The day Aunt Dot died had been a day like any other really. It was early summer, or late spring, depending on how you looked at it. Warm enough to give the tube trains that unique aroma of slightly sweaty bodies mixed with years of discarded food detritus and yesterday’s copy of The Metro stuffed behind the seats.
Thankfully Janice usually managed to avoid the tube. Five years of working in London had taught her that avoidance was the best tactic for coping with London Underground. Every morning, her train spewed out its over-packed contents at Victoria station and Janice made the dash across the station concourse with hundreds of other frantic travellers. A quick side step and a swift negotiation around the smokers hunched over their post-commute fix at the taxi rank, then she was able to set her course past Buckingham Palace, through Green Park and up Bond Street to Hanover Square.
Janice could have chosen any number of routes to get her to work, but from early November through to Christmas, the windows of Tiffany’s were irresistible. There was just something about the entire length of Bond Street actually, a certain mystique and aloofness that Janice found magnetic.
On the day Aunt Dot died, it was shoes that caught Janice’s attention. Bright yellow Swedish Hasbeens. They looked so pretty and odd, Janice was sure Dot would adore them. With their wooden clog like soles and pretty leather embossed straps, they straddled the line between funky and frumpy and would need a certain confidence to carry them off. Janice quickly snapped a pic of them on her phone, mentally promised to send it to Dot later and hurried on to the office.
The day passed in the usual blur of dull meetings, duller spreadsheets and the usual condescending, slightly offensive ‘banter’ her boss liked to throw around the office. Just to prove he was one of the lads and not the under-achieving, overgrown undergraduate drop out he really was.
She managed to escape at lunchtime and headed over to Liberty’s for a quick fix of the most expensive haberdashery department in London. Janice could barely sew on a button, but the row of Liberty print fabrics in colours drawn from the far flung corners of the old British Empire soothed Janice like a lullaby to her senses. It was her secret little Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
The call came at 3pm. Janice had just finished assembling yet another laborious PowerPoint presentation when her phone started vibrating. Janice answered immediately, glad of the distraction, only just registering her mum’s name on the screen of her phone.
“Janice. It’s me. Mum”
“What’s up mum? Is dad ok? What’s wrong?” Janice could sense immediately that something was up. For a start, her mum never called her during the daytime and certainly never during work hours.
“It’s Dot darling…” Janice’s mum started to say, before the tears that Janice could already hear in her mum’s voice started to fall.
“What about Dot mum? Mum? Mum! What’s happened?” Janice could feel the panic rising inside her, her eyes wide with frightened anticipation and the prickle of fear starting to work its way up her spine. Dot was the big sister substitute Janice had always wished for. She was the fun aunt that you always read about in sassy, coming of age novels. Dot was a friend, a confident, and a safe haven. It had never mattered that Dot was older than her mum; Janice had enjoyed spending time with her for as long as she could remember. Dot had been the family’s go-to babysitter from when Sarah and Mark, Janice’s older twin siblings had been babies. When Sarah and Mark embarked on their weekly whirlwind of swimming, judo, running club and music lessons, Janice would sit and drink tea with Dot in her chaotic kitchen instead.
Dot had always been there, as a never aging, never judging, and always-welcoming constant in Janice’s life. Her mind froze, refusing to think the worst but suspecting that the worst was exactly what had happened.
“She’s dead darling. Dot’s dead” whispered the broken voice of Janice’s mum.
“But…what? How? When? Are you sure mum?” begged Janice, frantically hoping her mum had made a terrible mistake. Maybe she’s drunk, Janice thought. That’s it. Mum is drunk and confused and there’s nothing wrong with Dot.
“Mum have you been drinking?” Janice asked.
“Well your dad’s just poured me a Balvenie, but…Wait a minute! I’m not drunk you know Janice. This is real, honey. Dot is…” Janice’s mum broke down in tears again and Janice could hear her gulping back the sobs, trying to regain her composure.
Janice could picture her, sitting at the oversized farmhouse style table in the middle of their family kitchen. Her dark auburn hair would be piled up on her head, held almost magically in place with a Biro. She would be twirling any escaped loose ringlets of hair with her right hand, a habitual nervous response that only the family recognised. An effortlessly stylish dresser, her mum looked comfortable in whatever she choose to wear, whether it was wellies and a waterproof or heels and a feather boa.
“I’m sorry mum, it’s just…are you sure?” Janice muttered, her cheeks burning with the shame of offending her mum.
“Yes, we’re sure darling. I’m sorry. I just wanted you to know, I didn’t want to wait until this evening.” Replied her mum as kindly as she could.
Janice sat, dumbstruck, the tears silently tracking their way down her cheeks. It felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room. “Okay, thanks mum. For letting me know I mean. I’ll call you later. I just need to…” Janice’s words caught in her throat, if she didn’t get off the phone soon, she was going to vomit. Janice took a deep breath and said goodbye to her mum. “I’ll call you later mum. Love you.” Janice’s words trailed off, floating on a swell of sadness that threatened to overwhelm her. She slowly put her phone on her desk and covered her face with her hands.
How could Dot be gone? How on earth could that be possible? Janice glanced at her phone and accessed up her recent calls list. Sure enough, her mum’s number was right at the top of the list. She hadn’t imagined it unfortunately. Janice had a vivid imagination and could spend hours running through scenarios in her head, rehearsing conversations and imaging the outcomes. One day, she might just put all those mad ramblings down on paper and give everyone a good laugh. But this was one scenario that had never occurred to her. This wasn’t her imagination at work.
Dot was dead and Janice suddenly found herself physically craving her home-town of Speymouth. She needed a dose of the hills and an injection of sea air. She needed to see her parents and stand in Dot’s kitchen, see Dot’s things and say goodbye to her best friend.