Short Story Preview: Visiting Miss Lyon
When I signed up with Jill during Freshers’ Week, I’d just been singing The Family of Man. At that point I’d no idea the family included Miss Lyon. I was a child at eighteen, so as we arrived at Rutherford Lodge, I was glad to be back-up for Jill. Chaplain had said that in any old people’s home, visitors mattered most on Sunday afternoons. Or rather, their absence did.
The place was shabby, but with fewer spores than the bathroom on my corridor and no smells grimmer than boiled cabbage. Acutely aware of the distance that separated me from my own family, I tried to imagine being adrift – not from choice, setting off on a train with a trunk and a grant and a promise to write every week, but because no one cared. We were there for the abandoned.
Jill found some bright sparks called Lily and Ted. I was sent over to Edith, whose silent rocking was off-putting. But I talked very softly, touching her lightly on the arm – until she stopped. Which was thrilling, but not for long, because in walked Miss Lyon with her zimmer frame and a dark, leathery stare. Even before she was lowered into her armchair, she’d begun to yell. And Jill’s grin soon changed to a get me out of here expression as visiting families tried to ignore the scattergun assault. Miss Lyon was disturbed, and disturbing: “I’m going to Hell, I am!” or “It’s the fire and brimstone for me!” All accompanied by tears – not loud, but slow and steady down a George Eliot nose. Venturing near enough to say hello, I thought about placing my hand on hers but didn’t take the risk in case it jerked up and struck me. And I felt sure it would be cold as death already.
Five minutes later I followed Jill down the path to the street. A man with a lawnmower and an arm full of cuttings greeted us with a wink and a Benny Hill grin. Looking at Jill, I knew those weren’t for me. But if she was smiling at the attention, that smile soon faded.
“Someone should have warned us,” she said.