Empty Hands – Short Story Excerpt

This short story was first published in
Wooing Mr Wickham introduced by Michele Roberts (Honno Press – November, 2011)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that old age brings fitful sleep. Elizabeth Bennett rarely sleeps soundly. She dreams, if you can call it a dream, that she has something precious in her hands that she is trying to hold on to, though it keeps slipping away. Just before dawn she becomes convinced that she has a firm grip on it, but then she wakes with empty hands and a lingering sense of loss, her fingers clenched in useless fists.

She sits on the side of her bed and flexes her fingers gingerly. Her left hand is slightly less contorted so she uses that one to bend back each of the fingers of her right hand – very gently, one at a time. It is agony at first but as she moves her hands the pain eases a little. She stretches and rubs her hands together for a while until she can comfortably grip the edge of the bed and push herself into a standing position. She lets her breath catch up with her for a moment as she contemplates her next move.

The nurse bustles in. “Morning dearie, need a hand to the loo?”
“No thank you. I’m on my way.”
“You sure?”
“I’m fine. Thank you.”

She treads carefully, as though her feet might shatter if they encounter the floor too abruptly. She negotiates the dressing table with its bruising edges and escapes into the bathroom. It’s decorated in the same insistently cheerful floral style as the bedroom. She doesn’t remember what her favourite colour is but she is quite sure that it is not yellow. The mindless optimism of yellow makes her want to bang her head against the wall. But she knows that they mean well – her carers, her captors. This prison is not of their making – their culpability is limited to the decor.

Copyright Rebecca Rouillard 2011

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