The day I returned home is one never forget. The images appear inside my head when I least expect them to. On the train, going to work, or sitting at my desk, they take me by surprise, clear, concise, bold flashbacks. They also haunt my dreams. It is a day that etched into my memory.
I arrived at Didsbrook station, feeling ecstatically happy. I was finally home after a full-on three years of hard work. I had been offered a job, starting after graduation in July, with the magazine Review U.K. and I was looking forward to taking some time off. I had made a plan to go backpacking in Europe, with my friend, Evie, for some of the time, which I thought would take my mind off the nerve-wracking wait for the results of my degree.
I had spoken to my father the night before who told me that he’d put two bottles of fizz in the fridge.
‘To celebrate the end of your three years of hard work, Lucy love. Unfortunately, I can’t pick you up at Roehampton because I’ve got a meeting in Sidcup in the morning, but we’ll crack open the first bottle as soon as I get home. Mum will be there to meet you at the station.’ But she was nowhere to be seen. I was surprised, as she’d felt bad that neither she nor my father could pick me up from Roehampton,
‘I’m really sorry, Lucy, but I have to go to a DADS rehearsal. It’s the first for our production of Les Miserables and, as you know, it’s my debut as a director. So I’ve got to be there.’
I remember feeling pissed-off that she wasn’t there. I was impatient to get home, having already changed trains at East Croydon and carting around three years worth of accumulated university paraphernalia. Baggage-free, our house is about a 15-minute walk from the station, and there is only one taxi company in Didsbrook, A&B Cabs, run by Ange and Bert who only turn up if you book online, in advance.
Didsbrook Station, like many other properties in the town, is a Grade II listed building, and as Didsbrook Manor has been the home to the Strand family since the early 1800s, they have been known to entertain a few celebrities over the years. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Bernard Shaw, PG Woodhouse, Agatha Christie and Aldous Huxley, were all frequent visitors to the Manor, so the station’s Grade II listed walls are adorned with plaques in homage to all the famous visitors who alighted here.
Whatever time of year, the platform at Didsbrook station is awash with colour. Seasonal flowers, lovingly grown in pots by the local branch of the W.I. are aesthetically displayed on antique luggage trollies. So, it was the stationmaster Mr Davis’s idea, that I should use one of the Victorian baggage trollies to drag everything home on.
‘They built things to last in those days, Lucy, love. It’ll see you home, just like it used to a hundred years ago. Drop it back next time your passing. Fortunately, there is a slight slope from the station into town where Kevin Harper, now a slender 21-year-old, appeared from nowhere and helped me to lug the trolley over the cobblestones in the Market Place.
‘Are you back for good now. Lu Lu?’ He asked as I remembered all the reasons why he irritated me as a child, not least his nickname for me. Nobody calls me Lu Lu, apart from him. Lu Lu sounds like a character from the chorus of the Mikado, who understudies for Yum Yum and Nanki Poo, but I was very grateful for his help. So, when he asked me the question I knew he had been dying to ask me, I agreed to meet him for a drink and left him cock-a-hoop at the brow of Ashdown Hill.
‘I’ll call you!’ He yelled, his ambling gait suddenly turbocharged as he made his way back into town. He had been asking me to go out with him since we were in Year 9.
Freewheeling my goods and chattels down Ashdown Hill, another slope rather than a hill, I was grumbling to myself about why my mother had forgotten to pick me up when I spotted an ambulance parked outside Number Two Frogs Bottom. Our house. I crashed the trolley into the grass verge and ran through the open front door to find my father lying motionless on a paramedic trolley in the sitting room.
‘Who is this?’ One of the paramedics asked my mother, who was staring disbelievingly at my father, her mouth slightly open, so I responded for her.
‘I’m her… I’m their daughter, Lucy. My dad? Is he…’ I stared at my Father’s face. Ashen, lifeless, drained of blood. I swallowed, before asking what I knew was a ridiculous question.
‘Is my Dad… dead?’ I didn’t need any medical knowledge to know that my Father’s last breath had been drawn quite sometime before I entered the house.
The paramedic nodded apologetically.
‘I’m afraid he had a sudden cardiac arrest. He had a heart attack, Lucy love. So, it would have been quick. We got here in about two minutes as we were parked up at the Co-op grabbing a late lunch. I’m so sorry, but he’d already gone by the time Laura and I got here.’
My mother regained a little composure and slumped on to the sofa, panting out the words,
‘He was absolutely fine when I went outside to water the petunias… he got home early and said he was going to surprise you, Lucy, and pick you up at the station. He was so proud of you.’
The paramedic leant forward, putting his hand on my mother’s shoulder, as I stood, head slightly bent, wondering if I should kiss my Father’s chilling cheek or touch the Tattersall check shirt covering his arm and couldn’t bring myself do either. The paramedic continued talking, his voice sounding like a distant echo in my head.
‘It’s been a bad couple of days for Didsbrookians. Two fine, upstanding pillars of our society gone and all too soon, your George and Jocelyn Robertshaw.’
I half fell, half stumbled on to the sofa next to my mother, who put her arm lightly around my shoulders, pulling me toward her and, instinctively kissed my forehead.
‘Jocelyn died yesterday morning, Lucy. I thought it best to wait until you got home to tell you… and now this. It’s the last thing I would ever want you to come home to.’
My mother had made the executive decision not to tell me about Jocelyn’s death, until after I came home. I understood. It was the right decision. But the pain of finding out about her death while looking at my dead Father was excruciating, like a knife tearing into an already open wound.
What should have been the best day of my life to date turned into the worst day of my life to date. The exuberant high I had felt since waking up that morning, evaporated in a microsecond. I closed my eyes, wrapping both arms around my mother’s waist and cried silently into her shoulder, listening in disbelief as the paramedics zipped my father up.