Scanning her mother’s kitchen, Phin tried to act normally. ‘I guess that’s it for now. Did we miss anything?’
Her sister, Vic, listed the jobs off. ‘Fridge, rubbish, laundry, glasshouse water timer, stopped paper, diverted mail, and made sure the neighbor is happy about the cat. Oh, and packed mum a bag. I put that photo of her and dad in too.’
‘Good idea. I wish there was more we could do. I feel so helpless.’ Phin gulped away her tears.
The sisters linked arms as they surveyed their mother’s centre of command, where so many memories lay.
‘It doesn’t feel right without Mum here making a cuppa’ said Vic. ‘She’s such a talker. I’d do anything to hear her voice right now.’
‘Or her laugh’ replied Phin.
‘Definitely her laugh.’ agreed Vic. ‘Oh, I grabbed the book from her bedside table to read to her. They reckon people in a coma can hear stuff. It will help pass the time, if nothing else. All those gadgets attached to Mum scare me.’
‘I just wish they could give us a hint of how long’ Phin said. ‘Every day, no change, hanging in limbo-land, can’t plan anything, don’t know what to do or say; just sitting there watching, waiting. But then, I get scared. A change might go the wrong way.’
Vic gave her sister a squeeze. ‘It’s tough, eh? But we can do this, for her.’
Spying an old green tin, Phin exclaimed ‘Mums button collection! She’s been saying for years that she should sort it. We could do that , tell her about them as we go. Would that be too silly?’
‘Great idea’ said Vic. ‘I’ll grab some cotton to tie the matches together with.’
Back in the quiet hospital room, Phin watched their mother, who looked more like some far-east mummy rather than the energetic woman Phin knew, with head-wrapping like a turban, both wrists in plaster, and traction holding her legs in place. But worse were the invisible injuries. Despite the fancy machines and tests, no-one could say if there was brain damage, or how bad it might be. The charts noted small signs of improvement, but Phin had yet to see them.
A police officer had called by to update the sisters. Phin was relieved that the drunk driver had been charged, but it fixed nothing, repaired nothing; their lives were changed forever.
Vic read aloud a chapter from the book, but their mother’s lack of response to its humor only sharpened the sister’s pain.
Phin brought out the button tin, spreading the contents out onto the bedside trolley.
‘Wow!’ Vic exclaimed, picking up a large pink-patterned button. ‘That’s off my prom dress. I didn’t know Mum still had this. My first grown-up dancing dress. I felt like a princess that night.’
‘You looked gorgeous’ Phin smiled. ‘I thought you were terribly brave, ignoring the fashion and going for such a narrow skirt.’
‘That was Mums idea. She said it was more elegant, upper-class’ Vic laughed. ‘She appealed to the snob in me. I soon found out the real reason.’
Vic glanced over to her Mum, but there was no sign of change. Sure that her Mum wasn’t listening, she shared her secret memory. ‘When Glen was bringing me home after the prom, he tried to move up a base. I was totally willing, but that dress was so long and slim he couldn’t get his hands up past my knees. That dress definitely saved my virginity for another day!’
‘Trust Mum’ Phin laughed. She looked into the tin, selecting another button. ‘Oh, look. This one’s from my prep uniform. I was so proud, finally a big girl!’
As the sisters worked through the tin, they regaled each other with stories prompted by unexpected finds. They laughed, commiserated, and laughed some more. Their father’s work-shirt buttons evoked memories of a loving hard-working man, whilst the little blue button imprinted with a boat reminded them of the wee brother they had lost, all those years before.
‘What’s this from?’ Vic asked, picking out a pearl button covered in satin. ‘It looks like a wedding dress button, but it’s not either of ours. Mums dress doesn’t have pearls, does it?’
‘It’s beautiful,’ admired Phin. ‘Look at the depth of color in the cream. The material looks so soft and rich.’
Vic turned the button over, inspecting the gathered material in the back. ‘The stitches are so tiny, almost invisible. Whoever made this was incredibly skilled. Whose was it, I wonder, and how come Mum has it?’
A slurred voice spoke from under the turban. ‘Grandmothers….wedding….dress.’
The girls leapt up. ‘Mum’ they chorused excitedly, not quite believing.
Eyes still shut, the voice came a little stronger. ‘The button; it was from your grandmother’s wedding dress. Her mother made it.’
A nurse hurried in. ‘Well, it’s nice to see you’ve finally decided to join us, Mrs Colville’ she said, checking the various readings and attachments. ‘You’re in St Margaret’s hospital. Your girls can tell you the rest of the story.’
‘Tired, so tired’ their mum slurred.
‘Well, you just rest. How’s the pain? Anything you need?’
‘My buttons, memories…’ her voice drifted off.
The nurse looked at Phin and Vic’s efforts. ‘Gosh, that looks a mission, but well done. Looks like your buttons have done the trick.’
As the nurse left, their Mums voice sounded again, with a slight twinkle. ‘So, Vic, how many days did that prom dress save your virginity for, exactly?’
The sisters looked at each other, horrified, then burst out laughing; their mother was back.