My Name is Eva

My Name is Eva

Suzanne Goldring



In memory of Nora and Tiny Wall,

whose tender letters survived

and

with thanks to Lyndsay Sellars and

Betty Talbot, who gave me tantalising

snippets about their wartime exploits.





Part I





Quiet! Tall gin mixer required for full menu (3,6)





1





Mrs T-C, 6 October 2016





We Never Have Fish





Mrs Evelyn Taylor-Clarke, Evie to loved ones long gone, Eva for a brief but special time and Hilda, during her temporary stay in the nursing home (where staff always used the first Christian name recorded on patient notes), is thinking. Danielle, catering manager at the Forest Lawns Care Home, will be back again soon with her clipboard of menus, asking her to decide what she would like for lunch.

‘What will you have today, Mrs T-C?’ she’ll say, tapping her board with her ready pen, impatient for a decision.

The care home caters very well for its residents, with three options of main course every day for lunch and two choices at teatime, which Evelyn still prefers to call supper.

Should she choose the chicken or the fish today? Fish or chicken? What should it be? Evelyn knows she had fish yesterday, cod mornay it was, with a lovely cheese sauce and mashed potatoes. The day before she chose smoked haddock with a soft-poached egg and spinach. Today, there is a choice of fish pie, vegetarian lasagne or roast chicken, but it might be helpful if she tells Danielle she wants fish again and complains that she hasn’t had any for a very long time.

Pat is coming again this afternoon and there might be more questions. She has been turning up with questions ever since she began preparing to put the estate on the market. She never had any questions while Evelyn still lived at Kingsley Manor – in fact, she hardly ever visited – but that was before she had power of attorney and thought she knew what was best.

The drawing room is quiet this morning; only a couple of other residents have settled themselves in the high-seated, winged armchairs after breakfast. Evelyn shakes her Daily Telegraph to straighten the pages and turns to the back. She always reads the obituaries first, although most of her acquaintances are long gone – she has outlived so many. Then she turns to the weather forecast and the crossword. She studies the clues, both those across and those down, turning the newly sharpened pencil in her fingers. She likes to keep her pencils dagger-sharp. Yesterday, she asked Sarah, the Forest Lawns activities organiser, for a supply of pencils with rubbers. That’s what she needs, sharp pencils with erasers attached to the end, just like they all had when she was training in the war. Doesn’t anyone use them any more? So much better when you want to correct a mistake. But it wasn’t a mistake, was it? Very little in Evelyn’s life has been a mistake, apart from the one she can never forget.

With a quick light hand, despite her arthritis, Evelyn fills in the clues with pencil. Really, Mr Thursday is hardly challenging; even the anagrams are easily solved. She will have to pretend again, so once she has completed the puzzle, she finds a pen in her patent leather handbag and then scribbles over the pencilled words in each white square of the grid with black ink, changing the letters so they no longer link up in a tidy and comprehensible pattern; they are no longer words, just nonsense.

On Monday, she noticed Fay, one of the regular nurses, glancing at the paper after she had finished rewriting the words in the puzzle. She looked at the crossword, frowned, then gave Evelyn a pitying smile and said, ‘Well done, Mrs T-C. You’re still keeping your hand in, I see.’ And Evelyn smiled back, but her smile was for herself, for her own amusement, at the thought that Fay would never realise she had sprinkled the squares with the odd letter from the Cyrillic alphabet, and nor did she notice when Evelyn occasionally popped in a word or two of German.

Last week, waking from a nap in the lounge, Evelyn had decided to have fun when Mary brought her a cup of afternoon tea. ‘Danke, liebling,’ she said. ‘Du bist sehr gut für mich.’ And she had enjoyed seeing the woman’s look of confusion and relished hearing the words she spoke to her colleague standing by the tea trolley, pouring more cups for other residents slumped in their armchairs. ‘Bless her,’ Mary had said. ‘She must be dreaming she’s back in the Old Country.’ And the two women cast fond looks at her as they poured and stirred the tea and placed mugs in the shaking hands of those who were unsteady with cups and saucers.

And now Evelyn hears the rattle of the morning trolley, bearing coffee, biscuits and the post. The Forest Lawns Care Home is very predictable and every hour of the day has a function. Wednesday morning it was chapel and every Thursday afternoon a young physiotherapist in Lycra leggings appears in the drawing room and encourages everyone to try some simple armchair exercises. ‘Stretch out, stretch up and flex those toes,’ she repeats, as they follow her instructions with trembling limbs. For those residents whose memories are unreliable, routine is comforting, reassuring. It helps them to feel safe in an increasingly uncertain world, which shrinks day by day until only the familiar surrounds them.

Evelyn’s neighbour, Phyllis, is awake in her armchair and is turning the pages of Good Housekeeping, the October edition, full of recipes for puddings and preserves made with autumn fruits. Phyllis is humming ‘We’ll Meet Again’ as she flicks over the pages with a dampened forefinger. She is quite happy, although Evelyn is tiring of that much-repeated tune and wishes she would hum something else or stop humming altogether. It might stop if she snatched the magazine away. Phyllis has been pawing that issue for two weeks now and can’t possibly remember reading any of the articles. As she says herself, quite cheerfully, ‘I can start reading it and forget what it’s all about by the time I get to the bottom of the page.’

But Evelyn doesn’t take the magazine away, much as she would like to. Instead, she observes Phyllis, just as she observes other residents whose minds are not as sharp as they once were. They come and go, these neighbours; some disappear in the night when an ambulance calls, never to return. But however short their period of residence at the home, she can remember all their names, though she doubts any of them could recall hers. Over there, across the room is Maureen Philips, a round rosy apple of a woman, who has an appetite for sweet things. She will immediately eat any treats brought by visitors, complaining that she hasn’t had anything to eat at all that day, and is always determined to win the chocolate bar prize in musical bingo. Near the fireplace sits Horace Wilson, in his dark blue blazer and flannels, telling anyone who will listen that he is going home in the morning; and Wilf Stevens dozes, then often looks up from his knees and asks if anyone has taken Molly out for her morning walk yet.

Evelyn watches them all, storing the signs of vagueness, their slack confusion, for future use. Take note, Evelyn, take note, she tells herself. See how Maureen pauses before she answers questions, look how Wilf is proudly showing his pocket watch to the nurse again, telling her it was awarded to him for a lifetime of service. Horace can’t choose what he will have for lunch and asks again and again if he had breakfast today. Repetition and indecision are your defence, Evelyn. But she thinks she won’t let herself decline completely. She will still have her hair set when the hairdresser calls round once a week, she will dress with care, as far as she is able, but maybe she will let a button or two miss their buttonholes, sometimes wear odd shoes or even misapply her lipstick. No, that would be going too far – as long as she is able, she will colour her lips and her Cupid’s bow, less defined than it once was when it was described as the ‘kiss of an angel’. No, lipstick will be the last thing to go.





2





14 October 1939



My dearest darling Hugh,

previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ..54 next