He pulled the car to a halt in the yard. Unclipping the seat belt and opening the door he jumped out, leaning over the driver’s seat he grabbed the strap of his rucksack and hauled it over the back. Slinging it casually over one shoulder he strode to the back door. Stepping into the large, warm kitchen he was surprised to find only the dog that left her basket by the range and with a tail wagging, trotted across the tiled floor to greet him.
“Are you on your own girl?” he asked the dog as he bent to tickle the back of her ear “Where’s Mum?”
He put his head around the sitting room door. The smell of the wax polish that was always applied to the wooden furniture on a Friday hit him with the welcome of home. The room was though, unoccupied.
Where was she, he thought. Not like her to be out when she knew he was due home.
Since starting his job in the city, he had been staying in a flat share all week, returning on Friday afternoon for the weekend. In the six months since it had begun, she had always been there waiting when he had arrived home. He wondered what was different today.
The dog followed behind playing ‘warm or cold’.
“Am I getting warm?” he said as he checked in each room. Returning to the kitchen he touched the teapot on the table, it was still warm. He stood at the sink spotting her down the end of the garden. Her feet were apart as she stood in the vegetable drills. Planting, he thought. She was lost in her own world.
She cleared a stray hair from her face with the back of a gloved hand as she straightened up. That has got to hurt, he thought, all that bending. He also realised the garden was one of her greatest pleasures. She could lose herself there for hours.
He tapped on the window to get her attention. Showing no surprise, she waved back, he was expected after all. She beckoned him out.
“It’s too soon for me to get cleaned up.” she called “Come out and get some spring sun.”
“It’s freezing out here, that sun is very watery.” He replied.
“Come here and give your Mum a hug. I hope you haven’t gone all city-soft on me.” She opened her arms wide.
Her wool cardigan smelt of a mix of cool air, earth and her. Its slight scratchiness brushing his cheek as she put her arms around his neck being mindful not to touch her earth covered gloves to his clean work clothes.
“Great to see you Mum.” He spoke into her ear, squeezing her tight. “You are early with the shorts this year aren’t you?” He said with a laugh, as he stepped away and surveyed her legs. Sturdy walking boots and chunky socks, just visible at her ankle. Remnants of her summer bronze still remained on the long slim extremities topped off with belted denim shorts the turn ups of which reached mid- thigh.
“Not at all, a good tan begins in spring you know.” She laughed softly. “I will be done here in a few minutes, only a few of these left to get in and a quick sprinkle of water. If you’re going back in, pop the kettle on.” she said over her shoulder, as she returned to the job in hand.
“Will do, see you in a minute.” Smiling, he turned towards the house.
He walked back up the garden, noticing the flourishes of colour from the daffodils and crocus that were swaying to and fro in the breeze in their little clumps dotted around the grass. He remembered how they had planted them together all those years ago when they had first moved into the house.
Crossing the threshold back into the kitchen, the warm air wrapping around him, he removed his jacket, draping it over the back of a dining chair. He will be told off for that, he thought, she hated things being left around.
He picked up the kettle and took it over to the sink, holding the spout under the tap. As it filled he looked out at her watering her plants.
The kettle overflowed as he watched. He tipped out the excess and set it on the hot plate.
She clapped her hands to remove the excess muck and collected up the tools. She had sown enough for today and was looking forward to the warm kitchen and the catch up.
“Comfortable are we?” She said with a smile as she entered the house. He was going through the opened mail on the kitchen table.
“I see you got the hot tub guys around again, was it for maintenance?” He looked up from the papers.
“The thermo-thingy was broken but it’s fixed now, piping hot.” She bent to loosen her boots and then shook them off with a flourish. She moved towards him in her stocking feet.
“Come here for me to feel you.” She wrapped her arms around him. “As I suspected you need to be fattened up. I hope you stay longer than last time.”
“Staying two nights this time.” He replied.
She pulled the wool jumper straight off as she walked towards the dresser. The peach coloured top underneath rode up to show the caramel colour on her back. Her skin held its colour throughout the year. He did not see a bra strap or even a sports bra. Unusual, he thought, hoping she didn’t go braless when the maintenance men were there.
She turned bearing crockery and he was stunned to see the braless look really suited his Mother. The boiling whistle broke his thoughts. He made the tea as she lay the dishes out on the table and began to cut thick slices from the bread that had been cooling under a cloth on a wooden board.
“There’s butter and jam here.” She pointed with the knife to the china jam pot and butter dish on the table. “If you want cheese it’s still in the fridge.”
He retrieved the box of cheeses and placed it on the floral cloth and sat in his usual spot.
“Oh, hang on a minute.” She rushed across the room and stretched her arm up to a high shelf, returning with a jar. “Try this, it’s a chutney I made with the surplus apples, it’s lovely with cheese.”
They ate in silence for a few minutes. He was hungry having left work without lunch. Her appetite gained from working in the fresh air.
“There’s nothing like your cooking you know.” He laid his hand over hers. She smiled at the compliment, catching his thumb and stroking it with her own.
“Tell me you didn’t.” He said.
“Didn’t wear that top when they came to fix the hot tub. It’s lovely but somewhat revealing.” Shooting her a mildly disapproving look.
“You are funny, exactly like your father. Boob mad but never wanted his woman to show any cleavage.” She smiled softly as she said this.
“I think all men are the same.” He said thoughtfully. “Anyway, I hope you have made room for someone special in your life Mum.”
She made no reply.
They chatted amiably and danced around each other in the kitchen as they tidied the things away. The dog watched every move, hoping for a titbit from the table.
“The walk in shower is finished, come and see.” She held her hand out, he took it. “I think you will approve.”
She hurried him to the end of the hall into her bedroom.
The room was transformed with the walk thru from bedroom to bathroom, he was indeed impressed. A glass shower partition and marble everywhere, her clothing hung drying here and there. She plucked them down as she walked.
“You can walk from sink to loo to shower. Something I was always going on about and now finally, I have it.” Excitedly she pointed out the tiling and fixtures, all the stuff she had researched and dreamed of for years.
“I think this will be the final house for me. It is just perfect.” Her expansive grin reflected her pride in her home.