop.

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