Gwen put away the stapler, pens, stenographer’s pad neatly into the top drawer of her desk. She opened the bottom drawer and pulled out the typewriter cover. She locked the drawer and put the key into her bag.
She got up and walked over to the Superintendent’s office door. She knocked briefly and entered.
“I’m shutting down and heading home. Do you need anything?”
Alicia looked up from the file she was reading.
“No, Gwen, I’ll see you in the morning.”
Gwen paused and said “Don’t work too late. You have a tendency, you know.”
“Thanks, Gwen. I need to hear to be reminded. Thank you. You head on home, now. I’ll shut down in a bit myself.”
Gwen turned away and heard Alicia say, “Gwen. I don’t thank you enough for doing a great job. I know it’s hard and I wish it was easier for you.”
“It’s ok, Alicia. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be familiar. It seems it was such a long time ago when we… we..”, she broke off and bit her trembling lip.
“Don’t worry about being familiar. There’s no one else here. Don’t hesitate to let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
“Yes. Thank you. There’s not much anyone can do for now. We…I.. just have to deal with it.”
“Well, goodnight, Gwen.”
“Goodnight. See you tomorrow. Don’t work late. Get on home and get some dinner. A proper dinner.”
Gwen shut the door behind her and shrugged into her coat. She picked up her bag and left.
She hurried out with quick, short steps and turned left. She joined the crowds on their way down the Embankment. The tourists’ stroll contrasted with the daily workers heading with purpose to the Embankment Station. She scanned her card at the tube station and headed down the escalators to the platform. The train pulled in with a rush of compressed air and hissing doors. She stepped in and found a seat and closed her eyes, knowing that this was short-lived relief.
About ten minutes later, she stepped out of the train and out of Tower Hill Station. Back on the street, she picked up the pace and arrived at the platform just as the doors of her next train opened. This one was more crowded and Gwen could only lean against the steel frame as the train pulled away towards Barking.
She paused at the door of the run-down townhome, her key in her hand. Finally, she put the key and unlocked the door.
“Is that you, Gwennie?”, said a voice out of the murky room. The voice sounded fragile and shaky.
“Yes. I’m back. Did you have your lunch? I left you the ham sandwich.”
There was no reply. Gwen shook her coat off, laid her bag aside and stepped out of her shoes and into a pair of slippers.
She switched on the light.
“Why don’t you turn the light on, Mum? Why must you sit in the dark?”
“I don’t need it. Oh, Gwennie! What will I do with light? The expense…”
“I think I can afford to pay the electricity bill, Mom. You say this everyday. Really, why must you be so tiresome and.. and.. oh I hate this martyrdom!”
“Oh Gwen, you work so hard and you shouldn’t have to. You were the prettiest girl.”
“Yes. Mum. That’s the problem, your problem. If you’d not been so focused on my looks I could have learned something in school and made it to University. We wouldn’t be stuck in this part of town with you not being able to turn on the light!”
Sniffing and sobbing, Mrs Lacey reached out her hand towards Gwen.
“Oh my dear, don’t talk to me so.”
“Oh, let it go, Mom. I have to take care of dinner and I have to get out of these work clothes first.”
Mrs Lacey continued to sniffle delicately as Gwen returned in jeans and a t-shirt. She turned on the gas and set about putting dinner together. It was a simple one. Beans, some steamed vegetables and sausage. She sliced a piece of bread, one for her and one for her mother. They had water to wash it all down.
Dinner was eaten in silence. Gwen cleaned up and picked up a book to read. Her mother sat quietly in her chair. Gwen tried to concentrate on the book, aware of the disapproving presence.
“They called from the hospital today.”
Gwen snapped her book shut and sat up.
“What? Why didn’t you tell me earlier? What did they say?”
“He twiddled his fingers today, they said. I don’t know why they would call for that.”
“Oh, but that’s good! It means he’s responding! I’m going to call them.”
“Oh Gwennie! Why will you keep on hoping?”
“Because, Mom, without hope we may all as well be dead!”, Gwen snapped back as she picked up the phone.
“Hello, yes, my name is Lacey, Gwen Lacey. You had called and left a message about Mr. Lacey. Yes. I’ll hold.”
Her face was impassive, only the fingers tapping on the surface of the sideboard gave her away.
“Yes, hi, this Gwen Lacey asking about my father. You had left a message. Yes. Uh huh. Uh huh. So what does that mean? I see, yes. Well, I’ll take any sign of progress. Thank you very much, for the call and all that you are doing for my father. Bye.”
She put the phone down and sat down facing her mother.
“It seems he made a number of movements today. They feel this is the most progress he’s shown in a long time. They are hopeful this is the beginning of something good. But it’s too early to say.”
Gwen’s mother burst out into sobs again.
Gwen picked up her book and stared at the page she had been reading for the last thirty minutes.