Cherry Chocolates

by Alison Woodhouse

Has she filled in her meal options?’

My children are here. It’s a miracle, all three in the same room again, although they’re not children anymore; they’ve got kids of their own and grandkids.

There’s not much choice!’

No need for that tone Katy. It’s the NHS not one of your fancy hotels. They do their best and it’s good enough for me. You had all your babies in this hospital. There was always someone around to give me a cup of tea while I waited. Don’t be scared love. It makes you sound angry and your brothers won’t understand.

Cauliflower cheese!’

Oh Martin, I taught you how to make cheese sauce when you got divorced. You wouldn’t eat any vegetables without it. You should come home. You live too far away.

And no fibre.’

Dear Johnny. When did you start bothering about fibre? Hope you haven’t got a bowel problem. You were slow to potty train. I had to bribe you with smarties, I never let on to the others. They always said you were my favourite, but you were the youngest and such a sweet, loving child, I couldn’t help it.

One of us better speak to the nurse.
Don’t you think …?’

Go on Johnny; you stand up for me. But don’t fall out with the others again. What are you going to do when I’m not around? It’s worn me out, all your bickering. You’re the eldest Katy, you should have sorted the feuding out, but you’ve been too busy setting up that business of yours. And Martin, you’ve been so hard on Johnny but he’s your brother and he’s always admired you. He’s slipped up now and again, who hasn’t, but the three of you need to stick close. No one else will care for you like family.

Anyone got a pen?’
‘Martin you can’t change it once she’s already chosen.’
‘How’s she going to get better eating that?’
‘Is she going to get better?’’
Of course she is. She’s a tough old bird.’
‘Shhh, don’t wake her.’
‘She looks peaceful doesn’t she?’
‘Johnny, don’t cry.’

Ah, Johnny. Remember that turkey I did for Christmas the year your dad died? I left it in the oven ten hours at least while you and I drank every last drop of sherry in the house and the bottle of wine you brought round. That was a good one. We played monopoly and you used the cherry liqueur chocolates for hotels. Every time you lost one you ate it. Taught me how to turn losing into winning. Remember that now and help your brother and sister.

‘She wouldn’t want it to be like this.’
‘Not here.’
‘Not yet.’

It’s all right. I’m so happy to hear your voices. It’s like when you were little and used to bring me breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. I’d hear you whispering outside my door. I’d keep my eyes closed and pretend I was still asleep so you could surprise me. The cold tea always had leaves floating on the top where you tore the bag, Johnny. And the toast always had a piece missing, Martin. Katy, you were such a strong little girl, in charge of carrying the tray. It was my best meal of the year by a mile; I hope you all know that. And that I wish I could turn every disappointment you’ve ever had into cherry liquor chocolates. That would be even better.

Alison Woodhouse’s “Cherry Chocolates” came second place in the 18+ short story category as part of our 25th Birthday Writing Competition.