The Other Half of My Heart

The Other Half of My Heart by Stephanie Butland

Book: The Other Half of My Heart by Stephanie Butland Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephanie Butland
without your mother, and so I have been selfish in keeping what remains of her close to me.)
    There is money, and insurance, and most of all there is my wish. Find a place where your mother will be happy and well cared for, and let her go.
    Love
    Dad.
    Bettina sits on her bedroom floor and cries, softly, as though there is someone she might wake. Her memories of her return from France overwhelm her. When her father described a ‘difficult, heartbreaking job’ it was an understatement. She found the pain of being close to her confused and diminished mother unbearable. What had made it worse was her own grief for a man that his wife barely remembered. Alice spent a lot of time snoring in front of the television, blissfully unaware that she was a widow. And Bettina watched her and missed France, the easiness of a life that meant being ever-so-slightly disconnected from the world as others experienced it: rising in the dark, working in silence. For a month after her return, Bettina read books about dementia, and talked to the people her father had relied on, and saw the bread she baked while her mother slept become as dull as Alice’s skin and as tasteless as her own tears.
    She’d taken trouble to find the right care home. She agreed a care plan that involved respect, activity, a room that looked over a garden, and an agreement that her mother’s life would not be needlessly prolonged when the time came.
    In her heart, Bettina thanked her father for his investment in health insurance, his well-ordered filing cabinet, and for the enduring power of attorney he’d had couriered to her in France to sign. She signed the contract with the care home and then she went immediately to buy a stone bird-bath and a wooden bird-table and had them sited outside her mother’s window. She went systematically through her parents’ home, getting rid of almost everything. All the photograph albums had moved with her mother, so she was spared looking at those.
    Bettina had the bungalow stripped, refitted and painted, and engaged a letting agent to lease her parents’ old home. She put her own few things into storage, and she returned to France. A little bronze of a horse and an old grey dressing gown were the only things she took back with her.
    Apart from the grief, and the guilt, of course. She knew that her heart, already smashed twice before, was broken three times again, once for each of her parents, once for the way she wasn’t the daughter she might have been. And then there was the old space where Sam wasn’t, gaping open once more. Her bread began to show her strain. But it wasn’t anything like as bad as it was when she had first come to France, all those years before. In the interim, she had learned how to bring her love for her craft to the kitchen, and so there was always something good and honest to knead and roll from her heart to her hands to her dough.
    â€˜What is it telling you?’ one of her colleagues had said when he came into the kitchen at the end of a shift, to find Bettina standing with a loaf in her hand, breaking it slowly, scrutinizing the crust.
    â€˜It’s telling me it’s time to go home.’ As soon as she’d said it, she felt relieved, and could admit that, since her return, she had been bothered by things that had never bothered her before. Suddenly she didn’t like the way the language disconnected her, ever so slightly, from her surroundings, although she was now fluent enough to think and dream and count in French. She longed for and missed 6.30pm English television local news programmes, which in her parents’ house had been the signal that the evening had begun, her father coming in from the garden and her mother setting the table, she and Sam putting their homework away until after supper. She baked hot cross buns and Eccles cakes and they came from the oven reproachful in their perfection.
    After seven months, when the letting agent

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