Patricia M Osborne

Patricia M Osborne is married with grown-up children and grandchildren. In 2019 she graduated with an MA in Creative Writing (University of Brighton).

Patricia is a published novelist, poet and short fiction writer. She has been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Poetry pamphlets, Taxus Baccata and The Montefiore Bride were published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press in 2020.

She has a successful blog at Whitewingsbooks.com featuring other writers. When Patricia isn’t working on her own writing, she enjoys sharing her knowledge, acting as a mentor to fellow writers.

Mam’s Pearls

I stare into the cup trying to make sense of the text.

            Elena nudges me. ‘Drink up.’

            A car door bangs. High heels tap closer.

            ‘That’ll be the flowers,’ Elena says.

            I throw on my bathrobe and follow her downstairs.

            The florist stands on the doorstep clutching a lilac bouquet with trailing foliage. A box of milk-tone carnations and a flower basket sit on the step. ‘Good morning ladies.’ She hands me the bridal bouquet, picks up the wicker basket and buttonholes, and passes them to Elena. ‘I’ve one more thing in the van.’ The florist click-clacks down the path, returning with a bunch of ruby roses dressed with gypsophila. She offers me the spray, enclosed in crisp film, tied with ribbon.

            ‘But I didn’t order these?’

            ‘They’re definitely for you. Look, your name and address are on the ticket. Katarina.’ She hands me the card.

            First the text, now flowers. I know exactly who they’re from. No one else had ever called me Katarina. But why now and how does he know? It seems only yesterday that his strong arms were around me, his sensuous kisses on my lips. Stop it. You’re marrying Sam.

            ‘Katarina?’ Elena waves the ticket. ‘Can you find out who sent these?’ she asks the florist.

            ‘Sure, I’ll check once I’m back at the shop. Have a fabulous day, Kat. You’ll make a beautiful bride.’

            ‘Thank you.’ I close the front door and turn to Elena. ‘They must be from Sam although he’s never sent me flowers before. The only time I ever received any was…’

            ‘Paulo.’ Elena finishes my sentence. ‘They’re from him, aren’t they? Has he been in touch?’

            ‘Not since the injunction. Well at least I don’t think so.’

            ‘What do you mean you don’t think so? And stop that.’

            ‘What?’

            ‘You know. All dreamy-eyed.’

            ‘Sorry. It’s just… He was so passionate. Sometimes…’ I take a deep breath. ‘Sometimes, I miss him.’

            Elena raises her eyebrows. ‘Passion with extras, extras you can do without.’

            ‘You’re right, of course. I wasn’t thinking straight. Those roses reminded me and well… you know what Sam’s like.’

            ‘Yeah, I do. Dependable.’

            ‘I had a text last night.’

            ‘From Sam?’

            ‘Paulo, I think.’

            ‘Show me.’

            ‘I deleted it,’ I lied.    

            ‘If you get any more, I want to see. Okay?’

            ‘Yes, of course.’ I follow Elena upstairs and we climb into white petticoats.

            I rub my thigh. ‘This net’s itchy.’

            ‘I know what you mean.’ Elena lifts the mesh. ‘We didn’t think this through when we ordered, but too late now.’ She laughs.

            My gown rustles as I step into ivory silk, the cold fabric makes me shiver.

            Elena’s lilac dress flows down to her slim ankles, silk fabric hugs her tiny waist showing her sophistication and elegance.

            She positions a tiara on top of my curls. I slide a blue and white lace garter over my thigh.

            ‘One more thing.’ Elena moves behind me and fastens something around my neck. ‘Something borrowed.’

            I check my reflection in the mirror. ‘Mam’s pearls.’ My dress neckline lies loosely across my slender shoulders, the ivory necklace makes it complete. I stroke my neck across the pearls.

            Elena stares at me. ‘You’re not having second thoughts?’

            ‘No, I just wish Mam was here to reassure me.’

            ‘She taught us not to trust men, remember?’ Elena laughs.

             Dad left Mam to bring up three under-fives on her own the day he went out to buy a pint of milk and never bothered coming back. My only memory was him lifting me up to the ceiling, nuzzling his beard into my face and making me giggle.

            I shouldn’t have trusted Paulo, maybe I shouldn’t trust Sam now. Oh, Mam.

            Five years since she’d died. The night of a terrible storm. We were all huddled up on the couch watching telly, trying to block out thunder and lightning when the phone rang. Our Andy answered. It was the hospital, short of doctors because of a pile-up on the motorway and they needed Mam. Don’t go, we pleaded, but she hugged us each in turn before leaving the house. I watched from the window as rain lashed down on the pane. She opened the car door, turned around and looked back. “I’ll be fine,” she mouthed and blew a kiss. I willed her to change her mind, pressing my face to the glass, but she drove off out of sight.

            Elena broke into my thoughts. ‘Now your mascara’s run.’ She grabs a tissue and wipes away black smears.

            A car door slams. Elena peers out of the window. ‘Andy’s back and it looks like the car’s here.’

            We step downstairs holding our dresses above our ankles and meet Andy at the bottom. He looks handsome with his dark hair swept back from his face.

            ‘Wow, what a picture. My stunning kid sisters. There’s our Elena, little Miss Sensible and you’– Andy squeezes my hand – ‘you’re little Miss Crazy, but hopefully Sam will sort you out. Come here you two.’ Andy takes us both into a bear hug.

            I step outside and glance at blue sky. Pollen from daffodils tickles my nose. Spring. Time for new beginnings, a new beginning for me with Sam. Thoughts of Paulo leap into my head, he’s kissing me, caressing my shoulders. I shiver.

            The chauffeur, in his uniform and matching cap, stands by a stretched limousine. He opens the back door. Elena gets in first. Andy holds my dress so I can follow. He climbs in last, making me the jam in the butty.

            Andy turns to me. ‘Mam would’ve been right proud and I’m honoured to give you away.’

            My skin tingles. ‘This is it. It’s really happening.’

            The wedding car pulls up outside Shipley Hotel in Durham. Our guests congregate outside. Not that there’s many, we have no other family and Sam just has his mother and sister. A few friends have been invited.

            We walk down the red runner in the ceremonial room to Frank Zappa’s music. Elena leads the way dropping petals from her basket and I follow with Andy by my side. Sam turns his head as I approach.

            ‘You look stunning,’ he mouths and grasps my hand when I reach him. His blue-grey eyes sparkle.

            Thankfully he’s wearing a suit. I half expected one of his usual loud shirts and a pair of jeans like he’d been threatening. The service begins. Sam’s dark suit accentuates his slim physique and contrasts with his blond hair. His long fingers tremble as he slips the gold band on my finger.

                My legs struggle to hold me up as we make our way to the wedding breakfast. Round tables dressed in lemon cloths fill the room. The wedding cake stands central on a square bench. Will I ever again experience that pumping pulse and lightness of chest I’d had when Paulo was close? Have I done the right thing?

            A harpist performs in the background as everyone chats, eats, and sips champagne. Later the disc jockey takes over and Michael Bublé’s Wonderful Tonight prompts us to start our first dance. We glide around the disco lit floor.

            Out of the corner of my eye I catch a familiar face. It can’t be. Waves surge inside my stomach. I try to stop shaking as Sam holds me in his arms.

            When the music stops, he takes my hand and leads me to our chairs. ‘What’s the matter, Kat? You’ve gone tense.’

            ‘Nothing,’ I say. It’s too late, his eyes follow mine.

                ‘Ah, that’s Paul, the new guy from the office. I mentioned I was going to invite him.’

             Paulo moves towards us, his strong shoulders upright and forceful. When he smiles, his eyes twinkle. ‘Congratulations, Katarina.’ He kisses my hand.

            The music plays, couples sway in each other’s arms. My heart thumps like a drum. Can Sam hear it?

            ‘Do you two know each other?’ Sam asks.

            ‘Indeed, we do,’ says Paulo.

            ‘Really? Where from?’

            My mouth’s dry.

            ‘This lovely lady used to have a thing for me.’

            ‘What?’ Sam gives a nervous laugh.

            ‘If truth beknown she still does.’

            ‘Is this a sick joke?’ Sam rubs his forehead.

            Thoughts of Paulo cram my brain.

            ‘Kat, what’s he talking about?’ Sam’s eyes plead.

            I open my mouth but the words won’t come. All I can think of is Paulo’s lips on mine, his strong arms wrapped around me. I want to reassure Sam but I can’t.

            He’s still waiting for my answer when Andy charges up behind. ‘What’s that waste of space doing here?’

            Paulo butts in. ‘Did you like the roses, Katarina?’

            Elena appears out of nowhere. ‘You. I knew it. But why now?’

            Paulo tips his head back and smirks. ‘Because I can.’          

            He was right. But why was I letting him?

            ‘Like hell, bastard.’ Andy steps towards Paulo.

            Sam clenches his hands, staring at Paulo. ‘You’re spouting crap, arsehole.’

            Paulo takes a step back from Andy. ‘Let Katarina speak.’

            ‘No way, pillock’ – Andy raises his fist – ‘your charms aren’t going to work this time. Someone, get him out of here. Kat, call Security.’

            I freeze. Elena darts out of the room.

            Sam takes my hands and stares straight into my eyes. ‘Kat, tell me you don’t still have feelings for him.’

            I finally manage to stutter, ‘I don’t.’

            He releases my hands. ‘I can’t do this.’ He marches away.

            I shiver, reliving the beatings, coming out of the coma. The room whizzes as I combat nausea. I want to charge after Sam but Paulo’s eyes hold me rigid.

            Elena arrives with two security men in tow.

            The shorter one says, ‘Paulo Vincent, I understand from this young lady that you’ve broken the terms of an injunction. We’ll be holding you until the police arrive.’ He grabs Paulo by the wrist.

Paulo punches him in the face. The guard stumbles but manages to stay on his feet. The taller, stockier guard grabs Paulo and holds him fast, arms up behind his back, making him wince. The first guard wipes blood from his nose and sniffs.

‘You’ll be sorry for that, moron. Move it.’ He pokes Paulo in the back, forcing him to walk.

            ‘Tu sai che non puoi vivere senza di me, Katarina.’ Paulo swaggers as Security lead him away, leaving me stunned from his words, you know you can’t live without me.

            ‘Stupid girl.’ Elena slaps my arm. ‘You let Sam go.’

            Elena’s words break the spell. Poor Sam, how could I have hurt him like that? I’ve made such a mess of things. I need to find him. I hope I’m not too late.

            I draw my dress up from my ankles and run out of the building to find Sam sitting on a wall, covering his eyes.

            ‘Sam, it isn’t what you think.’

            He lifts his face and wipes his eyes. ‘But you’re still in love with him, aren’t you?’

            ‘No, I love you,’ I say without hesitation.

            ‘You stood there and let him gloat.’

            ‘I was in shock. It’s you I want. I can’t lose you, Sam. Please.’

            ‘Sam, hurry up,’ his mam calls. The taxi’s waiting.’

            ‘Sorry Kat, not now. I need time.’ He stomps away and doesn’t look back as he climbs into the car with his mam and sister.

            Andy and Elena are by my side.

            ‘I just don’t believe you, Kat,’ Andy says, ‘Sam’s a good-un.’

            ‘What have you done?’ asks Elena.

            They’re right. What have I done? I mixed up lust with love. My stomach rips inside. It’s Sam I want. Why had it taken me so long to see that?

            I turn to my siblings. ‘Take me home please.’

            Elena links her arm into mine. ‘Andy, call a cab.’

Andy pulls out his mobile and taps on the keys. ‘You’ll be okay, our Kat. We’ll look after you.’ He pecks me on the forehead. ‘Hang on, look. It seems you may have a second chance. Now don’t blow it.’

            I glance around, Sam’s heading our way.

            ‘We should talk,’ he says. ‘I can’t leave things like this. You’re my wife.’ He takes off his jacket and wraps it around my shoulders.

            ‘We’ll leave you two alone,’ Andy says.

            ‘The room’s booked so let’s use that for privacy.’ Sam leads me to reception to pick up the key. We step into the lift, walk slowly along the corridor, and stop at room 204 without saying a word.

            He turns the key, opens the door and breaks the silence. ‘So, what was the deal with you two?’ Sam guides me to sit on the queen-sized four poster bed.

            ‘We were engaged.’ I stay close, trembling.

            ‘Tell me the whole story.’

             ‘It’s not pleasant.’ I cough. ‘I met him at a dance not long after Mam’s accident. I thought I was in love.’

            Sam holds my hand. ‘What happened?’

            ‘Paulo showed another side.’ I take a deep breath. ‘It started when he punished me if I didn’t behave as he put it. He’d turn me over his knee and smack playfully, but later became aggressive.’

            Sam opens his mouth and closes it. He doesn’t interrupt. 

            ‘Thrashings became regular, twice a week, and then he started using his belt, leaving welts on my skin.’ My voice shakes. ‘Then punches in my chest and face. Later, broken ribs, broken arms.’

            Sam listens attentively.

            ‘The final time was a cracked skull when he put me in a coma for six months. Elena and Andy thought they’d lost me.’

            ‘How come he’s not locked up?’

            ‘Some posh lawyer got him off.’ I grab a tissue out of a box on the cabinet and blow my nose. ‘Andy made me take out an injunction and I haven’t seen Paulo or heard from him in three years. Today was a shock, a text last night, roses this morning and then appearing at our wedding. I wasn’t thinking straight. I just remembered how he’d excited me and I managed to almost obliterate the horrors. Sam, I don’t love him. I despise him. He terrifies me. It’s you I love. I don’t know how I could have been so stupid. Can you forgive me?’

            Sam strokes my arm. ‘You’ve been through so much. You should have told me.’

            ‘I should have trusted you. I’m sorry.’

            He leans towards me and places his lips gently on mine but soon his kisses are urgent. My heartbeat accelerates. Sam’s hands caress my shoulders, he unzips my gown, cups my breasts and lovingly loosens Mam’s pearls.

            I can trust this one, Mam.

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