I lay the newspaper across the kitchen table, straightening out any creases. Ronnie used to like his paper ironing – fancied himself as one of those posh types. I only did it for him on Sundays, and his birthday. ‘It’s not because I like it straight,’ he’d say. ‘It stops the ink running.’
‘Get away with you,’ I said.
I wish he were still here with me. I’d iron it every day.
Oh, stop it, you daft fool. I can hear his voice in my head. You know you’d only iron it ’til the novelty of me being back wore off – two days, tops.
I sit down at the table. I’m daft having these conversations with myself, but after forty-six years of marriage I usually knew what he was going to say before he did.
Grace. That’s the little girl’s name.
She’s wearing her school uniform in the picture – it’s on the front page. I can’t make out the name of the school from the badge on her jumper, though I’m not sure if that’s my eyes or the quality of the print.
She was last seen walking into a newsagent’s.
I look up at the wall. How odd. I wonder if she was getting sweets, just like—
The phone rings.
‘Hang on,’ I shout.
I shuffle the chair back and rest my hands on the table to lever myself up. Damn legs.
‘Wait a minute.’
I walk as fast as I can to the phone table in the living room. People can be so impatient these days.
Some folk only let it ring five or six times before they give up. Never enough time for me.
‘Hello?’ I say. Ron always used to tease me about my telephone voice. ‘Hello?’ I can’t have been too late, there’s no dial tone. ‘Is anyone there?’
I listen as hard as I can. Is my hearing getting worse? There’s traffic noise on the other end of the line. Are they calling from a mobile telephone or a big red box?
‘Can you speak louder? I can’t hear you.’
The click of the phone makes me jump. They’ve hung up, again. I replace the handset and wander back into the kitchen. Was that the fourth or fifth time this week?
What if it’s him? I can’t remember what he sounds like; I should remember his voice, shouldn’t I? It’s been too long. Every day I try not to think about how he broke my heart. I can’t even look at his photograph any more without it bringing back awful memories.
Tap, tap, tap.
The window rattles.
I still my breathing. My heart’s thumping.
I should get up and hide in the pantry, but I can’t move.
The handle turns – the back door opens slowly.
To read more from this book (which I read in a day!), buy 99 Red Balloons from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.