The market was stilled, the stalls soulless. Sheets of yesterday’s news blew around in the chilled wind, like tumbleweed in a western ghost town. As the clock of St Martin’s church struck the hour of 5am, a solitary, stooped figure emerged from the shadows. Annie was bone weary. Icy blasts of cold autumn air had whistled through the bus garage, her refuge, resulting in a fitful nights sleep.
Stopping to rest Annie straightened her back, grimacing at the pain that racked her arthritic body. With gnarled fingers she fumbled to tighten the string around her waist. String was all that kept her together, body and soul. The buttons off the old tweed coat were lost a long time ago. It was all she had left from then….
She hadn’t been able to cope; it had all been too much. The blood, his dead eyes staring. The shotgun by his side, so much blood. THAT woman, turning up at his funeral like the cat that got the cream. Fur coat, high heels, dripping with jewellery, not even the decency to wear black! It had become clear then where the money had gone. To love and cherish her, he had vowed. Annie closed her eyes fast against the memory.
“Mornin’ Annie” the gruff voice of Archie the road sweeper brought her back to reality. Annie nodded her head to acknowledge his greeting and scurried away like a frightened rabbit dragging her life in a battered trolley behind her.
Strange woman was old Annie, Archie thought to himself, as his sweeping broom swept through the quiet of the morning.
William watched the scene unfold from where he stood, transfixed, in the shelter of a doorway. His heart beat so loudly he was sure it would betray his presence. Clad in his Barbour jacket and tweed cap, looking every bit the country gent, he shifted his feet nervously. He had been looking for so long, so long, could it be? Stepping out from the shadows, he cried out,
Annie froze. Could it be after all these years? No it was her old mind playing tricks; he’d been just a lad, but even so, something in the voice.
“Mam! Mam! It’s me, William.”
Annie slowly turned round, as if caught in time.
“My William? She whispered.
“Yes Mam.” William recoiled at the site of her. They had warned him, tried to prepare him, but this….? How could this pathetic creature be his mother?
Annie was to awash with memories to see his discomfort. Penniless, lost, grieving and betrayed, she had sought solace in the bottle. Days had been lost in an alcoholic haze.
Except THAT day. That one fateful day when they had come; monsters with well meaning voices, false smiles, saying it was all for the best. As they had wrenched him from her breast, she had begged and pleaded,
“Please don’t take my boy! Please he’s all I’ve got. He’s MY son!” Through a veil of tears she had seen the look of fear on his dirt smudged face, his outstretched arms….Heard his cries,
“Mam! Mam! I’m scared Mam. Help me Mam, help me!”
With a piercing scream she had flew at them like a wildcat, clawing and biting. The enemy had won the battle; she was left alone, bereft.
Annie had left that night with nothing but the clothes she had stood up in and her faithful tweed coat.
William saw the silent tears glistening on Annie’s face. The years fell away. He was once more, that tousled blonde-haired little boy with the grazed knees running home to his Mam.
The big boys had been waiting for him after school, taunting him.
“Your Mam’s a drunk.
“Got no dad have yer’? Shot himself he did.”
“Blew his head right off! Didn’t he Blondie.”
It was big Ginger that’d tripped him up. He hadn’t let them see him cry. His Mam had hugged him, squeezed him tight and bathed his knees. Made him a whole plate of bread and dripping!
Suddenly nothing else mattered. She was HIS Mam. She needed him now. He held out his arms and whilst the market woke up around them, mother and son were reunited.
A smile of satisfaction crept over Archie’s’ face. He had done the right thing when that man from the Salvation Army had shown him the photo and asked him if he knew this woman in the old tweed coat. Tears sprang into his eyes.
“Come on now Archie lad, you’re going soft,” he said chastising himself. By he’d miss old Annie.