There’s Always Tomorrow – Episode 29

The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

But her instinct drove her forward to pull the blanket away and ease out one of the canvases facing the wall.

“Dangerous,” his quiet voice came from behind her. “From my dreams.”

She freed the canvas and turned it round. It was a painting of dry, lifeless sand.

It gave the feeling of a sun so strong it had burned up everything, even hope.

Helen saw the crumbling clay wall of a gunshot-damaged house.

Outside it, a child clutched a battered doll, and an old woman reached out, turning her hands into a begging bowl.

The human figures were drawn starkly, with thin, empty faces and eyes that had no life in them.

They were eyes which, like Joan Eardley’s slum children, had nothing to look forward to but uncertainty.

“Oh my goodness,” Helen whispered. “Did you paint this?”

There was silence.

“It’s Afghanistan,” he murmured eventually.

“And the rest?” she asked quietly.

Larry hesitated, then reached past her.

“Try this one,” he suggested.

Helen stepped back and studied the painting he handed her.

Everywhere within the frame was roiling, alive and threatening in purple and black.

The only exception was one single dazzling white object – a star which exuded calm and peace.

“That helped me turn the corner,” Larry confided in her.

“One night, in the worst week of my treatment, I looked out of the window and that was what I saw.

“It took me back to my childhood. My grandad told me that everyone has their own personal star. Sitting on that star is their own guardian angel watching over them.

“That night, in high fever, I saw my guardian angel. It was my baldy-heided old grandad, his legs dangling over the edge of the star, smoking his pipe.

“In my mind’s eye, he saw me looking up at him, and waved back down. Then, in my heart, I knew everything would be fine.”

Helen swallowed.

“I wish I had a baldy-heided guardian angel, too.”

“Maybe you have,” Larry replied. “I think my old grandad likes you, because he has just taken off his grubby old bunnet and waved. Did you see him?”

She saw nothing through the sudden curtain of tears that filled her eyes.

“No,” she replied. “But I’ll take that on trust.”

“Fit like, Wullie?” One of the very few customers to the shop had found Wullie leaning against the doorframe and chatting to Lorna in the tiny kitchen.

He turned round.

“Isa Macleod. You dinnae look a day over ninety.”

“That’s ten years better than you,” she shot back. “How’s retirement?”

“Busy, busy,” Wullie replied. “I’m thinking o’ taking on an apprentice tae help me handle it. What can we do for you?”

“I’m here tae buy a book,” Isa replied.

“Buy two,” he urged her. “And while your hand’s in your purse, take a look at all the food we’ve got as well.”

“Can I get you a cup of coffee?” Lorna interrupted hastily.

“I’d rather have tea,” Isa replied.

“I’ll make it.” Wullie sighed. “She’s scared to hurt the teabags.”

Lorna ignored him.

“Would you like a piece of cake?” she asked brightly. “It’s home-made.”

Isa took a bite from the slice of cake Lorna handed her, her shrewd eyes going round the shop.

“They say ye havenae been that busy,” she commented.

“That’s because you local wifies are ower canny wi’ your money.” Wullie’s voice came floating through.

Isa made a face.

“He used tae pull my pigtails,” she confided in Lorna.

“We thought there was a bell at the other end of them,” Wullie called, coming back through.

“Then ye were disappointed.” Isa looked at the cake in her hand. “Where did you get that recipe?”

“From the internet,” Lorna replied.

“Aye. I can get you a better recipe than that. It was my mither’s.”

Sudden noises came through the half-open door of the shop. It sounded like a couple of women who were agitated.

Wullie and Isa moved to the shop doorway.

“It’s Betty Macdonald!” Isa exclaimed. “She’s taken bad.”

Larry was there before either of them could get out. He picked up the lady who was hanging weakly over a neighbour’s fence.

“Stand back. Give her air.” His voice was crisp. “Helen?”

Helen was already at his side.

“Let’s get into the shop,” Larry said. “You can take a look at her there. She’s trying to talk, but having trouble.”

He strode through the shop doorway.

To be continued…

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