It had been almost a year since Amy and Ben had moved into their flat and they were looking forward to celebrating their first anniversary. Ben was beginning to realise that with Amy, everything was literally black or white as, bit by bit, she had replaced any wedding gifts that conflicted with the flat’s monochrome colour scheme. Neutral tableware and grey soft furnishings seemed to magically appear, and Ben’s Manchester United posters had been banished to the bathroom.
When a small parcel containing a bright blue and green knitted hat arrived in the post, being neither black nor white, Ben had assumed that was why Amy had left it on the hook above the bin, in the hope that one nudge might send it on its final journey. It was the hat’s latest journey that Ben was intrigued to know about. That, and the blond hair that was caught by a thread on the inside.
“Do hats do that?” He had asked on the morning of the hat’s arrival. “Turn up randomly in the post, stuffed into a Jiffy bag without even a note? No one we know would send us anything that wasn’t either black or white, and I can’t imagine you wearing it!” He had teased.
Amy was fastening the grey buttons on her coat ready for their monthly trip to the nursing home where her mum, Georgina, worked. “I’m as much in the dark as you,” Amy had laughed in agreement.
In the office of Cedars Nursing Home, a pile of files threatened to head for the floor as Georgina dug around for her diary. Brushing crumbs of pizza away from the pages, she spotted an entry underlined in red biro which, having met with a splash of Coke, was spreading across the paper like a bad rash.
“No! I’d forgotten they were coming this afternoon,” she said out loud just as Susie, the youngest member of staff, burst through the door, ignoring all signs not to: the plaque on the door stated, ‘Mrs. G. Rivers – Manager’. It also said, ‘Please Knock Before Entering’ for if there was one thing Georgina disliked, it was being disturbed whilst having a well-earned break.
“Lunches all done, Mrs Rivers,” Susie said, ducking to avoid a cloud of vanilla room spray.
With Susie at the end of lunches, it was likely that Amy – Georgina’s youngest daughter – was already on her way with Ben.
It seemed only last week that Georgina had enjoyed one of their regular visits, but now realised a whole month had flown by already. She had intended to give Amy something special she had found amongst a bulging carrier bag she kept in the office filing cabinet but instead, had ended up rushing to the parcel office the following day. She had a feeling that she had forgotten to include a note as to the content’s original owner.
Cedars Nursing Home saw the coming and going of many residents and occasionally an occupant would leave a memento for her, which Georgina added to the bag. Amongst her favourites was a floppy, red and yellow sunhat that had been the prized possession of Edith Simpson. The colourful hat had a bright blue ostrich feather that shimmered when it caught the breeze. In more recent years, Edith’s companion had been Georgina’s sister, Sylvia, and on warm afternoons the two would sit side by side, Sylvia mesmerised by the clacking of Edith’s knitting needles as she churned out blankets made from rainbow-coloured woollen squares.
A straightforward journey brought Amy and Ben to the nursing home on the outskirts of town. An elegant Victorian establishment, the main building lounged amongst the sprawling gardens. The couple arrived to find a deserted reception desk and as the brass bell refused to do the one job it had been given, Amy was soon tapping on a door across the hallway. Finding no answer, she pushed back the partly opened door and they stepped into the high-ceilinged office.
“No change here,” Amy said, casting a critical eye across the cluttered desk, the entire surface of which was covered in paperwork, various coloured pens minus their lids, and a bulky computer that occupied most of the space: the aged grey monitor was keeping warm under several layers of matching dust.
“Do you think mum will ever get organised?” Amy asked. “I’m surprised she can find
anything in here.”
“But I know exactly where everything is,” came a voice from behind them. Georgina had followed them through the open door. “Darlings, I hope I didn’t confuse you by sending that little parcel,” she continued, giving her daughter and Ben a welcoming hug. “I should have given you that hat when you were here last month.”
“Oh, that was from you. There was no note with it. Thank you but…I had no idea you had taken up knitting…,” Amy trailed off, looking searchingly at her mum’s face.
Georgina burst out laughing. “Goodness no! I’d be all fingers and thumbs… here, let me show you where I found the hat…you’ll remember these, Amy.”
Georgina moved aside a defunct coffee machine and, rummaging around in the filing cabinet, retrieved the tightly packed carrier bag. Several hats made a bid for freedom, having not seen the light of day for a while.
“Wow, I’d forgotten about these.” Amy stepped back in surprise, backing into Ben who was peering over her shoulder, fascinated. She bent to pick up a bright blue ostrich feather that had floated down, shimmering as it came to rest silently at her feet.
“Do you remember you weren’t allowed to play with these?” Georgina asked. She gathered up an armful of assorted hats, handing a couple to Ben.
“Whose are they?” Ben asked, turning over in his hands a smart grey trilby.
“Residents or their families have left all sorts of things over the years as a kind of memento,” Georgina replied as the three of them stood for a while admiring a shiny black bowler, several much-worn flat caps, and even a sun-bleached sombrero with a brim the size of a satellite dish.
“But why did you send me that funny little knitted hat?” Amy asked of her mum. “It looked familiar, but I couldn’t…?”
“And why was there a blond hair on the inside?” Ben cut in.
“Sweetheart, that knitted hat belonged to your Aunt Sylvia.”
Amy caught her breath. “Oh, yes, I do remember seeing it somewhere now. I must have blocked it out. But when I used to come here, I never saw her making things…even when...” Her voice grew small.
“No, she was like me in the knitting department.” Georgina took hold of her daughter’s hand and led her towards the office door. “You remember where her room was, don’t you?” She asked. “I haven’t had the strength to let another resident have it but let me show you where I found that hat.”
On the small oval sign on the right-hand side of room No 7, yellow pansies encircled the name ‘Sylvia Laing’. Georgina pushed down on the cold metal door handle and, despite the window being firmly closed, felt a breeze on her face like a soft breath as the three of them stepped inside. Amy sat on a rainbow-coloured knitted blanket that was spread carefully across the width of the bed as Georgina explained how she had come to the room late one evening, looking for some time alone with her memories. She had pulled the forgotten hat out from under the bed. Shaking off the dust, she had held it in her hands, feeling its story.
“We must have missed it when we boxed up her things,” Amy said. “How strange – it was so colourful too.”
“Sorry darling, Susie’s skills don’t stretch to cleaning under the beds,” Georgina said. “But you might remember Edith. She knitted that hat for your aunt, hoping the bright colours would bring her a bit of cheer on some of the greyer days. I saw her trying it on in the gardens: it was good to see them both laugh. I thought you might like it as your own memento.”
Before Amy and Ben set off for home, Georgina had decided it was time to take the rainbow-coloured blanket from Sylvia’s bed, had folded it carefully and given it to Ben. “In case I forget to post it,” she had said with a smile in her eyes.
The next morning Amy took the blue and green hat from the hook and carefully set it on the kitchen table.
“Look at the way the colours catch the light,” she marvelled, rolling up the dark grey kitchen blind, allowing the sun to pour in through the window.
“How about we use your aunt’s blanket as a throw on the sofa, Amy?” Ben asked eagerly,
seizing the moment. “Don’t you think it would look good against all the black and white?”
Amy had to agree. “You’re right, the colours would be glorious.”
© Maggie Jakins