“Ignoble Deeds”

It is, alas, chiefly the evil emotions that are able to leave their photographs on surrounding scenes and objects and whoever heard of a place haunted by a noble deed, or of beautiful and lovely ghosts revisiting the glimpses of the moon?        – Algernon H. Blackwood

“I’ll not be gone long, Mum. I promise. Just a few days. Three or four.”
 
You can hang on. It’s important.
 
Lila sat by the hospice bed, her thumb absently stroking the parchment skin on the back of her mother’s hand. Her mum had been vital, energetic, dropping hints about men and weddings and grandchildren. Then almost overnight, it seemed, she had become this husk of a person propped up on a mountain of pillows. That she might die seemed inconceivable. That she would die was inevitable.
 
I’m not ready to lose her yet.
 
“Do you have to go, Lila? Will you come straight back?” Her mother had been a teacher, able to reduce a class of rowdy children to silence with one perfectly-pitched sentence. Now her voice had the quaver of the very old or very sick. It broke Lila’s heart.
 
The lump formed in Lila’s throat again, that feeling of having swallowed a snooker ball whole. She tried to swallow it, but the ache turned into pain and she couldn’t shake it.
 
“Here, let me plump those pillows for you.” If she were doing something, she might be able to fight the feeling; her mum might not see the tears in her eyes. “They’ll take good care of you.”
 
They know I’ll have plenty to say if they don’t.
 
“And I’ve brought a new bottle of squash, and magazines, and those fruit sweets you like when your mouth gets dry from the meds. Aunt Zoe says she’ll pop in too, so you’ll have a visitor. And Father Timothy normally comes in at the weekends, doesn’t he?”
 
Her mother’s head barely moved, but Lila had seen the negation.
 
“Doesn’t he come any more?”
 
“I told him not to. You know why.”
 
Lila sighed. Her mother was wrong, but she’d never convince her otherwise. “But he was such a comfort to you after Dad died.”
 
It had been hard. Lila had only been thirteen, and the pension from his work didn’t cover their needs. But they’d pulled together. They’d always been close, she and her mum. Her dad had seen to that.
 
“It’s important that I go. But I’ll only be a few days. And I’ll have something marvellous to tell you when I get back.”
 
“Is it about your dad?” It was almost uncanny how she knew.
 
Lila considered a moment. She didn’t want to tell her mother what she was up to. But she had always been a lousy liar.
 
“Yes, Mum. It’s about Dad. I’ll phone you, okay? Promise.”

 

*

 
Lila camped outside the gates for two nights to be sure of being among the first visitors. Wrapped in her blankets, with her supplies of food and water, she felt like a kid queuing for front row at a rock concert. Her dad had died here. There was something she needed to do.

To read more of “Ignoble Deeds,”
pick up a copy of Quantum Zoo.

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