Suitable Arrangements for Annie
“Maggie, wait! You’re going too fast, wait for me!”
Annie’s relentless whine bore into
Margaret’s brain. She tightened her fist until her nails dug into her palm,
something she’d started doing a lot lately to stop
Doing what? Violence against the three hundred
pounds of sweating lard that lumbered behind her?
She took a deep breath and turned,
smiling patiently as she waited for her older sister to catch up.
“Look, Maggie, what I picked. Flowers!”
Annie’s guileless blue eyes beamed
into her own as she thrust a ragtag of wild flowers and weeds under her
nose. “Smellies! For you!”
“Thank you, Annie, they’re lovely.”
A woman walked past them, smiling in
“Not for you!” roared Annie
belligerently. “For my sister! Flowers!”
“Yes, the lady knows that,” said
Margaret quietly. “Let’s go home, Annie. Tea time.”
“Doughnuts?” asked Annie hopefully.
“Doctor Harris said no doughnuts, Annie, you know you’re on a diet.”
“Don’t like a diet.”
Her moon face crumpled beneath the
lank grey hair, her soft shapeless lips trembling at the disappointment of a
I don’t know why I bother, thought Margaret wearily. Months of
fighting about sweets and cakes and all she’s lost is four pounds. I can’t cope with the misery.
“Don’t cry Annie, we’ll buy a
doughnut then,” she said.
“Won’t cry!” Annie brightened immediately. “A chocolate doughnut?”
“Sure, why not.”
As she opened the front gate,
Margaret automatically checked the post box for an official brown envelope, but
of course there was nothing. Mrs Wolfson from Social Services had made it clear it was pointless to hope.
“No letters for you,” boomed Annie,
pouncing on the brightly coloured flyer inside. “One
for me. Pretty letter!”
Annie hoarded a mountain of glossy
advertisements in her room and at night she shuffled
through them, crooning with pleasure.
“Lucky Annie. Timeshare in
? That would be fun, wouldn’t it? You go and look at it,
I’ll make tea.”
Margaret switched on the kettle and
dropped tea bags into two plastic mugs. Annie had chipped or broken all their mother’s delicate china and these days plastic
just seemed more practical.
Then she took the wad of dying weeds
from her pocket and threw them into the bin, careful to hide them under an old
bread wrapper in case Annie noticed. Her sister was unexpectedly observant
about odd things like that, even though she couldn’t find her way home from the bus stop two blocks away.
“Wash your hands, Annie. Here’s your
Silently, Margaret looked away as
Annie tore noisily into the confectionary, sticky crumbs spraying across the table
as she chewed with gusto.
“You should close
your mouth when you - ” Oh what was the use.
Watching her sister eat turned her
stomach. Her table manners had grown worse in the last twelve months. In fact since their mother’s death she seemed to have deteriorated
in every way. Her appalling weight and gargantuan appetite,
her behaviour, her booming voice. Her rank smell.
Margaret remembered the years of
hot, shaming embarrassment at the reaction of school friends when they
discovered Daft Annie was her sister. The fat loony who
shouted at people from behind the gate.
It wasn’t fair of Mum, she thought dully. Making spaniel eyes at me
while she was dying, clutching my hand and making me promise. Annie’s dragging me down, suffocating me, a dead weight
that’s pinning me inside this awful old house for ever. She ruined my school
life and now she’s destroying any chance I have of
happiness. Forty-eight isn’t too old to find someone,
other women do.
But I’ll never meet anyone while I’m
tied to Annie.
“Maggie? Why you look so
Like an automaton, she waited with a
wet cloth while the endless helpings of sugar were carelessly scooped into the
mug, then quietly wiped the granules spilled across
“I’m not cross, Annie,” she said,
unclenching her fingers and rubbing away the red crescents dug into her palms. “Just tired.”
Margaret wished her mother hadn’t left them that wretched little nest egg. Once Mrs Wolfson had found out about that, she’d laughed.
“Your chances of getting your sister
into any State facility are just about nil,” she said.
“If you have private resources I’m afraid you are expected to pay for a private
“My mother enquired before she died,
but their fees are enormous. I couldn’t earn enough to
keep Annie in one of those. And the money my mother left is disappearing pretty
“I’m sorry, but these days if there
is a family member able to care for Annie, I really can’t recommend her for a
place. Much as I’d like to in your case. But it’s not
as if Annie is violent, is she?”
Margaret almost said that it wasn’t
Annie she need worry about when it came to violence,
but just smiled politely.
“We’ll manage, I suppose.”
As Annie started to lick the
doughnut wrapper with wet voluptuous slurps, Margaret
gently removed it from her. A familiar pain started to throb
behind her eyes.
“TV, Annie? I’ll switch it on.”
waddled through to the lounge and dropped heavily into her armchair. The
springs had long since been crushed into submission,
and Margaret knew she would be settled there until bedtime.
She went to the bathroom for some
aspirin, glancing into her sister’s room as she passed. The huge sheaf of
colourful flyers spilled across the carpet in a careless swathe. Estate agents,
clothing sales, offers of discounted computers. More mess.
She bent to pick them up and a
coarse brown envelope slipped out and fluttered to the floor.
Miss M. Livingstone.
Department of Social Services.
Suddenly unable to breathe, she
ripped it open with fingers that shook slightly.
“I am pleased to inform you that a
place has become vacant at the Shearwater Home for the severely mentally impaired.”
I’m free, she exulted silently. Free!
“If you wish to take up this place
for your sister Anne, please advise me by the end of
this month or I will assume you have been able to make other arrangements and
offer the place to someone else.
Underneath Mrs Wolfson had added, “Isn’t this a stroke of luck?”
It was dated four months previously.
Margaret read it twice, her mouth
Well then, she’d just have to make those other arrangements.
She picked up the feather pillow
from Annie’s bed and walked slowly towards the front room, the screeching of
the Tweenies drowning the thudding of her traitor’s
Detached, from somewhere near the
ceiling, Margaret watched herself enter the room quietly and stand behind
Annie. She noticed how her own hands shook as she held the pillow above her
sister’s head, her mother’s garnet ring twinkling reproachfully on her little
She looked down at Annie’s straggly
parting, scattered with flecks of dandruff and sighed. I must remember to buy
some of that special shampoo tomorrow and use it when I wash her hair, she
“Maggie? Come sit by me. Tweenies.” Annie looked up and smiled widely, patting the arm of her
chair. “You like Tweenies?”
Margaret sat down shakily. She
panted slightly, as if someone had just punched her in the stomach.
“Love the Tweenies,
Annie,” she said.
©2009 Ginny Swart
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